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Cheers to The Choir of Man

24th Aug 2021

Before July, it’d been well over a year and a half since I last stood on a stage in front of a tightly packed audience - like most artists, the pandemic decimated my working life and silenced the buzz of live theatre that feeds performers and punters alike.

It’d been far far longer since I last performed with the Choir of Man. I was in the original cast that took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in 2017, followed by a trip to the Adelaide Fringe in 2018, where we were lucky enough to win ‘Best Show’. After that, I decided it was time to step aside for a while and let someone else enjoy the energy of a piece that had already given me so much. But when word came of the opportunity to perform in London this summer, the prospect of returning to the Jungle (the pub in which the Choir of Man takes place) was too much to resist. This felt like the perfect way to emerge from a time defined by a lack of connection and an inability to go to your local, to shake off the dust that settled on so many of our souls over the course of those interminable lockdowns , and to celebrate the fact that we can finally gather together again.

What began as a fairly modest idea - a male voice choir sharing songs and pints - quickly grew into something else over the course of those inaugural seasons in Scotland and Australia. While pints and songs are more than enough to pique most people’s interest (especially in Scotland and Australia, let’s be real here), we knew that we wanted to send our audiences away with more than that. A feeling of having celebrated what the pub means, and why it has such a deep-rooted place in so many of our hearts. And the numerous tours and seasons that the Choir of Man has played since I stepped aside only reinforce that further. Audiences always want to communicate the experiences that the show has reminded them of, often stretching back a whole lifetime, as well as the new memories it’s made for them that night. They feel at home on the Choir of Man stage, when Covid allows us to invite them up there, because that stage is a pub. The place where we go to meet and talk with the people who are dearest to us, to have evenings of celebration and evenings of commiseration. The pub, like poetry, is where many of us turn to mark our biggest occasions, and in our hour of greatest need. We go there to toast beginnings and endings, to drink to newly-weds and to loved ones we’ve just buried. We go there on first dates, to watch the football, and to have Sunday roasts. We go there for open mic nights and quizzes, for karaoke and board games. We go there for our messiest nights, and for the life-saving fry-ups the next morning. We share songs there, we make fires there; we solidify friendships, and we build new ones.

As a male voice choir, we’re acutely aware that we’re a group of men and we wanted to use that opportunity to explore the changing role of male friendships in particular, which for too long were perhaps overly reliant on alcohol as a social lubricant! As men wake up to their emotional needs and the ways they can be more open and communicative with each other, we wanted to celebrate that, and the role that the pub can play in this, especially for those who might find it a little harder to open up. Whether we're conscious of it or not, those of us who go to the pub regularly go there for a lot more than just the drinks; it’s all about the company. We might say we're meeting for a pint, but really it's for a heart-to-heart. So we wanted to make space for a moment to reflect on that, as well as for having a laugh and a beer (and don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of that).

In a time so sorely lacking in contact, returning to this show, singing songs and sharing pints with old friends with a group of strangers who over the course of an evening become friends too, feels like the perfect antidote to the loneliness and isolation of recent months. Unapologetically feel-good, the Choir of Man is a love letter to our local pubs (far too many of which are closing their doors for good, especially during Covid) and to the human connection they facilitate. So join us if you can, to raise a glass to this most beloved institution, and to enjoy summer in London as it should be...making merry, and listening to classic tunes in 9-part harmony with a cold beer in hand!

Ben Norris

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