St John's is delighted to announce the winners of the inaugural Kendrew Songwriting Competition.

Open to all current students at the University of Oxford, the competition drew 20 submissions from students across a range of colleges and degree programmes. The quality of the songs was uniformly high, with a breathtakingly wide spectrum of genres represented. Submissions were reviewed by Rawz (Rory Campbell, St John’s 2022 Sound Artist in Residence); Tiece (Tessa Cavanna, singer/producer and Assistant Producer, Oxford Contemporary Music); Sarah Hill (Associate Professor of Popular Music at the Faculty of Music and Tutor at St Peter's College); and Jason Stanyek (Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the Faculty of Music and Fellow and Tutor at St John’s College).

This year's winning song is "Sunsleeper" by Josephine Illingworth-Law (a third-year music student at University College). Second prize went to "Epilogue," a song co-written by Briana Williams and Aris Sabetai (both first-year music students at Somerville). The panel also gave an honourable mention to Eve Caston (a second-year music student at St Peter's) for her song "Bitten like a Dog."

Below you'll find MP3s of the winning submissions, with information about songwriters and their songs. The members of the panel would like to congratulate the winners and also extend their heartfelt thanks to all those who participated in the competition.

Sunsleeper by Josephine Illingworth-Law


Josephine is a third-year music student and choral scholar at University College. She has been writing and recording music since she was about fourteen and, although she is yet to perform live, is hoping to build a career as a singer-songwriter after leaving university. Outside of composing, she is particularly interested in the application of the visual arts to music, often using colour theory and her own paintings as a symbolic crux in her songs.

Josephine said this about the inspiration behind her song:

“'Sunsleeper' is about leaving home for university and missing the chance to see my younger sisters grow up. I understand this feeling as a mixture of pride, in seeing the women that they are slowly becoming, and regret, as I feel as if I am losing the people that I once knew so well. Lyrically, I chose to manifest this feeling as a journey my family often take on bank holidays, from our home near London to a beach on the south coast of England. The word ‘Sunsleeper’ references a particular mental image I have of my youngest sister, asleep against the window of our car in bright light. To capture this feeling of leaving, the word I kept in mind when recording was ‘bittersweet’. To portray a bittersweet mixture of joy and sadness musically, I decided to base my song around the presence of subtle dissonances, barely detectable, but still delicately permeating the undercurrents of the music. Added distortion to electric guitar, the textured hits that accompany the bass drum, and the dissonant nature of the harmonies in the chorus are three such examples.”

Epilogue by Briana Williams and Aris Sabetai

Aris and Briana.jpg Aris (L) and Briana (R)

Briana Williams is a first-year music student at Somerville College, Oxford, and Aris Sabetai is a first-year music student at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

Briana and Aris met in their first music class in sixth-form. They have been friends ever since, and started to make music in the first lockdown, with the ambition to create a full-length debut album with a distinct, unique sound. Recently, they have been working closely with producer Georgina Lloyd Owen and have recorded their first few songs at Abbey Road Studios and The Parks Studios respectively. Their styles blend post-rock, orchestral, jazz and R’n’B. They are currently working on an upcoming album that has piqued interest for representatives at BMG, videographers and several independent record labels.

Epilogue will be the final track on the album and is conceptually, the most advanced. The central idea for the song was the circular feeling of orbiting something that is ultimately destructive, reflected in the chord progression which forms a circular loop of suspensions, repeated throughout the track. The melodic phrases also form circular patterns, as do the countermelodies that are built on top of the progression. The motive behind this was to aurally represent the feeling of looping, wherever you look in the music. Finally, the lyrics themselves form entrapments and circles in their rhyme, recounting the story of Icarus, a boy who orbited something that ultimately leads to his demise. The rigid circular structures in the song, when placed in conjunction with its natural expanse ultimately displays the main message – an anger, a fury, and a break from self-inflicted detriment.

Bitten like a Dog by Eve Caston

Eve Caston.jpg

Eve is a second-year music student studying at St Peter’s College. Writing folk-inspired tracks, she has had music featured on BBC Music Introducing Oxfordshire, and regularly plays at events in Oxford and acoustic shows in London.

Eve explains her creative process below:

“I recorded this song quite last minute in my bedroom after hearing about the competition, using my friend’s microphone. As I had limited time to record and to think about how to orchestrate the song, I utilised my guitar, building up a ‘wall’ of texture by combining differing picking and strumming patterns instead of including other instruments (bar a bassline provided by a midi keyboard).

I initially planned to include more complex vocal harmonies, however ended up liking the ‘cleaner’ sound of a single vocal line, so only included doubling and basic harmonies during the pre-chorus and chorus. This simpler approach allows the lyrics to be heart more clearly, and highlights them as the key focus of the song; I didn’t want them to become shrouded by the rest of the mix which I feel they might have done had I included more doubling.

I almost wanted the song to sound as though it were some sort of confession, so recorded the vocals at a close range to the mic. The lyrics describe love as an almost parasitic thing, something that has completely taken the body over, living inside it, with the song going on to describe how it must be extracted if there is any hope of ‘getting over it’ and healing. By recording up close, I wanted the vocals to sound almost as if I am talking to myself, or the ‘you’ addressed within the lyrics which crouches inside my body.”

Thank you to everyone who entered, and congratulations to the winners!