Anne L Ryan reports on The Spooky Mens Chorale The Junction Shed Cambridge 17 July 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire

What do you get when you cross 13 beards, a graphic designer, an ecologist, a builder, a social worker, a lawyer, four scientists and two teachers - oh! and a house-husband - testosterone and a capella voice? You get the Spooky Men's Chorale. All the way from the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia the SMC is the realised dream whetted, formed and shaped by Stephen Tabener, a humourous lover of a capella voice. As the men and boys recount, they are merely his performing instrument.

This gig was a belly load of laughs. Only four out of 17 sported no facial hair. This is important because it indicates how SMC spend their time. They are experts in beard management - 13 variations on the theme attest to this - and they have developed the caring, sharing circle of loving feeling for men. The youngest member to profit from this was Ryan, whom they found contemplating a daffodil in a home for lost causes. After a little Spooky therapy, lashings of dominant male support, and hugs from Stephen, he was able to explain tunefully about the challenges of being a Lightpole (lamppost to you and me!).

Think what you will
I'm just a light pole
I'm just a pole of light
To brighten up your night.

An educational experience, the SMC gigs are governed by their Constitution. Section 79, paragraphs j, k and l allow them to build enormous structures and to sing at lower frequencies - very important when the song is Don't Stand Between a Man and his Tool. All shapes were brought forth and displayed - from battery operated drills, to screwdrivers; and even a man-sized spanner.

So how did the name come about? It was more of that loving, caring feeling brought on by the big intervals and close harmonies of the Georgian harmonic scale that led Stephen Tabener to call the effect spooky. After five years perfecting their cohesive touch, they exercise lust on songs like And I Love Her by the Beatles. They had very clear advice for those who promoted War on Terror: stop scratching it, you are making it worse. For enthnomusicologists there was an outstanding piss-take on Flash Gordon and a warning to children to never let go of nurse's hand lest you be eaten by a lion like Jim was.

Was I transported - no, but I was entertained - yes, fully. The constant uproarious laughter from the audience was the real measure of the night. On top of that the voices and song arrangements were tight as a man's whiskers; presentation as perfect as the hardware they sang about; and most of all the performance showed off their hairy bellies on the odd occasion of their own laughter. Dead pan and hard-core, their stage presence was electrifying, particularly on Joni Mitchell's love-song The Fiddle and the Drum, where they sang... man to man!

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Writer: Anne L Ryan