What can you say about rehearsals?

  • – somewhere you go every week and don’t like to miss.
  • – a fixed point, a bit like work, a bit of structure in the life.
  • – a people comfort zone. Blokes you enjoy hanging out with, albeit for two hours a week.
  • – not quite the same as a shed.
  • – time away from the job, housework, gardening, TV and shopping.

Two hours a week for twenty-one years, given time off – say six weeks a year – is an eighth of a year, a season. Which season would you like? Is the choir winter, spring, summer or autumn? Could be autumn for most of us – brown yellow leaves, crisp mornings, 6.00 pm wine on the verandah – one long autumn of rehearsal. Time for reflection. It’s more than half over. More behind than in front. Realistic but not giving in, not yet.

Some choose to meet between rehearsals. Gluttons for punishment or spending time with mates who share the same interests. Perhaps simply extending the time away from the things you have to do, but don’t want to.

A new skill; a relearned skill; or no skill at all? It doesn’t matter. Almost everyone gets well enough in tune. It never goes perfectly. Always something to work on – quiet period of silence afterwards, and then another flick of the pages. Let’s try bars so-and-so again. Very different to a concert – only one chance there, like batting in a cricket match.

Once a year, for a new year weekend, the choir sets off for a ‘men-only’ tour. Called rehearsal weekends. Plenty of singing, plenty of laughs and plenty of beer. Llandudno and Scarborough. Donald Lister specials.

Glimpses of Llandudno

Jauntiness of step, a lightness of heart, a full night’s sleep. Ever so slightly less pain getting up in a morning. Short term benefits of a weekend away. Nice if you could bottle it.

Clive Hetherington and Jed Faricy had been in dispute for weeks over some mathematical nonsense. Donald usually booked us in for a meal at a pub half way through the bus trip and the two Turings resumed their free and frank discussions over cow pie. Index fingers to the fore and robust dynamics. It simmered non-too gently throughout the weekend and beyond.

John Rotchell and I were room buddies and, one year, having gone by car, arrived early on the Friday evening. We were escorted to our room by the hall porter who even carried our bags. Shame he hadn’t shaved and those trainers really didn’t go. Still, beats the normal booking-in rugby scrum.

Later, we met the porter again and discovered he was the owner. We were a choir of about twelve just then, so he bought us all a drink. The rest arrived and the round got a little larger than he expected. Mackie turned to me with a huge smile on his face, ‘Ee, I’ve just ordered these and barman’s give’m me for nowt.’

We were light the first morning for the first rehearsal, light even of Elizabeth, our musical director, and Chairman Graham. Where were they? Only in the basement ballroom, setting out the chairs and wondering where the rest of the choir was.

After coffee Elizabeth thought we’d have sectionals, so the ballroom would now come into play. Basses and baritones would stay on the ground floor. John Mallinson had other ideas as he waltzed in without a care and sat waiting. Elizabeth had to tell him, otherwise he’d still be sat there.

Anne was shopping in New York so Sheila Asquith stepped in as accompanist. There are too many buttons on these fancy keyboards. We were never entirely sure what sort of piano, organ, harpsicord, banjo or whatever was coming next. It was a relief to get the metronome.

Back at the club, Brian Higginbottom was in the frame for the Annie Laurie auditions. So, on tour, he sung a solo. He sung it beautifully, with a twinkle in his eye and modestly accepted the rapturous applause. Several others up for the same audition immediately withdrew.

Two late arrivals. Rupert of course, looking for attention. Everyone ignored him. And Mark from Australia – impressive.

Guess what John Rotchell falls asleep to? The Home Guard Manual 1941.

I ate breakfast on Saturday morning with Graham, our Chairman. He finished before me and set off for his room. Five minutes later, I sauntered up to mine and bumped into him on one of the corridors, lost and more than a tad puzzled. This hotel can be a confusing place.

The musical highlights included:

Anne’s outstanding ‘Homage to Mozza’ – a piano sonata of Beatles tunes for Mozart’s anniversary.

Anne and Elizabeth’s two duets, one ear-achingly out of tune (‘The Way You Look Tonight’) and one fooling around with a tea-towel.

The climax was musical ‘Petit Fours’, introduced masterfully, with gravitas and authority, by Jim.

Open letter from Ged Faricy.

Dear colleagues,

During a regular game of pool last Monday I casually mentioned that Marilyn and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary over the bank holiday weekend.

David Haigh asked politely, “Are you doing anything special?”

“Yes, we’ve booked a quiet romantic trip to Llandudno – at Osbourne House on the front, dinner at the at the famous St Tuddno’s Restaurant next door but one.”

David’s jaw dropped, “But it’s our wedding anniversary that same weekend and Chris and I have booked a quiet romantic weekend in Llandudno and we are staying at St Tuddno’s on the front.”

The pool stopped and a minutes silence ensued while it sank in. Neither of us had any inkling of the others plans.

What’s the ‘probability’ of the following? (Answers to Clive next Tuesday please)

Same birthday – Jan 19th

Same wedding anniversary – the Saturday of the May bank holiday

Both choosing the same location to celebrate

Both Joining NMMVC over twelve years ago

Both first tenors

Both runners and general keep fit enthusiasts

Is there more in this astrology theory than mumbo jumbo?

By the way we each had a great weekend, the four of us just meeting up briefly late on the Friday night to toast our joint celebrations

Romantically yours

Ged and David

Llandudno 2003

‘Wine, women and song’ and ‘A legend in his own lifetime’ – two days, two clichés.  A well-ordered windy weekend in the wide open spaces of North Wales.  Seaside, a little sun, shingle and loads of fun.  Comely Conway for to stun, beautiful Betws and Cantorian.

The song came in three varieties.  The ‘rosy’ glow of rehearsal, the naive pleasure of informal performance and a humble stumble along Snowdon’s foothills, gazing at the lofty peaks that are Colin Jones and his singers.

The wine was mostly beer, not many a pub left unvisited.  We shared the stage in one downtown hostelry with a sixty year old ‘Willy Nelson’ look alike complete with pony tale and scouse accent.  He was ‘the turn’ at a 40th wedding anniversary, a north west collage of bruisers and babes from whom you wouldn’t buy a second hand car.   When he introduced his numbers he dropped in the odd name, ‘I remember what John Lennon said to me . . .  ‘  Apparently, he’d seen better days.  Some idiot said we sang, so we did, and brought the house down.  Well they’d been there since opening time.  Its quite nice to be able to do it.

Word had got round we were doing our main gig at ‘The King’s Head’.  It was packed anyway.  We met the owner’s of the best and the second best hotels in Llandudno and gazed at it’s beautiful people.

After midnight, at our hotel, Rod and Dave were at their best.  On the strength of their recent successful Christmas sixties revival tour of Huddersfield’s rest homes, they are about to embark on a short tour of Bhagdad’s well women clinics.  A blue comic also did a set.  No great change from his day job which was selling tat, wholesale.  The following morning, a serious senior moment was experienced by all the late night choir members.  Few could recall any of his stories.

In between singing and drinking there was rest and recuperation, like long walks on short piers.  And we had to eat.   Allen Green and I thought we’d combine the two and take a sandwich for a walk along the prom.  It was the sandwich from hell.  We were dive bombed by thirty or more four stone coronation chicken crazy seagulls with no fear.  Right put us off our lunch.

The food in the hotel was all right, but don’t have the cold buffet.  The service was delightful and obviously in demand.  Some of us had to look twice at the three behind the bar in one downtown pub we visited.  All of them had served our breakfast   that morning.  The service was so delightful that some of us had to look several times at the waitresses.

Did anyone browse through the endless red clown hats, Welsh flags, handbags and other mementoes of balmy summer holidays?

The women in our lives are of course the New Mill matriarchs, Elizabeth and Ann, guiding and cajoling us to be the best we can be.  Its easy to become cynical in the final third, but there they are, going ten rounds every week with the likes of us crusty old lifers.  We learned that music is simply a matter of pitch and rhythm.  Inevitably the Stephen Hawking junkies needed to see the wiring diagram,  I totally lost it in complex time and spent the next half hour daydreaming pleasantly of waitresses.  If it works its OK by me.

There’s been loads of debate as to whether Clan actually did or did not.  We’re so grateful to Ann who has it on good authority that Clandidnot, with a silent ‘t’.

Colin Jones is the legend in his own lifetime.  An impeccable CV and presence in spades.  He stands and looks and you can hear a pin drop.  He speaks and grown men sit forward and mutely beg for more, even in reproof.  The result is technically awesome, especially the dynamics, you know, the bits when the sound swells and swells and swells and your breast nearly bursts with pride and power.  I’ve been known to nearly break into a smile on such occasions.  Or the bits when it gets quiet, shiveringly quiet and your soul gently weeps.  Apologies to George Harrison – the Beatles remain so pervasive, don’t they?

Colin and his choristers are formidable, but they will have their doubts and fears.  George Orwell wrote, “A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats”.   Cantorian have to perform consistently at a high level within the competitive classical Welsh male voice repertoire.  We, thankfully, are more eclectic.  It suits New Mill’s purpose ie. anyone who wants to make music with can come and have a go.  Elizabeth and Ann will do their best to make sure we are the best we can be, but we all can still learn.