Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, 5th August. 2023.
Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
For their penultimate concert in an 11 city national tour, the Spooky Men Chorale packed Canberra’s Llewellyn Hall with an audience made up primarily of glued-on fans, but also a good many Spooky Men Chorale virgins, like this reviewer, curious to see what all the fuss is about.
Formed in the Blue Mountains of NSW in 2001 by Christchurch born spookmeister, Stephen Taberner, the Spooky Men began attracting attention with their quirky combination of Georgian table songs, lush harmonies, highly inappropriate covers, and man anthems like “Don’t stand between a man and his tool”.
Canberra audiences discovered them when they appeared at the National Folk Festival in 2004, leading to their appearance at the Woodford Festival and the first of six tours of the UK in 2006. Since then the group have become fixtures at major festivals around Australia, as well as in the UK and Europe.
Not content with conquering festivals, the Spooky Men’s Chorale has recorded seven CD’s to date, made appearances on ABC TV, and built a large following intrigued by their premise of man as a vast, oblivious, useless object.
Presenting as a bedraggled group costumed in a collection of deliberately daggy black garments and mismatched hats; the fourteen-member ensemble took the stage and announced themselves cheekily with their theme-song, “We Are The Men”, which they clarified with their next song, “We Are Not A Men’s Group”.
Thereafter, their leader and conductor, Stephen Taberner, amused and bemused with a droll running commentary on the group’s philosophy while keeping a tight rein on their impressive harmonies and articulation.
Sprinkling gorgeous acapella vocal arrangements of popular songs like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Allee Willis’ “Boogie Wonderland” among full-throated renditions of Georgian and Ukrainian folk songs together with their own tongue-in-cheek originals, like “Eyebrows”, “Team Building Exercise” and “The Universal Club Song”, written and arranged by Stephen Taberner, the group kept the audience intrigued and enthralled .
Particular highlights were a superb rendition of Taberner’s lovely song “Warm”, and a mesmerising performance by Chorale member, Dave Warren, of Taberner’s arrangement of Tom Waite’s “Picture In A Frame”.
Towards the end of the program, 60 members of the audience, introduced by Taberner as Axis of Spooky, joined the chorale on stage to sing treaty, which they had rehearsed during a workshop that afternoon. The chorale then took back focus with a sublime rendition of Rani Arbo's setting of the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem “Crossing the Bar”.
By the time the program reached the inevitable encore, a funky arrangement of George Merrill’s, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, the audience could contain itself no longer, with many jumping to their feet in an impressive effort to boogie like no-one was watching.
This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au