In Wales, most of us tend to think of a capella groups as something that’s distinctly American, epitomized in Hollywood movies like Pitch Perfect or American bands like Pentatonix.
A capella is the art of singing without any instrumental music, and while it’s hugely ingrained in US culture (typically, university culture), it’s slowly worming its way into the British and Welsh mainstream, and there’s one group in particular that’s holding the torch: Vox.
Vox is a 16 member a capella group based in Cardiff University, and over the past two years, they’ve been making huge strides in popularizing a capella in the UK, starting with the hit Netflix series, Sex Education.
As Mooredale’s very own choir, Vox went from competing in niche university competitions to landing a spot on one of Netflix’s biggest shows, performing unique renditions of classics like Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere, to the more daring and funny tracks like F**k The Pain Away by Peaches.
Read more: Sex Education series 3 locations: Where in Wales was the Netflix smash filmed?
James Taylor, Vox’s musical director and arranger, said: “Sex Education was a dream gig for us, and we had such a fun time throughout it. We’ve been singing together for about three years now, so it came at a really good time for us.”
Sex Education is a comedy-drama that explores the topics of sex and identity through three main characters – Otis, Eric and Maeve, and it was filmed nearly exclusively in Wales in locations such as Penarth, Caerleon and the Wye Valley.
The gig came about through a post dropped in their Facebook group by the series’ assistant director.
James said: “We were invited for the audition, but we had no idea what it was for at first. We had a guess that it was Sex Education though because they hadn’t long released the first season, and we knew they were filming in Wales.”
Of all the shows it might have been, James points out that Sex Education is something they’re particularly proud to have been a part of because it tackles relevant cultural issues such as sexual identity and health.
“We are extremely glad it turned out to be show as impactful as Sex Education. It’s definitely a show that’s pushing many boundaries that other shows aren’t, and it’s incredible to be a part of that.”
The group performing a hilarious rendition of ‘F*ck The Pain Away’ by Peaches
(Image: James Taylor)
James is from Monmouthshire and he points out that while a capella is quite an American phenomenon, choral singing itself is a huge part of Welsh culture and tradition:
“We’re one of the only universities in Wales with an a capella society – we haven’t competed with any other Welsh universities which is strange when you think about it, because choral singing is a huge tradition in Wales.”
He added: “There are still a lot of traditional or community choirs in Wales, but we’re really hoping to bridge that gap between traditional choir singing and contemporary group singing, because it’s a really beautiful thing to be a part of.”
The group spent several days in the recording studio before filming on set.
James said: “We loved the costumes and the arrangements, and even though the days were quite long, we had a really fun time with it. It felt amazing to be a part of something that actually matters, and it’s really good to see them making the most of Wales, too, whether it’s local Welsh talent or location.”
He added: “Recording songs like ‘F*ck The Pain Away’ was a lot of fun for us because it’s really different from the stuff we usually do, which is contemporary pop.”
Vox are planning on entering the ICCAs (International Championships of A Capella) which could see them performing on a New York stage next year
(Image: James Taylor)
While the Sex Education gig came as a straightforward audition, James points out that a capella singing isn’t always easy, and it can take years to master.
“It takes a really long time to learn to do it properly, because there are so many layers of harmony. It took me a few years to learn how to arrange and direct a group of this size. The best part is, none of us are music students. I did my degree in Journalism and Politics, and many others come from science or math backgrounds, so we’re always learning together.”
He added: “A lot of people will have seen us without knowing they’ve seen it, whether they recognise us or not, which can be quite surreal. We’re really grateful to have that global attention as a Welsh group.”
Over the past several months, Vox has been working hard in the studio recording for their first EP which is set to be released early next year, and they have set up a fundraiser to cover the production costs.
“We are a group of people who just love singing, at the end of the day. We love that sense of togetherness that comes with a capella singing, I’d advise anybody to give it a go, regardless of their background.”
James pointed out that it’s uncertain whether or not they’ll be returning to the Netflix screen for season four, stating “we’ll see”.
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