A note by Keith Thomas - local historianBEAUFORT MALE VOICE CHOIR
(Notes by Keith Thomas)
The choir was founded by John Gulliver. His two brothers Hiram and William were well known tenors in 1880s. John Gulliver was the choir master and precentor at Bethesda Chapel, Beaufort. There are records of concerts there in 1869, when on one occasion he conducted “the choir” assisted by J. Parry (Pencerdd, America) and Miss Evans of Rhymney and items were given by “the choir and glee party,” and on another he and J. Davies conducted the Welsh United Choir.
From a press report in 1919, it is assumed that the choir had been formed 40 years before. That places the formation in 1879 or thereabouts.
In December 1889 a concert was held at Carmel and on the programme were items by the Beaufort Excelsior Choir, who sand “Praise to the Souls of the Heroes” and “The Drum March”.
From the same report, referred to above, Joseph Price became the Conductor in 1894.
At meeting held in 1900, it was stated that the Conductor was Joe Price. Alderman D. W. Williams was the President.
Brynmawr Orpheus Glee Choir held an Eisteddfod at the Market Hall in May 1915 and among the nine competing choirs were Beaufort Hill Excelsior Choir conducted by E. Herbert, who were in 4th place with 50 points and the Beaufort Choir, Conducted by H. Jones, in 6th place, with 41 points. The firs prize went to Cwmcarn who had 58 points.
Also at the end of May, the Beaufort Choir sang at Crumlin Eisteddfod. They were second to the Cwmcarn Choir, although they were complimented on their singing.
It would appear that there was a break in a single Beaufort Choir, but in June 1915 a meeting was held at Beaufort Hill School, to “reform the Male Voice Choir.” The meeting appointed J. Price, Postmaster, as the Conductor, Chairman William Evans, Joint Secretaries W.E. Jones and E. Williams, Treasurer David Davies. The Committee members were S, Palmer, I Herbert, W. Jones, L. Palmer, W. J. Butler, T, Jones, J. Davies (The Hill), A. Davies. Mr. E. Herbert would be the Conductor in the absence of Mr. Price. The Accompanist was Miss A. M. Davies.
The 1919 newspaper report gave a record of its beginnings. With caption “BEAUFORT CONDUCTOR RESTS BATON” it said that a presentation of a gold watch and chain and also a pitch pipe, was made to Joseph Price who retired after 25 years as Conductor. He had “joined the small choir, 40 years before”. They first entered a competition at Ebbw Vale when they sang “War Horse”. The choir had won between 4 and £5,000. The part had disbanded in for a short time in 1919, but was ten under the conductorship of Randall Williams. A presentation was also made to Tom Jones who had been the Secretary for 11 years,
The competitive spirit was evidenced by the news that they were competing for the Eisteddfod at Builth.
From various references it is apparent that the choir disbanded again, as with the Ebbw Vale Choir, in 1929, when the works closed at Ebbw Vale. The spirit of choir and music in the area could not be suppressed for long.
One of the smaller choirs which was formed was the Beaufort Hill Male Voice Choir.
The Conductor was again Mr. Edwin Herbert of Beaufort Hill, and because if the Miners strike it was decided to help the children of miners, by raising funds to buy materials for shoe repairs. Men who had the ability to repair shoes were allowed to use the schoolroom of Bethel Wesleyan Chapel to carry out the work, but they needed materials.
The 1926 Miner’s Strike started on 1st May and was settled in 1st December. It followed a strike in May 1919, lasting three weeks and in 1921, which lasted from 1st April to June 30th.
The members of the party who were employed or on strike, volunteered their services to the Local Distress Committee to do open air singing in order to raise funds. They were advanced the sum of ten pounds from the fund to meet the initial expense of travelling to Bristol, having decided that they would sing in various parts of Somerset.
The group were made up of the following persons: - Chairman Hubert Davies, Secretary Alfred Davies, Treasurer Lewis Palmer; Oscar Maynard, Hubert Palmer, John Davies (King), Joe Davies (Cricketer), Ben Evans, Harry Davies, John Chislette, Richard Davies (Assistant Conductor), John Jones (Fitzroy), Joe Bull, and the Accompanist W. Irvin Davies.
Irvin Davies, who was 23 years of age, kept a diary during the nineteen days of their efforts, which began on May 15th, and later wrote a manuscript history of their experiences. Edwin Herbert, the Conductor was self employed at the time, although he was later employed as a carpenter with the council. He went to meet the singers when a concert was arranged.
Hubert Davies went ahead and made an effort to find suitable areas where they might get donations. On the first day they were helped by a lady who gave them a shilling and a pot of ferns. They were glad of the money but unsure what she intended by giving them the fern. However they used it as a centre piece for their singing, and wherever they stopped they put the fern down and formed a circle around, hoping that it would bring them good luck.
During their nineteen day trip they collected fifty pounds, in addition to the money they were given which they used to support themselves with food and accommodation.
In 1931 the singers of both Ebbw Vale and Beaufort decided to form a united choir and in January 1932 it was announced that there was a newly formed Ebbw Vale and District Male Voice Choir. It had 80 members, but the membership was over 100. The President was Councillor D. T. Davies, Chairman of the Council. The Vice Chairman was Emlyn Williams of Cwm. The joint Secretaries were T.J. Payne, 111 Badminton Grove, and Rees Morgan, 8 Louvain Terrace. The Treasurer was Tom Jones of Waunlwyd. The Committee were Cwm – S. Jones and T. Oakley, Victoria – W. Hamley, Waunlwyd – J. Jones, Ebbw Vale – J. Vaughan, D. Morgan, W. Williams, Beaufort – H. Davies and E. Williams. The Conductor Randall Williams and Pianist Mervyn Morgan.
On October 1932, the Choir sang at a Semi National Eisteddfod held at Central Hall, Westminster, when the test piece was “The Son of God”. A public rehearsal was held at the Workman’s Hall on November 13th. They was a £75 prize and a certificate in the chief Choral Competition for male voices, getting 91 out of 100; the Choir had been formed only 12 months before.
Arrangements were made by Councillor W. Cox J.P. and W.L. Cook, Minister for Mines, for them to entertain at Caxton Hall, where they had a wonderful reception. They were welcomed by the Vicar of Christ Church, Westminster, who spoke of the difficulty of coming from a Distressed Area.
In the evening they returned to Caxton Hall, where they sang Welsh hymns, and speeches were given by W.L. Cook, W. Cox and D.R. Davies, President of the Ebbw Vale Miner’s Federation. The Conductor was Mr. Randall Williams, the Chairman T. Lewis, Joint Secretaries, T.J. Payne and Rhys Morgan.
The adjudication was given by Percy C. Hill, who said,
“A choir of excellent voices. There was a fine rhythmic opening by this choir, but perhaps just a little on the loud side. The working, through various expressions, was very good and the general intonation was good all through the opening movements. The major 3rd, was well centred, the soft singing on page 5 was very effective. There was some beautiful dark colour in the movement and the soft passages on pages 5 and 6 were very good. Page 7 was well graded and nicely sung and the crescendo carried a forte’. The three quarter section was rhythmic and firm and there was a majesty about it which saved the situation musically. The working of the various climaxes was very well maintained and here in this choir the tenors held their own in spite of the magnificent sonority of the basses”.
It was also in 1932 that the choir first broadcast.
In July 1933 the choir gave a concert t the Palace in aid of the Voluntary Hospital.
In May 1940 it was announced that a new glee party was formed in Beaufort by Irving Davies who was the conductor. It met at the Wesleyan Schoolroom, and took the name Candle Glee Singers. The Chairman was Cliff Healey and Secretary J. Bush.
1949 saw the re-emergence of the major choir. On July 27th the press reported “The Beaufort Male Voice win 1st prize at Llandrindod Wells Eisteddfod. This is the second time for the party to compete since the reformation after a lapse of 20 years. Randall Williams Conductor, Accompanist Sadie Edwards of Tredegar.”
In June 1950, the Choir won 1st Prize at the Kington Eisteddfod, gaining 92 points for their singing of Leslie Woodgate’s “Sword of Olaf”, but they were not the only local winners, for the Beaufort Ladies Choir also won first prize, under the baton of Randall Williams, when they sang “Like a Damask Rose” by Elgar, and were also awarded 92 points.
The choir held their first Annual Celebrity Concert in 1949, and the second, at Carmel Chapel, Beaufort, in June 1950.
This concert, as with most big events in the town, was reported on by Percy Miles under his Pseudonym “Glynrab”.
Lt. Col. Tom Morgan O.B.E., the President of the Choir, was the Chairman for the evening and reminded the audience of the past glories of the Choir and of the Conductorship of Joseph Price and of the days before the war, when under the baton of Randall Williams they reached the am of all Welsh Choirs and won the National Eisteddfod Competition.
During the two years since their re-formation they had won prizes totalling £200 and they had given concerts in all parts of the area.
The Choir of over a hundred voices, opened the concert with their competition piece, Leslie Woodgate’s “Swords of Olaf” when the solo part was sung by Jack Thomas. In contrast the second piece was Landon Ronald’s “O Lovely Night”. The programme continued with Protheroe’s “Castilla”. Glynfab commented, “The annunciation was accomplished, with a clarity that was a new experience in Choral singing”. This was followed by Kennedy’s “Farewell”, “Down among the dead men”, “O lovely Heart” and Bizet’s “The Fair Maid of Perth”.
The soprano was Dorothy Bond, who sang “with charm and delicacy” Gounod’s “Waltz Song”, German’s “Waltz Song”, Arne’s “Lass with a Delicate Air” and Reger’s “Mary’s Slumber Song”.
Richard Lewis, the tenor soloist, “with a striking stage personality to enforce a superb voice” sang Flotow’s “M’Appari Tutt Amore”, Offenbach’s “Legend of Kleinsack”, Handel’s “War, he Sung, is Toil and Trouble”, “Deeper and Deeper Still” and “Waft Her Angels”, from Jeptha. A young elocutionist, Verly Edwards, recited “The Little Yellow Man” and Blake’s “Little Black Boy”. The Accompanist was Mrs. Sadie Edwards of Tredegar.
In June 1964, the Beaufort Male Voice Choir won Knighton Eisteddfod, Conductor John Tunley. This was an especially successful time for the choir when they won 16 firsts and four second prizes at various competitions.
In October 1966 the choir won what they considered to be their greatest achievement, winning the Male Voice Competition at the Porthcawl Miners Eisteddfod; the chosen piece was Te Deum.
In May 1965 the choir came 3rd out of seven choirs competing at Cwmbran, with John Tunley as Conductor and Betty Parry Accompanist.
The choir broadcast with the B.B.C. Orchestra from British Nylon Spinners, Mamhilad, Pontypool.
October 1973 was an eventful month, with the choir becoming a part of the Monmouthshire Massed Choir. For the first time in over 50 years a massed choir sang in Wales. Eleven Monmouthshire choirs joined in giving three concerts at Ebbw Vale Leisure Centre. The other local choir was the Cwm Gleemen. The President of the organising Committee was Col. Roderick Hill, the Lord Lieutenant of the County and the Chairman, Graham Maidment.
The concerts were conducted by Rae Jenkins M.B.E., F.R.A.M., John Samuel accompanied the choir on the piano and Gareth Williams played the organ. A record was cut to mark the occasion.
In 1979 they toured Germany, presenting four concerts at Bergisch Gladbach, Cologne Cathedral, Herkenrath Town Hall and at Herkenrath Church Hall.
The Choir again visited Germany in 1985, as well as singing in Holland in 1983 and 1987.
The choir has not confined its activities to the Welsh valleys and in October 1969 it took part, with the Ebbw Vale Choir and ten other choirs in a concert of Welsh Choirs at the Royal Albert Hall.
On April 15th 1970 the choir celebrated its ‘coming of age’, by holding a concert at Carmel Church, Beaufort when the guest artists were Valerie Heath Davies, Soprano, and John Dobson, tenor. The guest accompanist was May Parry. The conductor was John Tunley and accompanist Margaret Davies, who commenced her association with the choir in 1969. For many years Iris Tunley had been the deputy accompanist and organist.
In 1971, it was invited to give concert at Bedford in association with the Bedford Welsh Society. Raymund Herincx the famous baritone was the soloist.
At the time, the Patron was the Duke of Beaufort, the President David Jenkin Jones, the General Manager of the Ebbw Vale Steelworks. The Chairman Byron Watts, Treasurer A. Evans and Secretary D. Bowden. The conductor was Graham Davies.
June 1980 the choir was host to the Manner-Quartet, Herkenrath German choir when they paid a visit to Wales, and their choir was given a Civic welcome by the Mayor of Blaenau Gwent, W. Harry and the Member of Parliament Michael Foot.
In March 1985, a local firm named Gardinia gathered together choirs from Gwent and promoted a concert at the Leisure Centre at Ebbw Vale and the choirs from Beaufort, Abertillery, Tredegar, Garndiffaith and Pontypool, under the name of The Gwent Gardinia Male Choir. The Musical Director was Noel Davies and the Accompanist Jonathan Watts. It was hoped to hold further such events, but the company went into liquidation and ceased trading.
The choir has given concerts for hospital at Pen-y-fal ……..
The list of Conductors of the Choir is as follows:-
1879 – 1884 John Gulliver
1884 – 1919 Joseph Price
1919 – 1929 Randall Williams
1948 – 1957 Randall Williams
1957 – 1960 Alcwyn Savage
1960 – 1986 John Tunley, including a period when Mr. Tunley was in College, when Graham Davies was the Conductor.
1986 – 1989 Christopher Henson
1989 - Nigel Weeks
The Choir has produced several records and cassettes of their singing, including three records in a series of “With Voices Rejoicing” and “And There Was Light and “The Best of Beaufort” in 1984.
In 1986 John Tunley resigned from the conductorship and was succeeded by Christopher Henson.
In 1989 Nigel Weeks was appointed Conductor. The Chairman was Gwyn Evans.
On August 23rd 1990, the Choir went again to Germany for a tour of concerts.
In October the choir held their Annual Concert at Ebbw Vale leisure Centre before the Mayor of Blaenau Gwent, Councillor John Taylor and his wife, when Nigel Weeks conducted it for the first time. The guest artist was Beverley Humphreys who was currently presenting her own Sunday Morning radio programme. The accompanist was Margaret Davies who celebrated 21 years with he choir and to mark that event a presentation was made to her by the Chairman of the Choir, Gwyn Evans.