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Juliet Russell, of Vocal Explosion - courtesy of

Vocal Explosion in St. Clement’s Church

We found ourselves last night in St. Clement’s Church, in Hastings Old Town, to hear a programme of gypsy music from the community choir Vocal Explosion.  We hadn’t ventured inside this fourteenth-century gem before, but had read about its refurbishment (which aroused the usual mix of “they’ve ruined a lovely church” and “what an improvement on what was there before”). Antony Mair writes.

St Clement's Churrch, the interior has been renovated

Personally, I quite like a mix of ancient and modern, so was not offended by the renovations.  It makes a good concert venue, and the assembled ladies and gents of the community choir filed in happily to the chancel, for a programme of gypsy music from Spain to Romania.

Community choirs make no pretension to be grand opera, the purpose being to have a good time with the music as much as to produce a decent sound. The men were, as usual, vastly outnumbered by the women – to the point where, from our position half behind a pillar, the former were completely invisible.  But the women – dressed for the occasion in “sunset” colours of orange and red, some with roses in their hair – certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, swaying and smiling in a Carmen-meets-the-WI fashion.

The choir was led by Juliet Russell, who had two roses in her hair – a little offputting since from the rear they looked like a couple of stick-up ears, and reminded me slightly of Bambi, for some reason.  Our neighbour in the audience, who told us she had sung with the choir for nine years but was taking a break from it at present, said that Juliet Russell composed some of the numbers herself.  If so, she’d done a good job.  Some of the harmonies were powerful – particularly in an opening number called Asla, which sent shivers down my spine.

The slight tendency towards a revivalist meeting became more pronounced after the break, when Juliet Russell encouraged the audience to clap rhythmically and access their inner power (I may have got that last bit wrong, but you probably get the drift).  In the last number, where the choir was swaying and the audience standing and clapping I warned Paul that I might soon be speaking in tongues.  The man in the row behind us said he wished the Sunday service was as lively.

I have my reservations about gypsy music – it can sound a bit same-ish after a while, and I can only take so much of dancing beside bonfires.  But the rhythms were good, Juliet Russell impressed as a husky-voiced Carmen and the lady beside us was whooping with applause like any teenager.  I expect to see her with a rose in her hair next time round.

Republished with kind permission from Postcards from Hastings

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Posted 13:28 Monday, Mar 24, 2014 In: Music & Sound

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