By Morgan Quinn
Let’s get right to it, shall we? Just what in the hell is a Spooky Men’s Chorale, anyway?
To the uninitiated, a chorale is a sacred song sung by a choir. That’s easy enough. But what is a Spooky Man? Let alone many Spooky Mans to necessitate the need for the term Spooky Men?
I was privileged enough to speak with one—a Mr Ewan Lawry, who is the Chorale’s most recent addition—to demystify this query. “I’m based out of Canberra, but most of the group are in the Blue Mountains,” Ewan explains. “They started around 2001 and have just increased in popularity over the years. Now, we’re touring Australia and across the world.
“We’re probably more well known in the U.K. than in Australia; the Folk scene is huge over there. Over the years, the size of the group has changed, but usually there’s roughly 15 of us belting our hearts and beards out.”
The image of this hirsute group of men onstage, combined with their irreverent name, leads one to think there may be more than a little bit of humour involved in proceedings.
“You’re right on the money there!” Ewan enthuses. “The name somewhat gives away that there is a lot of humour built into our performances. “When Stephen Taberner started the group, he wanted everyone to wear head-to-toe black with some kind of interesting hat. He wanted to signal to the audience that we’re a group that likes to get a bit silly. In summer, there’s a bloke who wears a black singlet and black
More than aesthetics, this playfulness bleeds into their voice.
“That humour extends to the songs,” Ewan explains. “For example “the thing” is a song about “the thing” that you know you have, but you can’t find it. You look everywhere for it, high and low, but it’s nouse. So you give up and go and buy another “thing”. But now you can’t find a place that sells “the thing”.
“Eventually you get it, but it doesn’t work in the same way as “the thing” you used to have. And then you lose THAT thing and it starts all over again.”
This seems like an urgent, important story that needs to be told the masses. We’ve all been there – misplacing tools, wedding rings, and other important objects. But why would I want to hear a bunch of men grumble about losing a spanner? I want to hear beautiful music, performed by professional musicians, dammit!
“There are some very pretty harmonies throughout the songs,” Ewan insists. “There’s humour, too, but all of us singers are great at what we do. We perform funny, original compositions by The Spookmiester, Stephen Taberner, but we also perform traditional Georgian music.
“Georgian music has very compelling and technically challenging aspects going on with scales,” Ewan continues. “It’s very different from how Western music has been written in the last 50 years.”
During a break, I take the opportunity to watch their version of my favourite song, Dancing Queen, on YouTube. I’m laughing. I’m crying. And I’m getting a rising need to see this in person. It’s truly wonderful. The collective experience and respective skills of the group members is juxtaposed against their ludicrous Vikings helmets sitting atop earnest, deadpan expressions.
It’s a beautifully inexplicable thing. On paper it makes no sense, but live it somehow makes more sense than anything I’ve ever seen.
So how did Ewan get picked up by these wizards of entertainment?
“Starting in maybe 2005 or 2006, I went to Canberra’s National Folk Festival and saw The Spooky Men’s Chorale,” Ewan recalls. “I’d never really done any singing myself, outside of what we were required to do in school.
“But I was instantly hooked by what these guys were doing, and came back every year for them. “I got into a sea shanty group and built my confidence there. And then, one year at The Folkie, The Chorale were auditioning for new members. So I auditioned… and got in! It was pretty nerve-racking, but worth it, for sure.”
That’s it for me. I’m all in. During the space of the interview, The Chorale has gone from undefinable to undeniable. A further deep-dive into the troupe reveals that they’ve released seven albums, have played all over the world at various festivals, have been awarded the Nobel Prize 29 times for contributions to medical science! Sorry, wrong wiki article… But the list goes on.
The specificity of the style of music and the humorous way it is expressed has, shall we say, corralled The Chorale.
“That’s the thing – it’s for everyone!” Ewan beams. “You could come alone and make friends, bring your mum, bring your mate, your kids, nieces, nephews, grandparents, your boss – the collective talent and the humour and the music is basically appealing to everyone.
“And yet, it’s one of the most joyously unique things you’ll ever see.”
The Spooky Men’s Chorale will be gracing Llewellyn Hall on Saturday, 5 August at 7:30pm. Tickets are $35 – $59 and are available now via Ticketek.