Summer 2022: The Tour-king Points
I have decided to do an overview of our UK tour destinations by comparing each location to a classic British staple, whether it be food or some type of event. Please don’t think me too patriotic – I have made comparisons purely in the interest of keeping this anecdotal rather than having you feel like you’re reading a Dickens novel.
(NB Having read through what I’ve written, I realise a lot of my memories of tour link to food or the breaks in between concerts. I promise we did sing, and it was very enjoyable…just not quite as enjoyable as a cup of tea and a slice of cake.)
St Andrews – Church bells
We started off our tour staying right where we were: St Andrews. In our break before the concert, we heard the beautiful sound of the church bells ringing ‘Now is the Month of Maying’. This was a good choice because 1) MadGroup often sings this madrigal 2) It was indeed the month of Maying, and we were all quite merry lads and ladesses. Was this choice of music for us? Who knows, but let’s pretend it was.
Highlight: finalising the leavers’ scrapbooks in Paula’s living room, with me, her and Emily slowly becoming more manic with each photo we had to cut out.
Edinburgh – Whisky
We had two concerts in Edinburgh, one at Glenkinchie Distillery and one at St Columba’s by the castle. Given we visited a distillery, the British association chosen with Edinburgh is whisky. (According to Wikipedia, whisky distillation could have actually begun in Mesopotamia in the 2nd millennium BC but work with me here). Thanks to the wonderful people at Glenkinchie, we had a tour of the distillery before singing a concert to a few unsuspecting visitors. They came for the whisky, and they got a few madrigals as well; what more could you ask for? We then travelled into the centre of Edinburgh for our evening concert at St Columba’s, which was followed by a lovely feast organised by the members of the church.
Highlight: Speaking to my host from St Columba’s and hearing about her life, as well as seeing her impressive artwork.
Bamburgh – Ploughman’s Lunch
I associate Bamburgh with a Ploughman’s Lunch for a specific reason. We had a lovely lunch at the Copper Kettle Tea Rooms which specialises in all the best British culinary delights: jacket potatoes, pies and scones. Ed ordered a Ploughman’s Platter and asked the waitress how plentiful the Ploughman’s Platter would be (try that as a tongue twister). She told him it wouldn’t be manageable for one person which I think spurred him on in his decision to order it. When it arrived, it came with what I can only assume was England’s entire supply of cheese. He made a pretty good job of it, though. Well done Ed for not giving up, it gives us all hope in your forthcoming presidency.
Highlight: Watching Anna, Harry, Hat and Rebekah doing teddy bear rolls outside Bamburgh Castle.
Lincoln – The Vicar of Dibley
We were offered such a warm welcome in Lincoln which we all really appreciated. We sang in St Mary Magdalene which felt like a close-knit community of people, all keen to talk to us and learn more about us. This tightly connected church reminded me of the wholesome and humorous show The Vicar of Dibley, in which all characters know each other very well and all are keen to help the church remain active. St Mary Magdalene was the quintessential English church, and one that has worked hard to build up its congregation to pre-Covid levels. We were extremely well fed that evening with the most delicious mushroom stroganoff I’ve ever tasted.
Highlight: Seeing the Angel of the North (not me, the statue)
Hampton Court – the Tudors
Maybe a bit basic, but of course Hampton Court Palace reminded me of the one area of history that documentary filmmakers love to cling to: (alongside World War Two) the Tudors. This venue was special as a few family members of the choir got to come and listen to us. It was a privilege to sing there and then have some time to explore the palace, even if Will and I did have to restrain ourselves from lecturing other choir members about Henry VIII. Later in the evening we went and had a delicious meal at Will’s home.
Highlight: Visiting Duncan’s house after the concert and relaxing with a cup of tea and the strawberries and cream his family had so kindly provided.
Sherborne/Salisbury – Pub trip
I was unsure what to link this day to. We started off with a concert in Sherborne Abbey, which made me think of Hugh Grant, with whom I associate with the well-to-do British boarding school stereotype. But honestly, I didn’t see enough floppy hair at Sherborne for this to be a true enough association. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful concert with beautiful solos from both Rebekah and Emily, as well as Peter and Ed in ‘Loch Lomond’. Later in the day we headed off to Peter’s house in Salisbury for our evening concert there. Afterwards, we wended our way to the local pub, where we embarked upon the six-pint challenge. And what a challenge it was, although everyone gave it their best effort. Who was the winner? Honestly, I didn’t pay enough attention after it became clear it wasn’t me, so I can’t remember.
Highlight: Seeing Michael get to play the organ at Sherborne Abbey.
Salisbury (day off!) – Cups of tea
On our day off, the choir was a mixture of hungover and sungover (the singing equivalent) so we spent the morning relaxing in Peter’s lovely home. I remember us all sitting round the garden table in the sun with endless cups of tea (my idea of heaven) before some of us played a game of croquet as though we were in some sort of Victorian novel. After a wonderful spread put together by Peter’s family, we all headed into Salisbury town centre.
Highlight: I actually can't decide whether this is a highlight or not. In the evening we all exchanged gifts which was lovely, except it reminded me of the Friends episode where Chandler and Joey gift toilet seat covers and a can of soda when the others have bought them actual gifts. This is kind of how I felt when Emily presented me with a beautiful trinket box with candles and earrings and I gave Isaac… a tacky Buckingham Palace decoration. Ah well, it’s the thought.
Oxford – Punting
We were in Oxford on the Wednesday, and after a concert at Jesus College we were lucky enough to try out punting. I did enjoy this, but it’s not an experience I’ll repeat immediately. Nathanael did a good job as punter (I searched that word, it does exist), but there was one moment in which the punt pole was dropped. In order to recover it, Anna began splashing in the water, and in the process brought half of River Cherwell onto the boat. I exaggerate slightly. We survived, and I did manage to hold onto my Oreo throughout the drama.
Highlight: Seeing Paula and Nathanael rock up to the club that evening in the MadGroup waffle robes.
Cheltenham – Summer BBQ
We travelled to Cheltenham on the 19th to sing at Cheltenham College. Despite some interesting fashion choices from various choir members, the school did allow us in and gave us all lanyards which made us feel very official. After doing our concert with a wonderful acoustic, we headed to Iona’s house for a barbecue. Ok, so a barbecue isn’t British, but there’s something about those summer BBQs in the back garden. Delicious food and warm fire = 10/10.
Highlight: Seeing Hat walk into a pub garden in her bright pink tracksuit top, khaki joggers, and Will’s rainbow hat, carrying McNuggets and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Moment made even better by her falling asleep in the middle of the grass.
Lancaster – Castle?
I struggle here, which is a shame, because Lancaster is my hometown. What was the most British thing about Lancaster? We tried neither hotpot nor Eccles cake. Is the castle the most British thing about Lancaster? We sure do have a lot of them in the UK. I took a couple of choir members to visit the castle after the concert, which was enjoyable mostly due to the eccentric tour guide who looked alarmingly like Eddie Redmayne. I had, however, forgotten that the history of Lancaster Castle is quite gruesome. “Welcome to Lancaster!” doesn’t seem quite so joyful when followed by a history of the Pendle Witch hangings. At least it was an educational visit I suppose.
Highlight: My parents saying MadGroup’s visit was a highlight of their year.
Parton - Bunting
Ok, so I’m not 100% sure if bunting is British but I remember there being a lot of it at Parton and I thought it was cute. That and a lot of balloons. This was our final tour destination, and we received a warm welcome from the Parton Kirk community. Much like Lincoln, it felt like your archetypal countryside village church. The tea and homemade cakes afterwards were divine, so much so that I really had to restrain myself from trying everything. (There was a sign saying, “Please Indulge!” and believe me, I did!) We were very sad to hear that the church will be closing, but we hope to see the parishioners somewhere in Dumfries and Galloway next year.
Highlight: A toss-up between stopping off at McDonald’s on the way back to St Andrews and trying the McPlant burger for the first time and signing the leavers’ Madbooks back at Rebekah’s flat.
Emma Gatrell is a soprano in her third year who loves a good cup of tea, and one of MadGroup's Tour Managers this year. We wish her the very best on her semester abroad to Spain next term!