#STUSA18 Blogs 7/8: A Bit of a Back(b)log…

Avid readers of our blogs may have noticed a lapse in daily updates: apologies! Our website was down and we’ve be on the road quite a lot recently so haven’t had much time to write posts. So here is a double whammy of days 7 & 8 to make up for it!

Day 7

After our social with All-Night Yahtzee the evening before, the day got off to a leisurely start. As we had all stayed with different hosts from the group, we were scattered around the Florida State University campus, before reconvening for breakfast. Along with Karly, Valeria, and Anthony (from Yahtzee), we made our way to the Maple Street Biscuit Company for a delicious (if slightly unusual) breakfast of fried chicken and American “biscuits”, which I continue to be thoroughly confused by and deeply disagree with. Despite the ongoing confusion of what defines a “biscuit”, the breakfast was delightful, and was topped off by the staff bringing out some free glazed “biscuits” simply because we were British. After breakfast, we made our way back to Valeria’s, where some people chose to have a nap, others went for a swim, and Tommy insisted on tidying and cleaning her house.

Eventually, the time came for us to depart Tallahassee and say goodbye to our wonderful hosts. Thank you so much to everyone in All-Night Yahtzee for having us: it was an absolute delight to be back at FSU, seeing old faces and meeting new ones. Hopefully we will be seeing All-Night Yahtzee again in a few weeks time when we are in NYC (as they will be there for the ICCA finals), so check back later on to find out!

The bus journey was a predictable one, though with added excitements. The task for the three-hour transit to Troy was to come up with a name and concept for our 2018 Edinburgh Fringe show. Needless to say there was a lot of heated discussion, but this was probably a good thing as it meant we could have the air con on full blast to cool us all down. Sadly I am not able to disclose any of the said Fringe proposals on here; you’ll have to wait a few months for that.

We soon arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Troy, AL, and it is most certainly our nicest hotel to date. We all settled into our rooms and after a brief break, we headed out for our first taste of Alabama. We found a restaurant just down the road called ‘Santa Fe’, serving up classic American grill. We all tucked in to the wide menu of burgers, steaks, quesadillas and ribs, alongside the typical soda refills. A recurring theme of our US tours is that wherever we go, we are often asked who we are and what we’re up to – and we would usually take this opportunity to plug our local show and our new album. Today, we went one step further, and after the meal we sang the American National Anthem for the waiting and kitchen staff to show them a little bit of what we do. On our way out of the restaurant, we stopped for a photo with a rusty old car (I’m still not quite sure why we did this or what the thinking was behind it, but we all got involved nonetheless).

Then, with eating, singing, and photograph opportunity complete, we headed back to the hotel for a much-needed restful evening. We all convened in one room together and watched pointless YouTube videos for a few hours, chatting away and filming some vlog footage and discussing our highlights of tour thus far. The room captured a wholesome family atmosphere, with all of us bunched into two beds, and it’s really starting to feel like tour now that we’re well into the swing of things. Our third show is up next!

Henry x

Day 8

The bright Alabama sun rose on what was to be a wonderfully lazy morning for the group in Troy. Exhausted after long hours of travelling, we made the not-so-Herculean effort of descending from our rooms in search of a hearty breakfast of waffles, bagels, muffins and other nutritious carbohydrates, all washed down with the sweet nectar of sugary fruit juice.

The only other main activity of the morning was a trip to the pool, where Sam led a few others in a couple of stretches. We all rather underestimated the scorching solar rays, and left the pool at around midday with quite a few reddened faces.

After a quick trip to Popeye’s, we hopped into the bus (temporarily renamed the Trojan Horse) for our third gig of the tour! We couldn’t wait to perform again, having had a 3 day break. Soundcheck was fairly painless, and we were treated to a delicious dinner afterwards! We were also very fortunate to have Frequency (Troy University’s jazz a cappella group) open the show for us, then be part of such a supportive audience afterwards. We even managed to grab a group photo with them afterwards!

We would have loved to socialise a little more, but with a 6 hour bus journey in mind the next day, we retired to the hotel. On to South Carolina!

Ludo x

#STUSA18 Blog 6: Semi-Yahtzee

A bright morning broke in Tampa and despite abhorrent lateness from myself and Westy, we strapped ourselves in for the 5 hour drive to Tallahassee where an evening with our a cappella friends All-Night Yahtzee awaited. We first met All-Night Yahtzee back in our first show of STUSA16, and the four still in the group who are old enough to remember them were excited to return to Tallahassee. For the other ten of us, we were looking forward to meeting them!

This was to be the longest journey we have had so far on the tour and as a result there was a scramble to not be sat in the cramped back seats on the bus. Added to this, the eternal air con battle was still raging in the group, meaning tensions were high for the beginning of the journey.

A stop off at Walmart quelled these arguments by providing much needed food. The size of this Walmart shocked us all – it was huge, which meant we all found something for lunch that satisfied our stomachs and by that I mean we bought cheap, unhealthy snacks. We jumped back in the bus for the second half of the journey and after what felt like forever, we arrived. After being cooped up on the bus, there was some excitable energy on arrival, and some rather over-zealous jumping around ended up in Ludo’s shirt being torn. Rather than leaving it, Henry and Sam took the initiative to fashion the shirt into a new garment.

As we were staying with various members of All-Night Yahtzee, we dropped our bags and went for a lovely (and filling) dinner at Olive Garden to celebrate the birthday of John from the group. Jacob Storey noted the “excellence” of the breadsticks but Tommy maintains they were too salty, so the jury’s out on that one.

It would have been rude to have two a cappella groups together and not sing, so we took a trip over to Florida State University’s campus and performed for each other. All-Night Yahtzee treated us to their jaw-dropping ICCA set (which they will be performing in the finals on Broadway next week!), as well as their most recent single, a version of Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ and other songs that had us on our feet. In return, we performed a few tracks from Strike Three including ‘Crave’ and ‘Bat Out of Hell’. We threw in our versions of ‘Never Too Much’ and the American National Anthem for good measure.

Keeping up the lively atmosphere, we all went back to Valeria’s flat for a social; conversation inevitably involved a cappella, British-American differences, and trying to perfect each others’ accents (with little success).

Soon, we will be leaving Florida – next stop Alabama!

Ryan x

#STUSA18 Blog 5: Time Off in Tampa

After our show in Venice, the group had a well-earned rest back at the hotel and many took the opportunity of a lie in to recharge. After a slow rise some of us headed all the way next door (further than you might think!) to a McDonald’s. While most were quite familiar with the menu, Lewis somehow managed to end up with a breakfast much higher in syrup content than he expected, and a “medium” coffee with enough caffeine to last a lifetime.

Filled with food and drink we were ready for the 2 hour drive to Tampa. We loaded everything into the trailer and hit the road, still enduring the bus wide debate of whether or not to have the air conditioning on. We had a small break along the way to stretch our legs, and Will decided to try out his brand new drone, a Mavic Air, dubbed “Droney McDroneface”, and we were all impressed with its flying ability.

Following another stint in the bus, we finally arrived at our destination, the Ramada Temple Terrace. We unloaded the trailer only to find that two Semi-Toned members who prefer to remain anonymous (Charlie and Sam) had left their suit carriers in the last hotel. Fortunately since we had a few days before our next show, our brilliant driver Antonio was kind enough to drive them back to Venice to collect those vital burgundy blazers, and back again to Tampa to reconvene with the rest of the group. Meanwhile those of us that responsibly remembered all of our luggage had a great lunch at a nearby IHOP, where our waitress served up a typical American feast of cheeseburgers and pancakes, with as many refills as we could ask for.

Returning to the hotel, some opted for a mid afternoon nap and a rest by the pool. However, things took a turn for the worst as seemingly out of nowhere a sudden downpour of rain hit Tampa, with even some rumbles of thunder scattered in. This was nothing to worry about though, as the rain lasted for no longer than half an hour, and the Florida heat hit us once again.

The group split up once again, with some heading out to downtown Tampa, while others stayed back at the hotel to get some hard work in (we still have degrees you know!). The splinter group took an Uber into the city, and we were surprised by how picturesque it was, seeing many high rise buildings but still maintaining the homely and friendly feel with its cobbled streets. We headed to an Italian restaurant called Bavaro’s, where we filled up on pizza, and revelled yet again in the brilliance of American customer service. After the delicious dinner we took a stroll along the river walk, and took in the beautiful scenery of Tampa.

Retiring to the hotel, we all headed for our beds, in preparation for the 5 hour drive to Tallahassee the next morning.

Jacob S x

#STUSA18 Blog 4: The ‘Other’ Venice

Exhausted from our show the day before, but excited for our next performance, we boarded the bus bright and early to make the three and a half hour journey from Delray Beach to Venice (in Florida, not Italy, much to Ludo’s disappointment). As usual, there was arguing all the way about whether to use the air con or not: Tommy continues to insist that it will completely ruin our voices before the performance, but it’s also SO HOT HERE. For lunch we stopped off at a Walmart – always a treat – and while some of the group opted for the tasty Subway that we all know and love, others opted for the healthier option of a salad bowl… because who knows when we will next see green food again!

Despite the ongoing air conditioning debates, worsened by the smell of Walmart-purchased Cheetos, we soon arrived at the venue. The Venice Performing Arts Centre, situated on the high school campus, exceeded all of our expectations with its fantastic facilities, and boasted our largest capacity venue on tour, equipped with 1,100 seats.

The auditorium of VPAC

Venice High School’s choir ‘Le Voci di Venezia’ sang fantastically to open the show and were the perfect introduction for our performance. Our Venice audience did not disappoint and their enthusiasm and participation in our show made it one of our best yet! Particular highlights include the entire audience standing to join us in our rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, a moving moment which I will never forget, and our lovely audience volunteer Kat when participated in our performance of Bump and Grind. In said song, we select a willing female volunteer from the audience to be serenaded by one of three Semi Toned candidates of her choice: Sam, Greg, and myself. In this show, Greg was the chosen soloist, pushing me and Sam out of the way!

Our elected soloist having his long hair tamed pre-show.

Now even more exhausted after having done two gigs in a row, we made our way to our next hotel, quickly dropped our bags in our respective rooms and hit the pool for a late swim around 10pm in the evening. After our evening dip we relaxed on our hotel balcony and treated ourselves to celebratory drink, talking late into the night. We now have a few days off in northern Florida before we move to Alabama for our next performance in Troy!

Chad x

#STUSA18 Blog 3: The First Show!

The third day of tour dawned bright and early for most of the group, who decided to take in the morning sunshine with a quick dip in the pool. Never ones to shy away from a competition, we had a number of swimming races, with Greg ultimately proving himself a worthy victor.

After drying off, we grabbed a quick breakfast (just a side note: cornflakes and froot loops are NOT a good combo) and packed our bags before waving a fond farewell to the Sleep Inn – we were off to our first gig! We arrived at the Old School Square Crest Theatre at around midday. It was absolutely scorching, and after dropping our bags in the green rooms backstage, we headed across the square in search of some lunch (and shade!). We found ‘El Camino’, a Mexican restaurant with a fantastic array of enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos and much more! A delicious feast – and we certainly wobbled rather than walked back to the theatre afterwards.

Then came the first soundcheck of the tour. This was always going to be time consuming, as we had to adapt all 22 songs to the new stage, however with the help of Will and Lewis (our trusty tech team), the process ran smoothly, and we finished excited for the show ahead.

After a tasty supper of macaroni cheese, pulled pork, and various salads, we headed upstairs to the green room to change and prepare for the show. It was exhilarating when the curtain lifted and we were actually performing! Some highlights of the evening were the first ever performance of ‘Drumming Song’, and our rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, which always goes down a treat over here! It was delightful to meet many of the audience in the atrium after the show (if you are reading this, thank you so much for coming!), but after packing up all the bags, tech and gear, we were well and truly exhausted. Luckily, our next hotel was only a 10 minute drive away, and we all gladly collapsed into our beds. Onto the next performance!

Ludo x

#STUSA18 Blog 2: Miami Magic

Day Two of the tour started leisurely and while most of the group staggered down to breakfast at 8:30, three lively boys in Henry, Greg and Chad sacrificed sleep for swimming and were at the pool at 7:30 sharp, burning some of the calories they were to load on at breakfast, where waffles and syrup were on the menu.

Promptly after breakfast, we gathered in Tommy and Sam’s room for a rehearsal to get us ready for our first show tomorrow. However, the combination of 26 degree heat outside and twelve sweating blokes in a room designed for two made the space somewhat like a slow cooker. Added to this, as Tommy Hamer constantly reminds us, air conditioning is banned as it dries out your voice. No air conditioner created a Sahara-esque environment. When we finally escaped, the group split in two, with half deciding their stomachs were top priority, walking down the road to a diner before returning to the hotel to work (a bitter reminder to all of us that we have degrees we should be working for). The other half ventured out to Versailles, the self-proclaimed most famous Cuban restaurant in the world. Everyone was keen to taste its celebrated cuisine and tried something new, most notably Jacob Storey, who opted for the classic Cuban dish of a cheeseburger and fries.

With bellies full, the splinter group took a long walk down to Little Havana (ooh na nah), Miami’s Cuban area known for its funky architecture and wall art. Many murals and buildings were impressive, but it was a pink church that caught Ludo’s eye, despite being rather dull in comparison to literally everything else we saw. We took a photo anyway because we’re tourists and that’s what we’re meant to do (at least that’s what they tell me).

The splinter group then reconvened with the hard workers at South Beach for a bit of sun, sea and sand. Charlie and Westy took a swim in the Atlantic for all of five seconds before being told via a shouty local that there was a shark some twenty feet away from them. Greg still passionately claims that he saw this shark yet failed to use the camera he had in his hand at the crucial moment so is most likely a liar. A walk along the beach provided a perfect opportunity for us to show off our sunglasses and for the sun to burn my neck (a sad reality of life as a ginger). This walk meandered into the nearby streets before we settled at a taco bar for dinner, where lighting guru Lewis chose a grasshopper and guacamole taco, which curiousity prompted us all to try. The reception was mixed; many were not keen but others were more positive, yet Westy was not concerned with this as he was genuinely convinced for a second that they were live grasshoppers.

Our evening in South Beach served as some lovely downtime as a full group. Apart from Sam Harper, who spent his evening in the gym, because priorities.

Gym or not, we all headed home for an early night ready for our first show at Delray Beach tomorrow evening!

Ryan x

#STUSA18: The Journey Begins

Welcome to the #STUSA18 blogs! As is now a Semi-Toned tradition, a carefully-selected team of writers from the group will be documenting our escapades in the USA over the next three weeks and relaying them as best we can to you, our dear readers (who are probably just our parents, to be honest…). So, without further ado – here’s day one!

After we had woken up at the ungodly hour of 3am, Charlie’s house was filled with silent commotion as we all prepared to depart without waking his parents. Against all the odds, we boarded our bus to Gatwick on time, and on the journey to the airport everyone fell promptly back to sleep, still tired from bootcamp rehearsals on Monday. We arrived at the airport at around 5am, and once we had checked in and been through security there was only one thing that we all wanted to do. This was, of course, to find the airport Wetherspoons and have a nice hearty full English breakfast before we flew out. Most people, as expected, helped themselves to a coffee or a juice, whilst some of the group decided to go for something a little stronger to help with the flight.

With our flight slightly delayed until 9.15am, several people took the opportunity to do a little bit of pre-tour shopping in Gatwick duty-free. Ryan, Ludo, Alfie and Jacob W (henceforth, Westy, due to the fact that there are two Jacobs in the group) spent some time in the tech shop and eventually all treated themselves to some very nice noise-cancelling headphones of varying price brackets. Presumably, this is because they have the foresight to be prepared for when they want to drown out the questionable conversations that will be had on the bus in the coming weeks…

Exploring the headphone options.

Shopping bought and bellies filled, we all headed down to the gate to board our flight. Greg was particularly excited to discover that our journey was on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and as he so kindly pointed out that the name suggests, the journey was indeed dreamy. Many people slept after the early start, some watched films, and a few committed individuals in row 19 even managed to get some revision and work done (hey mum – I’ve finally started my dissertation!). After our relaxing 7 and a half hour flight over the Atlantic, we progressed through JFK border control and collected our baggage, before making our way over to Terminal 8 to check in for our connection down to Miami.

The view of Miami Beach on our approach to Miami Airport.

Now at this point in the blog, I must apologise, since there is only so much interesting content one can write about a travel day. However, one point of interest has been the progressive whereabouts of the four boater hats, which are props in our show. Possession of the hats during our transit rotated between various members of the group, and as such they ended up scattered around everywhere, or on rare occurrences all four would end up in the same place…

Happy guardians of the boater hats

Questionable hat aesthetics

We arrived in Miami at around 7pm local time, collected our luggage and made our way to the hotel. Beside the small drama of American Airlines not putting one of the flight cases on the aeroplane down to Miami, and thus leaving it in JFK, our travels for the day had gone very smoothly. Fear not, though – the flight case has since found its way down to us and is safely in the loving arms our technical manager, Will. The group split up for dinner; whilst half stayed at the hotel watching basketball and treated themselves to a Papa John’s delivery, others ventured out to the iHop down the road. As soon as we had eaten, everyone crashed out having done a nearly 24 hour-long day. A successful and safe day of travels all round!

Lewis and Jacob enjoying their well-earned pizza.

 

And so concludes the first of our STUSA18 blogs: come back tomorrow to find out what we’ve been up to in Miami. And don’t forget that you can also keep up to date on our proceedings via Twitter and Instagram, following #STUSA18, and you will be able to find our vlogs on YouTube as we upload them!

Henry x

Semi-Toned on Sing: Ultimate A Cappella

We’re SO excited to finally announce that we will be appearing on Sky 1’s brand new show ‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’, hosted by the wonderful Cat Deeley.

This brand new competition is the first ever TV show in Britain to focus solely on a cappella and features 30 groups from across the UK and Ireland. You’ll see us in Episode 1, airing on Friday 6th October at 9pm. Make sure you tune in!

©Sky UK Ltd.

©Sky UK Ltd.

#SingOnSky