Review: Lunchtime Live! at Portsmouth Cathedral – Hampshire Police Male Voice Choir

Hampshire Police Male Voice Choir, Portsmouth Cathedral, April 27

‘Allo, ‘allo, ‘allo, What have we here? It’s not often we get a male voice choir for a lunchtime concert round these parts and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one in the flesh before although I’m familiar with Sosban Fach and Hyfrydol from records that were in the family. It’s not so often these days one has a new experience.

It’s not mandatory to be Welsh to do this any more than one needs to be from Yorkshire to be a brass band. It can be done beyond the limits of its natural habitat but HPMVC includes half a dozen Welshmen in their number for authenticity’s sake. Like brass bands, it seems to me, male voice choirs have a limited palette compared to a full orchestra but that didn’t prevent Whistler painting, Status Quo from having hit records or any number of poets writing very much the same poem time and again. It’s what you do with it that matters.

They can go from a caress to a roar, they can arrange a piece into the four parts we heard today but, mainly, HPMVC knows how to work an audience.

Some swelling sound was to be heard in Gwahoddiad before Nigel Smith moved from organ to piano for the warmth of Schubert’s Sanctus and the lilting of Robat Arwyn’s Benedictus which was when it dawned on me that all 36 of them knew all the words and were singing not always the same language from memory.

I once thought Bridge Over Troubled Water was a hymn anyway so the transition to ‘popular’ music was seamless. The tingle one sometimes gets from music is the surest indicator that it is working. It is something that one can’t help and it crept up on me there and then. 

I’m not finding fault with easy-listening Matt Munro’s Softly As I Leave You but wonder if I might modestly suggest a composer called McCartney and his song, Let It Be, be considered for the repertoire. And, then, respecting local football sensitivities, Nigel incorporated the Pompey Chimes into a staccato When the Saints Go Marching In that became a jazzy part-song in a rousing arrangement of disciplined playfulness while doing its best not to further provoke either side’s supporters who have both suffered enough this season. That ‘staccato’ effect was one manifestation of the choir’s exemplary diction in evidence throughout.

High on a Hill, Let the Lower Lights be Shining and What a Wonderful World made up a melodious section before what one suspected might happen did. 

You don’t get far by just being pleasant these days. I wasn’t convinced we’d had enough woofers, enough of the turbo charge kicking in, but know by now that nobody puts all their best work in at the start. On a Clear Day prepared the way for the obvious highlight – and they know it is, An American Trilogy, best known as an overblown late-career performance by an overblown Elvis Presley.

However, in the hands of Geoffrey Porter directing the Hampshire Police Male Voice Choir with Nigel Smith on piano, featuring Sachin Gunga on organ and a spiritual solo by Garry Jackson, it was magnificent and achieved grandeur. That might have been the big finish but there were credits and thanks to be distributed before Morte Criste, ‘When I Survey the Wond’rous Cross’, by Emrys Jones which was one last big build from calm to the actual big finish almost by way of an encore.

Except these boys enjoy their singing. After I’ve written a poem, which can take me as long as half an hour, I like to have a rest for about six months before attempting another. They’re not like that at all. The Dolphin is one of Portsmouth’s best pubs, of those that remain, and they adjourned across the road there for well-deserved refreshment and, under the direction of Dave Paul, treated themselves to versions of two more songs at the after party, Roses and I Believe. Apparently it’s not an offence. The police weren’t called. Oh, yes, they were the police.

Impressive. I think Portsmouth Cathedral would be glad to have them back. I doubt if the retiring collection very often adds up to as much as today’s did.  

David Green

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