So it’s a doubly-pleasing occasion when there’s a real-life ‘spooky’ event on stage, and this cantilevered cathedral of entertainment rings again to the rapturous applause of a near full house.
Someone took a risk booking Australian harmony group The Spooky Men’s Chorale, but it paid off in polyphonic spades. On this 26-date UK tour, their first in three years, they are at their 16-strong best, serving up nearly two hours of a clever blend of acapella harmony and adept humour. Think of The Lumberjack Song set to the chant of three-part Gregorian singing and you have a flavour of their style. Like Monty Python’s tree-fellers they also
wittily subvert ideas of manhood, in a way that’s unadulterated ‘Strine’ absurdity.
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‘Spookmeister’ and conductor Stephen Taberner still fronts the ensemble he founded in the Blue Mountains, above Sydney, 21 years ago. On tour here they are augmented by a handful of native choristers, but you’d be hard-pushed to spot the joins in such cleverly-choreographed entertainment.
Taberner is witty and well-versed in leading his chorale through mostly his own compositions, ranging from the self-explanatory We Are Not A Men’s Group, to hidden gems like Sweetest Kick, possibly one of the simplest and most haunting love songs ever written.
Within the Winter Gardens’ cavernous acoustics, and stripped of all artifice, it all becomes an especially spine-tingling sensation. The Spooky style is one of well-rehearsed intimacy with their audience, inviting feedback and offering moments of community singalong. In amongst their Georgian ‘section’ they also add two Ukrainian folk songs that earn the most prolonged applause of the evening.
So trying to close the event with a take on Bohemian Rhapsody – with thigh-slapping accompaniment you won’t recall from the original – it’s no surprise when an encore is demanded, and comes in the form of James Taylor’s Shower The People (You Love With Love). It was fully reciprocated.