Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Please check our website – www.meva-choir.co.uk for latest updates on our concerts and other news
A Breath of Fresh Air!
Oh, what joy it is to be back. And at the Minack, too! Our first full, unrestricted, concert for more than two years. Yes, we performed at St Augustine’s in December, but it was with Covid measures still in place, including limited audience numbers.
Now, here we were on this most magnificent of stages, with its breath-taking view over Porthcurno Cove and the Atlantic Ocean, free to sing our hearts out at last, for the first time in 27 months.
The concert - interestingly, it was our 1,111th - was almost a sell-out, with around 500 perched on the cliff face’s stone terraces as the concert got under way. Just as on our last two visits, in 2016 and 2018, we were joined by the lovely ladies from Culdrose, Cornwall’s only Military Wives Choir, who, as it turned out, were celebrating their tenth anniversary. They, like us, however, feared the worst when the heavens opened just after 7pm, but the shower lasted only 15 minutes or so, and the rain stayed away for the rest of the evening.
Given Graham Willcocks’ retirement (see following pages), the committee had turned to Assistant Musical Director Mike Thompson to lead us on the night, and he got us away promptly with our first set, beginning with ‘Anthem’ and ending with ‘An American Trilogy’. The ladies then stepped up with six pieces, finishing with ‘Mr Blue Sky’, one of our own favourites. Like us, they had recently lost their MD, but were admirably served by deputy Sarah Furness.
After a short interval, they returned with another set of six, saving ‘Together We Are Stronger’, the Eliot Kennedy and Gareth Malone song that sparked the Military Wives Choir movement in 2012, for their finale.
Our own final set included some of our newer pieces, including ‘Tell My Father’ and ‘Let the River Run’ and we ended with the popular ‘Lower Lights’. It’s become a tradition that the two choirs combine for a finale to the evening, and the ladies were beckoned back on (to the strains of ‘Happy Birthday') to join us in ‘Lean on Me’ , which had been their choice. Sarah did a remarkable job conducting given we'd only had two weeks in which to learn it!
Although it was a struggle for some, 34 of our singers clambered down the steps to take part and the evening was a credit to them all, to Mike Thompson and accompanist Matt Fox, who had become a father for the third time just days before, to Baritone Robin Murphy, for his customarily magnificent compering, and of course to Sarah and the ladies, and their accompanist Peter Luing.
The formal business done, many of us retired to the Logan Rock pub to revive yet another tradition – a pub afterglow! Many of the Culdrose ladies joined us for a pasty, a pint (or something similar), and, yes, an informal sing of some of the old traditional Cornish songs. Yes, it was so good to be back!
The ladies agreed: ‘Please extend our thanks and gratitude to your members for inviting us to perform with you again this year, they wrote later. 'To have another opportunity to sing in such an iconic location is truly a privilege and to share that space with such a warm and generous group of gentlemen, well, it really is the icing on the cake! Our ladies (and families in the audience) were full of praise for all our singing efforts. Thanks again for being part of our choir journey. Let's hope we can sing again in the future.’
Graham Willcocks Steps Down
Graham on top form at the Kurion Amphitheatre, Cyprus
With great sadness, we learned in April that Graham Willcocks, our Musical Director for the past 25 years, had decided to step down. 25 years! That’s more than half our Choir’s lifetime - one helluva shift!
Graham joined the Choir as a Second Tenor in the early '90s, after an award-winning career in barbershop singing, and it was very soon after, on 13th September 1996, that he was appointed MD. He conducted the Choir for the first time as MD at St Mewan Church, and that was only a few weeks before we left for a tour of Georgia, the USA’s own clay country, where we performed four concerts.
Almost 500 concerts later, Graham has now decided to hang up his white jacket. ‘After 25 years out front, I felt the time had come for me to go’, he said. We know it must have been a tough decision for him.
There is no is question that he will be much missed. Most singing members of the Choir have never known any other Musical Director. In the words of Choir Chairman, Nick Nicholls, ‘Graham has served us long and well. He has been inspirational in getting us to sing a repertoire of eclectic music with that well known “Mevagissey sound”. He will be hard to replace’.
Although Assistant MD Mike Thompson will take on the conducting role at the Choir’s upcoming concerts, including Caerhays Summer Fair and Mevagissey Feast Week, Mike’s preference is for returning to his place in the Baritone ranks, so the search is now under way for Graham’s successor, who will have the opportunity of leading one of Cornwall’s most popular and enterprising male choirs, as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2024.
Celebrating St Piran’s Day on the Quay
It turned out that Graham’s last concert was, perhaps fittingly, in Mevagissey itself, on the quayside, where he and the Choir have performed for so many listeners over the past quarter of a century. A venue, moreover, that the pandemic had kept us from over the previous two summers. Now we were back, for our first public appearance of the year, on St Piran’s Day, 5th March, courtesy of the Mevagissey Feast Week Committee. Funds had been secured from Cornwall Council Arts to promote businesses in Cornish villages and we were asked to put on a concert on the quay, with a view to encouraging folk to come and hear us sing and spend their cash in the village shops, etc.
A forecast of cold air from the East prompted a decision to dispense with choir uniforms on this occasion, so that singers could wrap up as warmly as possible. As it happened, the weather was kind, given the time of year, and the event was a real success. Graham had selected a medley of old and new, beginning with ‘The Floral Dance’ and ‘Empty Chairs’ and closing with ‘California Dreaming’ and ‘Back to the ‘60s’, and including old favourites like ‘Mevagissey Bay’ and ‘The Mermaid’.
A bucket collection was taken, providing a healthy addition to choir funds, and we were extremely grateful to the Village for funding our Music Team’s expenses.
The year had, however, got off to a very sad start, with news of the passing of Bernard Hocking, one of the Choir’s most popular Baritones until his retirement a few years ago.
Bern, as he was known, was a Gorran Haven man, born in December 1944, the third of four brothers, to Samuel and Eileen Hocking. Son Chris revealed that his love of singing began when, as a boy when he would often make three trips each Sunday, dressed in his Sunday finest, to sing in the Gorran Church choir.
He joined our Choir soon after its foundation, and sang with us for about 40 years. He was always passionate about his contribution and commitment, says Chris, and he eventually became Choir Almoner, a role to which he devoted a great deal time and brought a huge amount of compassion. In their 40s, he and wife Val became keen cyclists, at one point cycling over a thousand miles to Germany, where the choir was giving a concert.
A carpenter and builder by trade, Bern also served as an auxiliary Coastguard in his younger days. Apart from the Choir, he loved his sailing and cricket, and was passionate about his golf, and St Austell Golf Club, where he continued to play with a number of his Choir colleagues until very recently, even though chronic health problems had forced him to use his own personal buggy.
Chris was the second of Bern’s four children. The others are Rachael, Joseph and Beth, and, between them, they had given him and Val nine grandchildren.
Bern’s funeral took place in a packed St Goran Church on 27th January, and at the request of the family it was attended by the Choir, who sang 'Lower Lights' and 'Goin’ Home'. He was much loved by his fellow Choir members, for his help, support and willingness to help new people settle in, and his friendly smile and cheerful sense of humour. He is sorely missed.
Just a few weeks after saying goodbye to Bernard, we learned that Geoff Wheildon had also passed away. Geoff was Graham Willcocks’ predecessor as Musical Director, his brief spell sandwiched between Harold Miller, who led the Choir in its first 20 years and Graham. Geoff’s main interest was brass bands. He taught for many years at St Austell’s Poltair School and will be remembered by many for the annual "Singalong for the Disabled" concerts that he put at St John's every Christmas and which many Choir members have been privileged to take part in for many years.
Geoff conducting the choir on the quay – probably 1993.
Following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the Choir committee considered how best to raise funds to support the besieged population. We learned that a number of singing groups in the St Austell area got together to organise a fund-raising event for the Ukrainians at St John’s. Scheduled for Friday 25th March, the concert was to include contributions from around a dozen different groups and choirs. We indicated that Mevagissey Make Choir would like to play a part and were promptly invited. Although there was only very short notice, we managed to field 15 singers on the evening, and our contribution of four pieces, including ‘Haven of Rest’ and ‘Lower Lights’, was visibly well received by the audience. The concert was deemed a huge success, raising just over £6,500.
… and the Cornwall International Male Voice Choir Festival
Nick Hart leads us in American Trilogy
A month later, we were back at St John’s, this time hosting three other choirs as part of the Cornwall International Male Voice Choir Festival. This normally biennial event had, likely everything else, been postponed due to Covid, but in May over 50 choirs, including six from oversea, at 40 different venues around Cornwall over the Bank holiday weekend. Fewer than in the past, but a great response given the circumstances.
Our own guests were Hampshire Police Male Voice Choir, Snowdown Male Voice Choir and Canada’s Atlantic Boychoir, the first and only Provincial choir of boys and young men from Newfoundland and Labrador, whose performance was the highlight of the evening.
As hosts, we led the proceedings with a largely traditional set: ‘Anthem’, ‘Every Time I Feel the Spirit’, ‘You are so Beautiful’ and ‘American Trilogy’. It wasn’t what we had originally planned but Graham Willcocks’ unavailability, and Mike Thompson’s holiday arrangements, meant we had to look elsewhere.
Fortunately, Nick Hart, an old and dear friend of the Choir, and one of Cornwall’s best-known choir conductors, who has helped us out on occasion before, volunteered to step in and lead us. As always, Nick did a magnificent job, with only one rehearsal session, and our set was well received by the audience. Mention here should also be given to Bill Collins, former Choir Bass, who compered the event.
All three guest choirs were invited to relax with us in the nearby White Hart at the end of the evening, where pasties and pies were consumed with relish before we launched into song again.
Mash is a Match for Meva!
‘One of the first things I did after moving to Mevagissey in September 2021 was to seek out this wonderful choir. I knew of it and hoped to learn more.’
These were words of Top Tenor Alan Mash, our newest member, on passing his voice test in May. Sadly, it was tragedy, the second in his life, that delivered him to us. ‘It was in 2018 that, Alison, my lovely wife of 30 years, passed away’, he says. ‘My family were with me, and we held each other together but, after three years, I decided on a new life and, having family connections in Cornwall - Ma & Pa had lived in St. Columb Major for 34 years – I found a new home in wonderful Mevagissey’.
‘I needed music and to meet new people. I have always been involved with the community in which I live and as such I came to join and help, in whatever ways I can, to become a useful member of this historic village.’
We think he’s going to be popular! As you might have guessed, Alan has a musical history. Born and brought up in Cheam, Surrey, he sang in the school choir, but it wasn’t until he met his first wife, Clare, a trainee mezzo soprano, in Brighton, where he was studying to be an architect, that he started to take it seriously. He married Clare, moved to Broadstairs in Kent, and joined a band, gigging 3 to 4 times a week. A producer from “Folk on Two”, described them as the new “Pentangle” - ‘We fell about laughing at that.’ Then, in 1983, came the first of his tragedies. Clare fell ill and, after 12 ‘long, short weeks’, leukaemia claimed her at the age of just 28.
‘Life completely changed’ he says. He ‘jacked in’ the architects’ practice in Dover and, after travelling around the globe in 1984, built a studio and began recording songs he had written himself just as Ian Botham was undertaking his first walk for the Leukaemia Research Fund in 1985. He went on BBC Breakfast TV and ‘I walked with Ian from Bodmin, through to Land’s End and back in London on the final day, 140 miles in total’. Alan married Alison in 1987, became Chair of the local leukaemia group, and raised just over £30,000 for the Fund with his double ‘A’-sided record “A Meaning To Life and Love Grows".
A move to Dorset was followed by the arrival of three daughters, a return to architecture and the creation of his own building design company. New doors opened and he found himself ‘acting, writing comedy and appearing in some dubious TV adverts, plays and parts in films'.' He founded his own gluten free food business, winning national awards, accolades from Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry and appearing on Chris Evans Radio Show.
What an extraordinary life! But there’s more! Over the years, Alan has played with various bands, and written over 70 songs and pieces of music (‘I’d love the opportunity to have the choir sing some of them, only if appropriate, of course!’.) He recently teamed up with his current band, “The SongSmithS”, with whom he is still gigging at weddings, parties and functions, and recording.
Alan is 2nd from right, on the "cajon". ‘I play general percussion, (guitar, keyboards, harmonica & the fool a bit) mainly as everybody else plays better than I do!’
Alan is now ‘sort of retired’ but still likes to ‘keep the grey cells working’ with children's stories, comedy script writing, etc. Phew! He has already shown himself to be a keen and dedicated member of our Top Tenor section, and says ‘I’m impressed by the range of music the choir performs and amazed by the mind retention of all the members. I am honoured to have become a newbie of this friendly choir and I look forward to making more music with you all’.
Welcome Malachi Fox – our newest supporter!
Malachi makes his debut
Congratulations are due to our brilliant accompanist, Matt Fox, and his lovely wife Carolyn on the birth of their third son, Malachi George Fox, a brother for Joel (6) and Sebastian (3). Malachi entered the stage at 7 minutes past 1pm on 4th May, weighing 7lb 10z. Matt was quick to reassure us: ‘Daddy and baby both doing fine and Mummy not too bad either!’ Our concern now is that, with three boys already, Matt is secretly building his male voice choir!
Choir Friends Write
As we emerged from virtually two years of lockdown at the turn of the year, we decided to contact Friends of the Choir to ask how they were, and whether they remembered us and wanted to continue hearing from us! It was lovely to receive so many wonderful and encouraging replies. Here are just a few:
Yes, please, we still wish to remain friends of the choir and receive newsletters and all the gossip. We hope that you are all keeping well and in good voice. We have really enjoyed hearing from you and seeing the choir perform. John & Eileen Bye, Rochester, Kent
Thank you so much for your email. I would certainly like to remain a Friend of Mevagissey Male Choir, such a special connection with Anthony and his love of singing with the choir. I shall be making a visit to Cornwall in June so hope to catch up with the choir at some point. Julia Bond, Bedfordshire
I so enjoyed your last email with the performance of "Let the River Run". Only wish I could be there for all your concerts! Unfortunately, we won't be able to make it to the Minack this year as the Covid requirements have not allowed us to make travel/lodging plans. I hope you will have a video of it, though, so I can have "second-hand time" with the boys. So pleased to see some new, younger faces in the choir. My best to all of you. Sadly stuck in the USA. Bibbi Lee, Washington, USA
Thanks for your email. I enjoy the newsletters and feeling connected to the choir from afar. As you might remember, my dad and Grampy loved listening to you when on our traditional Mevagissey based family holidays - a tradition we continue. We really hope to see / hear you all singing live on the quay again in the summer holiday. Best wishes to you all. Michelle Kilburn-Bond, Bristol
Thank you to all those who have continued to put together the newsletter and emails keeping us up to date on the choir and its members. Our best wishes to everyone, we really appreciated the clips from the Christmas concert. Take care and keep singing. Lynne & Arthur Leigh, Bridgwater, Somerset
We would like to thank all our Friends who have donated so generously to the Choir. As you know, most of the funds we raise through our concerts go to charities and other good causes, but we still have to pay for our music and music team.
By way of a 'thank you', here is a little bonus. As many of you know we video’d much of our Christmas concert at St Augustine’s in St Austell. A number of the clips have already been distributed. The rest, for those of you reading this online are at the end of this newsletter.
On Sunday 12th June, we will be singing at the annual Caerhays Summer Fete, in the grounds of Caerhays Castle. It’s a fun all-day event designed to raise funds, on this occasion, for the Cornwall Air Ambulance. Entry is £5 for adults, free for under 16s, payable at the gate. We have been asked to perform at 1pm. Hopefully we’ll see you there.
At the end of the month, on Monday 27th June, we shall be giving our traditional Mevagissey Feast Week concert. We will be joined by Isaac Salaman, the Year 11 pupil at St Austell’s Penrice Academy, who is the latest beneficiary of the Choir’s bursary programme, and local soprano Rachael Best. The concert starts at 7.30pm and tickets are available from Cornwall Box Office - www.crbo.co.uk/mevachoir or phone 01726 63513.
Date Venue Event/Comment Time
Sun 12 June Caerhays Castle Caerhays Summer Fair 1pm
Mon 27 June St Andrew’s Feast Week 7.30pm
Sat 9 July Yealmpton church 7.30pm
Sat 23 July Prideaux Place, Padstow Open air concert tbc
Mons 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
August Mevagissey Quay Quay Concerts 7.30pm
Sat 10 Sep Mevagissey Arts Centre (MAC) “Man Down” Men's Health 4.30pm
Sat 24 Sep St Andrews Jt with Penzance Orpheus 7.30pm
Sat/Sun 30 Oct Chapel Street Penzance with Mousehole MVC
Sat 19 Nov Tywardreath Ch. with Barnstaple MVC 7.30pm
Sat 10 Dec St Augustine’s, St Austell Christmas, for St Petrocs 7.30pm
All times etc. correct at date of publication but please check our website – www.meva-choir.co.uk - for updates.
Tears in heaven
Tell my father
You raise me up