During the pandemic lockdown, Caldicot Male Voice Choir remained busy by building a much needed extension to its Choir Hall in Mill Lane, Caldicot. Now it’s completed, it was pleased to welcome back Georgie Davies of Griffiths Civil Construction who generously provided the materials and labour to complete the groundworks, foundations and sub floor. This was a huge contribution without which the project couldn’t have started.
This extension now enables the hall to store it’s tables, including the circular tables to be used at weddings and its 200 chairs thus clearing the hall completely for other functions such as the Choir’s support for Blood donor sessions. The photographs show Georgie with Choir Chairman John Nicholson, Secretary Ken Cooper and Vice Chairman Leon Jones, the Choir’s project manager during the build.
Back Singing Together! Caldicot Male Voice Choir was delighted and thrilled to be able, with appropriate Covid-19 precautions in place to resume practices together after a 16 month absence.
Over 50 choristers assembled to sing pieces such as Rock a my Soul, Benedictus, Anfonaf Angel, Sixteen Tons, Calon Lan, Anfonaf Angel and Cwm Rhondda for the first time together for 16 months, led by the music team of Sian Hatton, Shirley Anne James, Stephen Berry and John Nicholson. The Choir also welcomed two new members Andrew Yearsley (Bass) and Bob Benjamin (Top tenor). Welcome both.
In a party but controlled atmosphere the Choir was presented with a celebratory cake baked by Colleen Gauntlett which was eagerly devoured by the choristers during a break in rehearsal. It was obvious from the choristers’ faces and smiles that it was a great thrill to be back singing together again.
The photograph shows left to right:
Karl Gregory, Gareth Thomas, Leon Jones, Ken Cooper, Colleen Gauntlett, Sian Hatton, Stephen Berry, John Nicholson and Shirley-Anne James.
It has been nearly 15 months since Caldicot Male Voice Choir has been allowed to sing as a whole but it was thrilled to be able to sing together on 28th June outside its Choir Hall in Caldicot.
It has been a tradition in the past 12 years to present long serving choristers with a unique commemorative badge and certificate to recognise the achievement of more than 25 or 50 years’ continuous service. Until yesterday there have been 36 recipients of the completion of 25 years and 3 recipients of 50 year awards.
It was with great delight that this list was added to with the presentation after much delay, of a 25 year award to bass chorister Wyn Goodwin and of 50 year awards to bass chorister Bill Nash and baritone Peter Heslop. The presentations were made by Jessica Morden MP, John Griffiths SM and Musical Director Siȃn Hatton. Also in attendance was long standing supporter and a Vice President, the Mayor of Caldicot, Jim Higginson. Chairman John Nicholson accomplished a magnificent job as Master of Ceremonies in difficult circumstances.
The presentations not only recognise the dedication and loyalty of recipients but also demonstrate that singing in a Choir is a wonderful hobby, learning new skills and sharing common experiences, memories and friendships that can last a lifetime.
Following the ceremonies about 45 choristers gathered together outside the hall and conducted by Siȃn Hatton and accompanied by Stephen Berry the assembled Choir presented the appreciative audience with ‘Cwm Rhondda’, ‘Ar Hyd y Nos’ and ‘African Prayer’.
All participants were then invited to partake of an outdoor complimentary drink to commemorate being able to meet up after so long. A wonderfully enjoyable evening and thank goodness the rain kept away, but it was a bit chilly.
John Griffiths MS said: “It was great to see the choir back together again and doing what they do best. It’s been a difficult time during the pandemic – but the return to practice is hopefully a sign of a return to some normality. Music brings communities together – and this is very much the case with the Caldicot Male Voice Choir whose melodies are a joy to behold.”
Jessica Morden MP said: “It was fantastic to hear the choir again. They were on fine form singing together outside the Choir Hall (the envy of many choirs in South Wales) for the first time in 16 months and honour the long service and commitment of choristers Bill, Peter and Wyn who combined are celebrating 125 years of singing with the choir.”
Very pleased that The South Wales Argus Grassroots section published my short article yesterday about Caldicot Male Voice Choir’s organised sponsored walk on June 12th from Chepstow Castle to Magor to raise funds for its nominated charity The Welsh Air Ambulance. Thanks to chorister Tony Griffiths for organising.
Caldicot Male Voice Choir is very grateful to the Argus for its support during these difficult times.
Near the Leisure Centre in Caldicot, there proudly stands a unique red brick building where, above its doorway is emblazoned the badge of Cor Meibion Caldicot and the words Choir Hall, Croeso, Welcome. Few who enter this incredible, purpose designed hall will realise the dreams and efforts of those who in 1996, 25 years ago made this unique building the home of Caldicot Male Voice Choir.
The dream was held for 28 years while a suitable plot of land should become available but it remained elusive for many years. Meanwhile practices like so many other choirs, carried on in local school halls, in particular Green Lane School.Finally land adjacent to the Leisure centre was found and the lease signed in April 1992.
A period of four years of intensive fund raising began and with the help of substantial grants from the Foundation of Sport and Arts and the National Lottery, sufficient funds were in place by September 1995.
Many hours were also spent with Community Design Gwent and Sarah James, the architect before the plans and design were eventually approved by Monmouthshire County Council. The final contract to build was awarded to Messrs. White Brothers and Speed of Newport and the first turf was dug on January 16th 1996 in heavy snow.
Many were involved in realising the dream but special mention must be made, not least of Secretary Islwyn Watkins, Treasurer Mervyn Roberts and President Richard Evans. The hall was finally opened during a weekend of celebration from 20th to 22nd September 1996 by Dr Terry James culminating in a Four Choir Concert on the Sunday including not only Caldicot, but choirs from Risca, Cwmbran and Blaenavon.
The hall has seen many changes in the last 25 years including two extensions and a mezzanine floor to hold office space and the library due largely to the efforts of chorister Leon Jones. It has its own fully licenced bar and state of the art sound and projection systems.
With a seating capacity of up to 200 people, it is open by arrangement to benefit the local community for not least wedding suppers, charity events and concerts, live TV showings of Wales Rugby matches, social events and corporate business events and has recently hosted the working of charities such as The Welsh Blood Transfusion Service, Mind and Caldicot Food Bank.
There is no doubt that the building of the Choir Hall in Caldicot after so many years of dreaming, planning and construction has furthered the culture of Welsh Male Choral singing and has provided an essential asset to the Caldicot Community.
The Choir looks forward to the ending of Covid-19 restrictions so that it and the local community can once again enjoy the marvellous building that is Caldicot Choir Hall.
A tribute article of King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu Nation following his death on 12th March was published in the South Wales Argus Grassroots section on 22nd March. Caldicot Male Voice Choir sang for him at the special pageant at Brecon Barracks on July 21st 2019 to mark the reconciliation of the UK with the Zulu Nation after the Zulu War of 1879.
Photos by Colleen Gauntlett
THE FULL ARTICLE
On July 21st 2019 Caldicot Male Voice Choir was privileged to be invited to take part in a special pageant at Brecon Barracks to celebrate the reconciliation between the United Kingdom and the Zulu Nation of the ‘Zulu War’ of 1879.
This war was infamous for the Battle of Isandhlwana where over 1400 British troops were killed and for the defence of Rorke’s Drift by 24th Regiment of Foot South Wales Borderers later the same day.
Caldicot Male Voice Choir has sung on a number of occasions for Royalty but none more unusual than this occasion to perform for King Goodwill Zwelithini, the King of the Zulu Nation alongside his bodyguard of Zulu warriors and accompanied by the Band of the Royal Welsh Regiment conducted by Major Dennis Burton. In attendance were his wives, Princes and Princesses. At the Beating Retreat Ceremony, the Choir sang the three National Anthems of the Nations involved, Mae hen wlad fy Nhadau, N’kosi Sikeleli Africa and God Save the Queen.
Sadly we have just learned of the passing of King Goodwill in hospital in Nataal, South Africa on 12th March at the age of 72. It is believed that he died from diabetes related complications.
The Choir will remember meeting him at this special occasion for many years and a similar photograph to the one above is proudly hanging from the wall of the Choir Hall. The Choir has passed on its condolences and sympathy to his family and the Zulu Nation.
It was reported in January that an active member of Caldicot Male Voice Choir, Bill Nash had remarkably reached his 98th birthday. Since then two members, Dave Kirton and Peter Hanks celebrated their 78th birthdays on the same day January 16th.
To many this would seem to perpetuate the myth that being in a Male Voice Choir is a pastime dedicated solely for grey haired, elderly gentlemen. What is forgotten is that Bill joined his first Male Voice Choir at the age of 14 and that Dave, like so many of the Choir members joined the Choir over 30 years ago when they were in their forties or even younger. In common with Bill Nash, current active choristers John Evans, Peter Heslop and Dave Gould have each completed over 50 years’ service and joined when they were in their twenties. Current vice chairman, Leon Jones joined 3 months before his 18th birthday and has completed over forty three years’ service. Baritone Liam Evans at 25 and Craig Howells, also 25 are the Choir’s youngest. Craig joined in 2013 at 18 years of age and proudly followed his grandfather Owen and father Anthony into the Choir.
To further dispel the myth, in common with most Male choirs, Caldicot has a high proportion of choristers who are less than forty years old and some who are less than 30. The Choir presents those who have served more than 25 years with a certificate and silver badge when they achieve this milestone. To date, and since the Choir was formed in 1963 there have been 37 recipients although sadly some are no longer with us.
Caldicot Male Voice Choir is not alone in being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and has not been able to meet since it returned from its tour of Armagh in March 2020. This sensible approach has been taken to protect vulnerable members of the Choir from the effects of the virus and fortunately only a few caught the virus and these are on the way to a full recovery (there has been at least one case of hospitalisation reported in December).
The latest news is that most of the over seventies and many of the over sixties have now had either the Pfizer or Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine with almost no side effects apart from a temporary stiff arm However, most had the injection in their non-drinking arm so their lives were not affected too much.
However, loneliness, depression and a sense of loss has hit a number of choristers who are dreadfully missing the comradeship of being in a Choir and it is hoped that when the vast majority have had the vaccine it will be able to meet again shortly and begin to sing not only in unison but in restored harmony.
The Choir would urge all of you, when invited to take up the vaccination to help save yours and others lives and bring an early end to this terrible situation.
Today, 9th January 2021 is a double birthday celebration in Caldicot Male Voice Choir. Bill Nash celebrates his 98th birthday today and shares it with 73 year old 2nd Tenor Mike Thurman. On behalf of the Choir may I wish them both a very happy birthday.
Bill’s celebration of his 98th birthday today surely must make him the oldest male voice chorister in Wales, if not the U.K. still actively and regularly singing.
Jo Barnes of the South Wales Argus has been kind enough to print my article and photos of Bill in a full page spread yesterday Friday 8th January
Until Corona virus restrictions were imposed, bottom bass Bill would make the journey to practice from the centre of Bristol to Caldicot twice a week aided by his family and is still able to make it to many of our concerts. I’m told that he still enthusiastically practices his song parts from his living room and is looking forward to returning to the Choir hall practices as soon as the Choir is able to practice again. We are all looking forward to that day.
Bill was born in Llanharan in 1923 to later sing, at the age of 14 with his father and brothers in Llanharan Male Voice Choir and attend Cowbridge Grammar School from where he left at 16 years old to serve in the RAF before and during the second World War as an aircraft fitter. He served in North Africa, Italy, South Africa and other countries before moving to Gloucester after the war and then to Bristol in 1952 to work many years for the British Aircraft Corporation and where he has lived since. He sang in Redland Male Choir in Bristol for many years before joining Caldicot Male Voice Choir in 1970.
He has, in his long history of over 80 years of male choral singing, sung in every section of a male voice choir. An incredible, probably unequalled record.
One of the many highlights of his almost 50 years in Caldicot Male Voice Choir was to be presented to HRH Prince Charles when the choir was honoured to sing at the Prince’s celebration of his 70th birthday at Buckingham Palace in May 2018.
Bill was presented with a well deserved Lifetime Achievement award and conferred as an Honorary Vice President of Caldicot Male Voice Choir at a special presentation by John Griffiths AM and Musical Director Siân Hatton at the Annual Concert in April 2014.
In 2019 Bill was awarded a tribute plaque and made an honorary member of the prestigious D M Davis Welsh Male Voice Choir of Jackson Ohio, USA and this was presented to him at his home in July 2020.
Bill has an incredible knowledge and expertise as a chorister and is always willing to pass on his experiences to younger and new members of the choir, not to mention our musical team.
The Choir would be interested to learn of any chorister who is of Bill’s age or older who is still active as a singer in any Welsh Male Voice Choir
The Choir was saddened to learn of the passing of one of Caldicot Male Voice Choir’s longest standing top tenors, chorister Granville Sherborne on 20th December. Until his retirement from the Choir two years ago, Granville had been a stalwart and loyal chorister for about forty years and this news will be heart breaking for many of us who regarded him as a friend.
Granville was extremely passionate about Welsh Rugby, surpassed only by his extensive knowledge and love of Male Choir music. The photograph above shows Granville, together with the late Colin Jones and chorister friend, Brian Press meeting Welsh Rugby International and British Lion Jamie Roberts at the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff in 2012.
Granville toured with the Choir many times including to the USA and Canada and on two cruises. He was a participant at a number of Eisteddfodau and Royal Albert Hall performances. He also represented the Choir among others, at the World’s largest ever Male Choir at Cardiff Arms Park in 1993 and was at Wembley Stadium in 1996 to share the stage with the World famous, Three Tenors, Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras. Granville also toured Australia with Cor Meibion De and to New Zealand with the Lions tour of 2005.
The other photograph of Granville above was taken at Bromyard’s St Peter’s Church on July 30th, 2011 which it is hoped will bring back many memories of Granville and his time in the Choir.
The Choir’s condolences and sympathy go out to his wife Joan and all his family and friends at this very sad time.
Caldicot Male Voice Choir is supporting the Caldicot Food Bank by providing the Choir Hall in Mill Lane as a warehouse and distribution centre. This valuable service, providing hundreds of food parcels and Christmas Gifts to the local community in these difficult times was visited on 11th December by Newport East Member of Parliament Jessica Morden MP who praised the efforts of the dozens of volunteers, sponsors and supporters of the Food Bank. You can see from the photos how much work is going into this.
A long standing and loyal supporter of the Choir, Jessica also took the opportunity for a sneak preview of the extension to the Choir Hall which is nearing completion. She also had a chat with vice chairman Leon Jones who has been mainly responsible for getting this project to its current position. Jessica is quoted as saying ‘ I am very much looking forward to seeing you all when we can! It looks great (the Choir Hall) and it’s wonderful that you are hosting the food bank’.