London A Cappella Festival, 28-31 January, 2015. Preview by Peter Jones
2015 marks the sixth year of the annual London A Cappella Festival, run by Ikon Arts, an artists’ management company specializing in singers. And not just any old singers, but professional vocal groups like The Swingles (as the Swingle Singers are now known). The Festival was started for the benefit of unaccompanied singers who had no other obvious platform. The inaugural event attracted people from all over the UK, but now audiences come from all over the world, including a previously obscure grouping known as ‘the a cappella community’, for whom it is an opportunity to network with like-minded souls.
Although close harmony singing at its best can hardly avoid jazz-type chordal structures and progressions, there is only one act this year that takes an out-and-out jazz approach, and that is a young international six-piece combo called Accent.
The group models itself on the legendary Take 6, whose eponymous 1988 debut album was so startlingly accomplished and, well, different, that it won two Grammys. You could accuse Accent of simply copping Take 6’s bag – until you realize how young they all are. It would be like blaming the Beach Boys for taking their cue from The Four Freshmen. So you forgive them, because 27 years have passed, and they weren’t even born when Take 6 burst on to the scene.
The extraordinary thing about Accent is not so much that they come from five different countries, but that the London gigs will mark only the second time they have ever met in person. Modern technology is what has made it possible to call Accent a band at all: Danny Fong and Andrew Kesler from Canada, James Rose from England, Simon Åkesson from Sweden, Jean-Baptiste Craipeau from France and Evan Sanders from the USA got it together online.
Peter Jones interviewed Evan Sanders of Accent by phone
How did Accent became a YouTube phenomenon?
It all started on the strength of the individual members’ YouTube channels. Jean-Baptiste in particular was very adept at multi-tracking his voice. Danny also was doing a similar thing, multi-tracking barbershop stuff. What happened then was that Take 6 fans started following us individually, and meanwhile we were following each other, got talking through YouTube and social media, and gradually coalesced into what we are today.
What can audiences expect from your London gigs?
Well, we’re six guys from five different countries, and we only met and performed together for the first time in June 2014, in Sweden. Our excitement just to actually be together creates so much energy that the audience will definitely pick up on that. But in terms of the tunes we’ll be playing, there’s already some new stuff since we played in June, and that means more of our own arrangements of existing material.
I gather the members of Accent are all separately involved in music full-time.
Yes, that’s true – five of us are professionally engaged in composing, performing, arranging or engineering. In fact, I’m the only one you could describe as a normal working stiff, since I have an ordinary office job – although I also perform a lot in my spare time.
How do you rehearse and record at the moment – by conference call?
No, the technology isn’t quite there to allow that yet. There’s a latency problem, the satellite delay, that makes it impossible to time the music accurately. So instead we work independently a lot beforehand, and rehearse immediately before the gig. Fortunately we all read music very well, so once the parts are written out we can sing the piece. Some members of the band can remember their parts by rote, but in the end it’s pretty much all written out.
Why do you think there’s so little vocal harmony in jazz? Once you take into account Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and latterly Take 6 and New York Voices, the cupboard is relatively bare.
Well that’s a very good question – I don’t really know. Having said that, there is an academic vocal jazz tradition here in the US that I suppose provides a grounding in this kind of singing.
What would happen if Accent became as big as Take 6? Wouldn’t it be a logistical nightmare?
It’s something we’ve only just started to think about. The first time we decided to get together in person, it was like a joke. But then we realized it was going way better than we ever dreamed possible. So now we’re actually having to consider the possibility of being physically together more often. We could probably handle doing six to ten gigs a year, but more than that, and we’d probably have to be together all the time.
*Accent are appearing at Kings Place, King’s Cross, London, on Friday 30th January, and before that at the Spice of Life, Soho, on Wednesday 28th.
*The London A Cappella Festival runs from 28th to 31st January at Cadogan Hall and Kings Place. It includes vocal workshops for both adults and children, with ‘LACF Kids’ on the afternoon of the final day.
*For adults, there are workshops on everything from harmony singing to creating instrument sounds using only your mouth.
*The Festival closes with a concert by The Swingles.