The CARAs are usually dominated by professional American groups but this year @BristolUni’s own ‘Academy’, a 12-piece student a cappella group, could cause a trans-Atlantic upset.
Seb Waddington, third-year music student and Academy’s manager, said: “We are honestly stunned to have received this many nominations.
“We are up against some of the best groups in the world, many of which are full-time and have real financial backing. Usually we’d be honoured just to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of these groups, so to get these nominations is a monumental achievement.”
Bristol University’s A Cappella Society is one of the biggest in the country, with more than 100 singers. It runs eight groups; from more serious outfits like Academy to The Bristones, which is open to anyone who enjoys belting out classics in the shower.
Early recordings for Academy’s debut album Exhibit A took place in Felix Dickinson’s student house, where Felix, Academy’s then-music director, built a primitive studio out of mattresses and duvets.
“One member is 6ft 5ins and he could barely stand up in there!” said Seb.
Thankfully a fundraising campaign meant Academy could afford proper recording space – and even a professional music producer in the US.
The group recorded individual parts for Exhibit A over the summer of 2020 before its release in December.
Available on Spotify and other streaming platforms, it is made up of seven a cappella covers of well-known songs, including Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve and What You Know by Two Door Cinema Club.
Exhibit A was submitted to the judges of the CARAs (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards) earlier this year. They nominated Academy for:
- Best Lower Voices Collegiate Album
- Best Lower Voices Collegiate Song (for ‘Bang Bang Bang’)
- Best Scholastic Debut Album (one of only two groups nominated)
- Best European Album
- Best Lower Voices Collegiate Arrangement (Felix Dickenson for ‘Bang Bang Bang’)
Felix said: “The group turned five years old last year and had accomplished so much in such a short time: two national finals, two Edinburgh Fringe appearances and an appearance on Sky 1 some of the highlights among them. Making an album seemed like the natural next step for the group and provided an opportunity to create a permanent testament to Academy’s first five years.
“I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I heard about the nominations, in fact I don’t think it will sink in for some time to come! Many of the names we’re nominated alongside, such as The Swingle Singers, are groups that I’ve always looked up to, so to be considered alongside them is really rather overwhelming.
“This has come to pass solely because of the immense talent and hard work of all the singers. A group is only as good as the sum of its parts, and I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of musicians, or a more wonderful group of humans, to work with.”
Bristol A Cappella Society is open to all students. Of the eight groups on offer, five require auditions. Three of these five also take part in national competitions.
Seb said: “The standard of Bristol a cappella is really high. Not only do we get some really, really good people audition but we have great numbers as well.”