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Book Reviews

Gwalia members have been responsible recently for the production of two books - one light-hearted, the other serious.

 

'The Nant Tarw Saga'

To celebrate the Gwalia Male Choir's 50th Anniversary, Dave Hurlbut and Honorary Member, Ron 'Tidy' Williams have produced 'The Nant Tarw Saga'. This is a collection of short stories written by two founder members of the Gwalia, John Evans and Wynne Davies, both of whom, regrettably, no longer with us. The Saga first appeared in 'Tempo Gwalia' the choir's in-house magazine in the 1980's and 90's, and it recounts the trials and tribulations of a fictional choir in Wales. It is very entertaining, and certain characters will be recognisable amongst those who were, or still are, in the choirs at the London Welsh Centre. Ron and Dave have generously agreed that all proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the London Welsh Centre Trust. The books are available from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or from the Bar at the Centre. The suggested donation is £7.50 per book.

 

'The Lost Sons of Penycae'

 

The second book that has just been published is 'The Lost Sons of Penycae' by Gwalia top tenor Barry Jones whose family still live in the village of Penycae near Rhosllanerchrugog outside Wrexham. The village's War Memorial has grown so familiar that it attracts little more than a passing glance these days, except on Remembrance Day. This book remembers the courage and sacrifice of the 37 men whose names are engraved on it. In such a small community, everyone knew someone who had died. This is the story of the men who went to war and didn’t come home and how the village changed in the two World wars. It gives a fascinating insight into the war time history and tells the sad and poignant stories of the brave men of this little village near Wrexham.

 

£2 from every book sold in the Centre goes to the London Welsh Centre Trust.

 

Steve Davies

 

LW Mag - Gwalia Report - Nov 2017

 

It was a 'full house' at the end of September when the Gwalia Male Choir marked its 50th Anniversary with a concert at the London Welsh Centre. Many past members, having travelled from Wales and elsewhere to help the celebrations, enjoyed a varied programme from the choir and soprano Glenys Roberts who has performed with the choir on many occasions. An impressive £2,308 was raised for the London Welsh Centre Trust. A fuller account of the evening appears in this issue.

 

On a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks later the choir returned to Horton Kirby in Kent where we first performed 40 years ago. Haydn James was our guest conductor, Chris Duckett performed two brilliant piano solos, and John Ball and Geoff Rogers played guitar and sang Max Boyce and Tom Paxton songs. Before we tucked into the usual superb tea provided by the WI at the end of a lovely, light-hearted concert, the audience, armed with an English translation, joined in with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. At the end of that week we performed in Islington Town Hall at the wedding of a groom from Wales and a bride from Essex who, in a role reversal of 'Gavin & Stacey', had asked us to sing 'Islands in the Stream'. As we go to press we are eagerly anticipating a joint concert in the London Welsh Centre with the French choir who last year had helped organise our concerts in northern France to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

 

Steve Davies

 

 

Gwalia's Anniversary Concert

 

The London Welsh Centre lived up to its name on Saturday 30 September. The Gwalia’s concert to celebrate 50 years was a multi-sensory feast! No less than three conductors,  a pianist and a soprano…not counting choir members past and present.

 

The concert started gently and rose to a fever pitch worthy of the Millennium Stadium on match day. Humorously compéred throughout by Mark Bevan, the audience were carried along to family and friends past and present with songs linked to memories.

Personally, Eli Jenkins’ Prayer always reduces me to tears and that night’s rendition was no exception. Glenys Roberts' Ivor Novello song, coupled with the Gwalia’s Cole Porter set, transported me to watching old films and floating around the living room.

As always, I wait for conductor James Hearn to turn his back on the choir, leave them to sing and give us one of his patient, knowing looks before retaking control. A delightful, humorous touch that gives the audience a sense of inclusion.

 

In addition toHaydn James and past MD Michael Thomas conducting two songs, there was a call out to past choir members to join the Gwalia on stage. A gentle ripple went around the hall as one by one they rose. Many had brought the little green songbook in the hope of such an invite. A myriad of emotions passed over Ron Tidy’s face - from incredulity to hope and finally elation. It was a delight to see him hesitate and jump for joy as he took to the stage. Comrades in Arms was an apt song – whether the words were remembered or not. With the Gwalia group swelling in numbers, so did the volume and comradery.

 

On retiring to the bar, we were greeted by a sumptuous buffet. The main debate seems to be centred on carpaccio – how to say it, what was it, how to eat it and who’s been abroad and eaten it! The selection of cheeses along with Welsh cakes and Bara Brith were swooped upon. There was plenty of ‘Hwyl’ when past members and supporters caught up with each other. The young made new friends and revelled in the stories, banter and song.

 

The evening held a little magic and a sense of longevity – this concert was a moment in time and a part of the whole journey that the Gwalia has made from inception.

It’s always great as a supporter to be invited to join in a concert song and with the after party. The evening promised to be a centre for London Welsh past and present and it lived up to its name. Long may the Gwalia continue…..and dare I say it – can this become an annual reunion?

 

Noreen Ball

 

LW Mag - Gwalia Report - Aug '17

Gwalia members and their guests met at the end of June at the Prince of Wales pub in Covent Garden's Drury Lane to celebrate the choir's 50th Anniversary. The choir was formed when a large number of choristers broke away from the London Welsh Male Voice Choir after a disagreement over the alleged relationship between the conductor and accompanist, a time still referred to by longer-standing members of both choirs as 'The Split'. The party was held in the very room where Côr Meibion Gwalia used to hold its weekly rehearsals before moving to Grays Inn Rd. We were very pleased to formally welcome our new President, Cerys Matthews, who, after Huw Edwards (our immediate past President) had presented her with the badge of office, then unveiled a plaque of Welsh slate which has been prominently fixed to the wall inside the pub to celebrate the founding of the choir. The choir's birthday celebrations continue on 30 September with a charity concert and buffet where net proceeds will be given to the LW Centre Trust. An advert with details on how to obtain tickets appears elsewhere in this issue.

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When the Gwalia was asked to sing before a civil wedding in The Loft Studios, Kensal Green in May we didn't expect to have to keep it up for over an hour! Just as the ceremony was due to start the best man realised he had left the rings in the hotel and had to rush back to get them. Luckily this did not spoil a very joyous occasion. The groom's family had travelled from Pontypridd and were thrilled and even 'moved to tears' when they were unexpectedly welcomed by the choir on arrival at the venue.

 

A couple of weeks later we sang at another wedding, this time in the wonderful surroundings of the Kensington Roof Gardens complete with live ducks and flamingos. It was a star-studded affair, the actress bride being the daughter of Jennifer Saunders. The Welsh father of the groom was very nervous about having to speak after his new daughter-in-law's dad, Ade Edmonson, but he reports that it all went well. As well as singing a number of well-known Welsh numbers the Gwalia sang the Beach Boys' classic 'God Only Knows' as Beattie entered the room, and we were then asked to lead the guests in a rendition of Burt Bacharach's 'I Say a Little Prayer'. We had some reservations about this but it sounded really good, though it must be said it is not likely to become a permanent fixture in our repertoire!

 

In the middle of June we returned to Kensington, this time in the Royal Geographical Society where we were honoured to have been invited to sing at the world premier of the film 'South 2015'. In 2011 the Gwalia sang in the crypt of St Paul's when a plaque was dedicated to those Britons who had lost their lives exploring the Antarctic and this film was about the subsequent voyage to dedicate memorials in the Falklands and Antarctica. 

 

A few days later we gave a concert in the little East Sussex village of Plumpton Green. It was organised as a surprise for Colin Hill, a long-time supporter and Honorary Member of the Gwalia, who was celebrating his 80th birthday, and his family say he is still talking about it. Before retiring to Sussex, Colin was very active in the London Welsh community, both in Grays Inn Rd and at Old Deer Park, and over the years he has been President of the Voyagers sports charity and, the ladies choir, The Dylan Singers with whom the Gwalia has shared many concerts and overseas tours.

 

 

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 

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

 

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..

 

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Our new CD "O Gymru" is now available

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

or Click Here for Download

 

 

The Nant Tarw Saga

Available from the Bar at LWC

or contact gwaliachoir@gmail.com