Gill Guest continues to look through the archives of the Harborough Singers as they approach their 40th anniversary
Even a mini-rummage in the archives of the Harborough Singers reveals a surprising numbers of photos taken in Wales.
In Llangollen, to be precise. Where, during the 1970s and 80s competing at the International Musical Eisteddfod held in this small Welsh town was one of the high points of the choral year.
Not only for the Harborough Singers, but for the entire extended family of choirs that were operating in Harborough at the time.
Langollen’s Eisteddfod had begun just after the Second World War.
Its aim was simple: to use singing to heal wounds and promote peace across the nations of the World.
So, for one week in July, the picturesque town was, and still is, flooded with singers of all nationalities. During our visits there we soon learned, as the Eisteddfod engineers intended us to, that music is an international language. That while we could not converse with a choir from Latvia, or Africa, or Sardinia, we could make all make music together. That we had more similarities, than differences.
Nevertheless, there was some rivalry. After all, the Eisteddfod was a competition and a tough competition at that. The standard of singing was stratospheric. So much so that for the first few years the coveted first prize eluded us. Which simply made it all the more desirable.
In 1978, after five years of trying, our junior girls were absolutely determined to nail it. They began their day jogging as this would (they hoped!) improve their breath control. It must have done something. A few hours later, singing as the ‘Robert Smyth School Choir’ and conducted by music teacher Barry Clark, they scooped that sought-after trophy, a bronze plaque engraved with the words ‘Byd gwyn fydd byd a gano’. Blessed is a World that Sings.
Sadly, I had been unable to locate a photograph of this prizewinning group. So if you have one in your own archive, dig it out, snap it with your phone and send it in! The address is firstname.lastname@example.org and absolutely we’d love to see it.
Looking back, the annual removal of coachloads of young singers from Harborough to the small town of Mold in North Wales seems quite remarkable. The idea of ‘risk assessments’ and stringent child protection regulations had yet to be invented. As Barry commented to me recently ‘You wouldn’t be allowed to do it today.’ His teenaged singers, more than sixty of them girls, stayed in church halls with basic facilities: rickety camp beds, airbeds that went down unexpectedly in the middle of the night, cornflakes and the dubious ‘Rise & Shine’ powdered orange drink for breakfast.
There, they were supervised by the long-suffering and feisty Sheila Childs, a French teacher who was approaching retirement. In later years, as numbers grew, she was joined by Lesley Boreham, an additional music teacher. There were far less boys. Perhaps only a dozen, who stayed in a hall at the opposite end of the High Street and, rumour had it, feasted on bacon and sausages. They were kept in line by Barry Clark, the musical dynamo who masterminded the whole affair.
As far as I recall we roamed the town relatively freely, although we sang a lot so there wasn’t much time or energy for getting up to mischief. Our idea of a treat was a trip to Llandudno for ice creams and a chilly dip in the sea, or a more than welcome shower in the sports department of Mold’s Bryn Coch School. Where we might, if we were feeling particularly wayward, pose on the playing fields wearing nothing but towels. All good clean fun, as they say.