The first ‘Big-Time’ event for the new choir came in 1993, just eighteen months after its formation. A massed choir concert in the Cardiff Arms Park stadium was an exciting opportunity for the raw lads from New Mill. Len Williams’ home territory, the Principality of Wales was an obvious choice for New Mill Male Voice Choir to take to the big stage for the first time!
A massed choral event is the coming together of many choirs to provide audiences with a ‘big’ musical sound, not usually possible with an individual choir. The make-up of choirs may be all male, all female or male/female but, there is no doubting the thrill that can be experienced when singing together ‘en masse’ with like-minded people. For such a young, newly formed choir as New Mill, the experience that could be gained by singing with dedicated, mature choristers from other famous choirs could not be over-estimated.
As fortune would have it, New Mill Male Voice Choir had been invited to join two massed events in 1993, both sadly to be held on the same day, 29 May. New Mill conductor, Len Williams took the initiative, choosing the South Wales World Choir concert, to be held at Cardiff Arms Park, with Shirley Bassey as the star performer. This concert was to be the second such event for an organisation founded by a Welsh business man, Wyndham Lewis. The first was also at Cardiff, the previous year, with Tom Jones as the star guest. Some members of the choir at the time were disappointed that they would not be able to mix with other local choirs such as Honley and Gledholt who were singing at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of Yorkshire Cancer Research but the decision had been made and arrangements for travel and accommodation had to be sorted out. This persuaded a group of members to stay at the Caravan Club site in Cardiff, fortuitously located within walking distance of Cardiff Arms Park.
The concert itself was a magnificent occasion held in the National Stadium of Wales, soon to be demolished and completely rebuilt. Owain Arwel Hughes was conductor of both the 8,500 strong choir and full orchestra. The soloists were boy soprano, Oliver Sammons; harpist, Catrin Finch; tenor, Winford (or should it be Wynford?) Evans; and powerful bass/baritone Patta Burchuladze from Georgia in the former USSR. The biggest thrill of the evening, (after the performance of the choir, of course), was the guest appearance of Shirley Bassey, then very much in her prime. She captivated the audience with such songs as ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Big Spender’, with the choir providing vocal support! This lady won the hearts of the men during the rehearsal where she showed her true class – what a performer!
Much of the repertoire chosen for the massed choirs was in Welsh. Len Williams’ upbringing provided New Mill with a big advantage – the choir had a ready-made Welsh tutor! Such hymns as ‘Gwahoddiad’ and ‘Deus Salutis’ set a strong Welsh tone and, as most of the choirs taking part were from Wales, this helped the Brits and other non-Welsh speakers to get by. Other songs included ‘Were You There?’ and ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. A VHS video and CD were produced from the concert.
New Mill Choir Gypsies!
The Caravanning ‘event’ at Cardiff, associated with the World Choir concert, turned out to be the first of many for a group of about half a dozen choristers, with wives and friends. It became a very pleasurable pastime to meet up at various choir and non-choir venues, enjoy a beer or two and often a singalong to entertain and please the other guests who happened to be on the site.
The Kirkby Lonsdale Victorian Weekend, usually held on the first weekend in September, is especially memorable. This event involved the choir performing in the Parish Church on the Saturday of the weekend, and usually the concert was well attended. Themed weekends like the Kirkby Lonsdale provided a short holiday, much appreciated by choir members. The town was usually decked out to give the feel of the period between the mid-nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Many singers chose bed and breakfast accommodation, or one of the local hotels, and the caravans were based at sites near to Kirkby Lonsdale. The area is a popular tourist spot in Lancashire, though within the Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary. Within a year or two the group had negotiated the use of the rugby club situated about five minutes walk from the town. This more private location became the centre for pre-concert get-togethers and, of course, for rowdy outdoor parties afterwards.
The picturesque village of Easingwold in North Yorkshire became a favourite with the group. It was not associated with any specific choir event but the caravan site chosen had all that was needed to provide the group with a holiday and the perfect show venue. The farm site had a large vacant barn where a concert could be put on for all who wished to attend. Rod and Dave, John Senior and others provided top quality entertainment and all enjoyed a barbecue, with drinks being served!