Why do British groups travel to America?

Guest Columns

All The King’s Men is an all-male a cappella group out of King’s College in London. Members of the group compiled this article based on their experiences touring in the United States.

All the King's Men are in the middle of their third USA tour and this is their fourth visit to the states in two years. More and more British groups are travelling to the states every year to visit colleges and meet with an average of twenty a cappella groups per trip to find out how different the two national scenes are. All the King's Men have visited colleges on both the west coast and east coast and have met groups from around the country at the ICCA Finals in 2012. All these experiences have helped All the King's Men to find their own unique style which enabled them to have such successes in 2012 such as becoming Voice Festival UK University Champions and arriving in Singapore and Hong Kong made the group the first British collegiate a cappella group to tour in Asia. To end the year, the group's “Hide and Seek” track from their latest album, It's Reigning Men, was voted #1 British collegiate a cappella track of 2012.

The importance of travelling around America and meeting and performing with such fantastic groups is vital, not only to the musical directors who look for ideas to take away and adapt, but also for the group as a whole who really get to know each other better and, by performing every day for two weeks, bring out the best in their sound.

Managing a tour to the USA is no easy task but Cameron Carr, the manager of All the King's Men, is now practiced at sorting these things out after a successful trip to California last year. For him, “Organizing a tour is a colossal amount of work, especially in a country as vast as America but as the home of collegiate a cappella we have always deemed it important to travel there. We have a great deal to learn from some of the groups but hope that our distinct style also teaches them a thing or two. The groups are so hospitable and helpful when it comes to organizing gigs and hosting us. They always deliver great venues, funny sketches and aca-maxing performances (and parties!). With everything in place after months of planning it is great to be able to see everything come to fruition and enjoy other aspects of American culture.

Jonathan Stewart, Musical Director since October, has lasting memories of previous tours and has taken inspiration from other groups. “The fantastic voices, energy and presence of the renowned UC Men’s Octet and eventual ICCA winners, The SoCal VoCals from USC, made a lasting impression on us and served as an inspiration going into the Voice Festival UK Final. As well as learning from others, I feel we can also improve our own performances and develop as the tour goes on, and our songs will only get better with regular performances.”

The collegiate a cappella tradition in the USA is obviously much more established than in the UK, with numerous groups at each university. Establishing good relationships with other groups and universities is intrinsic to being part of a collegiate a cappella group. While we already have close links with a number of UK groups, developing the reputation of All the King's Men is a key part of our long-term strategy, and America is an obvious place for us to tour in that respect. Friends of mine reminisce about the time that the Princeton Tigertones came to their junior school, and it would be fantastic to get a similar reaction from our trip here! What's particularly special about this tour is that we're returning to places we've been before, and strengthening the existing bonds that we have with US groups such as The Johns Hopkins Mental Notes and The Cornell Hangovers. Clearly we must have done something right two years ago!

In addition to the huge respect we have for a cappella in the US, there's a certain competitive element to it. We come to America each year because we feel groups from the UK are more than able to compete on the same playing field as older groups, and the success that both we and Oxford's Out of the Blue have had in the ICCAs goes some way towards justifying that. Performing on the same bill with some big names on the US collegiate scene will be a good indicator of where we are, as well as putting down a marker that collegiate groups from the UK are here to be taken seriously.

Henry Southern, who founded the group in 2009 as a freshman at King's College London, relinquished his role at the helm of the organization after graduating as a music major. For him, “A tour to the US is a big project for any UK a cappella group to undertake. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Wherever we went the reception was always very welcoming and the hospitality that was extended to us was extremely generous. We were so fortunate to have had these experiences. It seems that the combination of being an a cappella singer and being British creates quite a buzz! Our trips to the US were certainly some of the highlights of my experiences with All the King's Men.”

Fifth year medical student, Tom Hindmarch, takes time out of his busy schedule to make sure that he can join the group in America. “It’s safe to say touring in the US is always both a privilege and a pleasure. As a group we really enjoy taking in the American culture and lifestyle, but this is just the beginning… Every time we join up with US groups, we always gain a wealth of experience both as a group and as individuals. The range of styles and sheer breadth of creativity is astounding and we relish the chance to feast our eyes and ears on all we encounter. However, the factor that makes the US stand out is the level of hospitality we always receive–it’s truly overwhelming and will continue to draw us back ‘across the pond’ for many years to come.”

Finally, as Jonny notes, “In essence, All the King's Men is twelve young British men who joined an a cappella group to make good music and lasting memories. Our tour of the West Coast was one of the highlights of my life, both musically and personally--doing a music video on a California beach in February, singing to packed theatres, and of course the aca-parties.”

Clearly All the King's Men have had such great success in their past three years since being established due to their vision of pushing boundaries and the great voices the group attracts. However, it is evident that so much has been learnt from four invaluable visits to the USA and the generosity of all the groups All the King's Men have encountered has made the trips more than memorable.

You can follow All the King’s Men’s progress on their tour blog, as well as on their Facebook page and Twitter.