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Spooky News


Welsh Proms fringe, St David’s Hall, Cardiff: July 23, 2013

Here’s a message to the crowded Welsh Proms audience at the vast St David’s auditorium: you have been well and truly spooked! A coachload of black-clad Australian blokes strolled onto the stage, all wearing wide-eyed deadpan expressions and various hats, not to speak of one black kilt. The conductor, or spookmeister, (sporting winter headgear, which would be fine on the chilly mountain slopes but bemusing in the already-sweltering Hall) gestured for silence – and thus began the most surreal, highly enjoyable and gloriously mind-bending introduction to the new CD, The Spooky Men In History.

The Spooky Men sing about man matters; fierce gesturing to protect others in the tribe (‘Are You There?’ and its twin ‘We’re Here’), examining parts of the body (‘Foot’, the brain-blowing seven-four ‘Eyebrow’), the carnivore’s delight mixed with a medieval giant-of-a-boor (the swaggering and delightfully complicated ‘The Baron Of Beef’), the contents of the shed (‘Don’t Stand Between A Man And His Tool’, the climax involving a giant-sized spanner – the Spookies are incredibly good at classical tableaux) and self-denial (‘We Are Not A Men’s Group’.) ‘The Thing’ pinpoints puzzling purchases which might have seemed a good idea at the time; now they make a habit of disappearing from under your nose.

And the Spookies won first place in this year’s Infinite Bee Gees Competition with their 13th century Sufi devotional tribute, dedicated to the great prophet Ba'hari Ghibb: “In the latter days three prophets will come… Ra’habin Ghibb, he will go before, Ma’haris Ghibb, he will go before… Ba’hari Ghibb, he is the one, he sings so high, he sings so pure…” and all this to distinctive snatches of the ‘Stayin’ Alive’ hit.

The audience watches open-mouthed and highly delighted at all this mayhem, telling themselves that they’re not really believing it. But the Spooky Men’s brilliant harmonies are simply spine-shivering, four-part voices to die for. ‘Surfin’ ’ is a merciless send-up of sixties Beach Boys, and spookmeister Stephen Taberner borders on genius for composing all the weird and wonderful arrangements on top of writing all but a few of the songs. And what songs they are; Taberner follows the absurdity of ‘Three Songs’ with the heart-stopping beauty of ‘Sweetest Kick’, the Georgian log-carrying song ‘Elesa’ and the ever-changing chords of turn-of-the-thirteenth-century religious collect ‘Tsmindanao’, from Kartli-Kakheti, again in Georgia, with the shifting, shimmering harmonies washing like endless waves.

The Spooky Men had already cajoled the crowds into standing up in their seats, and they roared for an encore. The Spookies obliged with one last waltz, every man coming down from the stage and inviting the audience until it seemed as though the entire hall was dancing, the men singing in scintillating harmony.

PS: Each night I go to bed, their many songs ringing in my ears. It’s the same whenever I wake up. Damn you, Spooky Men – but I adore you!

Mick Tems