Of the overseas New Mill MVC’s tours, the Czech Republic stands out in my mind as the best. It provided the members of the choir and their followers an insight into a beautiful country which suffered under the communists prior to the 1990 bloodless revolution. From a personal point of view, it allowed me meet again the brave men and women I worked with in former Czechoslovakia, employed by Allied Colloids, who also employed me for much of my working life.
The choir visit came only twelve years after the fall of communism, a time when I was traveling regularly with work to the former East European countries. I had to endure ‘meat free’ days (once a week), when it was forbidden for any person to consume any meat or meat product! Can you imagine Tesco’s or Morrison’s taking all meat from their shelves every Wednesday and police having the right to enter restaurants and even your home to check that you were not indulging in a meat orgy? There would be riots in the streets! In those former Soviet satellites, shortages required draconian measures to prevent total collapse of the system and starvation of the people. We don’t know how lucky we are!
The tour was the first major overseas event for our new conductor at that time, Elizabeth Hambleton. Our accompanist was Sheila Asquith, a first for her also and one of many splendid stand in performances we enjoyed from her until her retirement. The tour was organised by NST, a Blackpool based company specialising in music and group tours. They provided a full hotel and travel package, recommending a two-centre tour to Prague and Cesky Krumlov in the south of the country. Guided tours of the best sights of both cities was included along with a guide, Walter, who spoke excellent English. In addition, to provide a fuller experience, I was able to arrange, through former colleagues in Prague, a number of special events sponsored by Allied Colloids Ltd. Jerry Rudovsky, a close friend who lives in Prague, was able to overcome some of the more challenging requirements for the tour, such as securing a suitable electronic keyboard for our concerts. Remember this was only twelve years after the fall of communism, items of this kind were still hard to come by!
Through Jerry’s son, who sang with a local Prague boy’s choir, we performed in Prague’s famous ‘Hall of Mirrors’, the top choral venue in the country. Jerry followed this by an evening in a cellar restaurant, with a special local meal and a musical performance comprising a folk group and a clever chap who could play the musical saw. All was kindly financed by Allied Colloids Ltd! Of particular pleasure for me was the arrival of old Eastern European friends and work-mates for the concert in Prague and the restaurant afterwards. The famous Czech beer flowed.
The following night, some of the choir attended the famous Prague opera, followed by a meal in a top Italian restaurant. A day visit to Karlowy Vary, the famous spa town in the west, provided a fine outing, though samples of the famous waters, in my opinion, did not compare with the Czech beers. An open choir concert in the town centre colonnades rounded off a great visit to the north.
Our hotel in Prague was practical but uninspiring. The hotel in Cesky Krumlov in the south was a former castle, located on a tight bend on the river Vltava (which also flows through Prague), a much more appropriate place for a quality choir! The facilities were excellent, with spectacular views over the river and the World Heritage town in which the beautiful 16th century streets and buildings were a pleasure. A boat race was held; a timed transit between two bridges during which we could easily have lost half the choir if the maritime genetic make up of we British had not prevailed!
A coach tour to nearby Budweis, famous for Budwar beer, allowed the men to continue their sampling of excellent Czech brews.
There is no doubt that as we ate, drank and sang out way through the final evening in the Czech Republic, all agreed that this tour had been something really special!