AUDIO: Into the Void

We’ve generally been of the opinion, at odds with much of the wider a cappella community, that we want to sound exactly like we do on stage on our recordings. However, many of us have being doing this for a long time – for me it’s been 12 years, and In the Smoke has now been going for almost 8 years (a good chunk of us have been there from the beginning) and in that time have recorded 4 CDs.

So, we thought, why not give a more technological approach a try? This time we recorded people’s voices one at a time, carefully edited and tidied up each layer of the texture, and spent a good bit of time mixing it – with all of the production toys such as EQ, reverb, compression and a teeny-tiny touch of autotune (but only for creative effect of course).

Some things to note:

  • This is Nine Inch Nails – we deliberately didn’t go for an ABBA classic for this – we wanted the music to be intricately constructed and a little dark, to help fire our imaginations
  • At the time of writing there are 17 people in In the Smoke, and all of their voices feature – it’s going to sound dense (and intense) at times!

The song starts with an gradually building and thickening intro, which cleverly moves from 3 to 4 in a bar, then it kicks into 2 verses, punctuated with the refrain ‘tried to save myself…’, which pervades the texture throughout in one way or another.

Then into the second half it breaks down to some quiet sustained chords before swelling into a chaotic, cacophonous section which hurtles towards the final iteration of the refrain.

You won’t get Pentatonix recording a version of this – we deliberately set out to try to make something that people haven’t heard before, so open your ears, strap on your headphones, crank up the volume, and enjoy.

– Michael

BLOG: Every Tuesday night, as usual

I’m sitting on a train on the way to Edinburgh, looking out at the sea to the east. I’ve just received an email from one of our committee members reminding me that it’s my turn to do a blog post. Could I write about one of our new songs? Or an artist we’ve covered? An arrangement, maybe? Or about what the group means to me?

That last one resonated with me, but not in the way I was expecting. What does an a cappella group mean to anyone? It’s a chance to sing, to perform, to challenge yourself. It makes you look silly on stage and learn to accept that that’s ok. It’s a weekly opportunity to bop around, belly laugh and drink white wine. It’s a way to develop your sight singing skills, your ability to blend, the range of sounds you can produce. But it’s more than that.

Like far too many of my recent trips north, I’m on my way to a funeral. Two years ago, when I lost my dad, I spent the evening at a rehearsal. I sang and I cried, but I did neither alone. It was one of them who stayed with me that evening to ward off the darkness. And they were there to support me a couple of months later when I dusted off my dad’s old guitar and took it out for its first – and only – public performance.

It was on Christmas Day last year that I lost my godmother. The funeral would surely be delayed by the festive season, I thought, and so I joined some of ItS for a New Year’s jaunt to somewhere remote with log fires, long walks, and lots of gin. So the call on the 30th to tell me that the funeral was to be held in Dundee on the following morning came as a bit of a shock. Again, ItS rallied round, got me to Peterborough and on train so I could spend 24 hours in Scotland, stayed sober so that I could be picked up from the station on New Year’s Eve, and delayed dinner so that I could be there too.

This time I’m going home to say goodbye to my uncle. And I know that when I come back, ItS will help make life feel normal again, not by doing anything in particular, but by just being there every Tuesday night, as usual.

– Hazel

CAMPAIGN: Tell us what you want (what you really, really want)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, it won’t have escaped you that we’re doing a gig – a Summer Extravaganza, to be precise – THIS Friday 31 July at the Greenwood Theatre in London Bridge (get your tickets here!).

Whilst the programme for this one has already been arranged, rehearsed, memorised, and (almost) polished, the ream of new songs we’ll be airing has left us wondering what our audience (that’s you) would most love to see us perform next.

And that’s where you come in. We want to hear your suggestions, thoughts, feedback and general banter – good or bad: what have you enjoyed seeing us do before; what would you like us to do more, or less, of? Send us a tweet or post to our Facebook page, using the hashtag #WhatIWant, and you could see your message hilariously worked into one of our skits, live on stage…

Get involved:

VIDEO: In the Smoke in the smoke

We’ve written before about how we like to record the same way we perform: the whole group together, often including the soloist. We like the authenticity, we find it more enjoyable, it’s cheaper and quicker (!)…

But we’ve decided to give it a go the other way: recording each part individually and letting our MD Michael play with it until it is something very different indeed.

More on that soon, but it was after one of these sessions that a few of us treated ourselves to a pub lunch. They must have recognised us, as shortly after finishing our meals (but, frustratingly, before we had finished the jug of Pimm’s), they laid on a fire alarm and oodles of smoke, presumably just for us.

It quickly spilled out into the beer garden:


…and even after we finished our drinks classily on the pavement outside, the journey to the toilets was a bit like being in Knightmare:


We’re assured it wasn’t actually a fire – somebody accidentally hit the alarm – but we never got an explanation as to where else the smoke might have come from. Anyway, it was In the Smoke (in the pub) in the smoke, which we agreed was worthy of a blog.

Here’s a trailer for our 31 July Summer Extravaganza – be there or… no, just be there.

– James

VIDEO: The magic number

With our Summer Extravaganza less than three weeks away, preparations are in full swing – in particular for our 10 (yes, 10!) new numbers as well as a brand new, never-seen-before skit, which will no doubt have you rolling in the aisles.*

A particular favourite of mine is Sia’s Chandelier, arranged by Michael and featuring the dulcet tones of Katie in the solo spot. Michael’s arrangement centres around the girls, with one to a part, bringing the gentlemen in later as the song climaxes into rich 10 (yes, 10!)-part harmony. Whilst it’s highly likely that our dancing will not match up to that of child prodigy Maddie Ziegler, who features in the original 2014 music video, I’m willing to bet Michael’s arrangement will send the good kind of shivers down your spine.

As well as our 10 (yes, 10!) new numbers, there will of course be an opportunity to hear some old favourites including the tUnE-yArDs’ Water Fountain, our award-winning Musicals Medley and a teary rendition of No Air performed by departing a-cappellists Shirley and Teddy.

In the Smoke’s Summer Extravaganza will be taking place at the Greenwood Theatre near London Bridge at 8pm on Friday 31 July. Tickets can be purchased online or at a discounted rate via a group member. We’d love to see you there!

*We cannot guarantee that this will be down to the hilarity of the skit.

– Anna

VIDEO: Method in the medleys

If you have been a fan of In the Smoke for some time, you may know that we LOVE a medley. Practised hands, their skills sharpened on Britney, The Beatles and Bond, have brought Don’t Stop the Music, Kids’ TV and a Disney Medley to our repertoire.

Earlier this year, we were crowned Voice Festival UK Community Champions having performed our latest medley – a 12-minute musical theatre treat:

Why do we love this format so?

The great advantages of the medley are clear to the audience-focused, the impatient and the indecisive alike. Presenting a new arrangement of a single song to the group might cause division of opinion; medleys are safer as most people will like at least a bit of it! Arranging a whole song needs variety to keep the audience’s interest; changing from song to song means you don’t have to think of another way to do the chorus. What’s more, just choosing what to arrange is never easy; think of the medley as an all you can eat buffet! As you can see, the medley is a secret democratic weapon!

– Shirley-Anne

You can see our Voice Festival UK-winning 12-minute musicals medley AND our infamous 57-song Disney Medley at our summer concert on 31 July 2015. Book your tickets now!

VIDEO: Come and join us at the Brighton Fringe!

Hello everyone!

On a rainy day in Birmingham we were thrilled to win the Voice Festival Community Competition – and what better way to celebrate than to bring our competition set and many more aca-classics to the sunny seaside for the Brighton Fringe.

We’ll be at the Old Courtroom on Saturday 9 May at 5.30pm and Sunday 10 May at 3pm. Tickets can be booked in advance here.

Check out the video for what to expect, and get yourself out from under the boardwalk and into the front row for our two gigs!



Bee-bops, jazz hands and yodelling: Shirley and Teddy on a memorable Voice Festival weekend

Last weekend, the great and the good of the amateur a cappella world descended on Birmingham for the fabulous Voice Festival UK (VFUK). This annual celebration of the bee-bops of barbershop, sh-dams of show choirs and dv-pffff of vocal percussion is now in its seventh year and continues to grow. Members of In the Smoke have been involved in VFUK’s university groups competition since the festival began, as ushers, running workshops and generally helping out.

As VFUK’s success grew, new categories were created for non-student groups like us as well as school-based groups, widening VFUK’s reach to include singers from primary school-age to retirement…

This year, the community competition saw four shortlisted groups battle it out for the title of Community Champions 2015. They were: Gem Connection, Just Voices, The Beatroots and us.

Drawing lots put In the Smoke at the top of the programme: with nothing to lose, we socked it to ’em!

A twelve-minute medley of musical theatre numbers arranged by our own Michael Humphrey was our 2015 offering. It was a tricky arrangement demanding vocal precision alongside a good deal of hamming it up. From ‘Send in the Clowns’ to ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ (yes, the yodelling one from The Sound of Music), it was an emotional roller-coaster!

It went down a storm and set the tone for a fantastic programme of a cappella showcasing. Our rivals treated us to arrangements of barbershop standards, recent pop hits and even a vocal arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon.

The judges were suitably impressed by the variety and effort that all the groups had put in to their performances and praised the attention to detail and general high standard of presentation.

When the verdict was given, we were delighted to be named as this year’s winners. A special award was also given to Michael for his outstanding arrangement.Community Champions 2015

Prizes aside, a fabulous weekend was had by all! Those of us who were around for the whole weekend enjoyed the workshops and were amazed at the high standard of the university groups competing – we especially loved the tongue-in-cheek self-reference of the song that one group wrote all about being in an a cappella group: ‘Who even listens to a cappella?’. It was definitely deserving of the Ward Swingle Award for Originality that it earned for Choral Stimulation!

All in all, it was great to meet new groups, share ideas and perform in front of fellow a ca-enthusiasts – thanks, Voice Festival!

What good is sitting alone in your room… when you could be at the Voice Festival 2015?

Just one rehearsal left before we head up to Birmingham to compete in the Voice Festival 2015. *Gulp*

We gave some of our London-based friends a sneak peek of our set on Thursday 2 April – thank you to everyone who came along and let us know what you thought! And for anyone who missed it, here’s a little teaser…

Looking forward to seeing some of you (and meeting lots of fellow a cappella-yellers) at the Festival Weekend. Everyone else, keep your fingers crossed for us – we’ll let you know how we get on!

Voice Festival UK preparations are under way…

IMG_4200With only a month to go until the Voice Festival Community Competition in Birmingham on 12 April,  we are busily* preparing our highly secret 12-minute set. The ideas for the set ranged far and wide, from offering to do requests (a bit too much like a tightrope act without a safety net – or, frankly, a tightrope), to some sort of Gabarek/Hilliard-esque mashing of Renaissance polyphony and the latest tchoons.

What we’re actually preparing is (of course) a highly guarded secret**, but we can tell you this for now:

  • Lizzie plays a sorrowful amnesiac
  • James wishes to be visited by circus performers
  • Tom G and Daz carry fossil fuel
  • Rachel will always have someone with her – even if she wants to go for a windy or rainy stroll in the country

Hope to see you on 2 April in London, and/or on 12 April in Birmingham.

* Within the confines of our normal weekly 2-hour rehearsals, plus a bit of solo notelearning.  We wouldn’t want you to think we were trying too hard ….
** Not actually that highly guarded. You can come along to our 2 April preview gig if you want to see how it will go (see blog posts below).