The legacy of success of the Colne Valley Male Voice Choir

Thom Meredith (on right) receives the Best UK Choir award in Cornwall Photo Steve Earl-Davies

Thom Meredith (on right) receives the Best UK Choir award in Cornwall Photo Steve Earl-Davies - Credit: Archant

A leading Yorkshire male voice choir has much to celebrate but that’s no reason to stand still, as Martin Pilkington discovers.

Colne Valley Male Voice Choir with the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band at Huddersfield Town Hall

Colne Valley Male Voice Choir with the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band at Huddersfield Town Hall - Credit: Archant

‘We’re singing at the opening concert of the Llangollen International Musical Festival on Monday 3rd July,’ says Ken Parkin, tenor and publicity officer for the Colne Valley Male Voice Choir. ‘It’s the festival’s 70th anniversary, and we sang at the very first one in 1947,’ he adds proudly. The choir, founded in 1922, will join three Welsh choirs under the baton of Owain Arwel Hughes, accompanied by the Cory Brass Band, to get the event underway. It’s not just sentiment but success that will see them appear at that prestigious performance. ‘We’ve been more successful than any other choir at the festival, winning six times, and coming second on five other occasions,’ he says.

Ken has sung with the choir’s first tenors for 13 years, which makes him a bit of a newbie compared to some. For example musical director Thom Meredith was appointed in 1989 (at the tender age of 23), and this year accompanist Keith Swallow is marking an incredible 60 years with them.

The group is looking to the future as well as celebrating its past. ‘We started a junior section in 2010,’ says Ken, ‘Thom as principal of Kirklees Music School arranges visits to local junior schools, getting together members of the choir who are available during the day, so maybe 25 or so of the 80 in the full choir. He explains to the children what choirs are and what we do then we sing something for them after which we get them to sing with us. We’ll go round six or seven schools in a day.’ Every visit tends to yield two or three lads that recruitment officer Matt Houston can sign up to the burgeoning junior section.

Adult recruitment is of course equally important, and Ken is keen to stress that the main choir is always looking for new members. ‘Our friendly choir welcomes men of all ages; they needn’t worry if they can’t read music or haven’t sung for a while everyone is welcome. We bring together men with ordinary voices to make extraordinary music!’ And extraordinarily successful music, too. Last December the choir filled every seat of Huddersfield Town Hall for a Christmas concert with frequent collaborators the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. ‘That’s an audience of more than 1100,’ says Ken. ‘Over the three months of the winter season the only other group to do that was the Huddersfield Choral Society.’

The choir performs rather further afield too. This May they’re giving a concert at the Theatre on the Lake in Keswick and later that month there’s an informal supper concert at the Carding Shed in Holmfirth. June 10th sees them back at the Huddersfield Town Hall with the Brighouse and Rastrick for a summer spectacular, so they’ll be well warmed up for the Llangollen limelight in July. And those who can’t make live performances have the option of numerous recordings to sample their work.

Just like the choir’s founders they rehearse every Monday night, nowadays at Slaithwaite Conservative Club, with their library of music – some 450 different pieces, with a copy for every member of the choir – in an adjacent room. ‘Since Thom Meredith took over we have done 300 different pieces and in concerts we sing them from memory, we only use copies at rehearsals,’ says Ken. ‘Every few years we have a voice coach who takes people out of rehearsals and works with them individually or in small groups but Thom our choirmaster is a baritone soloist himself, and every rehearsal is a music lesson. He really helps us in projecting and singing in the right way.’

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All that practice brings results. ‘We are holders of the title of Best UK Male Voice Choir at present,’ he states with pride, ‘There’s a competition held in Cornwall where more than 60 choirs from all over the world take part. It’s biennial and we won it in 2007, didn’t compete 2009 or 2011, mainly because our conductor Thom was one of the adjudicators; then we won it again in 2013 and 2015. It’s an expensive thing to take a choir to Cornwall for the festival, and of course other commitments mean not all of the 80 members are available, so we’re not competing this year and we’ll lose our title.’ Which gives the rest a chance, for once. w

Anyone interested in joining the main choir should call 01422 822393