The Spooky Men’s Chorale, The Welsh Folk Prom, St David’s Hall, Cardiff: July 25, 2019
Dave Chamberlain & Siân Northey reviewed: Wales has a long and proud tradition of male choral singing, the Morriston Orpheus and the Treorchy Male Voice choirs being perhaps the best known internationally – but it was an Anglo-Antipodean ensemble taking centre stage at St David’s Hall for the Welsh Folk Prom. If anyone attends a Spooky Men’s Chorale concert thinking they are going to have a genteel evening of choral a Capella, they had better think again; This is unaccompanied singing performed with gusto and with a large dose of humour thrown in for good measure. However, this does not detract from their abilities; the dynamics of this 16-piece group are impressive, their voices blending together in close harmony with their own vocal gymnastics providing the percussion on which everything is built. All of this done under the expert direction of choirmaster Stephen Taberner, who comes across as a cross between some genius professor and mad scientist in the way he thinks up the arrangements to some of the more unique pieces. There were a few solo spots, such as Dave Warriner’s tender rendition of ‘Picture In A Frame’, which highlighted how good each individual is and how hard they work to give us the auditory soundscape when performing together.
The Spooky Men’s repertoire ranges from the ridiculous and funny, such as ‘Rhapsody In Bluegrass’, a new song which appears on the choir’s latest album and is a Country-influenced homage to Queen that had some yodelling for thrown in for good measure. This was definitely a crowd favourite, as was a particular favourite of ours, ‘Ba’hari Ghibb’; this took some of the audience by surprise with it’s mix of disco and Sufi mysticism in the retelling of the Legend of the Three Brothers. For the borderline ‘Spooky Stalker’, part of the joy of songs like these is watching the other members of the audience’s reaction as it dawns on them just where they have heard it before, At the other end of the spectrum were tender moments, including their rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Fiddle And The Drum’ or a moving rendition of a poem that is now a staple part of any Spooky Men’s Chorale set, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Crossing The Bar’. We first heard this performed by the choir’s UK offshoot, A Fistful of Spookies, in a church setting. That performance sent shivers down the spine, and while this rendition was no less magnificent, it perhaps had lost a little of its intensity due to being in a larger venue. There were moments of audience participation and not just in the choruses; there was also the ceremonial handing out of the mailing list directly to the audience by one of the members. Some parts of their routine bore the hallmarks of slapstick, which added to the evening’s enjoyment and seemed to warm up the audience. Some other favourites sung included ‘Not a Men’s Group’ and ‘Universal Club Song’.
Given that the inspiration for The Spooky Men’s Chorale was the raw, elemental polyphony of choirs such as the Rustavi, it only seems appropriate that no Spooky show would be complete without something from the Georgian Folk canon, on this occasion coupled with an Icelandic song in a performance made all the more impressive as it was performed without amplification, relying on the power of the human voice for projection.
The piece de resistance for their encore was a James Taylor classic ‘Shower the People’, which saw the Spookies and audience participants – including us – changing places to sing on the stage at St David’s Hall. They make their harmonies seem effortless and, as a group, they were spot on with their timings which is the sign of a good conductor and choir leader.
This show is a real crowd pleaser – and it was lovely to be able to chat to some of the Australian contingent after the show. I asked one how he was enjoying the tour to which came back the answer: “Do we look like we’re enjoying ourselves?” This a real feel-good show. with a lot of laughs and hilarity mixed with soulful and sensitive pieces. There is something about this choir that reaches out to your inner child and makes their performance accessible to children of all ages – our two teenagers are both fans, so If you do get the chance to see The Spooky Men’s Chorale, why not take your children/ grandchildren/ nephews/ nieces as well? This is a show that works on many levels and anything that gets teenagers to be willingly seen in public with their parents has to be cherished.
Words: Dave Chamberlain & Siân Northey