So said Broadway Baby, the largest reviewing publication at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As a result,  church mouse scurried over to the most recent MiQP concert at St. Mary’s, Ross on Wye on June 9th. Dating from the C14th, this is one of the largest churches in Herefordshire with a 205 foot high spire, and church mouse was very surprised to find it nearly full with about two hundred people in the audience. What was all the fuss about? They had all come to hear Semi Toned, an all-male a cappella group from Exeter University. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because they were the winners of Gareth Malone’s BBC2 series in 2016, ‘The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain’ and also finalists in Sky 1’s 2017 show ‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’. Originally a five-man barber shop group, there are now twelve young men who don the white shirt and maroon blazer and somehow manage to fit university studies (in subjects as diverse as languages, engineering and drama) between national a cappella competitions, tours of the U.S.A., music video-making and appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe.  HHCT was all the more fortunate in hosting them last Saturday as most of the gentlemen have just done end of year exams and several have just completed their Finals. It was, therefore, with a real sense of anticipation that the audience (including the church mouse) awaited their entrance.

There is always the possibility that after watching TV appearances, the audience will be disappointed with a performance without the microphones, lights and razzamatazz associated with the small screen and the performers will be disappointed with a reduced audience in a church rather than a studio or smart theatre. This, however, was not to be the case. Both audience and performers were delighted, the former with the overall standard of entertainment and the latter, with the chance to return to their “roots” developed in their early performances along with the welcome they received.

Energy levels were high throughout in numbers such as The Chain, the 1977 song by Fleetwood Mac,  Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen and their final song as they left the ‘stage’, Bat out of Hell (Meatloaf).  There were also quieter pieces like Candle in the Wind, familiar to most as a song by Elton John and When She Loved Me, from Toy Story 2 with a solo by Ludo Graham.  All the pieces were given extra rhythm and structure by the vocal percussion provided by Max Weeden, renowned for his beatboxing (a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of mimicking drum machines, using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.)

There can be no denying the musical ability of these young men; their pitch and timing were excellent as was their capacity to blend harmoniously as a group and credit must go to Tommy Hamer, their Musical Director in bringing all this together  at a difficult time of the academic year. Their performance was professional and entertaining, with the items introduced by a member of the group, and their liveliness was carried over into the interval and at the end of the concert when the young gentlemen were quite happy to field questions and talk to audience members.

The concert contained little that would usually be associated with MiQP concerts but the evening was a great success and much appreciated by the audience as evidenced by a standing ovation at the end of the evening from many, and cries of ‘more’. It was a very joyful occasion, much more so than that which necessitated the erection of the Plague Cross in the churchyard (past which the audience and performers walked) which marks the graves of three hundred or so townspeople who were buried by night and without coffins during a terrible outbreak of the plague in 1637.

Audience members had the opportunity to wander round the church on the evening to look at the East window featuring four saints including Thomas Cantilupe, C13th Bishop of Hereford and the Markye Chapel which commemorates Ross-on-Wye’s armed forces during the First World War, and comments were heard referring to how lovely the church looked.

Grateful thanks must go to Nick Richmond, Administrator at St. Mary’s, for all the help he gave with arrangements via email and in person, both before and on the night, enabling Semi Toned to use the church hall for a meal. Mark Sanderson, Director of Music, who was also present, helped with unlocking the church hall and in setting out chairs in the church and joined Nick in being extremely welcoming to the HHCT team.

HHCT is  also thankful to sponsors Tanners Wines for the concert and Hereford Cathedral School,  The All Churches Trust and Knight Frank for their support for the series of MiQP.

Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust