"Den Williams, Founder Member, tells his history of the Choir"

The village of Froncysyllte had a fine tradition of singing with 5 Chapels and a Church but it was not until 1947 that this Choir was formed. The first International Eisteddfod at Llangollen was held in 1947 and many of the village men had attended the event and were so impressed that they decided to form a choir to compete at the 1948 Eisteddfod. They called a meeting and a choir was formed from the men of the village and the Youth Club Choir. We went along to the first choir meeting and appointed Lloyd Edwards, who just happened to be the local piano teacher, as conductor (I knew him because I’d been for lessons; he was a lovely man and lived across the valley in Garth). Having fixed up the Conductor we appointed Menna Hughes, a pupil of his as Accompanist, so off we went, lucky to have so many fifteen and sixteen year old choristers. Our first piece was ‘Laudamus’ which we sung for the first time at the cenotaph in the village on November 11th and our first concert was at Black Park Chapel, just a mile up the road, but it was a very big event for us back in 1948.

The test pieces for Llangollen were quite alien to us. There was always one early religious piece and another unfamiliar piece from Europe the sort of music which choirs in Wales were not familiar with. But we chugged away and learned the pieces well enough to enter at the Llangollen International in July 1948. We were up against the Moravian Teachers Choir from Czechoslovakia, all smartly dressed up in their long tails standing in a large semi-circle. The sound they produced was beautiful – they were all singers of a very high standard. That was a benchmark of what singing should really sound like. The Eisteddfod was good at bringing these choirs from all over the world, setting standards we never dreamt of.

I remember going to London for the first time, down the A5 in a Bryn Melyn Coach to sing in a competition at the Westminster Central Hall. Finally the adjudicator Dr Woods called all six choirs back on stage to sing together the set piece, ‘Martyrs of the Arena’. . It’s an experience I’ll always remember. The hairs on my neck stood up on end as I was caught in the sensation of the occasion. Singing there as a seventeen year old first tenor standing in the front row, I really felt as if I were a martyr in the arena!

So we went to Llangollen every year and set ourselves up as a competitive choir. We had no trouble getting 60 voices because of the singing tradition in the village. When it came to travelling to places like Butlins Eisteddfod in Pwllheli, where we had our first major win, it was just a matter of picking everyone up in Fron and we were off in a couple of Bryn Melyn Coaches. Now we’re over seventy strong and the membership is spread out from Wrexham to Welshpool as well as the immediate locality, but many of them have strong Fron connections.

Lloyd Edwards died when still quite young. He had been a wonderful conductor for 20 years, he was very persuasive and never got agitated, and therefore got what he wanted. He had worked tirelessly to improve the quality of the Choir and was justifiably proud of the second position that the Choir achieved under his baton at Llangollen. So we had to appoint another Conductor, and took a gamble with John Daniel, a twenty-one year old student at the Manchester School of Music, who possessed a good bass voice and was an excellent pianist. So what John had learned in Manchester about voice production came back to our benefit as a choir. The gamble paid off handsomely, he took us to our first and second wins at Llangollen and the choir started touring. John had an international outlook; he took us to Germany and Canada with Vancouver being a popular place to visit. But Llangollen remained firmly on our agenda, it was our competitive base, although in one year, John took the choir to honours at both Llangollen and the National Eisteddfod in the same year. Eventually after about twenty years John moved on, he was married with children and had a teaching career to pursue.

That was when we appointed our first lady conductor, a graduate of the London School of Music. Val Jones from Berriew near Welshpool was an excellent pianist and musician. We were extremely lucky to have such a well-qualified person of her calibre. But to my surprise the appointment brought on a mini crisis, some of the choristers were not happy with a Lady Conductor and left the choir.! However we survived and Val took us to further success at Llangollen, Athens and Malta. We went on very successful tours to the USA, Canada, Spain, Holland and Germany. After eleven years Val decided she needed to spend more time with her family.

In 2002 we appointed our next conductor, Ann Atkinson from up the valley in Corwen, a very musically talented person with a fine singing voice. Ann graduated from the University of Wales as a teacher and then went on to the Royal Academy of Music, London and sung with all the leading Opera Companies. Ann soon got the Choir competing again and we went on successful tours to Germany, Cyprus and Barcelona.

In 2006 everything changed for the Choir, the former manager of boy band Blue, Daniel Glatman heard the Choir singing at a wedding in Trevor Hall and was so impressed that he negotiated a deal with Universal Music for 3 CD’s. We were packaged as the Oldest Boy Band in the World and Universal moved very quickly to start recording the first CD which they called “Voices of the Valley”. The Producer Jon Cohen and our MD Ann Atkinson were a formidable team who encouraged the choristers through very demanding and highly technical recording sessions.

In preparation for the launch of the CD, we were involved in the production of the TV commercials. The Film Company requested that the Choir assemble on top of Dinas Brân Castle, Llangollen, at sunrise for a film shoot. I eventually convinced the Film Director after a colourful sharing of opinions that it was not a good idea to expect the Oldest Boy Band to clamour up to the Castle in the dark for sunrise. They were very keen to capture the wonderful light over the Castle at sunrise so we reached a compromise with six of the younger choristers volunteering to do the sunrise film shoot while the main body of the Choir assembled below the Froncysyllte Aqueduct for a 10.00am shoot. The Film Shoot was a success and the cover of our first CD has a beautiful picture of six choristers in silhouette on the Castle.

The Choir’s debut album, Voices of the Valley, exceeded all expectations and became not only the Best Selling Classical Album of 2006 but also the Fastest Selling Classical Album ever, beating the professionals such as Russell Watson, Charlotte Church and The Three Tenors. The Choir’s manager, Daniel Glatman said “that the music and sound of the choir had captured the hearts of people across the UK and beyond.

The Choir has completed two tours of the UK singing in all the prestigious venues. They appeared at the Classical Brit Awards as nominees alongside Sting, Juan Diego Florez and Katherine Jenkins. Sir Paul McCartney referred to the choir in his award acceptance speech. The choir has sung at the Wales v Ireland rugby match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. They have appeared on numerous radio and TV programmes including Breakfast, This Morning, Ready Steady Cook, Country File, Parkinson and Paul O’Grady Shows, The Prince of Wales Birthday Show and a never ending list. I went on a short PR Tour of Australia with David L Jones and Allan Smith. We were persuaded to participate in a nude calendar for 2008 in aid of Help the Aged. We have busked in Chester's main street for the Culture Show and the celebrity trip just goes on and on.

A script has been produced for a possible Hollywood Film of the choir’s raise to fame; there is much humour amongst the choir on which film stars will be involved.

The choir has been filmed for a one-hour documentary, which has been shown in the UK and Canada.

A DVD of a live concert at St Jude’s Church, Hampstead Garden Village in London was released in 2008.

Our 2nd CD “ Encore, 3rd CD “ Home “ 4th CD “ Memories “ and 5th CD “ Ultimate Collection “ have all been very successful.

In 2010 Leigh Mason a young talented musician and music teacher was appointed MD and she lead the choir on a very successful singing tour of New York complete with S4C and ITV camera crews.

Whatever we do, it keeps the spotlight on choirs and it shows what enjoyment you can get out of being a member of a choir, a wonderful leisure activity that I can thoroughly recommend.

Dennis Williams
21st May 2013