STUSA17 Blog 16: Back to Business

‘Twas gone first light when I, through fitful slumber, saw the sharp Utah rays drench the Rey Inn’s courtyard and pierce my folded curtains. I rose quickly on account of my companion Robert, whose blunt request to silence my iPhone alarm saw that I rolled out of bed to cross the room. This I performed in a manner akin to that of a sow turfed out of warm hay (that is to say, sluggish and disgruntled, grumbling meagre curses).

The pair of us joined the rest of our rag-tag bunch in the dining hall, though this perhaps gives an air of grandeur to the pokey side room that could be deemed by those present as a little over-generous. Over our breakfast of Fruit Loops and DIY waffles, we conversed on the subject that, having come to light that very morning, had been troubled each of our independent crania, this being the prospect of a snap general election by that bastion of democracy, figurehead of the western world, wielder of the electoral gauntlet, Prime Minister Theresa May. This reporter is proud to convey that much guffawing, debating, and masticating (the latter pertaining to the Fruit Loops) ensued over the future of our sovereign isle – one must understand, you see, that, politics, akin to our dear lady A cappella, is a gentleman’s game, and as such must be discussed with the utmost respect (as anyone who has seen our performance of Macarena and I’ll Make a Man Out of You will recognise).

After our spirited debate and a brisk exploration of our immediate -if humble- surroundings, Exeter’s burgundy triodecad, full of maple syrup and pre-performance vigour, boarded our chariot for a six minute journey to the Heritage Centre Theatre. Jacob Storey managed to fill this void of time by substituting each vowel sound of the tenor 1 line of Michael Buble’s Everything with Greg’s name. Needless to say, such horseplay is, and remains grating from its outset.

Upon arrival, the inexorable soundcheck reared its ugly head, but it proved brief, and was conquered with amiable grace. Unbeknownst to Henry, our community outreach show had been billed as an “A cappella masterclass” with “Cambridge University’s Semi-Toned”, which prompted some slap-dash last minute adjustments to our usual extravaganza. These were bestowed upon the audience in the form of elongated, educational speeches interspersing our usual tomfoolery (with the addition of a rare beatboxing workshop from seasoned veterans Sam Harper and Duncan Payne). Following this landmark success, we ventured out onto the wild plains of Cedar City to hunt the illustrious chicken teriyaki, which basks in the shadows of the white mountains that loom, ever present, over the American southwest.

Following our lavish evening performance, we dined like kings upon complementary gateau provided by our magnanimous hosts. Moreover, I feel it due to offer my sincerest apologies to the young lady whose name we sadly botched during an overly-zealous rendition of happy birthday at our merchandise kiosk (whose moniker, for reasons adumbrated, I have no choice but to omit). When the sun had set over the hills, we welcomed a lively bunch of SUU Music students to our dwellings, who, bearing plentiful helpings of crème soda and chips, joined us for a joyous social gathering. They stayed round the hearth late into the night, bellowing out Downtown by Macklemore and, oxymoronically, It’s Oh So Quiet by Bjork. I am ashamed to admit that I, weary from the day’s activity, retired to my bedchamber early, swapping rooms with Ludo so that the party could keep on rocking.

Thus I replace my quill in my breast pocket, and conclude today’s entry in favour of a good night’s rest. Yet do not fear: we shall speak again on the morrow.


P.S. Duncan here. While editing this, I understood roughly 50% of the text, so I will presume Alfie, as an English student, is correct in his musings. We’re now on our way to Iowa!

STUSA17 Blog 15: We Came to See da City

Our last day in Las Vegas appeared all too soon, and we prolonged our stay in the hotel until 4pm to have a last wander around (and/or lie-in some cases). Some of the group went to have lunch with Jon Primrose, a member of Exeter University’s Drama Department, who happened to be on the West Coast at the same time as us, in Denny’s, the typical American diner (We can confirm that bacon-cheddar tots are absolutely delicious), whilst others took a last lounge at the pool.

Unfortunately, the time to depart arrived, and we waved goodbye to the Strip, the Plaza hotel, and all the neon madness that the ‘City of Sin’ had held for us over the last few days. And so we drove towards Utah, across more of the stunning desert, framed by gigantic canyons on both sides, feeling the heat of the sun, even in the late afternoon. Most of us had quite a few hours of sleep to catch up on, and the sleepy, idyllic landscape was the perfect environment for a nap in the bus.


Hopefully they were dreaming of something slightly less terrifying than Ed's face

Hopefully they were dreaming of something slightly less terrifying than Ed’s face

Cedar City could not be more different from Las Vegas (but then again, can you really compare Vegas to anywhere else?). We unpacked, then set off to explore the town in the fading light of evening. We decided to dine at the ‘Centro’ woodfire pizza restaurant, a nice change indeed from the snacking that Vegas had leant itself to. Rob even managed to get a free pizza due to the complexity of his order! The food was delicious, and we left thoroughly contented (if a little bloated). After a few rounds of poker (Vegas has changed us!), we very happily hit the hay.

Not quite the same views as this in Cedar City

Not quite the same views as this in Cedar City

We can’t wait to sing again today, as our last show seems years ago! I can’t believe how fast everything is going!


STUSA17 Blog 12: Viva Las Vegas

Before today, I thought that tumbleweeds were a myth. I was wrong. The drive from Lancaster to Las Vegas took us on a single, endless road through Southern California and into Nevada, bordered all around by enormous mountains as far as we could see. For most, the drive was spent listening to and critiquing Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN., but our resident photographer Greg was busy with other pursuits. We’d been given the privilege of looking after the official City of Las Vegas Instagram account for the day, so we started off our posts with a classic group huddle around a particularly becoming shrub (check out @cityoflasvegas for our takeover).


Soon enough the city of sin came looming into view, and we were driving parallel to the famous strip, marvelling at hotels like Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio, and billboards advertising appearances from the likes of Celine Dion and Elton John (if anyone knows the latter, by the way, I’m sure we could fit a guest performance of Candle in the Wind into our tight schedule). Our driver, Elio, also pointed out the rides on top of the Stratosphere, a building that towers above the city and allows the more mentally unstable of thrill-seekers the chance to be strapped into a ride that spins off the edge of the building. I mean, it sounds like fun I guess… but Henry and I preferred the look of the aquarium.

We arrived at the Historic Fifth Street School and unloaded our things. The venue was just off Fremont Street, hailed the ‘mini-strip’ of Las Vegas (but more on that later). After soundcheck and dinner we started our preparations for the night post-gig with a deck of cards and makeshift poker chips. The less experienced of us huddled around the table as Ed Jillings showed us how one might try and minimise their losses at a Vegas table (because as we know, the house always wins). However, what we didn’t know was that Jacob Storey is an unlikely poker fiend. I won’t be sitting across the table from him anytime soon, let me tell you that.


Pre-show relaxation

Pre-show relaxation

Not so relaxing playing against a Tusken Raider

Not so relaxing playing against a Tusken Raider

Fuelled by excitement, the gig was a big success, though apparently the women here are shier than the movies had led us to believe, as Duncan Payne almost had to offer himself as tribute for Ed’s fabled audience-participation spectacle Bump and Grind. Soon we were up in Ted and Sylvan’s room as the 21 year olds among us practiced blackjack and indulged in Four Loko, a mythical American delicacy with the potency of wine and the taste of rocket fuel. After seeing off a couple of them, we ventured out onto Fremont Street.

One happy group

One happy group

You can hear it from the hotel lobby: the noise of late-night tribute bands and spectators hooting over the sound of the city. Bright, beaming leagues of lightbulbs and neon hold you in on either side, and high above arches the world’s largest TV screen, with a zipline running the entire length of the strip. We’d all seen Las Vegas on TV and in the movies, but it’s different when it’s all in front of you. It’s hard to say how long we were there: we walked right the way down Fremont Street huddled together in wonder, near speechless at everything that was going on around us. When we finally reached the end and came to our sense a little, we decided to take stock with a slice of Piccadilly Circus pizza (a nice touch of home comfort). And whilst half the group opted to go to a bar, Rob Akerele-Miles wanted a tattoo.

Sylvan's face says it all

Sylvan’s face says it all

How did it end up like this

How did it end up like this

Upon hearing this, myself, Greg, Ludo, Henry and Duncan dashed to the tattoo parlour in fear of missing this momentous moment. It was a little place just off Fremont with dazzling white lights and locals who couldn’t believe our accents. We were sure he was going to bottle it. I mean, who really gets a tattoo at 2:30 AM on their first night in Vegas? But, as Ted, Sam, Charlie and Ed ran in to join the gang, he lay down on the table like an ancient warrior about to receive tribal decoration. In all fairness to him, he took the pain like champ, claiming that it “just tickled” as we stood around him, struck by the hilarity and unorthodoxy of having Psalm 100:3 tattooed on his ribcage. I think it’s safe to say it’ll be a night to remember, even if we did talk him out of getting the septum piercing. After that, those of age amongst us managed to win a cool $5 in the Plaza hotel casino, and called it a night. Tomorrow, the Las Vegas strip calls.


STUSA17 Blog 10: The Birthday Bus

Every day on tour is a special day, that’s for sure. But some days are more special than others. On STUSA17 we have the pleasure of having two members’ birthdays, and yesterday, on our journey down the coast of California from Yountville to Lancaster, I was lucky enough to have mine. As this year’s tour manager I kindly asked for only one thing for my birthday: for the group to ask no stupid questions or questions to which they could find the answer in the incredibly detailed tour handbook. My wish was granted and I can safely say I had a restful day watching people find the answers out for themselves instead of me shepherding them around.

Why would anyone not want to consult this piece of literary mastery?

Why would anyone not want to consult this piece of literary mastery?

The day began with people rising from their slumber just before 9am and making their way wearily to breakfast. Our choices were slightly more varied than the preceding day, with only 6 people opting for the same giant pancakes this time. Others treated themselves to a full cooked breakfast or a ‘Bayside Benedict’. After a leisurely breakfast the group surprised me with a birthday cake (or rather, 20 small birthday cakes) and I blew out the candles promptly as we were on an incredibly tight schedule. I have become feared for my ruthless efficiency.

Happy Birthday Henry

Happy Birthday Henry

Once the celebrations had passed we set off for yet another day-long bus journey. Arguments over who had to sit in the back seats swiftly erupted, as it turns out no-one wants to sit over the wheel arch or miss out on the snacks in the front. We have begun to develop a rotational system so that everyone does their fair share, however special commendations must go to Jacob Storey and Ludo Graham who took one for the team and sat in the back for the whole 6 and a half hour journey.

Our bus chats are always especially interesting and this journey was no exception. We discovered yet more foods that Jacob hasn’t eaten. The list now looks like this: soup, rice, spinach, green beans, lettuce, peas, lentils, hummus, sweetcorn, chickpeas, avocado. There’s probably more we don’t know about…

We have to refuel multiple times during these journeys but this allows us to appreciate the views, go to the restroom, and means Ted can buy mroe Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. We stopped in a rural gas station where Elio bought a quesadilla that smelled amazing. There, in order to stretch out our legs, we founded Semi-Toned’s first (and probably last) trailer-vaulting championships, by Rob Akerele-Miles claiming that he could vault over it. The trailer is 6ft x 4ft. He tried and failed. Then Ludo tried and got onto the top but no further. Will Surridge had a go and, put simply, proved why he does sound engineering rather than athletics. Even Ed Jillings was going to have a crack but on his approach he realised he was attempting the impossible.

The scene of the vaulting

The scene of the vaulting

At another pit stop we grabbed a bite to eat. Alfie decided to experience true American cuisine and got a McDonalds, as did Rob. Charlie thought he’d step it up and got to an In-N-Out. However this master plan backfired, and it should really be called In-N-Wait-For-Fifteen-Minutes-And-Complain-And-Eventually-Get-Your-Food-And-Then-Get-Out.

On our arrival into Lancaster we settled into our hotel and claimed our complimentary drinks at the bar. Sat by the pool, all fourteen of us had a lovely chat and a chance to actually remain stationary for a moment after a day of travelling. After a brief rest, we headed out to a Japanese restaurant called Red Salmon for some sushi and sake to conclude my day of birth and completion of my teenage years. It was a lovely evening and a chance for everyone to chat to each other and actually have a proper meal not consisting of gas station snacks or biscuits taken from the green rooms of our venues.

It is a privilege to have spent my birthday in the US with my best friends, even if it was stuck on a bus for 6 and a half hours. On tour last year, I saw Barack Obama in his presidential limo and saw the Washington monument, but I guess you can’t have something that cool every birthday. I must thank everyone in the group for making it so much fun.

We are now also over a third of the way through our tour and the days are flying back! We are all having a blast, as you can hopefully tell by our blogs, and we don’t really want it to end in a week and a half’s time…

Today we have a show in Lancaster Performing Arts Center – check back to see how it goes!


STUSA Blog 4: Showtime in Cowboy Country

The day started early for Duncan and Henry, who made their way at 7am to a local radio station to promote the show. Local radio isn’t much of a thing in the UK and when we have been on the radio, it has all been very official. So it was refreshing to walk straight into a studio without being checked in and then just to have a friendly, relaxed chat with the host. He asked us lots of questions about how the group works, he made us sing a lovely bass/beatbox duet and he even managed to ask about Brexit. We were very reserved with our answers, not wanting to upset anyone that might have different political views from ourselves. Interview done and we headed back. And now my bucket list looks like this:

  1. Learn to juggle
  2. Visit Disneyland
  3. Talk on a Texan radio station


Breakfast in Bed

Breakfast in Bed

After a Walmart bought breakfast in one of our rooms, a few of the more adventurous members headed out for some exploration. We decided to visit the local art museum, where we learnt about the Western Cowboy culture. Something that stood out for me is that as lots of the history is recent, in comparison to lots of European history, lots of American events or heritage are very well documented. In the museum were saddles that had been passed down within ranching families and various old guns that had been awarded to Sheriffs as thanks for their service. Our lovely blue haired bus driver, Sheridan, informed us that lots of the founding families of Kerrvile still have descendants living in the town, such as the Schreiner family (which the university is named after) and the Cailloux family (which our theatre is named after).


Three very different types of Cowboy

Three very different types of Cowboy

When we entered the museum, the receptionist was quick to figure out who we were, and pinned us down as “those British boys who are performing tonight” which really made us realise how fast news spreads in a small town (especially with the help of social media). In the “Artist of the Month” exhibition, we observed beautiful pastel paintings on black paper, and a woman came up to talk to us who turned out to be the artist! After a brief chat with Karen Cooper about different states, her work and our tour, we then headed out to catch some of the amazing Texas views. This took us to the hollow cross, a local pilgrimage site for Christians.



Heading back to the hotel for a delicious lunch of fried chicken and popcorn shrimp, we had a bit of downtime by the pool before we needed to make our way to the theatre. One slightly stressful soundcheck later (what would a show day be without one?) and we were ready to perform. This night was our first full show in the states and nerves were running high. The curtains rose and we gave it our all. The show was great! The Texan audience was really receptive and the boys had tonnes of energy.

One of my favourite parts of being in Semi-Toned is meeting people after the show, and it is especially nice to see the new boys in the group enjoy that for the first time. We ran round to the front of house after the last song to meet people from all over the states (and even some from England), whilst signing everything from tickets to phone cases. People are so lovely and kind after our shows and we can’t thank yall enough (I think Texas is starting to rub off on me…)

Being unicorns with the sorority

Being unicorns with the sorority

A quick change at the hotel and we then made our way back to “The Boat” were we met with Schriener University’s Delta Phi Epsilon chapter, a sorority who had come to see the show. It was great to hang out with students again and to compare our different University lifestyles.

Having not been to The Boat the previous night, I was blown away by how amazing the town of Kerrville is at Karaoke. From old bearded men belting out Frank Sinatra to women hitting those high notes better than Adele, this town is extremely talented. They even had their own local dance moves, which you will have to ask Ed Jillings for a proper first hand account.

Later in the night we found ourselves at Schriener University campus, but after realising that we were all exhausted from the show, we made our way back to the hotel to rest up for our big day of travel to come the next day. Oregon, here we come!

A massive thank you goes to the fantastic staff at the Cailloux Theatre. They really helped make the show was it was and were extremely helpful throughout our stay in Kerrville. And another thank you to the sorority girls, who were more than friendly and were great company.

Today we fly off to Oregon in preparation for our next set of shows!


A Very Semi-Toned Christmas

Just in case you missed it, here is our Charity Christmas Single. All of the proceeds are going to the Order of Malta Volunteers, a great charity which encourages young people to volunteer their time to help ill, vulnerable and disabled people.

We had such a blast making this and we hope you enjoy it!

Donations can be made on our JustGiving page and the track is available on both Itunes and Spotify.

Merry Christmas!


We are over the moon to say that we won The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain! After months of working hard over the summer, and even more months of keeping it all a secret, we are really proud of our win. The Final especially was a real challenge that pushed us out of our comfort zone which really helped the group to improve.

Congratulations also must go to our fellow choirs EAGA, Bulmershe Ensemble and Mums in Durham for all of their outstanding performances.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with Gareth, the professional mentors and the production crew and we hope to keep in contact.

Thank you to Gareth and the BBC for giving us such a wonderful opportunity.

The Choir: Gareth's Best in Britain

The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain