Sunday, May 19, 2019


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This is the Roman Catholic church of St. John the Baptist in Clontarf. In 1870 my grandfather was baptised here. But tonight (18/5/2019) it is the venue for a different kind of celebration. Mae'r Cymry en dod. The Pembroke and District Male Voice Choir are giving a recital.

The choir was formed in Pembroke in 1952 in the tradition of Welsh male voice choirs. It might have become a mixed voice choir in the 1960s as numbers fell below sustainable levels. But thanks to a mighty recruitment drive and a series of sterling performances its future as a male voice choir was secured.

Phil Lloyd

Phil was our MC for the night. He is the choir's secretary and, it seems, general manager. He put in an entertaining and witty performance as MC, not to mention his contribution as general organiser and second tenor in the singing.

Christine Lloyd

Chris is the choir's musical director, which means that, as well as organising the music and conducting rehearsals, she conducts the choir at performances, as is evident from the above photo.

Now one of my unfulfilled ambitions in life, since I saw Leslie Phillips in the film Raising the Wind, has been to conduct an orchestra, however briefly, with the aim of finding out, once and for all, who is really in charge, the conductor or the orchestra.

So I always pay particular attention to the conductor at these events. Well, Chris, as you will see below, is a very expressive conductor, but I did not discern any hint of conflict here. Choir and conductor were as one. The performance was very controlled: sweet in the softer moments and no shouting in the fortes.

Sweet in the softer moments

No shouting in the fortes

Isn't that something. You can almost hear the music.

Chris had originally been the choir's accompanist but she took over as musical director and conductor from her father, who was a founder member and original conductor of the choir.

Then her daughter, Jenny, also in the photo above, took over from her.

Jenny Griffiths (née Lloyd)

Now, I don't have a shot of the full choir, so you'll have to see it in bits. That's because I took a seat up front to get some good photos, but I think I over did it, and even with my relatively wide angle lens I couldn't get them all in.

So here's another bit. And now I think you've more or less seen them all.

As to the choir itself, it was an impressive performance over a relatively wide range of music from the traditional welsh hymns, through negro and South African spirituals to quality modern pop/ballad.

My long held view is that the most suitable repertoire for a Welsh male voice choir is the hymns. I'd listen to them all night. I know there is a challenge in concert/classical pieces and you won't win a prize at an Eisteddfod with just a bunch of hymns. Nevertheless.

The choir sang two traditional hymns, one in Welsh (Rachie, or I bob un) and the other in English (Cwm Rhondda). These were the only two numbers I could join in with, and it may have been that which got me the coveted prize of a choir tie, which you can see (part of) at the bottom of this post. Thank you Phil.

For one of the later numbers, Phil invited any choristers in the audience to come up and sing with them. I thought that a nice gesture. I'm sure there were many choristers in the audience. In fact Phil had mentioned them earlier on. But he only got one taker. I was tempted, but knew damn well that I'd forgotten the words of almost everything since my Dublin Welsh days. So I stayed where I was. That way only the choir knew I was joining in and I don't have to face any locals over the next few weeks.

Alyson Griffiths

Alyson is both flautist and soprano and she performs solos in the choir's programme. We didn't hear her sing but she plays a mean flute and gave us a beautiful rendering of Pie Jesu as well as some other numbers.

The church acoustic was well suited to the mellow tones of the flute.

Bryan Hoey

So, how did this particular choir end up coming to Clontarf?

Well, the connection is Bryan Hoey. Bryan is a local, but in a previous life he joined the choir in Pembroke Dock and has sung solo with them on a number of occasions including as recently as July 2018.

Bryan is described on the choir's website as a renowned Irish tenor. Not being familiar with his name I googled him. Renowned he is and much in demand as a tenor and compere.

Among his contributions on the night was Jerusalem with its traditional gusto and then a switch to Percy French and the West Clare Railway, where he invited the audience to join in the chorus, which we duly did.

I don't know if he was being serious or not, but he assured us that the choir would be back. He told us that he was one of its Vice Presidents and the tradition had been established that the choir was obliged to sing at the funeral of a Vice President.

I should remark, in passing, that his was not the full choir. It is not a youth choir, and not all members were up to traveling. Nevertheless the sound was solid.

In case you're curious, I gather there are only two Welsh speakers in the choir, soon to be only one. I suppose this is not surprising as Pembrokeshire is not the most Welsh-Welsh of counties, though I was at a National Eisteddfod in Hwllffordd (Haverford West) many moons ago and Dilwyn Miles, a late noted Eisteddfod personality, originated from there.

That tie (detail)

The choir had brought a stack of their CDs over with them. Such was the enthusiasm of the audience that they sold out in a flash at the exorbitant price of €5 each. The choir now travels on, CD-less, to their next venue in Belfast.

Their website is worth a visit. Content and structure are excellent though it could do with a slight cosmetic make-over.

Verdict: a marvelous night's entertainment. Llongyfarchiadau i chi gyd.

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