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After hours

The King's Men Detailed performer information
Download only
Label: King's College, Cambridge
Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Produced by Benjamin Sheen
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: June 2014
Total duration: 43 minutes 36 seconds

On their first release with the new King's College label, The King's Men perform arrangements of pop and jazz hits from Cole Porter to Carly Rae Jepsen.

A Year With The King’s Men
As Michaelmas Term begins, freshers arrive and leavers empty their rooms after their final summer concerts as members of the Choir. Despite the balmy overhang of the previous summer, our eyes are already set on Christmas, three months away. The first annual engagement every year is a large (free) concert in King’s Hall of Christmas repertoire at the end of term, but the main priority to start with is to teach the freshers as much of the standard concert music as possible. That way, they can start participating in performances as soon as possible. As we stay in Cambridge after term ends to record Carols from King’s for BBC television anyway, this allows us to do our annual carol concert at the Eagle pub in return for a healthy (or unhealthy, perhaps) tab behind the bar and to sing to the patients at Addenbrookes Hospital who cannot get back to their homes at Christmas—always a rewarding experience. On Christmas Eve, we often have a BBC radio broadcast in the morning, with just the men of the Choir, on top of the more famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols later in the day. After a two hour rehearsal for that, we go out and serenade the queue (some members of which have been braving the elements for a couple of days to ensure good seats!) with our close-harmony Christmas fare, before a hearty brunch.

The real climax of the King’s Men’s year comes when we go on our annual national tour (usually in the Easter holidays) and perform nine or ten concerts over the course of about as many days. The sequence of music in our concerts is in a tried and tested format of four quarters (interspersed with an interval and some light contributions from our organ scholars), covering the whole range of our repertoire. We start off with early sacred music and madrigals of the 16th and 17th centuries, moving to arrangements of folk-songs in the second quarter. After the interval we have traditional spirituals and jazz before moving onto the more popular repertoire to close. It’s an eclectic mix, but it does work. Each piece is preceded by a short spoken introduction by one of our number and we endeavour to make these humorous, although our comic expertise, it must be admitted, is somewhat limited. This album, mercifully, is presented without these interjections, and includes music that you might hear us singing in the third and fourth quarters of a concert.

After exams comes the onslaught of May Balls—a week or so where all semblance of a decent sleeping pattern goes out the window. We perform as seven man groups, and sometimes we might have to sing at three different balls in one night, ending at about 5:00am. We always have an outrageously good time, and there is often the option to get a coveted ticket to the ball you are performing at—it’s a fine deal. On the Sunday at the end of May Week we perform a concert called Singing on the River, where the audience sits on one side of the river Cam and we perform (with microphones) across the river from the other, on punts. The weather nearly always, miraculously, holds out and we usually present the same programme that we toured, meaning that we know the music well enough not to be put off by ducks, high winds, and the ever-present possibility of falling in. It never fails to draw in a great audience—sometimes well over 1,000.

Recording After Hours
It would be fair to say that this disc has been a time long in production. The King’s Men have recorded albums of Folk Songs and Spirituals, Christmas close-harmony music and two very successful albums of early renaissance music on the Signum label (directed by Stephen Cleobury), but for some reason or other the more ‘popular’ side of what we do was not documented. Talking to older members of the group, it seems that plans were always in the pipeline, but the project never quite materialized.

One thing so enjoyable about this project was just how much this was a ‘home team’ endeavour, all of the arrangers were members of The King’s Men at some point, and our producer, Ben, was himself a Countertenor Lay-Clerk at King’s at the time this record was made. It was great that he could actually attend our rehearsals to offer his thoughts well in advance of the sessions. Drawing on his experience of having produced a disc of similar repertoire whilst at New College, Oxford, his contribution was invaluable, as was the determination of our two musical directors, Rob and Ruairi. We also greatly benefited from working with Ben Parry, sometime member of King’s College Choir, a musical director of The Swingle Singers, founder of the Dunedin Consort and now director of the National Youth Choir. Our work with Ben focused on creating an authentic close-harmony sound, distinct from the more full-blooded singing which we do as soloists or members of the Chapel Choir. Rogers Covey-Crump (tuning expert and tenor of The Hilliard Ensemble) also gave us some important advice about tackling the more complex harmonies in some of the arrangements.

Fairly early on in the planning of the project, our musical directors and producer decided, with common consent from the group, that we wanted the recorded sound to be a faithful representation of the sound of the group in concert, so apart from three tracks (Call me maybe, Forget you and I want you back), the recordings on this album were made live, standing as we would for a concert, in a semi circle, and without any digital manipulation. The three tracks which weren’t recorded live, we felt would work best recorded in a studio, as they were recent pop hits, and to make the arrangements come across at their best, the close and immediate sound that comes from multi-track recording in a studio was preferable. As most of our performing is done in seven man groups, we though it appropriate to include this style of performance on the recording, and the finished product includes tracks with all fourteen of us singing together (such as I get around and Minnie the moocher), a reduced complement of about ten of us (September), all the way down to one-to-a-part seven man singing (Old man river and A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square).

Henry Hawkesworth © 2014

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