Six-voice a cappella group ACCENT will make their Royal Albert Hall debut on Sunday. They are in the line-up for “Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas” – with Clare Teal, Clarke Peters, Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling.
They first met via social media, on a forum for the 1950s group The Hi-Lo’s. They started “performing” together – and releasing YouTube videos – in 2011 but didn’t actually meet in person until June 2014. Sebastian (*) asked EVAN SANDERS, who sings bass in the group to explain the background:
LondonJazz News: Who is in Accent ?
Evan Sanders: Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, tenor 1 (France); Simon Åkesson, tenor 2 (Sweden); Danny Fong, tenor 3 (Canada); Andrew Kesler, tenor 4 (Canada); James Rose, baritone (UK) and myself. I sing bass and I’m from the USA.
LJN: How does a group from five different countries get started?
ES : We began in 2011 as a one-time internet collaboration between a cappella vocalists from five different countries. In 2014, we were invited to perform live at a Swedish choral festival. Meeting up for the first time, and performing together was something that we had really only joked about: ‘of course we would love to meet some time’, but it was something that wouldn’t happen unless the stars aligned, so when the stars did align it was quite something. Until we got to know each other properly, we couldn’t say how it would work in a musical setting, whether we would all share the same level of professionalism. All of those fears went out of the window really quickly. They were top in all those things. Working together has been such a privilege, and we’ve kept that energy going.
LJN: How 2016 has been for Accent?
ES: 2016 has been our busiest and most exciting yet. We went from one show a couple of years ago, to two shows the next year, to spending many solid weeks together in person this year. We kept producing steady content for YouTube, produced a new EP – which is nearly finished – launched some collaborations and participated in multiple academic pursuits.
LJN: We understand this is your Royal Albert Hall debut – How did that happen?
ES: Guy has been in touch with our London-based member, James Rose, and they’ve talked for a while about doing something related to the group. This will be the biggest show we’ve ever done, we are just ecstatic. It’s a really great opportunity for us, and it’s been a joy to work with Guy. He’s someone whose work precedes him, and it’s been such a positive experience for us.
LJN: And you are looking forward to it …
ES: It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done, we are just ecstatic. It’s a really great opportunity for us, and it’s been a joy to work with Guy. He’s someone whose work precedes him, and it’s been such a positive experience for us.
The line-up is amazing. All of these artists are extraordinary, but we are really happy to be in a programme with Kurt Elling – he is such a big name in the vocal jazz world.
LJN: What does 2017 have in store?
ES: 2017 will see the release of our EP. It’s very different from our debut recordings. It’s all going to be material that’s as yet unreleased, and that’s pretty rare in a capella, where a lot of it is covers of pop songs. We’re doing arrangements of songs composed by members of the group, and by other songwriters we’re privileged to work with.
We spent two weeks together in Los Angeles doing live takes, and it was fantastic. It was an important growth opportunity, allowing us to get used to performing together. What was really remarkable for us was how efficient it was. If someone had an idea for, say, a certain inflection, they didn’t have to send a text message and wait for someone in a different time zone to wake up so they could reply. That’s not something special for most groups, but it was important for us!
LJN: And live performances?
ES: We will return to London for the A Cappella Festival at Kings Place (LINK) and our first tour in Germany. We’re also making connections with promoters in Asia. We’re working on some collaborations with prominent producers, bandleaders and vocalists that we are really excited to dive into.
LJN: What can audiences at Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas on Sunday expect?
ES: They can expect a focus on good harmony and good blend – we’re all about putting the vocals first. We bring a classic feeling back to a capella and I think we’ll fit really very nicely with the character of the programme. It will be the first time we’ve been backed by a big band, and we can’t wait. (pp)