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.

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. 


A Landmark concert, and a Cosmic event - January 2015

As yet another year of 'flying the flag' for Welsh choral singing drew to a close, the Gwalia were delighted, at the start of November, to perform at two important events within a week. The first was a joint concert with our friends from the London Welsh Rugby Club Choir as part of the Landmark Festival in Teddington. It's fair to say that both choirs really enjoyed the opportunity to sing in a larger ensemble, and under the energetic conducting of James Hearn, everyone seemed to perform at their best. This ensured that the audience left very happy that their investment in the ticket price was well rewarded, and the organisers have already been in contact to enquire about the availability of both choirs for a follow-up appearance. Just five days later, we were privileged to be asked to repeat our appearance twelve months earlier at the Jewin Chapel Remembrance Day Service. It was a very worthwhile and rewarding experience which gave us all a chance to pause for thought on the Centenary of the start of the Great War. Later in November, we put in an appearance on a bandstand at The Ideal Home Christmas Show at Earls Court, singing a mixture of Christmas Carols and Welsh songs on the very busy Saturday afternoon of the Show.

We ended the year in December singing Carols, with a few Welsh items, at Paddington Station, and then onwards to three very welcoming hostelries. We were collecting for COSMIC, the Children of St Mary's Intensive Care Unit.  Our connection with COSMIC is through Wyn, our accompanist. His daughter, Georgina, has been admitted on two occasions to St Mary's Hospital and the family have chosen COSMIC as their daughter's charity. We are grateful to those who gave so generously at all locations, enabling us to collect £528. This was followed a few days later by a performance at a wedding in an impressive Central London venue, Dartmouth House, in Mayfair. The bride was radiant, the assembled guests enthusiastic, and a good time was had by all. We appreciated the generous feedback from the happy couple, who broke off from their reception to thank us all before we left the venue.  This event was just a short walk from the Ritz Hotel, where we appeared earlier in the year, following a wedding in Piccadilly.

The New Year saw the Choir back in 'wedding mode' and striking out for the rather wonderful Grade 1 listed church of St Mary the Virgin in the beautiful Essex village of Stebbing. Built in 1326, the church has a stone rood screen (one of only three in the World). The many smiling faces of the guests, who we met in the church grounds afterwards, left us with a feeling of a 'job well done'.

As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2017, we shall be working hard to add new items to our repertoire, and to hopefully swell our numbers; so, if you, or anyone you know, would like to join a male choir, then please come along to one of our rehearsals. We meet in the Main Hall at the London Welsh Centre every Wednesday evening at 7.30pm. All are welcome and 'every voice counts'.


NATO calls...and the Gwalia sing in Italy - October 2014

In August the Gwalia were delighted to sing at a wedding in the beautiful Wren church, St James's Piccadilly, and then make the short walk to that famous celebrity haunt The London Ritz to join the happy couple's reception. Later that month, we were pleased to join Haydn James and members of the London Welsh Rugby Club Choir to answer a short-notice call to sing at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in Whitehall. The event, complete with Dr Who's Tardis, a dalek and Welsh wine, was promoting Welsh business, and many of the guests were on their way to the NATO summit taking place in south Wales. At the end of the month, we performed at Excel in London Docklands, in the Opening Ceremony of the International Pathology Congress. It wasn't as dead(!) as we feared and their past President joined us for some informal singing at the lavish reception that followed. At the beginning of October the Gwalia took part in the London Welsh Literature Festival Gala Concert at City Temple with the Sydney Welsh Choir and the other choirs based at Grays Inn Road. We enjoyed it enormously, and it was good to share a stage with so many great singers. 

It has been some time since the Gwalia were to be found overseas, so we were all looking forward to our trip to Northern Italy in mid-October. The tour was arranged after one of our members, Anthony Weaver, last year met a choir in the pretty town of Breno in Valle Camonica, a spectacular Alpine valley near Lake Iseo, one of the four great lakes of Lombardy. Our generous hosts were Coro Voci dalla Rocca (Voices of the Mountains), a 26-strong men's a capella choir. The area is famous for its iron-making and, amid brilliant sunshine, we were treated to a demonstration of the blacksmiths' art that appeared little changed from medieval days. Words alone cannot do justice to the wonderful time we spent with our new friends, and most of all to their marvellous singing, which at times moved some of our party to tears. The Gwalia were in top form for the concert with our host choir. We were joined by soprano Glenys Roberts, who gave a stunning rendition of Handel's aria 'Lascia ch'io Pianga' and, later in the programme, sang Verdi's 'La Vergine' with the Choir. We were also treated to a recital by our own Musical Director, James Hearn, who took to the organ to play Widor's 'Toccata' from memory, and Anthony was in brilliant form translating Mark Bevan's introductions. BRAVO to you all! Both choirs came together at the end of the concert for a rousing performance of Verdi's 'Va Pensiero'. The following morning, we sang in the Mass in the parish church of the lovely spa town of Boario to celebrate, on the actual day, the Beatification of Pope Paul VI who was from the region and was Pope from 1963-78. It was an extremely memorable weekend and plans are already in hand for Coro Voci dalla Rocca's visit to London next year.

To watch a video of the local Italian TV News coverage of our concert just click on the link in our Audio/Video section at the top of your screen. 


The Joy Is In The Giving - July 2014

Well, what a varied and interesting few months we have had. It is always fun to be part of a surprise performance, and in the last few months we have had the pleasure of surprising two separate audiences. The first, at the end of April, was in the rather salubrious surroundings of West End celebrity haunt “The Ivy”, where a friend of the choir was celebrating his 80th birthday. His wife arranged for the choir to sneak in through a secret entrance and we gave the birthday boy the shock of his life. Judging by his reaction and that of his guests, the shock was not unpleasant. A month later we were  again invited to take part in “covert operations” when we appeared at a wedding reception at the London Golf Club in Kent  – much to the surprise of all but a few people who were in on the secret. The bride was English and the groom Welsh, but all sides seemed to enjoy the performance.

In the same way that it is fun to be involved in surprise performances, it is also fulfilling and very gratifying to be able to “give back” something from time to time. The Gwalia was therefore delighted to be able to perform  a fund-raising concert at the London Welsh Centre at the end of June. Thanks to excellent promotion by Rhian and her team,  the performance took place to a packed Main Hall. The choir responded to James Hearn's superb musical direction and some of the newer pieces we have been working on, like Mansel Thomas's 'Rhyd y Groes', were very well received. Stars of the evening were our guest soloists, Huw Rhys Evans, performing 'Yr Hen Gerddor' and Handel's 'Where'er You Walk', and Glenys Roberts who enthralled us all with Musetta's 'Waltz Song' from Puccini's La Boheme, and 'Ynys y Plant'. But for many, the best parts of the evening were Glenys and Huw's duets, 'Fold Your Wings' by Ivor Novello, Seymour Smith's 'Spider and the Fly', and 'Hywel a Blodwen' from Joseph Parry's Blodwen – which is notable for being the first opera ever written in the Welsh language. The choir joined the soloists for Verdi's 'Va Pensiero', a useful rehearsal for our forthcoming trip to Italy in October! Special mention must be made of our accompanist,  Wyn Hyland, who played superbly throughout the evening. Mark Bevan was on his usual good form as compere. Chairman of the Centre's Trust and former Gwalia bass, Alex Meredith, thanked all the participants for giving their services and talents free of charge. The evening raised an impressive £1,953 to go towards the Centre's Redevelopment Fund.


Spring has sprung - April 2014

At the beginning of another busy period the Gwalia was pleased to participate in the London Welsh Centre's St David's Day Festival programme by inviting the public to attend an Open Rehearsal. We held a similar event last October as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, and once again our guests enjoyed the occasion.

It will not surprise you that rugby matches often trigger the Choir bursting into song, and the imminent 6 Nations international in early March saw the Choir singing at an 'England & Wales' evening at Rosslyn Park RFC in South West London. A well-attended performance concluded with the Welsh National Anthem, in which the Choir was joined by one very patriotic lady in full evening gown - "Well done madam...whoever you are!"

Since our foundation in 1967, we have striven to contribute significantly towards the Welsh choral tradition in London and the surrounding areas, and wherever we are invited to perform in the UK and overseas. It was very much with this feeling in our hearts that, at the end of March, we returned to the Kent village of Horton Kirby where the local community has been welcoming the Gwalia to their church for over thirty years. Our visit was tinged with sadness as it was the first anniversary of the passing of our dear friend, and former Chairman, Ted Sellick, whose solo performances and personal warmth at Horton Kirby down the years had won him many admirers.

The Choir put on a great performance, which included solos by David Sweet and Richard Killoughery. The undoubted 'star of the show' was Victoria Stanyon, a wonderful soprano who had the audience spellbound. Victoria has strong links with the village having been christened in the church. Regular attendees commented that it was one of our best concerts, and a truly fitting tribute to Ted for whom we, joined by the audience, sang one of his performance pieces 'How Great Thou Art'.

April saw us helping a couple celebrate their wedding day in the beautiful St Mary's Church in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Three days later, we took part in 'Singfest' at Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead, where six choirs from Islington and Camden, varying in size and style, sang three or four songs each. The Gwalia's set attracted sustained applause and cheers, and the organisers said we were the 'hit of the evening'. At the end all the choirs joined together for Lloyd-Webber and Gary Barlow's "Sing". It was a fun evening at which more than £1,500 was raised for the Marie Curie Hospice.

Two days later, in what was a hectic week for the choir, we were privileged to take part in the memorial service for Dr Glyn Evans. A member of Castle Street Welsh chapel and a leading surgeon at Barts Hospital, Glyn received the MBE for treating casualties on site in the aftermath of the Moorgate Tube Disaster. Singing in the OBE chapel of St Paul's Cathedral was an experience we will never forget. 


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