Sales of sex toys shot up as a result of erotic novel Fifty Shades Of Grey. More interesting beneficiaries are The Tallis Scholars. Their recording of the music that billionaire S&M enthusiast Christian Grey uses to set the mood for his favourite habit rocketed to number one in the classical charts after the book’s release.

“Our sales for Spem In Alium went through the roof and we had no idea why,” explains director Peter Philips, whose life’s work has been to research and perform Renaissance polyphony.

“So we eventually tracked it down and [author EL James] was very friendly and said, yes, I’ll recommend your recording on my website, and so our sales went even higher.”

The Tallis Scholars, experts in sacred vocal music of the Renaissance, had their version of the choral epic, originally composed in 1570 for eight choirs of five voices, included on EL James’s Fifty Shades Of Grey – The Classical Album.

“She was very good about it,” adds Philips.

Indeed she was. The book has shifted 40 million copies worldwide – five million in the UK.

Philips, understandably, prefers to talk about his world-renowned ten-strong choral group.

Among their achievements since their first concert in 1973, when Philips was only 19 and still a student at Oxford University, is singing in the Sistine Chapel in Rome in 1994 to mark the final stage of the complete restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes.

“I think that probably was the highlight in one sense. We had free run of the place while the TV crew got their act together – which takes them for ever. Apart from them, there was no one in there.

“We had hours just looking at the Sistine Chapel and occasionally singing something to get a balance, so we did what tourists do in very privileged circumstances really. It was great.”

Few people other than the Pope get such access.

And few musicians get to share a stage with Sting and Paul McCartney, as Philips and The Tallis Scholars have done.

In 1998 they celebrated their 25th anniversary with a special concert in London’s National Gallery. They premiered a Sir John Tavener work written for the group and narrated by Sting. A further performance was given with Sir Paul McCartney in New York in 2000.

“All they were doing was reading but it was nice to have them there,” says Philips. Before the scholars give a celebratory performance of Spem In Alium at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Philips brings his all-vocal, non-accompanied group to St Bartholomew’s Church, Brighton, to perform a different programme.

He says the high ceilings of the church make for excellent acoustics. There is great reverberation to help the singers polish their distinctive sound, which he describes as easy, natural and bright.

The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold – Celebrating A Great Treaty commemorates the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France to seal friendship and peace between their warring countries.

As well as wrestling and jousting, each side had its own Chapel Royal, led by virtuoso composers of the era – Jean Mutton and William Cornysh.

Respective choirs sang music composed for the day in makeshift tents on either side of the divide, in peaceful but combative contest.

The Tallis Scholars have made recordings by both composers.

“I had a bit of repertoire already up our sleeves to use, so I’m kind of promoting both records. “Whether these pieces are the right ones, we don’t know, but it will have been a good contest,” says Philips.

Five pieces will be performed either side of an interval.

Philips’ advice for anyone in the audience listing to Renaissance music live for the first time is to be open.

“Don’t analyse anything. Let it work on you, without you demanding anything of it.

“The sound is very seductive and the music is fascinating. But you won’t understand it on first listen, at least some of it you won’t.

“Some of it is very listener-friendly, immediately accessible. There is little secular piece by Cornysh called Ah Robin, which I think everyone would enjoy on first hearing.”

  • The Tallis Scholars play St Bartholomew’s Church, Ann Street, Brighton, on Friday, October 26. Starts 8pm, from £24. For tickets and more information about the festival, visit