View from the Back Row May 2002

Since being commissioned for this piece of work, I’ve been promoted to the front row. I’m not sure whether The Goody-Goodies, they know who they are, started to arrive at practice before me or I came consistently late, but I lost my ‘View from the Back Row’. Until Blackpool that is, when it was all back to normal, relegated to the outer regions.

I assumed this position originally because I thought I’d not hit my notes if I was too near the tenors. David Heathcote tells us we have to think of singing the whole thing now and not just sing our parts. I sometimes wondered if I was doing that already. Geoff Gill got it right one night when I shared my anxiety on this subject, “Don’t worry lad. If you’re not singing your notes, you’ll be singing somebody else’s.”

The editor asked me politely this week when my piece on the St David’s Day concert would be ready. The magazine was near its deadline. I don’t remember that I replied. We then did a little ritual dance whilst he explored the best way to motivate me. After five minutes he smiled, looked vulnerable and said “There isn’t much this time, we need it.”  Being wanted is important isn’t it? There’s a serious point – the editor would welcome more contributions.

Blackpool was a super day out. Ibbo is doing the formal piece I understand, but just a thought about ‘Yates Wine Lodge’. It’s a wine bar now, but it was once the dive of dives.  My granny, who loved her sherry, would be first off the bus and in the queue. Years later ‘meanarkid’ went every Spring Bank and drank her health, on our way to the amateur rugby league final at Blackpool Borough, the only professional RL club left in Lancashire.  Today, Yates is all carpets and cushions. Then it was stone floors and huge barrels on floor to ceiling shelves, and a signpost in the middle pointing you in the direction of Australian white. The bridewell used to be known as the billiard gaol – in off white. Ibbo told the story of how they cleaned the place up by hosing it down. The bar staff looked like North Sea trawler men, in thick waterproofs and sou’westers.

So it’s a place to get mellow. We noticed that John Bowden and Len Williams did just that.

The exchange with my editor took place in the front room of The George at Upper Denby, an alehouse that is Adam Brown’s local. We’d completed the fifth Friday choir walk in rain and low cloud. Doug Shuttleworth and family turned up for the sandwiches, cheek, blaming a wedding the night before and nothing to do with the weather. We did five miles, and Adam acted as guide. We learned about farmers, farming, the fields, the hunt and Adam and his family.

Seven of us escorted five dogs with no adverse interactions until two thirds of the way round. The editor’s wife, Christine, was minding her own business, ambling across an open field, when she felt something warm nuzzle alongside. She was about to return the affection which she naturally assumed was coming from the editor only to realise a horse twice her size had taken a fancy to her. The horse and its pal then took exception to David and Sheila Illingworth’s dog, Jack. Jack ran for all he was worth followed by these two horses on a cavalry charge, all the while accompanied by David shouting, “Legit, Jack.”  No harm was done.

Adam and I have a mutual acquaintance – Bev the dry stone waller. Seven stone wet through, Bev is quite a sight lifting her own weight in foundations. It makes grown men go pale. Barry Meeres will tell you.

They opened the pub up especially for the eleven of us. Great hot beef sandwiches. Well done Adam, thank you.

Wasn’t David Heathcote great? It wasn’t just a singing lesson, it was a performance.  Singing with his whole body. He even laughs with his whole body.

Thoughts on the St. David’s Day Concert. The daffodil seller failed to make the informal rehearsal prior to the main event because he was fulfilling his duties. He did however listen to it, a rare treat for a choir member – we should all take time out and do it once. It sounded lovely. My child bride has never been slow on her informal feedback and after the concert on this occasion, whilst she loved the sound, she was also full of praise for the choir’s discipline and deportment. The welsh guys sung beautifully, but am I the only one that would prefer something a bit more recognisable?

Allan Farrar has recovered and is well since the Town Hall gig. Martin Dey felt a little anxious as he observed Allan keel over away over in the baritones. It’s a long way from the basses. Martin would appreciate it if we let our swooning colleagues drop in future.  Propping them up is not good for the blood pressure. I did this at Fartown one Friday night when the second team  was playing. A low penalty into the wind struck a spectator and opened a forehead gash. I stitched it up and helped him to his feet, whereupon he went spark out and had to be admitted to the infirmary with a fractured skull. So the skill is letting them fall gently.

Back Row takes Saturday lunch in Holmfirth from time to time, with Rice my friendly psychiatrist. Walking along the main road, I bumped into the Almondbury Casuals cricket fixture secretary, his lovely wife Xara and daughter Millie. Thoughts of Chatsworth and Giggleswick were interrupted by a soft tug at my elbow and there were John Poole and Judy, looking like Cheshire Cats. They’d just moved and it was their first day in The Holme Valley. “Just like being on my holidays,” he said. I took lunch with his father recently, part of my research into a book about a coalman. John’s father delivered coal in Liverpool, or tried not to by the sound of it. Apparently the wagon is weighed before leaving the yard.  They’d only get some poles and lever it up a bit so it weighed less – I wonder why?

I heard about John’s father one mellow early Llandudno Saturday evening when I shared a three-handed session with John and Mackie. Mackie told some of his father’s chilling war stories. He said he’d been out for a meal recently where the chef came out and did magic tricks. So we duly went and he did – great. The four till six o’clock slot on a Saturday is nice, isn’t it?

Allan Hicks sidled over to me a couple of weeks ago.

‘You’ve got a computer?’


‘Connected to the net?’


‘Can you search when these fellows died, to check the copyright?’

‘I’ll try’.

After four hours, I gave up. I clicked on the link to NAC, the national choir site to which we are affiliated and e-mailed Laurie, the chairman or secretary. He mailed back that Doris was the woman for this. Doris Williams. Now Doris is not one to mince her words. A formidable woman. “What do you mean you can’t get them?” “Didn’t you know?” “You shouldn’t have done that.” I promised to be a good boy in future and she chuckled.

I’ve passed her phone number over to Allan. Good luck.

The Blackpool gig was immense wasn’t it? I was taking illegal photographs in the auditorium when Dave Illingworth wandered over, “Can you put them on a disc for me, make a nice record.”

So I did my best, converted the format, kept the best quality, struggled to make them PC compatible. Took me a couple of evenings.

In the wet George car park, I tentatively inquired, “Have you looked at the disc yet Dave?”

“No,” he said, “we’re having difficulty opening them.”

“Have you done it on mac or something?” asked Sheila. “Could you put jpeg as the filename? I have to go all round the houses to open them up, and its a bit tedious.”

I’ll have to improve, I can see that now. A disappointment to my mother and the section leader of the basses.

Back Row would be happy to enter into correspondence in this column with all those who have taken offence. It’ll show someone has read it. Any letter that doesn’t take itself too seriously will be published.