Den Williams, 1st Bass
The village of Froncysyllte had a fine tradition of singing with five 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 an accompanist, so off we went, lucky to have so many fifteen and sixteen-year-old choristers. Our first piece was ‘Laudamus’ which we sang 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 very basic Bryn Melyn Coach to sing in a competition at the Westminster Central Hall. We had the nerve to go and compete against some of the largest choirs in the country. Rhos Male were well over 100 strong and conducted by a small bald-headed gentleman called Benny. I think there were six choirs and although we were well down in position it was a great experience. It was held in the Westminster Central Hall and the test piece was Martyrs of the Arena. I was 18 years old and singing 1st Tenor in the centre of the choir, front row and really felt as if I was a Martyr in the Arena, I was so nervous.
One of our 1st Tenors in the second row fainted and he was held up by surrounding choristers until we finished the performance. Actually, he was a well-loved character, John Ernest Davies, who for some reason was called Tiddler. They carried him off the stage and put his head under a cold water tap and as he came around, they were complaining to him that he shouldn't faint on stage, which was a bit unfair.
The adjudicator Dr Woods asked all six choirs to come back on stage so that he could conduct the massed choirs singing Martyrs. What an experience that was! I was now in a choir of 500 plus, amongst 125 1st Tenors. The hair on my head stood up and stayed that way for days.
I remember going into a café afterwards and being amazed to see a well-known 2nd Tenor entertaining a "Lady of the Night" with egg and chips. After a few drinks we returned home in good spirit and thanks to a bucket we made only a few stops and arrived in Fron at about 6.00 am.
When we arrived home in Fron we had 2 extra passengers. Leston Jones and Benny Davies were two Fron Lads who had married London girls and had come to meet us in London but after a few drinks, they had to come with us to see the old village again. I remember them discussing how to let their wives know they were in Fron and debating whether it was too early to wake up their families in Fron. Now you know why I remember our first trip to London so well.
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 competitions 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 still 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. 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 on 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, and on one occasion, 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 three CDs. We were packaged as the “Oldest Boy Band in the World” and Universal moved very quickly to start recording the first CD called “Voices of the Valley”. The producer, Jon Cohen, and our Musical Director 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 10.00 am 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 - 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 rise 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 other CDs - |Encore", "Home", "Memories" and "Ultimate Collection “ - have all also been very successful.
In 2010 Leigh Mason, a young talented musician and music teacher, was appointed Musical Director and she led 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.
21st May 2013