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Choir History


On the 5th September 1935 a group of young Welshmen made the decision to form a Male Voice Choir. They knew that among the 10,000 inhabitants of Welwyn Garden City, a town fifteen years old, were a goodly number of Welsh families like themselves. So, in the first instance the group met in St Michael's Church Hall to form a committee and to get down to some serious practising. The Secretary was Mr. N. Shaw, the conductor John Bebb, and the accompanist W. Duckworth. By November they were ready to "give a turn" at the Peartree Clubhouse for a Labour party function. The first full concert was given at the Peartree Clubhouse on November 24th. The Choir sang seven songs and had three soloists, Miss Shepherd, Mervyn Wieck and John Bebb, each singing two items. After only five months the Choir was forty strong. 1936 saw two concerts at the Welwyn Theatre, and the beginning of Popular Concerts at the Peartree Clubhouse, which were started by Mr. Frank Murphy, (to occupy youngsters who would otherwise wander the streets on Sunday evenings!). By 1937 the Choir, dressed in dark lounge suits and bow ties were singing away from their home town in London, Harpenden, and on the pier at Lowestoft. For the first time the Choir used the Cherry Tree Ballroom for a concert in 1938. The local newspaper reported that the "Male Voice Choir was on the map". This without doubt was the beginning of the Celebrity Concert. There were to be many more and these continued through 1939 until October. It also established a pattern of inviting celebrity guests to perform. 1939 saw the inclusion of Mr. Evelyn Bebb, BBC Singer, and Mr. Gwyllum Phillips. Also in 1938, the choir entered its first competitive Music Festival at Ware and felt they did well. So much so that by August they were off to Cardiff to the Royal Welsh National Eisteddfod to sing in the "exiled Choirs" section and gain third place. The Garden City had rallied to support them and provided cash to cover some of the cost of the journey and other expenses. A Welsh Society was formed in the town in 1939. The Choir became closely linked with this in many ways, particularly at St. David's Day celebrations and in its love of Rugby. The Choir saw the thirties out by singing at the Granada Cinema, Slough, which proved to be an outstanding success. After five years the Choir was in a strong position. It had keen members, it was raising a lot of money for charities (£300 in four years), it was now having an annual outing and an annual dinner and was organising a host of social activities for the town, not least, four dances a year at the Cherry Tree Ballroom. 1939 was to finish with a sad note. The Choir's secretary Mr. Norton Shaw died at a young age and the Second World War began. How would the Choir continue?


Whilst 1939 and the outbreak of war had no immediate effect on the Choir, it is hardly surprising that 1940 with the real onset of the war had a marked effect. However, January 1940 saw the Choir back at the Granada Cinema Slough, with people unable to get in! Other cinemas were asking for them, but these engagements were refused simply on the grounds of cost to the Choir. Transport costs outweighed any remuneration the cinema companies would give. The Choir certainly needed money. To raise this they instituted celebrity concerts - one a month - at the Cherry Tree Ballroom. The first was held on March 3rd 1940. It raised £8 4s 6d! The room was so packed, that the Choir gave up its seats. The two soloists were George Matthews and Teifion Williams. In April, Tudor Davies sang by permission of Sadlers Wells Opera Company. Then at yet another concert Colleen Clifford and Dorothy Davies, both regular BBC broadcasters appeared. The Choir performed at the Welwyn Theatre in order to raise money for the Lord Mayor's Red Cross Fund. This was in May. The concert was broadcast to the troops with the help of the local firm of Murphy Radio. On May 26th the Choir performed for the last time for a few years. This was to the troops on Ascot Race Course. Dunkirk had been and gone, the Battle of Britain was under way. The Choir was either to serve in the forces, Home Guard or Civil Defence or work overtime in the factories. Roll on the end of the war in 1945! The years 1940 to 1945 whilst not singing years still retained the organization of the Choir. The committee met regularly. Dances were organised. Often the proceeds were used to provide comforts and cash for Choir members serving in the forces. On October 24th 1944 an announcement was made in the Welwyn Times: "The Male Voice Choir, conductor John Bebb are recommencing practices at the Cherry Tree Ballroom on Sunday November 5th 1944 at 11am" The Choir was back in business and on the 9th January 1945 it gave a concert for charity. The celebrity concerts were restarted. All four hundred tickets were sold a month before the first concert and it was everything back to normal. VE Day was celebrated in Welwyn Garden City. There was an open air service, with the Male Voice Choir, the Town Band and the Music Society, all taking part. In July the Choir appeared in the Central Hall, Westminster celebrating the Labour Party's win in the national Elections. Clement Atlee found himself on stage whilst the Choir were singing and made a quick departure! The Choir was making a swift recovery, or so it seemed, but an extraordinary meeting in October 1945 made far reaching decisions. John Bebb, the conductor was not well, and was replaced by Gordon Williams, the assistant conductor. The Choir's committee became more streamlined. The rules for the Choir were laid down. Strict attendance was the most important one. Mr. A.W. Simms was now chairman and T.S. Owen secretary. John Bebb, had been a worthy conductor. Before living in Welwyn Garden City he had originated from the Rhondda Valley. He had become an outstanding soloist. He sang with the Welsh Male Voice Choir and toured America. He should have travelled back to England in the Lusitania with the Gwent Male Voice Choir. Fortunately for him he delayed his return. The Lusitania was sunk , drowning many of its passengers. The Choir honoured John Bebb with a dinner and gifts. They were truly grateful for his vision in forming such a choir. 1946 opened with the Choir looking for a wider audience. The secretary wrote to various bodies, including the BBC to seek bookings. In February, Mr. Leslie Woodgate, a representative of the BBC, arrived to hear them practise. Later in the year, the Choir sang on the BBC Welsh Home Service. It was to be the first of many such broadcasts. In 1947 the Choir was to perform on Television. Unfortunately this was cancelled. The country had a fuel crisis and some may still remember the cruelly cold winter of 1947! Celebrity concerts continued at the Cherry Tree Ballroom. The social side of the Choir did not abate, with days out, dances and dinners with just the odd pint now and then! The Choir travelled to sing in Gravesend, Christchurch and Denham Studios where they provided backing music for a promotion cartoon on "Wales". And so it was with 1948 and 1949. Celebrity concerts provided four more events. Concerts were given in Ware, Lewisham, and Chesham. A new secretary was appointed in 1948, Mr. E. Davies, and the chairman was Mr. Alexander Brooks. The Choir now ordered newly arranged pieces by Mr. Idloes Own of South Wales. These were often to provide centre pieces for the Choir in the coming years. All was set for the furious fifties - a hive of success and activity.


The busiest years ever. At a time when the country celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Festival of Britain, the Choir celebrated its 21st Anniversary. The BBC and the Choir struck up a partnership which grew and grew. The Choir's appearances all over the south of England, as well as the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall continued apace. A priority in the early part of the 50's was to acquire a uniform; blazers, striped grey trousers, a stag on a maroon badge and buttons that required cleaning! All these purchased at the Welwyn store. Celebrity concerts continued at the Cherry Tree Ballroom almost monthly in the early 50's. They were very popular, bringing a succession of national artists to the people of Welwyn Garden City. Artists such as Gladys Ripley, Bruce Dargavel, Nancy Thomas, Olive Castelle, Doreen Hume, Campoli, Edgar Evans, Roderick Jones, Mavis John, Owen Brannigan, and John Heddle Nash. However, a further development came about in the Popular Concerts which in many ways were very similar to the Celebrity concerts - same venue, start and finish by the male voice choir, but when the guest artists were introduced there was a difference; the audience were treated to local artists. So in June 1951, Jean Gaddie, soprano, Ron Klein, violinist, and the Peartree Girls Choir were the performers. Such concerts continue throughout the fifties. The Choir used agents who booked them for shows in Tottenham, Kilburn, Islington, Walthamstow, Ipswich, Southend, Colchester ad Tonbridge Wells. Always there were the fairly local concerts for charities and social groups. Concerts were given for the Old Folk in Stevenage and Potters Bar; those in hospital at the Three Counties Hospital, Arlesey; several churches in St Albans, Hatfield , Hitchin, Letchworth, Biggleswade, Welwyn Garden City, Codicote, Harlow and Chesham; the National Children's Home in Harpenden; the RAF Association and for the Welwyn Garden Development Corporation for the Coronation Year. This last event was held in a marquee at "The Campus" along with the Town Band and Music Society. The Choir continued its association with the Welsh Society in Welwyn Garden City both in social events and at the St David's Day concert that always included a number of items in Welsh. So far those listed could be counted as routine concerts! Specials came from different directions. Each year, The Royal Naval Association held a Reunion at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1956 the Choir were there to lead community singing but in 1957, 1958 and 1959 they were there with their own slot in the programme, along with massed Marine Bands and artists of the calibre of Vera Lynn, Robert Easton, Bryan Johnson, Norman Evans and Peter Cavanagh. Also in London, but at the Royal Albert Hall, the Choir appeared regularly at the London Welsh 1,000 voices festivals around St Davids Day: a rare honour. The real breakthrough, however, came in February 1951. The Choir were invited to sing for the BBC "Home Services". The local report in the Herts Advertiser captured the atmosphere, "Most nerve-wracking moments were those which preceded the broadcast, with the minute hand of the clock slowly coming down to 7:30 the red lights started to flicker, and then remained stationary. The Announcer (Lionel Marson) stepped up to the microphone to introduce the choir. The silence was broken and the choir was 'on the air'". That was in 1951. By 1959 the choir was in a regular series performing every other week. Alongside this were television appearances in a variety of roles. Leslie Woodgate, Billy Cotton (Junior) and Glyn Jones all became closely associated with the Choir. They in turn were guests at the Annual Dinner at the Cherry Tree Ballroom. The work load that the Choir took on was enormous. In the year 1959 to June 1960 there were thirty-four engagements. And still the Choir had a strong social life - outings, dinners, Christmas family mornings at the Cherry Tree and its dances continued. The organisation was huge and so committees to determine the finance and general matters, social events, concert planning, met very regularly. Through these years Mr. A. Brooks and Mr. T.S. Owen were the Chairmen, Mr. E. Davies and Mr. G. Doyle, secretaries, and Mr. A.J. Herring and John Eccles, the original Managing Director of the Garden City company, were Presidents. Without doubt the key figure was the conductor. From 1945 Gordon Williams had been the conductor. This continued throughout the 1950's with a short break in 1956-7 when he worked in Hull. The assistant conductor Mr. Ivor Davies took over for a short period. Gordon Williams was a tireless worker expecting much of himself and of the Choir also. He was heard to say to one wayward member "I am here, and the accompanist is here for the start of a practice, so why can't you be?". There were always two practices each week and when special events came along - every night!! Gordon arrived in Welwyn Garden City in 1935 from Treforth, a village near Pontypridd, looking for work. He was employed at Herts Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and remained with them for many years before moving to ICI. In Wales he had sung as a baritone under the batons of Sir Walford Davies, Malcolm Sargent and Sir Adrian Boult, and had conducted his own choir. At once he joined the Silver band in Welwyn Garden City. When the Choir was started , he became one its first members under J.L. Bebb. When he took over the leadership of the Choir in 1945, he set out his requirements. Every member should attend rehearsal, and rehearsals should be frequent and regular. He restricted the Choir to thirty members, and for many years insisted that to be a member not only should they sing, but be a competent reader of music. By 1960 the latter rule was being relaxed a little. He was to continue as conductor until 1985, a period of forty years inspired leadership. So 1958 was to finish on a very high note. This, their busiest year ever, saw them as Radio and Television stars, bringing the name of Welwyn Garden City to the ears of millions. Even so there were niggling concerns. The musicians union "EQUITY" was complaining that amateurs were depriving them of some of their living and Inland Revenue were seeking taxes from the choir! Oh, and finally - the uniforms were threadbare, so the choir were now in evening dress, complete with bow ties.


For Britain the 60's meant the Beatles, Flower Power and commercial growth. The "You've never had it so good" years! In Welwyn Garden City the Male Voice Choir continued its progress and adapted to change. On a programme for a concert in 1965 the choir was able to boast: forty celebrity and popular concerts, one hundred Radio and TV appearances, fourteen concerts at the Royal Festival and Royal Albert Halls, and a prepared repertoire of two hundred songs. The popularity of the choir did not wane. Its concerts continued to be as varied and challenging as ever, even though their London agent Mr. Conyers died in 1961. The LCC were to continue booking them for Town Hall concerts and summer outdoor concerts in West Ham, Edmonton, and Kilburn. Such concerts lasted into the mid 60's. The Royal Naval Association, lead by Lt. Commander Leslie H. Maskell, continued to engage the Choir at its annual reunions at the Royal Festival Hall and later in the Fairfield Hall, Croydon; with the Choir singing alongside the Royal Marine Band, Cyril Fletcher, Vic Oliver , "Hutch", and other stars of stage and TV. Other opportunities afforded themselves. Through Padre Hyde, an Evangelical preacher, they provided musical items at a number of religious occasions in Oxford, Brighton, London and Guildford. They sang on a pier at Southsea and the Guildhall at Portsmouth. They dressed as miners and sang in the Dorchester Hotel, London, for the Institute of Fuel. In Watford they entertained the Highland Games Society, at Chelsea they cheered up the Chelsea Pensioners. They sang on the stage of the Princess Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue and they helped Stevenage Male Voice Choir celebrate its tenth anniversary. And still they visited the Royal Albert Hall. During these years they contributed to the National Townswomens Guilds' performance of "The Miracle" composed by Engelbert Humperdinck, but perhaps the greatest achievement was to provide the vocal interlude in the National Brass Band Championship Grand Concert alongside seven leading National Brass Bands including Fairey Aviation, CWS Manchester, and The City of Coventry. No wonder the choir's conductor tells of hot sweaty hands and a racing heart as he took the stage! What happened to their enormous commitment in the 50's to the BBC? Two changes took place: Equity closed its ranks to amateur non-union members performing. The choir felt that to join Equity would be too expensive for them. Their long time contact with the choir, Glyn Jones, died and with his death the Radio and TV appearances almost disappeared. Just one last effort was made on the "Let the People Sing" series of concerts but this didn't prove very successful. That was in 1963. Life was never dull! Can you imagine in 1964 all the Choir, in a booked coach, driving to Aylesbury to perform for the supporters of the League of Hospital Friends, to find the concert cancelled. Someone had forgotten to tell them! The choir's efforts for charity were enormous. They gave concerts to huge audiences and to the smallest. The College of Further Education was open and running at Campus West. A number of concerts were given, one for the Friends of the new Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in the town. For the elderly and for charity the choir travelled to Kimpton, Potters Bar, Old Welwyn, Arlesey, Bletchley, St Albans, Watford, Dunstable, Hertford, Letchworth, Wolverton, Woolmer Green, Langford, Croxley Green, and more. Welwyn Garden City wasn't forgotten, though the Popular Concert disappeared and fewer Celebrity Concerts took place. Expenses, simply, were too great. The Christmas Concert was introduced in its place and this has persisted until the present time. The Choir, started in 1935, was now thirty years old and many of its original members were still singing! One committee member remarked "The choir will be defunct in five years if younger members are not found". Perhaps too pessimistic but there grew an uneasiness in the choir, that all was not well. Attendance was not as good as it had been at practices. Some concerts were given with a shortage of choir members, and the Musical Director spoke of "Dead Wood". Recruitment campaigns began and were successful, but slowly the Welshness of the choir was diluting. Another problem for the choir was finance! In order to promote Celebrity Concerts, cover the cost of transport and refreshments, the Choir charged for their services. Where money was raised for charity - this charge was minimal, but to exist, the choir needed money. However, the Inland Revenue saw this as a business venture, and accordingly demanded taxes. In 1960 the treasurer submitted balance sheets for the previous five years. He received a bill for £45. Not serious it seemed, but when in the year the amount required was £85 and the Choir's assets £148, new strategies were needed. Some of the Choir's activities had to be rethought. Money mattered. The 60's, though, were good years. Hard work, enjoyment and plenty of recognition in a wide variety of venues.


The 1970's as far as the Choir was concerned brought some major changes. Welwyn Garden City itself was in the process of change, with its development of the Campus West site and the Choir's "home". The Cherry Tree Ballroom, was changing its function. The Choir in 1975 celebrated its fortieth year. Its round of concerts continued perhaps in a more moderate way and a hard advertising campaign was embarked upon to recruit new singing members. Certain functions continued as before - the Christmas Concert, the Christmas morning choir and families get together, the St David's Day function at the Trades and Labour Club, the Annual Outing and the Annual Dinner and Dance. A close association was established with Philip and Ruth Madoc, TV Personalities, Ruth performing as a soloist at many concerts. Without doubt the highlights for the Choir were the participation in the 1,000 Voices Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in 1974 with the massed Welsh choirs and then in 1978 with the 1,000 English Male Voices. The association, with the Snowdown Colliery, Aylesham, Kent, its families and its choir, ran through this period of time providing good comradeship. Jerry Trumper, George Downing, and George Woodcraft acted as the secretary to the Choir, each for a short period. Alan Wells was a major influence within the Choir. Gordon Williams continued to be musical director and Eric Ford the accompanist. With the opening of the Campus West Theatre in 1976 and the closing of the Cherry Tree Ballroom in 1977 (it was to become a restaurant), new ventures had to be tried. The first Christmas Concert in 1977 at Campus West was, in Eric Hill, the Art Critic's words, "It was a lovely evening. The whole evening had style and was an example of presentation. I know the choir rehearses twice each week, but it shows in two ways. First, the standard of performance and second, the loyalty far beyond the normal." When, however, the practices were moved to the Woodhall Community Centre they were to be only once a week, whereas previously they had been on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. A sign of the times? The town saw Campus West as a cultural opportunity and instigated "Music 76" with many local musical organisations taking part in a week of programmes. The Choir sang on two nights. "Music 77" was reduced to one night. Again Eric Hill spoke his mind in the Welwyn Times, "Unlike Topsy it hasn't growed! From the possibility of a Festival we have been reduced to a night of music. The main reason given is that all the societies are to busy, which I acknowledge but do not accept." What a wide variety of engagements the Choir still undertook; the Royal Festival Hall for the Remembrance Service for the Far East POW's Club; a number of Masonic engagements; concerts at St Albans, Dunstable, Knebworth Park, Cuffley, Newbold College, Reading, Hertford, Buntingford and Luton where Vauxhall Motors held its first Mass Voice Concert involving eight male voice choirs. Whilst 1975 celebrated forty years of the Choir's existance, perhaps it was not the Choir's most glorious year. The Choir was looking for new choristers. It was reshaping. However, that year, it presented a fine concert at the Cherry Tree Ballroom. Its first song "Comrades in Arms" was the first song sung by the Choir at its inaugural concert in 1935. The guest soloist was Janet Hurst, soprano. Other soloists were a Barber Shop Quartet of Bert Thomas, Bob Downing, John Punter and George Woodcraft. Other soloists were Gomer Rees and Jack Williams. The chairman was Alan Wells and the conductor was Gordon Williams with Eric Ford as Pianist. The comment in the paper read, "This fortieth anniversary was a satisfying and entertaining event which allowed the audience to relax and truly enjoy music of the voice."


The Choir was now approaching fifty years of existence. There were still original singing members of the Choir attending rehearsals as they had in 1935. Gordon Williams the conductor joined as one of the original members. The majority of those in at the beginning, however, were long retired or moved away from the area. New members were encouraged to join but the original character of the Choir was gone. No longer was the choir mainly Welsh. No longer was the Choir from a tightly knit community. Choir members now had work, which took them out of town and it was not always easy to be at every rehearsal or concert. So how did the musical director teach and perfect new musical pieces when he had a floating choir? The answer was with difficulty. From the heady days of the late 50's and early 60's when the Choir had more than thirty engagements in one year, the 1980's started with nine concerts. The Choir was coasting along but the committee was working hard to build its strength of numbers of concerts. 1984 saw twelve concerts culminating in the Campus West Christmas Concert when Gordon Williams felt that the choir produced "excellent quality". The year also had a very worthwhile joint concert with the Snowdown Colliery, Kent. The friendship was to continue until the colliery's closure. Gordon Williams had now conducted the choir for forty years! This had been a mammoth task by any standard - a really remarkable achievement. The June concert at Campus West was to be his retirement concert and the Celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Choir. Martin Webster who had been accompanist for three years took his place. Martin was a local Headmaster and a Yorkshireman. This had to be a further break with that Welsh tradition. Nevertheless, the Welshness continued and St David's Day provided a challenge for the Choir to learn several songs in Welsh and to sing them to the Welsh Society. There were other changes. The evening dress had been changed for a red jacket and black dress trousers. By the end of the 80's each member of the Choir had been provided with a standard white shirt, a blue sweater with a new choir logo on the chest, a black bow tie and a chance to purchase a blue silk tie with the choirs logo. From the days when the Choir raised its running costs from dances at the Cherry Tree, the money now came from different sources. These included the Christmas concert; internal and external raffles; and a new policy, for the Urban District Council of Welwyn and Hatfield, to give Community Grants to assist the Choir in the purchase of equipment and to help with the hire of the Campus West and The Forum, Hatfield. This proved to be an enormous help to the financial running of the choir. At the same time organisations were able to book the Choir and all the profits could go to charities. Under the baton of Martin Webster the second half of the 80's included concerts with the Welwyn Ladies Choir, Vauxhall Motors Choir in a massed choir night or "Friday Night is Music Night" a concert in Broxbourne Civic Centre with Richard Whitmore as Chairman; a concert The Hertford Castle Hall with Richard Baker as announcer; a lunchtime concert in Ely Catherdral; a concert at the Forum, Hatfield with Hatfield Town Band; and, maybe the outstanding experience of the eighties: a trip to Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, to sing to the Dowlais Male Choir, its family, and people of the town. A large and responsive Welsh audience! The Choir was now back to almost forty singing members. The musical director still found difficulty introducing new music to the Choir with members not able to commit themselves to regular rehearsals. However, with plenty of homework by the Choir members both word learning and note memorizing, the standard was maintained. A steady programme of about fourteen concerts was performed each year. Concerts were given using soloists from within the Choir, Gomer Rees and George Woodcraft, in particular, and from other sources. A group of young recorder players from Martin Webster's school, gave delightful recitals. Ray Bomber, the Choir's accompanist, often became clarinet soloist and Ray's daughter and Martin's son performed as a singer and French horn player. It became the norm to use young artists. For one or two concerts, professional artists would be used, Joyce Farrell with her husband acting as accompanist, and Juliet Arthur, being such artists. Even in such cases these two sopranos were local young ladies. The Choir was back on a good strong course.

1990's to Date

1990's to Date The 25 years from 1995 proved to be a period of great change socially with the rapid development of technology and the onset of social media. In the late 1990s few people within the age group of the choir had even heard of email let alone used it. All communication was carried out by telephone, paper documents and Royal Mail services. This started to change after the Millennium with the gradual adoption of email and mobile phones by members of the choir enabling rapid transmission of information and arrangements. The ability to produce professional looking programmes and documents for publicity such as flyers and posters enabled the choir to start reaching out further afield in its efforts to encourage and attract new members to join and new audiences to listen. David Matthews who took over from Gordon Williams as conductor in 1993 eventually retired from the role which was taken over by Ray Bomber who had been David’s accompanist, with Maureen Dickerson as our new accompanist. The choir membership continued to remain fairly static between 35 and 40 members with a reasonably good balance between the four sections. A full programme of concerts and other performances continued with some notable appearances at prestigious venues such as RFU Twickenham where the choir sang on the pitch before the England vs Wales game in 2000. A further choir sporting outing was to entertain the crowds at half-time during a Watford football match when they were riding rather higher in the football leagues than they are today. The choir was also commissioned to sing at various corporate events in London including at the Natural History Museum where some members ended up singing standing under the rear end of a brontosaurus! That certainly left a lasting impression. Further events at The Grosvenor and Dorchester Hotels in conjunction with The Band of The Scots Guards and The RAF Band proved to be not only enjoyable social trips into London but also provided valuable funds to keep the choir solvent, enabling it to carry on providing free concerts locally for charities and good causes. Ray Bomber left the choir in 2002 and the conductor’s role was taken over by Peter Slade, who had also been an accompanist for the choir. Peter brought a wide variety of songs to the choir’s repertoire as well as several of his own arrangements, some of which are still sung today including that much loved Welsh hymn Calon Lan which epitomises the Choir’s Welsh heritage. Sadly, Peter Dickerson, Maureen’s husband who looked after the technical and transport side of the choir, became ill and died and eventually Maureen decided to move on in her life. We were lucky to be able to call on local friends to accompany the choir for a short while and even persuaded an American lady who our chairman met on the train into London one day to come and accompany us! This didn’t provide the choir with the continuity or sympathetic accompaniment it needed, however, and we were then lucky enough to attract a local musician, Mary Anstey, to join us in 2005. Mary has been our wonderful accompanist since then. We are also blessed with two other brilliant occasional accompanists when Mary isn’t available – Stuart Borner and Michelle Boylan. Peter Slade remained our conductor until the end of 2008 when he decided to devote more time to his other activities although he remains an enthusiastic supporter of the choir and is often seen helping out on the door at concerts or wherever he can be of help. In his last year or so as conductor he started to share the podium with Les Rayner, a local music teacher and saxophonist, who had joined the choir to sing in the bass section. Les took over completely in 2009 and helped bring in a whole range of new musical styles and more contemporary songs, several of which he arranged himself. Under Les, the choir performed from a repertoire of over 60 songs ranging from classic male voice choir numbers, several continuing the tradition of singing at least one song per concert in Welsh in acknowledgement of our heritage, through musical numbers such as compilations from Les Miserables, Oliver and Lloyd Webber numbers to more contemporary songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Lean On Me, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, and even Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life! Les decided after 10 years at the helm both he and the choir needed a change and we now have our first female conductor, Juliet Arthur, a mezzo soprano who actually sang with us as a soloist back in the early 1990s. Juliet is also a singing coach and has therefore brought those skills to the choir, developing its musicality and improving the way all four sections blend together. Over these last 25 years the choir has continued with its main aim which is to perform concerts in support of good causes whilst providing a convivial, sociable, inclusive and respectful environment for its members and associates. It has raised many thousands of pounds in support of Motor Neurone Disease, Isabel Hospice, Herts Young Homeless, Parkinson’s Disease, Sage, Mind in Mid-Herts and JOCA (Just One Click Away) a charity set up by Welwyn Rugby Club to support mental health of players following the tragic deaths of two of its members. The choir has also raised funds in support of the Air Ambulance in North Wales which is a particular charity supported by our Patron Sir Bryn Terfel. This is all in addition to the funds raised by the local organisations such as churches for which we sing at a nominal charge to cover our expenses. There have been many memorable occasions during this last 25 years, one of which was organised by one of our baritones, Phil Jaggar, Emeritus Professor at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) in London. It had been discovered that a certain Paul Robeson studied there and to celebrate that and his connection with the South Wales miners during the depression, and of course his wonderful bass voice, Phil organised an event featuring the choir and also Sir Willard White, with a narrative from Tony Benn who was a great admirer of Paul Robeson. It was a great occasion to be with the great Willard White whose voice managed to make the whole hall tremble when he simply walked in and said “Hello”. Another of our more interesting performances was at a concert in St Albans Abbey in 2019 in aid of the Hearing Dogs for the Deaf charity. Not only were we surprised to hear some of the dogs howling along with us (in appreciation?) but the audience was treated to ‘hearing’ the words by signing from some fantastic young people standing at the front. At the end of each song the audience showed their appreciation by doing jazz hands instead of clapping, with the dogs barking their support. It was a memorable evening indeed and certainly raised awareness of the difficulties that hearing impaired people have. The choir has organised some memorable concerts to recognise our anniversaries over this period – the 70th, 75th and 80th – all of which resulted in some great performances. The 70th anniversary was held in St Albans Abbey with Vauxhall Male Voice Choir as guests together with Serenata, an eight voice a capella group. Howard Burrell, our President at that time, did a marvellous job as MC, and around £2,000 was raised for The Motor Neurone Disease Association. The 75th Anniversary was again shared with our guests Vauxhall MVC, this time in the Hawthorne Theatre at Campus West, and we invited both Martin Webster and Ray Bomber to return and conduct some of our songs along with Les Rayner. The 80th Anniversary was again held at the Hawthorne Theatre, this time with Codicote Primary School Choir. Members of WGCMVC dressed up as Welsh miners complete with head torches for the opening number singing Take Me Home which includes the words “I remember the face of my father, as we walked back home from the mine”. Well, the scenario was completed by young Owen Watkins from Codicote School walking on stage and taking the hand of his Grandfather, Howell Watkins, one of our tenors, who was actually a miner in South Wales in his youth before moving to WGC, and walking off stage together. Not a dry eye in the house! The second half opened with the choir members dressed up as market traders singing a medley from Oliver with members of the school choir acting as pickpockets. It was all very effective and more like a musical than a concert. The choir members like to socialise together with wives, partners and other family members and have enjoyed several tours during this time. We have been to Northern France and sung in a huge church which was packed out with standing room only, which was amazing considering it was the French equivalent of Mothering Sunday. We have also toured The Netherlands raising several thousand euros in aid of a child cancer research charity. Closer to home, tours have been made to Merthyr Tydfil to visit our old friends Dowlais Choir and also Maesteg both in South Wales, two tours to Westmorland to visit our old conductor Martin Webster and his K Shoes Choir, a trip to the Isle of Wight to sing with our ex-secretary, Barry Leahy’s choir, Newchurch, a visit to Richmond in Yorkshire to sing with the original Army WAGS choir from Catterick Garrison and more recently a weekend down to Dorset to sing with The Mill Singers with whom our ex Chairman, Ian Mogford, now sings. On the way home we stopped in Christchurch Priory and sang there for an hour – an incredibly uplifting experience which was enjoyed by many tourists visiting the Priory and gaining a free concert into the bargain. The choir has reciprocated with our hosts from these visits where we have entertained Frévent choir from France, The Mill Singers, K Shoes and Newchurch and also a visit from Treharris MVC from South Wales. The years since 2000 have not been without difficulties of declining membership, often in the top tenors and second tenors, and the choir has spent a lot of effort trying to recruit new members. This proves to be a very difficult task as most men seem to be reluctant to commit and generally profess to not being able to sing, so with membership dwindling to less than thirty, in 2018 the choir took the decision to try a different approach which was suggested by Peter Davies of the Huntingdon MVC. It was suggested that men would be more disposed to joining in with other men who were not part of an existing choir, committing to a single concert in a prestigious location in support of a worthwhile charity and receiving some tuition along the way. The choir agreed to this approach and set about developing a new choir called Men’s Voices United (MVU). Our President, The Marquess of Salisbury, very kindly agreed for us to have the Old Palace at Hatfield House to hold the concert and three Mental Health charities agreed to help support the concert through publicity: JOCA, Mind in Mid-Herts and Sane. We advertised very comprehensively around WGC and surrounding towns and villages to get people to sign up to sing in a one-off concert at Hatfield House in support of mental health. We also performed on radio and had articles in newspapers and magazines. We were amazed at the response - where have these people been all these years! After 12 seeks of fairly intensive rehearsals and coaching the day of the concert arrived and the 33 participants in the MVU choir sang a selection of six songs as a choir in their own right and joined with WGCMVC for a further two songs. The Old Palace was packed to bursting and the enjoyment on the faces of these new singers was a treat to behold. A fantastic £7,000 was also raised for the mental health charities. What an evening! In the weeks after the concert 18 of these MVU singers decided to join WGCMVC, which of course was the original objective. Following that success, it was a hard task to integrate the new and old members of the choir during 2019 and of course just as the expanded choir was establishing itself properly the Covid 19 pandemic hit us. Being unable to hold concerts or even rehearse was a bitter disappointment to all but the members of the choir kept up their Thursday evening rehearsals through the auspices of Zoom. Despite many efforts to try singing together, the associated different time lags from the various participants in the sessions made it impossible to carry on with singing. The ‘rehearsal’ evenings on Zoom carried on, however, with a range of activities during these sessions including quizzes, a competition where members provided three photos of themselves from their babyhood and youth which were shown and people had to guess who they were before hearing stories behind the photos, and a very successful initiative called Corona Virus Island Discs where members were invited to send in three songs each and again participants had to guess whose they were and then hear the stories behind the selections. One of the biggest casualties of the lockdown was the Welwyn Garden City Centenary year in 2020, during which events and activities were planned across a wide range of interests, including sports, nature, cultural, and of course music and performing arts. The Choir has been one of the oldest groups active in the town and participated in planning the music and performing arts programme. For the Choir, the high spot was going to be a joint concert with Welwyn Harmony and Musical Melodies in which we would try to attract local people to come and sing. A series of evening sessions were planned to help people gain the confidence and skills with the aim of performing in the joint concert at the end of the sessions. Regrettably none of this happened but maybe it will be possible to resurrect the programme sometime in the future. Getting back to ‘normal’ will take time but it is planned in due course to carry out another smaller MVU campaign to bring the numbers back up having lost some members over the last couple of years. Everyone wants to get back to singing again as soon as possible for our physical, mental and social well-being!

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