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Hectic St. David's Day for the Gwalia

St David's Day this year for the Gwalia was exhausting but exhilarating. The first of three engagements was a midday wedding at the superbly renovated Christ Church on Turnham Green. As the Welsh bride entered we sang the beautiful Lisa Lan, and during the service her family joined-in enthusiastically with Cwm Rhondda.

After a quick photo with the happy couple the choir made a mad dash across London to get to Westminster, but not before giving an impromptu recital in Chiswick Park tube station (great acoustics!) to an appreciative group of passengers and TFL staff.

Our second (official) performance of the afternoon was in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, a hidden architectural gem below the Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster, where we were privileged to participate in the St David's Day Service. The chapel was packed to overflowing including several Welsh Lords and MPs, and the bi-lingual service included contributions from not only the Gwalia but also the children of the Welsh School, and the charismatic Lisa Jên and Mirain Hef. The Gwalia had been asked to give a short concert after the service and we were delighted by the enthusiastic response from the audience

After an early supper accompanied by a medicinal glass of red wine to soothe the vocal chords, we made our way to the London Welsh Centre where we were to take to the stage again for our final performance of the day, supporting the wonderful Siân James in her sell-out concert, a fuller review of which can be found elsewhere within this edition.

To finish off a hectic week, a couple of days later the Gwalia sang at a St David's Day dinner in the impressive Oxford & Cambridge Club in Pall Mall. The end of the evening was memorable as choir and members enjoyed each other's company through a common love of singing. A big thank you goes to not only our hosts for their warmth and generous hospitality, but also to choir-members for giving so much of their time during a very busy family week.

At the end of March we were pleased to take part in a very enjoyable 'Musical Soirée' in Holborn to celebrate the 70th birthday of Anthony, one of our baritones, and a few days later the Gwalia took part in 'Spring Singfest' in West Hampstead with three local choirs and Côr Llunsain. Each choir sang for about 20 minutes in what was a happy and uplifting occasion and helped to raise an impressive £1,411 for Marie Curie.

 

John Ball

 

Gwalia's name up in lights in the West End

 As we start the Gwalia's 50th Anniversary year, it is a pleasure to extend a warm welcome our new President, Cerys Matthews MBE. Huw Edwards is stepping down after more than 10 years as the choir's President, and our gratitude goes to him for all his support and encouragement over that time.

Cerys, the founder of multi-million selling band Catatonia and now a successful author and presenter of documentaries and music shows for TV and radio, hosts an award-winning weekly show on BBC 6. Appointed an MBE for her services to music in 2014, Cerys is Vice President of Shelter and of the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, is patron of the Dylan Thomas Society and Ballet Cymru, and owner of the Good Life Experience festival. Born in Cardiff and a fluent Welsh speaker, Cerys now lives in West London. She said, "I'm a huge fan of choral music, and am delighted to follow in Huw Edwards’ footsteps to become The Gwalia's President".

A small group representing the Gwalia were privileged to sing last May at the funeral in Paris of Richard Osman, the only Briton on the Egypt Air flight that had been brought down that month, and in November we were honoured to be asked by Richard's family to perform in a little church near Carmarthen at a very moving memorial service. As the year drew to a close we went carol-singing at the Great Northern Hotel in Kings Cross and in a couple of hours raised an impressive £440 for London's Air Ambulance. A week later the Gwalia literally had its name up in lights in Piccadilly Circus when, on a specially erected stage next to Eros, we performed to a large West End crowd. Samsung were sponsoring the 'Advent Choir of the World' in which a choir from a different country sang each night in the run-up to Christmas, and the Gwalia was proud to be the choir representing Wales.

Steve Davies 

A Warm Welcome to our new President

As we start the Gwalia's 50th Anniversary year, it is a pleasure to extend a warm welcome our new President, Cerys Matthews MBE.
Huw Edwards is stepping down after more than 10 years as our President, and our gratitude goes to him for all his support and encouragement over that time.

Vive les chœurs d'hommes - November 2016

The Gwalia has recently returned from an emotional trip to France wherewe commemorated those who fell in the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago. At a short informal ceremony attended by the local Mayor we laid a wreath, read poems and sang Sospan Fach (famously sung by the men in the trenches) at the memorial, in the form of a dragon, to the Welsh Regiment who fought a bitter battle at Mametz Wood and where so many Welshmen were killed or wounded. That evening we took part in a concert in the church organised by Choeur d'Hommes Agache who we had contacted some months previously. The choirs sang in each half of the concert, and the Mayor spoke very movingly about the deep respect and gratitude which the village of Mametz holds for those who gave their lives in its defence. Indeed, at the end of the concert several children sang along with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau which we discovered they are taught in the village school - an amazing tribute to those who fought there.

 

Earlier in the day the choir and supporters had gathered in a church near our hotel in the centre of Arras to observe a minute's silence to coincide precisely with the commemorations taking place in Wales to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. This was followed by a heartfelt rendition of Myfanwy, a song that means so much to the families of the victims of the terrible event.

 

During our five day tour visits were made to the largest German cemetery in France and the Canadian memorial at Vimy. However, the weekend wasn't an entirely sombre affair; we managed to sample some fine bières Artois and regional cuisine, and took part in an entertaining concert with our new friends in the Agache Male Choir. They had made the arrangements for our first concert and invited us to share a concert with them in their own church in Pérenchies, a town some 90 minutes north of Mametz between the Belgium border and Lille. As with the previous evening, the church was full and the performance very well received. At the civic reception after the concert we were pleased to hear the French choir accept our invitation to sing with us in London in the near future, and the deputy mayor invited us back to Perénchies in 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War.

 

Since our last report, in addition to our very memorable few days in France, the Gwalia has taken part in weddings at two superb venues - Jewin Welsh chapel in the City of London and

at the historic Church in Inner Temple. Also, in readiness for our 50th Anniversary celebrations next year, we have released a new CD titled 'O Gymru', an advert for which appears elsewhere in this issue.

 

Richard Killoughery & Steve Davies

 

 

Silence Please (Recording in Progress) - June 2016

The Gwalia are no strangers to the recording studio. In our time we have recorded music for pop albums, TV commercials, radio and films, but it has been some time since we actually recorded an album of our own. So in early May it was great to see the choir back with the headphones on. We recorded a varied selection from our repertoire with the view to producing an album to mark the choir's 50th Anniversary which we will start celebrating from the end of this year. A small but very professional company based in Southwest London recorded us in two sessions, both of which took place at Clapham Junction Welsh Chapel. For those of us new to the process of recording it was an interesting experience; it was tiring and, at the same time, exhilarating. 

Later in the month we were pleased to perform at All Saints church in Tooting as part of the Wandsworth Fringe Arts Festival. All Saints is a very impressive building with a marvellous acoustic ideal for choir performances. Built in 1906 the Grade II listed building is so striking that the poet John Betjeman and the architectural scholar Nikolaus Pevsner both referred to it as "The Cathedral of South London". The event was well attended, and the audience response was warm and positive. Highlights from the choir's programme were Haydn James's arrangement of Ryan Davies's "Pan F'or Nos Yn Hir", an arrangement of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love" and an entertaining medley of Cole Porter hits. Gwalia Musical Director, James Hearn, faultlessly performed Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and Widor's "Toccata" on the church's impressive Harrison & Harrison organ - an instrument with over 2,600 pipes (all of which James seemed to get working simultaneously as several points!) which has recently been awarded Starred Grade II Historic Organ Status. Guest soprano Susan Jiwey gave a performance that enthralled the audience from start to finish, and the concert was brought to an end with an excellent closing speech by the Mayor of Wandsworth.

In June, just before we sang at the Ealing Golf Club annual dinner, the captain, a proud Welshman, invited us into the clubhouse bar to watch Wales's UEFA Euro championship match against Northern Ireland. Wales's victory must have truly inspired the choir because afterwards the captain said the (mostly English) members and guests 'were raving' about our performance, which we'll take as a compliment! 

 

Out and About in London - June 2016

 We began our 49th year with a trip to the very impressive Stationers Hall, just across Paternoster Square from St Paul's Cathedral. This venerable Grade l listed building dates back to 1673 and is one of the few ancient Livery Halls that still exist in London. We sang at an evening "Masters' and Clerks' Dinner" at which over 50 other livery companies were represented. It took place to honour the appointment of the first female Master to head the Stationers' Company in its over 600 year history. Our performance was well received and it is a night that many will remember as one of our best London bookings. In the first week of March we were delighted to be invited to perform at a St David's Day dinner event organised by Welsh members of the Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall. We appeared several times during the evening and with each appearance the applause and indeed the audience participation, grew louder and louder. It is fair to say that a good time truly was had by all, and we hope to perform there again in the future.

Two weeks later the choir was in action again, this time at the beautiful St Mary's Church on the banks of the Thames in Battersea, which stands on one of the earliest known consecrated sites on the South bank of the River Thames -The original church was built as early as 800 AD, and the present building was completed in 1777. It is a fascinating building and well worth a visit. We were there to sing at the wedding of a young Welsh couple, and the good weather helped the whole day to go off very well.. One rather special moment was leading the congregation in singing "Jerusalem" in the very building where William Blake himself was married.

Moving into the first week of April, we were pleased to be invited once more to take part In an annual evening event in High Barnet. The Spring Choir Celebration Charity Concert in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care raised almost £1000 for the charity, and once again we were widely congratulated on our performance. The evening was brought to a close with all three participating choirs, and many of the audience, joining in a rendition of Abba's hit "Thank You For The Music" – a great way to end any choral event, I'm sure you would agree.

At the time of writing we are preparing for the recording of our first CD in ten years. It is being produced to celebrate our up-coming 50th Anniversary in 2017. We are also looking to actively attract new members to help us celebrate our "Half Century" next year. With a busy diary planned for 2017 it really is a great time to start (or re-start) your choir singing. Why not come along to a rehearsal and see what you think of it?

 

A Fond Farewell to Dr Ifor - February 2016

We very much regret to say that the Gwalia's latest engagement was singing at the funeral and celebration of the life of our former chairman Dr Ifor James. Not only was 'Doctor Ifor', as he was known to everyone, a fine tenor and our longest-serving chairman (from 1976 to 1994), but he was also great fun to be with, and as someone said, 'He was a gentleman and a gentle man'. Our renditions of 'Alouette' will never be the same again! Our sympathies go to Hilary and their family. Until poor health forced him to slow down, Ifor was very involved in the life of the London Welsh Association.. 

Sadly, we were also asked to sing at two other funerals recently; one was in Wimbledon before Christmas, and the other was in Blackheath in January where the Gwalia sang, with the help of friends from LWMVC, at a service for former Wales, Arsenal, Wrexham and Swansea footballer John Roberts.  

On a far happier note, in late November we were delighted to perform at the wedding reception for the Welsh owner of the newly (and rather wonderfully) refurbished Great Northern Hotel, adjoining Kings Cross station. We followed a selection of Welsh classics with (by special request of the happy couple) Monty Python's 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' and the assembled guests joined in with gusto! A couple of weeks later we were back in Kings Cross carol-singing at various venues including next to one of the 'free' pianos in St Pancras station. In just three hours, we raised an impressive £571 for Kids, the charity of the Mayor of Camden.

In the run-up to Christmas we had a busy weekend, firstly with a Friday evening performance in the Banking Halls, an impressive venue near the Bank of England, at a party for the 500 staff of an international publicly-quoted online takeaway food company. We had to share a small 'green room' with other performers, including three young ladies singing in the style of the 1940s Andrews Sisters. You will be relieved to know that, when the girls needed to get changed, the Gwalia acted in the best traditions of Welsh chivalry…. by turning their backs and starting their vocal warm-up! We gave the party-goers a few rousing Welsh numbers, and then the Welsh Chief Executive arranged his staff into twelve teams to sing the Twelve Days of Christmas with, of course, the Gwalia leading the singing. It was great fun and the client insisted we stay for refreshments, an offer we couldn't refuse. With no time to rest on our laurels we were up bright and early next morning for the wedding of a young couple, originally from Bridgend, in the intimate and very appropriate setting of Borough Welsh Chapel. As always, we were honoured to be part of a very special day, and the compliments we received on our performance suggested that, thankfully, we had not 'overdone' things the night before..

 

Old Friends, New Friends, and VIPs - November 2015

On a bright and sunny day in July the choir returned to the church of St Mary The Virgin in the pretty Kentish village of Horton Kirby to give our 18th concert in 38 years, and the packed church welcomed us as old friends. The soaring voice of guest soprano Victoria Stanyon, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, who worshipped at St Mary's as a child, wowed the audience with a performance that belied her (very) impending motherhood. The other soloist was our very own tenor Dave Sweet who gave what was his swansong with the Gwalia before moving to Plymouth. Dave joined the Gwalia in 1985 and was our Chairman in 2003/4. It was also the last appearance in the green blazer for second tenor John Conisbee, who joined a year after Dave, and who has retired from the choir following a move to Dover. At the end of the concert Dave and John were presented with engraved pewter tankards in recognition of their loyal service to the Gwalia, and we wish them all the very best in their new homes. 

August brought two contrasting outdoor events. The first was at Aynhoe House, a Grade 1 listed Jacobean mansion set in Capability Brown parkland near Banbury, where we sang at the al fresco wedding reception of a bride from Anglesey and her German groom. Two weeks later we, along with friends in LWMVC, were honoured to lead the hymn-singing at the Drumhead Service on Horse Guards Parade as part of the televised coverage of the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day Commemorations, in the presence of the Prince of Wales and David Cameron. We were positioned directly in front of the VIPs, and it would be nice to think that the Prince might have spotted the Welsh feathers so prominently displayed in the insignia of both choirs.

 As part of the LW Centre's build-up to the Rugby World Cup in September the Gwalia was pleased to sing at a Preview Dinner attended by past Wales captain and British Lion Martyn Williams. Ten days later the Gwalia and friends from the LW Rugby Club Choir combined to sing in the Welsh Supporters Village, a massive marquee at Old Deer Park. Our performance revved-up the crowd and kicked off an afternoon of excellent entertainment including appearances by Gareth Thomas, Stephen Jones, Jonathan Davies, Colin Charvis and Ieuan Evans, culminating in the televising of Wales v England on the big screens. From the celebrations in the marquee at the end of the game you would have thought Wales had won the World Cup! 

Last year the Gwalia travelled to Breno, a village in Northern Italy, to sing with a cappella male choir 'Voci dalla Rocca', and on the last weekend of October we were delighted to welcome all 34 of them plus their mayor to London. On the Saturday our guests enjoyed a true 'taste of Wales' with a joint concert in Eastcastle Street Welsh Chapel followed by a supper of cawl, Welsh beer, Caerphilly cheese and Welshcakes which they tucked into with gusto. Highlights of a superb concert were 'Dormi, dormi' and 'Autunno' - both written by the Italian choir's musical director Piercarlo Gatti - and the Gwalia's renditions of Ryan Davies's 'Pan Fo'r Nos Yn Hir' and Sinatra's 'My Way'. On the Sunday we had arranged for Voci dalla Rocca to sing in the breathtaking St Peter's Italian Church in Clerkenwell where an appreciative audience, including the Italian Deputy Consul General and the Mayor of Camden, enjoyed the Gwalia's musical director James Hearn's organ solo 'The Ride of the Valkyries'. James then accompanied Voci dalla Rocca in 'Santo', sung in memory of those who died when the SS Arandora Star was torpedoed 75 years ago carrying Italian internees to Canada. It was another excellent concert, and afterwards we ate and drank together in the adjacent Club Pallotti. Several Gwalians worked incredibly hard to make a real success of the weekend, but it was worth it. Voci dalla Rocca's visit was all too short, but the friendships we have made will last for a very long time.

  

The Joys Of Spring - July 2015

As the short days faded into memory and the daffs came into bloom, Spring brought with it a series of happy events for the Gwalia. Given that so many of our choristers are settled comfortably into middle age (or more!), it was a rare pleasure to be asked to sing at the wedding of “one of our own” in late May, when Tom Morgan (Bass) married his beautiful bride Reena in the spectacular setting of The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The choir sang at the ceremony in the Nash Conservatory, and then later at the reception in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. It was a great day, the sunshine added to the magic of a very special event, and after our performance the choir retired to a lovely pub overlooking Kew Green for a few drinks and - of course - a few more songs.

Still in May, the choir were delighted to be booked to perform a concert at the 95th birthday party of Welshman Vic Nolan. Vic lives in Barnes, and his family came from near and far to hear us sing in his local church. Vic's daughter had created a printed programme for the event, on which was listed a "solo" spot that had not been discussed with the choir. Few could have expected what was to happen next……as the moment arrived Vic's daughter explained that in his younger days he was a singer himself, and had even made a record (a 78rpm record, for those that can remember such things!). She then played Vic's rendition of Galway Bay…. at which point the birthday boy rose to his feet and joined himself in a duet. It was a magical moment that resulted in a few tearful eyes and a standing ovation from the Gwalia - well done Vic!!!

Speaking personally for a moment, I find that one of the great joys of being in the Gwalia is that all of our performances are “one-offs” – we sing in some wonderful places, at some unusual events, and before a very varied audience that in recent years has included International gatherings of students, families…and even Pathologists!. Our final performance covered by this report was not so much a one-off but more what I hope will be a “first of many”. We have just given our first joint concert at the Welsh Centre with Côr Llunsain, who I am sure are well known to many of you. For those who do not know, they are a recently formed ladies’ choir who made their first public appearance rather appropriately on St David’s Day 2012 when they sang in the Houses of Parliament. They have a wonderful balance of voices and sang beautifully. Both choirs performed individually and then joined together for a rousing finale where we sang Calon Lan and Cwm Rhondda. It was a great sound which was well received by a very appreciative audience, and a performance I hope very much that we will repeat in the not too distant future.

 

Gwalia at Kew Gardens (see report above) 

 

 

"Hwyl" to the Green Man ... and "Ffarwél" to dear friends - May 2015

Anybody not in their first flush of youth may be unfamiliar (as was I) with the Green Man Festival, a Welsh music and arts & crafts festival which takes place in August in the stunning surroundings of the Brecon Beacons. The Gwalia were delighted to be invited by the festival organisers to perform at their annual London showcase event 'Hwyl 2015' at the end of February in the famous Cecil Sharp House, Regents Park. It gave London exposure to young Welsh singers and bands, and also gave the choir a marvellous opportunity to connect with a young “London/Welsh” audience.  We sang firstly in the main entrance and then were part of the build-up to the live screening of the France v Wales 6 Nations match. It was very pleasing that so many of those present took the time to compliment us on our performances.

As you would expect, early March saw us involved in events themed around St David’s Day. On 2 March we sang at the National Liberal Club's annual dinner where the guest of honour was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales, The Rt Hon Baroness Randerson. With strong Welsh ties dating back to the time of Lloyd-George, the building in Whitehall Place is a true architectural gem and singing there was a new experience for most in the choir - but not for all, as we held our 30th Anniversary celebration there in 1997. A few days later the choir gave a St David's Concert in St Andrew’s Church in West Kensington, which included an organ recital by our very own Musical Director, James Hearn, and an as ever faultless performance by soprano Glenys Roberts.

March drew to a close with a return performance at the Spring Singfest Choir Festival in Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead. The Gwalia very much enjoyed being able to listen to the other five choirs, including the ladies choir Côr Llunsain (with whom we are performing on 20 June in aid of the London Welsh Centre).  Our renditions of Rachie, Eli Jenkins’ Prayer and Comrades in Arms received a rousing ovation and then, after a brief Welsh lesson from James, the audience joined us for Cwm Rhondda. Recordings of our performance can be found on the Audio tab of the choir website. The event raised a very creditable £1574 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

The 'father of the choir' Bryan Howells is returning to South Wales in May to live near his son in Usk. Bryan joined the choir in 1968 as a Second Tenor, and served as Librarian and Committee Member for many years. He and Iris have been unstinting in their support of not only the Gwalia but also of the Welsh Centre on Grays Inn Road. Bryan and Iris's loyalty to the Gwalia and their friendship is greatly valued and they will be sorely missed. We wish them both a very long and happy time in their new home. 

  

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Our new CD "O Gymru" is now available

£10 + £1 p&p  from  gwaliachoir@gmail.com