The year is 1946 and Europe is still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War. In Britain, the nation is still stoically bearing the burdens of post-war austerity and rationing and is about to experience one of the severest winters in history.
That same year, the people of Llangollen sent, through The British Council, an international invitation to choirs to compete in a music festival to be held in 1947 “as a gesture of good-fellowship to help in bringing peace-loving and democratic peoples into closer personal association within the sphere of a genuine common interest.” The organising committee declared “Though this expression of a small mountain town’s boldness for peace may be far less spectacular than a deed of war, it is at least constructive, opening a door, maybe a narrow one, through which men and women of many lands may meet freely in friendship stimulated by their mutual love of music-making”.
The cruel winter over, Britain saw a brighter time ahead. Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth had just married her dashing naval officer, Lieutenant Philp Mountbatten and the National Health Service was shortly to be introduced. The 1947 Llangollen International Eisteddfod was an unqualified success - groups from ten foreign countries braved the journey to Llangollen, joining some 40 choirs from England, Scotland and Wales.
Inspired by the success of the first Llangollen International Eisteddfod and by the message of peace that it inspired, the residents of the nearby village of Froncysyllte determined to form a choir to compete in the competition the following year. Mr Gomer Powell, the Interim Secretary, called a public meeting with the object of forming a choir and, in 1947, The Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir (“The Fron” Choir) was born.
An early incarnation of the choir on the Eisteddfod grounds at Llangollen
Froncysyllte (pronounced vron-cuss-ulth tay), known locally as “Fron” (pronounced Vron), is a small village at the eastern entrance to the Vale of Llangollen. The village, with its miners’ and kiln workers’ cottages, nonconformist chapels, church and public houses, came into existence during the 19th century alongside Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road (A5) and on the hillside to the south. The local lime industry, its main source of employment, underwent a period of decline towards the end of the 19th century, although quarrying for limestone was still active near the village when the choir was formed. Set in beautiful countryside in the Northeast corner of Wales, Fron would have been "just another village" if Thomas Telford had not built his famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct to carry the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee. Thousands of visitors come to this World Heritage Site each year to marvel at his engineering skills and the ground-breaking work of the local iron foundries 200 years ago that made the project possible.
The world-famous Pontcysyllte World Heritage site with the village of Froncysyllte in the background
The first chairman of The Fron, J.R. Jones (“Joe Jordan”), a prominent county councillor, was the driving force behind the choir in its early years although, maintaining that his voice was "awful", he never sang. Lloyd Edwards, a well-known local piano teacher was appointed as The Fron’s first conductor. Menna Hughes, daughter of Robert Hughes, the founder Treasurer and one of Lloyd's pupils, was appointed as the first accompanist. To compete in the Male Voice Competition at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod the Choir needed 60 voices, so Wilfred Jones, the leader of the Froncysyllte Youth Club, persuaded the young men of the village to join. He was so successful that the 1947 Fron Choir had the youngest membership of any Welsh Male Voice Choir.
Lloyd Edwards together with his Deputy John Richard Davies went on to win major choral competitions and gain a reputation for excellence at home and abroad. Lloyd held the Choir's baton until his untimely death in 1970.
The Fron choristers stayed together after the Eisteddfod with Watkin Williams (a prominent County Councillor and much-respected character in the village) as the Chairman.
It was to be thirty years in 1977 before the choir won at Llangollen. The same year they won the National Eisteddfod of Wales completing “The Double”. The choir won at Llangollen again in 1987, 1994 and, most recently, in 2018.
Winners of “The Double” in 1977
Now in its 70th year, the Choir has had four excellent Conductors since Lloyd. John Daniel, who for 21 years followed in his steps and led the Choir to success in the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, as well as an International reputation. Val Jones succeeded John in 1991 and for the next 11 years consolidated that reputation in competition. Val was followed by Ann Atkinson in 2002, who was the force behind the Voices of the Valley recordings and then, in 2009, by our current MD, Leigh Mason, who has taken us to victories in competitions In Derry, Cornwall and our fourth win at Llangollen plus various foreign tours. More details of past conductors can be found here.
It took a chance meeting with Daniel Glatman, manager of boy band Blue, to set the Fron Male Voice Choir on the road to international fame and success. Daniel heard the choir sing at a wedding under the then musical director Anne Atkinson. Mr Glatman said he was "blown away" when he first heard The Fron sing. He said: "The passion, the pride, it just made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck."
"I just thought that we had to get these guys into a recording studio. The great thing about their story is that we are seeing the last group of people who want to be thrust into the limelight being thrust into the limelight." In 2006 he signed them to Universal Music, the company behind rap acts including Eminem and 50 Cent.
The choir’s first commercial recording, Voices of the Valley, made it to in the album charts in its first week of release in mid-November 2006. It went on to sell more than half a million copies and remained at number one in the classical chart for 11 weeks. The follow-up album, Voice of the Valley Encore, repeated that feat with pre-orders, before going platinum - selling 300,000 - and earning the Fron our first Classical Brits nomination in early 2008 - something we repeated in 2009 and 2010.
It was reported as "An amateur choir from Wrexham lost out to Sir Paul McCartney in the best album category at the Classical Brits, Their Voices of the Valleys CD was beaten by Sir Paul, who won the award for a work inspired by his love for his late wife Linda. Bryn Terfel, Katherine Jenkins and Sting had also been shortlisted in the category."
Flirting with Hollywood
Zygi Kamasa, a producer on the film Bend It Like Beckham and co-producer of George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck bought the rights to turn the story of the Fron Choir into a film to rival Calendar Girls. Mr Kamasa came on the scene after Daniel Glatman signed them to Universal Music, the company behind rap acts including Eminem and 50 Cent. Mr Kamasa said: "The story of this choir which was picked from obscurity to be signed by the biggest record label in the world, is a classic feel-good story that has huge potential, especially when you consider that the average age of the singers is 60." Unfortunately, the project never took off but choristers had fun imaging which movie star would play them in the film.
The success of the Voices of the Valley series of CDs took the Fron onto further international success with tours in the USA and Canada as well as an extended tour of all the major venues in the U.K. The choir has also toured in France, Spain, Cyprus, Germany and recently we visited Austria where we sang in St Peter's Cathedral in Vienna, the church in Mondsee where the wedding from the Sound of Music was filmed and the wonderful DOM Cathedral in Salzburg where Mozart plied his trade.
The Choir continues to go from strength to strength into the 21st Century. In 2013, under the leadership of Leigh Mason, the choir entered its first competition in 15 years, taking 1stplace in the Male Voice Competition at the Derry International Choral Festival.
In 2016, inspired by some members of The Fron, a charity choir of newcomers to choral singing was formed to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK. The resulting concert where the charity choir sang alongside The Fron, was a great success, raising £4,000 for the cause and, as an added bonus, 19 of the original 21 members went on to become full members of The Fron, swelling its membership to 72.
In 2017, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding, the choir embarked on a successful tour of Cathedrals throughout the UK. In the same year, it competed in Cornwall’s prestigious International Male Choral Festival winning the 41 Voices and Over Category as well as the Best UK Choir and Best Single Piece of Music in the same category.
The choir sing in the church in Mondsee, Austria where the wedding from The Sound of Music was filmed
The Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir –Best Male Voice Choir – 2018 Llangollen International Eisteddfod
To complete the circle, in 2018 - seventy years after first competing in the Llangollen International Eisteddfod - The Fron seized the prize for Best Male Voice Choir, reclaiming the International Trophy for the Male Voice Choirs they had first donated to the competition in 1971.
To add to the magic of the occasion, two members of the original choir from 1947, Dennis Williams and Gren Gough, both now in their 80s, sang shoulder to shoulder with their brothers-in-song on the competition stage that day. Dennis’s reminiscences of his seven decades with the choir can be found here.