Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The foggy, foggy dew

There is nothing, nothing, like one of the Proms' late-night vocal concerts to send you out into the night close on to midnight cheerful enough to withstand a half-hour wait (after you've just missed the night bus in Kensington Gore and ought to feel bloody about it)  pouring rain, getting home in the early hours, and leave you still capable of believing you'll enjoy getting up at seven in the morning.

I daresay some will whinge about the "Uncle Tom Cobley and all" aspect, or folkiness, of the programme for Prom 26, judging from some of the reactions to the 'Folk Day'. But if you are incapable of laughing helplessly at the Kings Singers' (or more properly Gordon Langford's) dramatisation of Widdecombe Fair, and wouldn't want to do a pretend Morris Dance, or get together with another five people on their way home to try your hand at it,  afterwards, all I can say is  you have no soul.

OK, yes, I was a folky once; complete with beard  (but not the sweater and I have never ever worn sandals and socks together) so you can say I'm biased. Or susceptible. But there was, as this Prom showed, an essence of a folk tradition that ran through Lassus. Poulenc, right through to the Victorians, sung without a single trace of nacreous sentimentality. And the purity of the McCabe piece was somehow perfectly appropriate after the early renaissance French songs. 

And at nearly midnight, how else could you end a long concert of fun, seriousness, solemnity and the rollicking humour of ordinary people's lives, spread over half a millennium except by a touching but still unsentimental 'The Long Day Closes' as an encore?

I have always loved these late night vocal programmes, so often with what turns out to be an unexpectedly appropriate and thought-inducing mix of what at first sight seems bizarre and mistaken, right from when they started. In those days, while the audience was large enough to have been respectable in a small hall, but was barely visible in a space meant for 6,000, we were all called down from our scattered places around the Albert Hall to be upgraded to the very comfy swivelling Business Class seats around the Arena. It's a bit different now . . .

If you missed it, or thought it was just another vainglorious programme not worth taking seriously, try it via the BBC's iPlayer, I urge you. And it's on BBC4 on the 1oth. I'll write it up fully shortly, when I've had chance to digest the America deserta properly.

And good lord—the Kings Singers have been doing this now for forty years? I hadn't realised they'd become an institution . . . Funny; they never sound like one . . .

(R3 Relay)

Prom 26, Kings Singers

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