Happy New Year!

In the Smoke returned to rehearsals last week, refreshed, excited and all a bit fatter.

We have an exciting year ahead, with much-anticipated aca-event of the year The Voice Festival approaching in April, and our debut appearance at the Brighton Fringe not long after. Then it’s full speed ahead to the Summer Gig, which has been a real highlight of our calendar in recent years. And the autumn term will no doubt bring its share of turkey-centric holiday gigs.

We’ll also be hoping to reprise ideas that we’ve loved from the past year: collaborations with other excellent groups, getting musically involved with local care homes and hospices, and continuing to expand our repertoire and challenge the notion of what ‘a cappella singing’ looks and sounds like.

And who knows what other opportunities the year may bring…? Whatever they are, we hope to see you all somewhere along the way…

NEW VIDEO: Rehearsals are now well under way and, as autumn finally arrives, there are plans afoot…

We Smokies are busy making plans for the next couple of months. As well as our joint gig with Bristol-based a cappella group Original Sing on Saturday 15 November, we have now set a date for our Christmas gig: Friday 28 November (keep it free and watch this space)! We’ve been working on lots of exciting new arrangements and can’t wait to share them with you.

As well as looking forward, though, we like to reminisce from time to time. So, to keep you ticking over, here’s another video from our Greenwood gig back in July: Michael’s arrangement of Rihanna’s Russian Roulette. Enjoy!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_HFra-Kfsg&feature=gp-n-y&google_comment_id=z12bw14ipwrgtjtay04cdxsb0oqhz5qyi04]

BLOG: Back to school!

As we pick up rehearsals again after our summer break, our new Musical Director Michael shares his a-ca-vision for the year.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. As a teacher for the past nine years*, and a university student and school pupil for the 16 immediately before that, September is engrained as the time of new beginnings. Although In the Smoke now only contains two teachers, the group has just started back from a summer break, and there are lots of exciting plans afoot.

Arrangers have come back with a couple of new songs each that they’re desperate to hear the group do, and ideas for dozens more that they probably won’t find time to write until next summer. New committee posts have already begun discussing exciting gig ideas and new forays into video and recording. And those in the group whose only responsibility is to show up and sing beautifully have been giving their voices some valuable beach and beer garden-based R&R.

As MD for this year (taking the reins back from a cappella veteran and mad – but in a very polite way – scientist Edward Brightman), I’m most looking forward to:

– Heading out to Bristol to perform, rehearse, and of course party with the formidable Original Sing (Voice Festival Community Champions 2013)
– Developing our third a-ca-panto for a gig in November/December, having missed out on doing a Christmas gig last year
– Experimenting with recording techniques that we haven’t utilised before
– Making a bunch of music videos
– Getting out and performing as much as possible, hopefully in collaboration with some Alzheimer’s Society projects we’ve had our eye on for a while
– Bringing a few experimental arrangements to rehearsals that frighten, intrigue, and then eventually endear themselves to the rest of the group… *evil laugh*

We’ll be seeing ya,

*Cheeky plug: I’m actually not a teacher anymore – solo album out within a month – keep checking www.mdhmusic.com

NEW VIDEO: No water in the water fountain

James tells the tale of one of the most recent additions to our repertoire, Water Fountain by tUnE-yArDs

Three times in the past I’ve been so enamoured of a song I’ve woken up to (on BBC Radio 6 Music) that I’ve hunted it down, downloaded it and listened the bejeezus out of it*.

On the most recent occasion, in April of this year, I wasn’t quite sure what I was listening to. The first half of the song roused me gently yet playfully from slumber. The second hit me round the head with a series of musical frying pans. And it wasn’t even one of Cerys Matthews’ Sunday morning wildcards (I think back fondly to stirring to the strains of some pre-revolutionary Iranian pop, featuring a traditional tune which was also used in Fiddler on the Roof) – it was an actual, real-life song.

Having been too asleep/shocked first time around, I was lucky that it cropped up again a few days later and this time I was ready to note the artist & track name: ‘Water Fountain’ by tUnE-yArDs. I found it, played it on loop for a good while, and 24 hours later I had a first draft four-part arrangement of it.

This is not normal for me. I’ll usually spend a few months dipping in and out of an arrangement, waiting for something good to happen… It took about a year and a half and at least one spreadsheet to put the Disney Medley together.

In any case, four of us tried it out one Saturday morning and got the MD’s permission to add it to the Greenwood gig set list, squeezing in run-throughs before and after rehearsals on a Tuesday night, and we’re pretty happy with what we ended up with, even if we still can’t quite get the words in the right order. In fact, we’re already playing with what happens if we all join in and the forces are more than trebled…

There may be no water in the water fountain, but this arrangement has not yet run dry.

* If you’re curious, the other two were David Byrne & St Vincent’s ‘Who’ and James Blake’s ‘Retrograde’.

NEW VIDEO: Thanks for coming to our gig – here’s a video!

To all those who made our gig on 4 July – THANK YOU for being such a brilliant audience and making it such a great night! We really enjoyed it, and we hope you did too.

To all those who couldn’t make it: you missed some seriously incisive Question Time-standard debate on the thorny issue of Scottish independence, a deeply moving musical interpretation of the British reaction to the Boston Tea Party, and a Walt Disney impression which – I think we’d all agree – wiped the floor with Tom Hanks in Saving Mr Banks.

And a lot of a cappella, obviously – including new arrangements of Fidelity/Pumpkin Soup, Falling Slowly, Happy, Water Fountain and a stonking Disney Medley, courtesy of Joel, Hazel and James.

Here’s a little taster of the night – we’ll be uploading more videos in the coming weeks and updating you on our plans for the rest of 2014, so check back soon…

BLOG: A Tale of Two Pastimes


Michael’s written a little blog that explains why his mind may have been elsewhere in rehearsals:

My name is Michael Humphrey and I’m an acaholic. I love singing, and I really love singing songs with my friends without instruments. I’ve managed my addiction for more than a decade now without my career or my family suffering, but at the moment I’m on a knife-edge of anxiety.

The one thing that I can rely on to ‘keep me off the singing’ for a couple of hours is a football match. And even though I’ve only got free telly, at the moment there’s more footy on BBC1 and ITV than there are dooos and daaas in an In the Smoke concert. Problem is that we’ve only gone and scheduled a flipping brilliant concert (think 1966 if you’re English, think 2014 if – like me – you are not) on a big football night. So here is my guide to multi-tasking football and cutting edge a cappella.

    • 4:00pm – LEAVE WORK – feign some kind of acute illness and travel to London Bridge by any means necessary
    • 4:30pm – Ensconce yourself in one of the myriad pubs to watch what will probably be a belter of a game (my prediction is Germany v France)
    • 7:00pm – Skip the dull post-match analysis to go and find a kebab-esque meal equivalent
    • 7:30pm – Make your way to the Greenwood Theatre, with your ticket in hand (that you may have already bought from a group member at a cut price)
    • 8:00pm – Watch a brilliant first half of an a cappella show
    • 9:00pm – Watch a brilliant second half of an a cappella show, so scintillating you won’t even check your phone to find out how Brazil/Chile and Colombia/Uruguay are doing
    • 9:45pm – Stand up clapping at the end of the brilliant a cappella show and make your way back to the pub you were in to watch the second half…



Independence, eh?
Friday 4 July 2014, 8-10pm (bar open from 7.30pm and during the interval)
Greenwood Theatre, 55 Weston St, London SE1 3RA
Tickets £10 (£5 concession or FREE for under-16s and school pupils)

GIG: Joint evening with Aoide

We’ve taken a bit of a break over the summer, but we’re now rushing into preparations for our next venture – a joint gig with Aoide. Featuring original compositions, new arrangements and old favourites, it should be a really exciting evening.

Aoide are a contemporary choral group specialising in singing brand new compositions from a talented bunch of composers. We’ve been looking forward to collaborating for a while, and think it will be a very interesting clash of styles! Michael explained a bit more detail in his blog post, but essentially we’ve arranged and composed some new pieces for them, and they’ve done the same for us…

Including the world premières of compositions from James Crawford and Benjamin Woodgates, and new arrangements from Edward Thomson-Jones, Michael Humphrey, Edward Brightman and Andre Flemmings.

Image7.30pm, Saturday 12th October
Wheatsheaf Hall, Vauxhall, SW8 2UP
Tickets £5 on the door

BLOG: What do windmills have to do with it?

Just what should we call our fourth album? Discussions began almost as soon as we were on our way to France to record it. Our efforts began with an epic and entertaining quest to find a suitably cringe-inducing pun (does anyone know the French for fog?) – and it was only on our return that we realised that, whilst we might always associate this album with a week in France, perhaps no-one else would! The debate began anew and it seemed the task would not be easy, particularly when the shortlist of potential names started to outnumber the people voting. Much time was given over to discussion; names were suggested or vetoed, lists were shortened then extended again, and elaborate voting systems were devised only to be waylaid by last minute suggestions. The issue became too lengthy for our weekly business meeting (which we hold in the last few minutes of each rehearsal). Additional/lengthy/wardrobe items are often postponed and tackled during post-rehearsal drinks, and so the final album-naming decision happened in our local – The Windmill.

Every Tuesday, after rehearsal, we turn up, steal the comfy seats, move furniture around and make a lot of noise. ‘Wine club’ work out whose turn it is to get the wine, get confused, and end up with more than we planned (or that’s the official story). Several packets of crisps are added to any leftover cookies from the rehearsal and shared around. There is usually some post-match rehearsal analysis, classroom chat from the multitude of teachers, job updates from the freelancers and some karaoke-style harmonising with the background music. Some of us may be too busy to get to the pub or tired after a long day but there’s always good chat and a chance to catch up on the week just gone. The Windmill has also been an impromptu performance space; in fact it was where we unveiled this year’s competition set for the first time. Recently, our fondness for the Windmill has grown to the extent that there’s now a fairly regular pre-rehearsal session, so that those of us with spare time/marking to do/a penchant for Jessica Rabbit sandwiches might amuse ourselves between work and rehearsal.

So, all in all, it seems entirely fitting that our album is named after the place we spend most time together (well, apart from rehearsing, but ’empty office’ didn’t even make the shortlist). If you missed the chance to buy The Windmill Sessions at our gig on Saturday, then you can buy it on iTunes, or from Amazon, or even listen to us on Spotify. Please rate and review us once you’ve had a listen!


BLOG: Greenwood Track List

Some people have been asking for the set list from our Greenwood Theatre gig – here goes!

First half

  1. Not Done Yet – Michael Humphrey
  2. You Make My Dreams – Hall & Oates arr. Andre Flemmings
  3. Ex Factor – Lauryn Hill arr. Michael Humphrey
  4. The Boys of Summer – Don Henley arr. Michael Humphrey
  5. Sophia – Nerina Pallot arr. Tom Searle
  6. Don’t Do It – The Band/Marvin Gaye arr. Michael Humphrey 
  7. A Place Nobody Can Find – Sam & Dave arr. Michael Humphrey
  8. Driving With the Brakes On – Del Amitri arr. Darren Chadwick
  9. Summertime – Gershwin/Lou Rawls arr. Andre Flemmings
  10. Teardrop – Massive Attack/Newton Faulkner arr. Andre Flemmings
  11. Don’t Stop the Music – Madonna/S Club 7/Basement Jaxx/Daft Punk arr. Edward Brightman

Second Half

  1. Get Ready – Temptations arr. Michael Humphrey
  2. Ain’t Nobody – Chaka Khan arr. Andre Flemmings
  3. Brave – Leona Lewis arr. James Crawford
  4. Walk Like an Egyptian – Bangles/Puppini Sisters arr. Andre Flemmings
  5. Thinking of You – Katy Perry arr. Michael Humphrey
  6. Hard Times – Gillian Welch arr. Michael Humphrey
  7. Rap Battle – Various arr. Michael Humphrey
  8. Don’t Stop Believing – Journey arr. Michael Humphrey
  9. Oh My Sweet Carolina – Ryan Adams arr. Michael Humphrey
  10. Love Shack – B52s  arr. Michael Humphrey
  11. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  12. Riverboat Song – Ocean Colour Scene arr. Andre Flemmings
  13. Give Me Love – Ed Sheeran arr. Andre Flemmings
  14. Acapella – Kelis arr. Michael Humphrey

BLOG: Encore!

We’re as guilty as any other group of preparing an encore just in case we do a good enough job to warrant one. After all, we’d hate to palm paying punters off with a poor performance and second rate singing, if they’ve enjoyed us enough to request more… Last impressions and all that.

The thing is, though, that the requests can often be a tad specific, and one request has been bellowed at our bowing bodies more than all the others put together. It’s a song that’s been with us since our first gig over five years back, as famous for its moves and video as its music and vocals… none other than Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller‘.

It’s quite a rush dragging your reluctant feet across the stage, crooked arms outstretched to grab the virtuosic Vishal, while trying to remember whether this ‘doop’ is the one that’s sharp…  But like all our songs – and our members – it needs some time off to put its feet up after a long stretch of hard work.

So if you’re coming to see us on Saturday, please do ask us for the encore we’ve so presumptuously prepared, but don’t expect to have any choice in what it is. You’re gonna love it.