SEMI-TONED USA TOUR 2015 DAY 5: HARVARD & YALE

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Today we spent a lovely morning exploring Harvard university. The historic campus was the site of an anti-fossil fuel demonstration, and, even more excitingly, lots of souvenirs. Shot glasses, t-shirts, and caps were all bought, before we hopped on a bus from Boston to New Haven. There, our host group, the lovely ladies in Something Extra, showed us around the gorgeous campus. The architecture was gorgeous, and at times it was hard to believe we were in America and not Cambridge!

We then dumped our bags before heading out to a lovely little Chinese restaurant, where we learnt a bit more about the particularities of the American higher education system. Jamie in particular was delighted to learn that indecisiveness as to what course to take is very well catered for in the USA.pillars

After this dinner, we headed to one of the girls’ apartments and had what these American folk call a “mixer”, singing songs to each other, playing games and building upon the historic special relationship that our two great nations have established. Something Extra wowed us with renditions of “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver, and “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” from Disney’s Hercules, in response to our very own Disney arrangement, Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”.

scotty drunk

 

It was a fantastic evening and we all made lots of friends, and we can’t wait to visit Something Extra, and the beautiful campus of Yale in future.

Tomorrow we head back to the Big Apple for a few days of living it large in the big city!

-E. S.

SEMI-TONED USA TOUR 2015 DAY 4: BUSKING IN BOSTON

Eddie Brekkie

American style pancakes

What a busy day! The boys were raring to explore Boston and with some delicious pancakes to start the day we were fuelled up to do some singing and show Boston how the British do it. In some glorious sunshine we headed out to Boston Common and recorded some of our thank you videos in a beautiful stone band stand, aided by our heads of photography; Ben and Theo. A quick busk in front of the Boston State House made us realise that people would love our accents just as much as our singing, so we made talking to our audience between each song a must.

Broh

 

We made a quick stop at a local 7-Eleven to pick up some lunch so that we could sing through lunch hour and catch the best crowds. After meeting up with some Boston based Exeter alumni we headed back into the park and despite Ashley’s intimidating terminator glasses we managed to draw quite a crowd.
Then after bidding farewell to our alumni we headed into town in search of a busier spot. We found a nice junction with lots of footfall and no traffic so set up shop and did thirty minutes of solid singing, the highlight of which being a rather intoxicated lady who whilst dancing to our Lowtown Funk mashup literally “hit the floor.” Quick to make fans, when we took a break several locals asked for photos with us and were very interested to learn where we were from and information about the rest of tour. Everyone was so friendly and readily offered us advice about what to go see in various places on our trip.
With money in the hat and suncream applied we decided to have a short rest from singing to explore the historic buildings of Boston, located on a tourist route in true American style called the Freedom Trail. This is where our wonderful tour guide Ed Jillings came into his own, with a mixture of information extrapolated from the guide book and his own abridged version of events resulting in a hilarious hodgepodge of history.

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Some history

Whilst in the Old South Meeting House due to the wonderful acoustic we asked the management if we could sing the Star Spangled Banner for them in the main hall. After agreeing a small audience formed in the seats and a slow, powerful rendition of the national anthem brought many of them to tears. After speaking to a few members of the crowd afterwards we realised that it was the two year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings which was commemorated with a Good Deeds day. With that in mind we headed out ready to bring some happiness to people’s days. We then went to the Old State House which made us come to the realise that it is apparently a lot easier to qualify as “old” for American architecture than it is in England. Here we learned all about the controversial Boston Massacre where soldiers fired on Boston citizens in 1770.
We found a company where you could write a good deed you have done on a note on a wall and in return get a cereal bar, so we thought we would do one better a sing for those doing good deeds. A smooth rendition of Sit Back, Relax Your Minds got the locals smiling and got us some cereal bars which helped as the boys were starting to flag in the afternoon heat. We then strolled through Quincy Market wide eyed at all the delicious looking Boston cuisine and took some photos by the Boston harbour. We also managed to find the location of the Boston Tea Party which we learned was a historic flashpoint in the American Revolution, again aided by our scholarly tour guide.

boston
We had just enough energy in us for one last busk so headed back into the park to do a few more songs. In the setting sun people on their way home were surprised to see a British A Cappella group blocking their path but were more than happy to stop and listen. By the end of the day’s singing we were beginning to see the difference in busking in America as we felt the American audience expected much more of a show, proven by the fact that our songs that had full choreography went down a treat.
Some very tired boys then headed back to our hostel to get changed before heading out to try some proper American Fast food. A short walk took us to Shake Shack, a trendy burger joint where we scoffed down some lusciously greasy burgers. We also met up with some of the girls who we met at Northeastern University, one of which just happened to have gone to school with our very own Ben Street. What a small world! We then headed back to our hostel for a well earned rest but with the exciting prospect of visiting Harvard tomorrow.

 

– D. P.

SEMI-TONED USA TOUR 2015 DAY 3: IN THE STUDIO

In what has fast become a trend, we awoke on Tuesday morning with bleary eyes and sensitive ears. We were dispersed in three groups across the houses of members of the UniSons, our gracious hosts for the previous evening’s concert. After saying embarrassingly tearful goodbyes (Ted Bartram just can’t let go, it would seem), we made our way via train, taxi, bus, and unhealthy breakfast to a leafy Boston suburb. The picturesque neighbourhood had hidden within it the makings of a Liquid 5th production office. One of the prizes given to Voice Festival winners is the recording, mixing, and mastering of a single by Liquid 5th, free of charge. As we had recevied such amazing feedback, we decided to go with “Rich Man”, our mash-up of “If I were a rich man” from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and Gwen Stefani’s remake of “Rich Girl”.

Rob going for it

Rob going for it

The process was meticulous – two days earlier our producer Josh Chopak had received a score and MIDI file for “Rich Man”, and it was more than we could’ve hoped for that he didn’t run for the hills. With multiple tempo changes, bizarre sound effects, and frequent complete stops, the piece was no easy task to synthesize on a metronome click track. However, our man was up for the job, and in a mercifully quick few hours we managed to record the whole piece, including some additional group chants of “Oi!” to end it off.

being a dweeb

After this smooth session, we travelled to the heart of Boston to drop our bags off at what turned out to be a rather lovely hostel. Then, we headed out for dinner to a restaurant of Josh’s recommendation – ‘Fire and Ice’. In this unique restaurant, you took all you could from a buffet of raw stir-fry ingredients, then chose a sauce and any spices you wanted, before handing it to a chef who operated a huge ten-foot hot plate, who cooked up your own special recipe. Semi-Toned’s veggies and meat eaters alike were spoiled for choice and went back for seconds, thirds, and even, in the case of ultra-human Ed Jillings, fourths. And they even catered for Ashley Waters, whose persistent whining all holiday for a virgin piña colada was finally quietened by the restaurant’s service.

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Smiling through the hunger

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Our custom dishes

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Then, as if the evening couldn’t get any better who should turn up but two of Semi-Toned’s sexiest alumni – Theo “Bass and a Half” Cowper and Ben “VP Education” Street! These guys had planned a whole holiday around our tour, and turned up to support, film, and sing with us, truly proving that they love us more than Simon or Joe ever could.

Tomorrow, we explore Boston’s infamous ‘freedom trail’. See you then!

– E. S.

SEMI-TONED USA TOUR 2015 DAY 2: ARRIVAL IN BOSTON

Monday morning was an early start for us, made easier by a glimpse of home in the form of the inimitable Megabus. We caught this service’s New York-Boston route at 9AM, and spent the next four hours discussing all manner of topics, including “Is blood vegetarian?”, “How does the toilet work on a bus?”, and “Don’t forget, don’t forget, the Mexican spices”. Much to the appreciation of our fellow passengers we eventually arrived in Boston’s coach station, and made our way via their wonderful subway system to Northeastern University, home of our lovely host group, the UniSons.

eddie_Tube

 

Jake, one of the group’s tenors, came to pick us up from the station and showed us around the awesome Northeastern University campus, which dwarfs Exeter’s campus many times over. We then dropped our baggage off at various UniSons’ members’ houses, before heading back to campus and having a lovely meal all together with our new American friends hooray!

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Dinner on campus

 

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UniSons rocking ‘Take Me To Church’

In the evening, we performed at an informal gathering outside, alongside the UniSons and the Downbeats, another Northeastern group. Both groups were fantastically energetic and vibrant, with some real wow moments embedded in their sets. Dispersed among the audience were some Exeter alumni who now lived in Boston, as well as Scotty’s parents who had flown out that very morning, and any students who happened to be passing by. It was a lovely first gig to start our tour off in style!

Downbeats

Downbeats in ‘Paradise’

After this, we headed back to the house of Alex, the UniSons’ beatboxer, and had a party like real Americans! Lots of new friends were made, and lots of new drinking games were learnt (with Pepsi for those of us under 21 of course).

Tomorrow we will be exploring the historic city of Boston, and trying to recover from our hangovers. Peace out!

– E. S.

 

SEMI-TONED USA TOUR 2015 DAY 1: COMING TO AMERICA

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Setting Off

On a sleepy Sunday morning, 12 men across a sunny Birmingham awoke with spirits high and spirit levels higher, as a heavy night of celebrating had followed an amazing win at the Voice Festival University Final the previous night. It must be said that the competition at the VFUK final and over the whole weekend was outstanding and it was an honour to perform with such incredible groups. Everyone was so friendly and supportive of every other group and a special shout out goes to our girls over at Sweet Nothings for screaming so loud during our set. Each of the members made their way to Birmingham Coach station, where we boarded our tour bus and waved farewell to one of our beloved alumni, Joe Lane. He has always been a massive support to the group at competitions, giving us valuable comments in our sound checks on performance days.
The bus journey involved some exciting discussions about future business plans for the group including recording a single, producing a high quality music video and purchasing a Semi-Toned barge called “Cash Ain’t a Problem I Know Where It Goes (Ah Doo)”. The plan clearly being to cut on commuting costs for gigs around the UK. Watch this space…
After a quick snack and check-in at Heathrow the group divided into two to take their separate flights. Team 1 had a light jog through terminal 2 to make it to the gate on time while Team B sat back and relaxed before their later flight. The highlight of the flight had to be some spectacular views of the oceanic ice sheets off the Canadian Coast and some tantalising views of Manhattan as we descended to land.

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Our first sighting of the big apple.

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A short train brought us into the city where Tommy Hamer took control as he revealed that his spirit animal is actually New York. Our first view of the city from the ground was summarised in inspiring quotes such as “It’s big, innit” and “I wish I was Spider-man now.” Some excessively large pizza was a nice way to end the long day of travelling and the two teams were reunited at the hostel before immediately heading to bed for a well earned rest.

Pizza ST

“Medium”

Tomorrow we head off to Boston to meet up with the first of our American groups and to perform in our first tour concert!

– D. P.