the-oxford-belles-4Somerville Finalist, Emily Albery (BA Experimental Psychology, 2014), who was the 2016 President and Musical Director of the Oxford Belles, reports on the all-female acappella group’s success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Edinburgh Fringe 2016 was the best two weeks of my life… I can’t wait to go back!

We had raised the funds, recorded the EP, arranged and learnt the songs, perfected the choreography… all that was left to do was wait. As we said goodbye at the end of term we knew the next few months would be filled with anticipation and excitement for what would happen when we were reunited up in Edinburgh on the 16th of August. After months of preparation it was finally upon us… The Oxford Belles were going to the Edinburgh Fringe!

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We all arrived, some of us bleary eyed and jet lagged from holidays abroad, and settled in to our cosy two bedroom flat the ten of us would share for the next week (goodbye personal space!). No time to rest as we headed out in our new fringe show t-shirts to flyer the streets of Edinburgh in preparation for the start of our run the following day. 6pm and we are in the Venue rehearsing, joined by a friend and youtuber Paddy Cartwright who had popped up to film some promotional videos for us. Our tech rehearsal began at 11pm and by 3am we had just about finished everything. Time to head back to the flat and get some sleep before our opening show at 3.45pm that day.

First show jitters were running high, with everyone still in disbelief that we were about to start our run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As president and musical director, my head was on the chopping block if the show didn’t go well. We all worked so hard throughout the year and this was it, the culmination of hours and hours of rehearsal and admin. My stomach was in knots…

The first show was passed in a blur; a few notes were missed and dance moves slipped up on by the energy was exhilarating! Hearing the audience whooping and cheering as we took our bows was incredible as the relief washed over us… phew! As the run progressed and we got more shows under our belt the group grew in confidence and precision until we felt like old hands. Talking to audience members at the end of the show was always our favourite part; hearing what their favourite song was and how much they enjoyed themselves made all the hard work worth it. After we had been at it about a week or so all the nerves seemed to disappear and we loved just getting up on stage and having the time of our lives singing our hearts out to loving and receptive audiences. Many audience members bought a newly released EP, and it has been so nice to receive ongoing feedback from that over our social media pages.

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My favourite bit of the set was our audience participation section. We would start by singing the bass line to ‘Uptown Funk’ and getting the whole audience (even the men!) to join in. We would then add in more intricate guitar parts, and finally search the audience for a soloist or two to come up on stage with us and blow us away. Over the 10 days we performed we were joined by some incredible singers; including family members, belles alumni and children hoping to join the group someday. It was such a great experience to be able to engage with the audience on a personal level and made the whole experience that bit more enjoyable.

A big part of putting a show on up in Edinburgh is the daily slog gathering punters in to be your audience. Everyday we were out on the royal mile from 11am, singing on pop-up stages and handing out flyers to passers-by in the hope they would like what the heard and come along to the show to see more. We developed techniques to attract people’s attention, be it our favourite lyrics from the show, or repeatedly singing ‘Blame it on the Belles’ at the top of our lungs (no wonder we all got sore throats!). We got to meet some amazing people through flyering, particularly other a cappella groups from different universities across the country. There was a real sense of comradery between the groups and we have even kept in contact with some who we are hoping to go and visit and perform with soon.

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At the end of the run we were very lucky to be awarded the Derek Award for Best A Cappella group at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016. This was such an honour, particularly as we were up against some very stiff competition. Knowing that we have the support of reviewers up in Edinburgh, as well as our wonderful audience members, friend and family, was the icing on top of the cake. Receiving the award onstage was a moment I will never forget, and the trophy will sit proudly on my mantle piece for years to come.

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We would really like to thank Somerville for helping us have this incredible experience through their ongoing support. Without the crowdfunding platform they provide we would have really struggled to have the experience we did. Taking our sass and girl power up to Edinburgh was not only incredibly fulfilling for us but hopefully inspiring for any younger girls who came to see us. Thank you to everyone who supported us, your generosity means a lot to each one of us and we hope to see you at one of our future performances!

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Although the fringe festival is long gone the Belles have been keeping busy. We have kept control firmly with the Somerville family, with 2nd year English students Jess Bollands (president) and Teresa Rendell (musical director) taking the helm. We recently recorded an a cappella theme song for popular children’s TV show Horrid Henry, so please look out for that soon! For now, you can keep listening to our hits from the Fringe as our EP has recently been launched on Spotify and iTunes. Keep up to date with all that we are up to via social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram), where you can meet the next generation of Belles that have just joined us.

Watch Paddy Cartwright’s travel diary of his time in Edinburgh feat. The Oxford Belles here:

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