THE AWESOME EXPERIENCE OF AN 8,000 VOICE CHOIR
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The Welsh male voice choir has become the country’s most treasured and remarkable feature, with Baptist, Methodist origins in the 18th century. During this time, congregations in both the north and south of Wales formed tenor-bass choirs that led chapel-goers in the singing of hymns, both in English and in Welsh.
Singing in these choirs was one of the crucial methods the Welsh used to establish their rugged individualism, especially in the wake of their dying language, political struggles, (miners’ strikes and unionist skirmishes) and cultural constraints from the English (the Anglicization of Welsh national schools).
Choirs and solo singers alike performed their repertoire at festivals, namely Eisteddfod, an annual gathering of performers in different cities around the nation. Fortunately, these traditions are still (mostly) robust today. Since its pious and political 18th century heyday, Wales has been appropriately referred to as “the Land of Song.”
When he was Leader of the British Movement, Michael Walsh would assemble his Leader Guard and other prominent activists at each of the International Eisteddfods, held in Llangollen, Wales. British Movement members camped, exercised, enjoyed the mountain landscapes, and bonded at these annual events.
His story, along with scores of others, is told in the Party’s leader’s memoirs: Rise of the Sun Wheel: Mike Kampf.
The Treorchy Male Choir was formed in 1883 and was soon winning national musical competitions, known as eisteddfods. It performed at Windsor for Queen Victoria in 1895 but disbanded in 1943 while Wales was suffering from the effects of the Great Depression and two world wars.
After numerous competition wins, the Treorchy Male Choir landed a record deal with EMI in the 1960s and was invited to perform all over the world.
“We wouldn’t have got out of the valley without the choir,” says Martin. He remembers the first time he went on an aeroplane, when the choir was travelling to perform in Switzerland, as a particular highlight. “This choir’s opened the world to us. Not just the valleys, or Wales, or England, but the world.”
Martin, a former miner, and Morgan, a retired council worker, no longer take part in concerts or tours. “Sometimes we don’t get back from a concert until three or four in the morning, and I’m finding that a little bit much at my age. But that’s the only complaint I’ve got,” says Morgan.
“The comradeship, that’s what I like about it. Most of my friends are connected with the choir,” says Morgan. He recalls fondly the days when the choir had a third weekly rehearsal, too, on Sunday afternoons, for which often more than 100 members would turn out to sing together after attending chapel in the morning. “Of course, people aren’t so religious now.
MICHAEL WALSH is a journalist, broadcaster and the author of RISE OF THE SUN WEEL, EUROPE ARISE, TROTSKY’S WHITE NEGROES, MEGACAUST, DEATH OF A CITY, WITNESS TO HISTORY, THE BUSINESS BOOSTER and THE FIFTH COLUMN VOLUME I and II, and 50 other book titles.
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