Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Imperfect Harmony

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Imperfect Harmony

Article excerpt


The Test ITV1

GOOD morning. This week's charitable appeal is for sufferers of "kwa" syndrome, an appalling medical disability affecting many middle-aged, middleclass, middlebrow Middle Englanders. First symptoms include dressing like librarians and attending Richard Baker musical evenings at the town hall, but those with the full-blown kwa virus soon experience an overwhelming urge to head for cold, damp church halls and perform four- part vocal cacophony in them.

Typically, the mixed amateur kwa works on a very simple principle, beginning with the appointment of a "dishy" male conductor, whose presence tempts nervous prissy women with floral frocks and Esther Rantzen teeth to sign up, whereupon a lecherous band of bearded men with dandruff on the frayed lapels of their velvet jackets also join the throng.

So, although from a distance a kwa appears to be a respectable musical enterprise, in reality it's a seething morass of frustrated sexuality, as lonely gentlemen who sound as though they've just been sucking helium desperately dream of getting off with frumpy Victoria Wood lookalikes and treating their withered genitals to one last brief thrill before the grave.

Please give generously.

The crackle of repressed English sexuality was doubtless prevalent in the ranks of the Michelin kwa, when they first got together in Stoke, many many years ago. But age has taken its terrible toll on this once-sprightly ensemble (oldest member 88), and having seen their faltering appearance on yesterday morning's The Test (ITV1), the only erotic overtone I could detect was a distant association with rubber (they're named after a local tyre factory).

Worse, their performance was described by experts as "sounding like a cat being strangled", and their warbled claim that they'd "like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" was about as plausible as Stephen Hawking telling us that he'd like to teach the world to tap dance.

Let's put it this way. Priapus had clearly left the building long ago, while St Cecilia must have been spinning so fast in her grave when the kwa held their weekly rehearsals that she's probably corkscrewed right through the earth's core, and should be emerging somewhere near Tasmania any day now.

This daily programme's avowed intent is "to help people who want to realise their dreams and ambitions". So what did presenter Jeremy Milnes do? He brought in professional choirmaster Philip Scriven to transform the kwa from a social gathering into a musical one, and told the singers (using that spurious old "against the clock" technique, with which TV programmes-hope to generate excitement) that they had "just eight weeks" to prepare for a concert in Lichfield Cathedral.

"Breathing is such a key issue," Scriven told them at their first rehearsal, and rightly so, but looking at his frail and crumbling troupe, I was unclear whether he was speaking musically or medically. …

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