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Newsletter 44

Hip, Hippo, Hooray!

It was great to be back!

657 days! That’s how long it had been since our previous indoor concert - Truro Methodist Church on 22nd February 2020 - when we filed into St Austell’s St Augustine of Hippo church on Saturday 11th December.

St Augustine’s Father Michael had kindly offered us use of the church on the understanding that the audience was restricted in numbers, for obvious reasons. It was to be our only concert of the Christmas period, although at that point we were not to know that strong easterly winds would put paid to our plans to put on a brief concert on the Mevagissey quayside the following week. Still, it was one more than 2020!

Our programme contained both Christmas carols and songs from our normal (normal?) repertoire, which included one piece that we had never performed in public before, and which had been learned primarily on Zoom!

After getting everybody in the mood with a communal rendering of ‘While Shepherds Watched’, sung to the popular Lyngham tune, the concert began with four Christmas pieces – ‘O Holy Night’, ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ and an enchanting arrangement of ‘Away in a Manger’.

We were then treated to a delightful solo rendition of ‘A Winter’s Tale’ from Second Tenor Charlie Whetter, his first for the Choir, before we launched into a few favourites – ‘Anthem, from Chess’, ‘You Raise Me Up’, ‘Tears in Heaven’, and ‘Let the River Run’.

After short break, during which a St Petroc’s volunteer gave us all a brief outline of the vital work that the charity homeless is doing in the community, we returned with ‘Mr Blue Sky’, accompanied by Second Tenor Graham Hoskins on guitar, and ‘Tell My Father’, with Bass George Phillips on harmonica. Then it was time to give our first public performance of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, from ‘Les Miserables’, followed by our interpretation of the beautiful ‘Au Fond du Temple Saint’ duet from Bizet’s ‘The Pearl Fishers’.

Next, father and son Paul and Alex Pearce combined for a delightfully harmonious performance of ‘Silent Night’ before the Choir closed the evening with ‘What Shall We Sing for the Child?’, ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’.

Are Graham’s fingers crossed behind his back?

Despite the limited audience numbers, the evening raised £635 for St Petroc’s, prompting Father Michael to declare that a new ‘trinity’ had been formed between St Augustine’s, Mevagissey Male Choir and St Petroc’s. While welcoming the inclusion in our programme of a number of carols, he added: ‘It shows that you don’t have to sing religious songs to have a spiritual experience’.

It was such a pity that we were forced to restrict numbers to just 90 on the night but we consoled ourselves with the thought that many more would be able to join us the following Saturday on the Mevagissey quayside. Sadly, when the day came, the strong easterly wind – up to 40mph – was not only bitterly cold but, as we had no amplification, would also have made it impossible to hear us. We were left with little option but to abandon our plans, leaving many people, followers and Choir members alike, disappointed.

Fortunately, however, we had engaged London Apprentice film and video company, Buzzard Films, to film our performance in St Augustine’s, with a view to sharing some of our songs with all our followers, most of whom have not seen us for nearly two years. A link to one, ‘Away in a Manger’, has already been ‘sent’ to Friends, and is now available on our website. Here is the link to the next , ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ from ‘Les Miserables’, which we largely learned during lockdown, and which has rapidly become one of our favourites. It is planned that others will follow in due course.


A Welcome Day Out in Padstow

A glorious setting for our first concert of 2021

Although our St Augustine’s concert was our first indoors nearly two years, we did succeed in putting on an outdoor performance in August, in the gardens of Prideaux Place, Padstow. We had of course hoped to return to the Mevagissey quay in August, as we hinted in the last newsletter, but the pandemic put paid to that again.

Thanks, however, to the kindness of the Prideaux-Brune family, we gathered on the lawn of the famous old house on the evening of Saturday, 28th August, to sing in front of an enthusiastic audience who had made themselves comfortable on rugs and fold-up chairs.

Prideaux Place, which featured heavily in both the Poldark television series and the Rosamund Pilcher films, is set in one of the most beautiful parts of North Cornwall. Noted for its architecture and its glorious views of Bodmin Moor across its ancient deer park, the Elizabethan manor house is still occupied by the family for whom it was built. The Prideaux family can trace their origins back to the time of the Norman Conquest, when they are recorded as Lords of the Manor at Prideaux Castle, Luxulyan. Later the family moved to Devon but, in the 16th century, Sir Nicholas Prideaux, a distinguished lawyer, returned to Cornwall and built Prideaux Place, completing it in 1592.

Peter Prideaux-Brune and his wife, Elisabeth, who are currently engaged in a restoration programme, were extremely welcoming on the day. ‘Prideaux Place has been my family’s home for fourteen generations’ said Peter. ‘I may be biased but I personally think that this is the most lovely place on earth and we are delighted to share it with you.”

A suitably socially distanced audience in the evening sunshine

For us, it was a wonderful opportunity to sing in in the open air and properly socially distanced. Thankfully, the weather behaved, and we were able to perform the full, and varied, programme put together by Musical Director Graham Willcocks for the occasion – two 40-minute sets with a half-hour interval. They ranged from recently learned pieces such as ‘California Dreaming’, ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and ‘Let the River Run’ to old favourites like ‘Mevagissey Bay’, ‘Calm is the Sea’, and ‘The Floral Dance’. And how the listeners loved it!

So, too, did the Prideaux-Brunes, who immediately asked if we could make it an annual event, although in July rather than August. It’s already in our diary!!

Mr Blue Sky – how can you tell?

MC Robin Murphy, who was instrumental in persuading the Prideaux-Brunes to allow us the use of the venue

Second Tenor Charlie Whetter steps up for his solo



We weren’t completely idle in the first half of the year. Although we couldn’t meet in person, thanks to modern technology, many of us came together on Monday evenings - our normal practice night – on Zoom. Here, under the guidance of MD Graham Willcocks and thanks to the ‘teach tracks’ recorded by accompanist Matthew Fox, we were able to run through much of our repertoire and, in particular, continue with the pieces that were learning when the world was shut down.

It was far from perfect. As we sang along to Matt’s piano recording in our separate sections, we were unable to hear each other and, of course Graham, was unable to hear us either. But it did keep the songs fresh in our minds and we would delight in finishing by singing along together to one of our actual recordings.

Muted, but still motivated

By early summer, with restrictions lifting, we were finally able to meet again, thanks to the generosity of Baritone Humfrey Stobart. Farmer Humfrey’s huge open-ended barn offered us the opportunity to gather in one place, suitably socially distanced. What a difference! Monday evenings had taken another step towards normality.

Barn free!’ Avoiding Covid on Humfrey’s farm

As harvest time approached, and Humfrey’s barn needed for its ‘daytime job’, we knew we would have to think again, but restrictions were relaxing everywhere and thankfully the authorities at St Andrews agreed to allow us the use of the church again. Most members agreed to return, on the understanding that we were well spaced, that doors and windows were all open, and that everyone took a lateral flow test before coming.

Almost normal. All that was missing was refreshment in the Fountain afterwards!


R. I. P. Mike Watson – a Much-Loved MMC Member

We were all deeply saddened to hear last May that Mike Watson, along -serving member and former chairman of the Choir, had passed away, at the age of 91.

Mike had retired from our Choir in 2014 but he left many fond memories, and there were many tributes from former colleagues.

Current chairman Nick Nicholls described him as ‘a lovely man and a real gentleman in every sense of the term, as well as being a great servant to the choir. One of the people who are really missed. I was always grateful for his experience and advice freely given if sought.

Founder member Roger Mitchell described him as ‘a selfless servant of the choir’, while Musical Director Graham Willcocks also remembered him as ‘a real gentleman’ adding ‘I really enjoyed working with him during his tenure as Chairman. He did a huge amount for the choir during the period I think of as our “pomp”'.

One of life's gentlemen’, echoed former chairman Bill Collins, ‘always with a twinkle in his eye and a funny story to tell.’ ‘He persuaded me to become Chairman after he decided to stand down in 2007 and I remember him advising me "don't worry, there's not a long queue for the post!" which put it in perspective and set my mind at ease. He is a great loss.

MMC Treasurer Graham Hoskins recalled: ‘He was my partner when we undertook the Fundraiser role in the Choir. He was an absolute pleasure to work with, and he was also very good at getting advertisers to pay for advertisements in the choir programmes, which benefited choir funds greatly’.

Others reminded us of some of his many achievements. ‘He was personally responsible for at least 3 choir trips, to Ireland, Madeira, and the Dordogne,’ said John Mitchell, adding that as chairman he had ‘a quiet authority'. The choir grew in strength under his chairmanship, and he will be greatly missed. David Leeson recalled that Mike had formed our first Social Committee, whose Barn Dances were a huge success. ‘We are all the poorer for his passing.’

Born on 3 April 1930 in Bletchley, Bucks, Mike joined the Royal Navy at age 17, after training as an Engineer Officer, had a full naval career, serving as Chief Engineer on HMS Ark Royal and attaining the rank of Commander. After retiring from the Navy, he and Pam, whom he had married in 1966, moved to Eire, where they hired out cruisers and took tourists on trips along the River Shannon.

They returned in the late ‘70s, finally settling in what his family – he has four children – describe as ‘beautiful Cornwall, another great love of Dad’s life. Dad may not have been Cornish by blood, but he adored this county to its very core. He sat in the rain at the Minack, cheered for its rugby teams, and drank its Doombar.’

And he sang with pride in Mevagissey Male Voice Choir, We’d say he deserved the title of Cornishman.’

Mike’s funeral took place on 3rd June at St Augustine’s of Hippo with many of his former Choir colleagues forming a guard of honour outside – Covid had ensured there was insufficient room inside – and singing ‘Haven of Rest’ as he exited the church.

To the ever-gracious Pam went the final word, thanking ‘the Meva guys for their wonderful singing for Mike as he came from the church. The sound was magnificent and how it touched the hearts of everyone there.

‘How Mike loved The Mevagissey choir, the music, the concerts, the special friendships, the sense of belonging to the best choir in Cornwall, and how right it felt to have you there as he made his final journey.’

** On going to press, we learned further sad news, that of the passing of Bernard Hocking and Graham Pouncefort, both former long-standing members of our choir. It is hoped that tributes to both can be paid in the next newsletter.


Martin Proves a Fair Cop for MMC!

It was probably inevitable that we would lose a member or two during the pandemic, either moving away or deciding to hang up their singing boots. Among others, our Secretary, Gareth Millington, former chairman Bill Collins, Second Tenor Rob Collins, all resigned for one reason or another. What we didn’t expect, and were very pleased to see, were new arrivals, two in fact, one of whom has already passed his voice test. Hardly surprising, because Treviscoe-born Martin Baglow comes to us with 30 years’ experience with the Great Western Chorus under his belt.

I started singing at Sunday School and have never stopped’ Baritone Martin says. As a teenager he joined Treviscoe MVC, singing with his father and where his grandfather was a founder member – shades of the Pearces! – but his first taste of male voice singing was with our own Roger Mitchell’s VI Form College group in St Austell.

Before long, he was off to London University to study chemistry with a career as a forensic scientist in mind, but a change of heart mid-course saw him join the police, giving 30 years of service, most of them with Avon & Somerset Constabulary - ‘Devon & Cornwall rejected me on the grounds of my height to weight ratio … I was 5” too short!’. Martin was to spend 22 years as a CID detective!

After retiring from the Force, he became a Teaching Assistant at a primary school near Chipping Sodbury, setting up and running the school choir and teaching archery!

Recently, though, he decided to return home to Cornwall where, ‘as a Cornishman, I’d always been aware of Meva Choir and impressed with their August performances on the quayside’. He also knew Graham Willcocks, whose Plymouth quartet had pipped his own group to the British barbershop championship in 1987. ‘So, once I decided to move to Meva, I needed no persuasion to join up!

Martin is currently running the school choir at Bugle Primary School, where he is a Teaching Assistant, as well as an after-school ‘Ball Skills’ club for infants, ‘trying to encourage them to throw,catch, bounce & roll like I did all through my childhood’.

In case you’re unsure, Martin is the one on the left

Last summer he married Lynne, who runs her own software development company, from their new home on the Mevagissey harbourside. He has also has a son, Jonathan, ‘doing something complicated in the field of software in Falmouth’, and a daughter, Laura, working in the student welfare department of Bristol University.

A busy enough life, it would seem, but Martin says he still has ‘a special place in my heart for Barbershop singing … so many fond memories of competing and entertaining all over the UK, Europe and North America over the last 35 years’. He served on the Board of the British Association of Barbershop Singers for four years (chairing it for two). He also finds time for walking on the South West Coast Path.

Martin’s favourite choir piece at the moment is “Tell My Father” (‘powerful stuff!!’) but others, including my voice test piece “Empty Chairs” run it a close second. ‘I particularly love the close harmonies that the Baris share with the Seconds in many of our choir pieces and can’t wait to sing out in a big concert’.

That is, of course, what we’re all hoping for, Martin. Let’s hope it’s not too long!


Christmas 2021 – Isaac raises funds for Children in Need

Talented Isaac Wins MMC Funding

Thank you so much for the privilege of awarding me your bursary this year it will be a huge help and opportunity for my musical development and career!

These were the words of 15-year-old Isaac Salaman, who’s in year 11 at St Austell’s Penrice Academy, and is the latest beneficiary of the Choir’s bursary programme, under which we make donations to help fund the musical education of deserving youngsters.

Isaac has been playing guitar for eight years, saxophone for four years and singing for as long as he can remember, his mother – and manager! - Christine, tells us. ‘He loved music from a young age through hearing and being involved with music in church’.

Having arrived in Cornwall from Tanzania, East Africa, when he was ten, living initially in St Austell and now in Tresillian, he is a member of the Cornwall County Youth Choir, various school choirs and bands, and a church music group. He writes his own music - he wrote a song for the G7 summit - and is currently in the process of having a couple of his songs recorded.

He has taken lead roles in school musical theatre productions and local pantos – playing Ned Schneebly in ‘School of Rock’; Emmet Forrest in ‘Legally Blonde’; and Mr Banks in ‘Mary Poppins’. He is currently rehearsing the role of March Hare in Probus Parish Players' panto, which will hopefully be performed in February.

Isaac is a regular busker, mainly in Truro and St Austell, although he has been seen in Mevagissey more than once. He raises money each year for Children in Need - over £600 in 2021! However, his proudest moment was singing with the Cornwall CYC in the 2021 Music for Youth junior proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Currently Deputy Head Boy at Penrice, Isaac is keen to pursue a full-time career in music. ‘I hope to put the money toward some home recording equipment to try and get my music out there as much as I can, so this bursary will be a huge help towards that’, he says. ‘Again thank you so much for your consideration and this amazing opportunity.

The bonus for us is that Isaac has agreed to perform with us at some point in the future. We can’t wait!


What’s Next?

So when might Isaac make his appearance? Although we continue to live in uncertain times, we have begun taking bookings for 2022, because we like to stay positive. Our first date, as things stand is on Saturday 30th April at Portscatho Village Hall, where we’ll be guests at the Roseland Music Festival. And then it’s on to the Minack on 14th May. Our last visit was in May 2018, when we were joined by the Culdrose Military Wives. Here are a few reminders:

The view that greets us! The audience awaits! Let the music begin!

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