Cannon Fires Our Choir with a New Passion!
We are delighted to confirm that Jimmy Cannon has been appointed as our new Musical Director. After many months searching throughout Cornwall, we believe we have found the ideal candidate to succeed long-serving Graham Willcocks, who stepped down in May last year.
Jimmy is a bandleader, singer and voice coach, an experienced musician who has performed with Sir Tom Jones, The Commitments, The Syd Lawrence Orchestra, and many others. Over the past 15 years, has travelled the world with his own band and entertained audiences at exclusive London venues such as The Ritz, The Savoy, and The Dorchester.
But we found him right here on our doorstep in St Austell. Jimmy actually attended Poltair School and St Austell Sixth Form, and played cornet in St Austell Brass Band and saxophone in the Cornwall Youth Jazz Orchestra.
He even sang with our Choir briefly, in the mid-1990s. ‘When I heard of the vacancy for Musical Director, fond memories of being a choir member at the age of 17 flooded back’, he says, ‘including a trip to Georgia in the United States, where we performed to various schools and communities. (In October 1996, the Choir gave four concerts in Georgia’s china clay country.)
After leaving school, Jimmy set off for London and played jazz in restaurants when he wasn’t studying. Then it was back to Cornwall to teach saxophone and music technology for a while before deciding to ‘take my jazz a little more seriously’ by signing on at Trinity College of Music and eventually forming his own band.
It was not until August 2021 that Jimmy returned to Cornwall again, this time with Australia-born wife Jaye and two young children, to look after his mother following the death of his father. Having recently completed his Masters’ degree in Voice Pedagogy, specialising in performance anxiety, he now works as a freelance speaking coach, ‘helping people who aren't comfortable in their voice find the confidence to deliver their message with authenticity’.
‘Emphasis on our Cornish heritage’
There is no question that this has been an ideal time for us to find each other. ‘Meva choir has always been very well respected as one of the best male voice choirs in the southwest (if not the UK)’, Jimmy says, adding, ‘and I hope to keep it that way. The resonance of a lower voice choir has always struck a chord with me. When everything falls into place, including the right arrangement and acoustics, witnessing 60 lower voices harmonising in front of you is an incredibly powerful and stirring experience. Yet, at the same time’, he admits, ‘it can be daunting’.
‘Drawing from my own diverse background as a jazz singer, saxophonist, and voice coach, I hope to add a new dimension to the Choir and create new opportunities for its members. ‘In pursuit of this goal,’ he continues, ‘I am keen to explore new repertoire and rediscover hidden gems that may have been overlooked. My ultimate objective is to identify material that showcases the Choir's musical and cultural prowess, with a particular emphasis on our Cornish heritage. Given that the Choir has its roots in the fishing community, it seems only fitting to incorporate songs about the sea, including the occasional shanty, and to perform arrangements in Cornish. This will enable us to embrace our cultural heritage and share it with a wider audience.’
Jimmy has actually been working with the Choir since the beginning of the year, as both we and he wanted to satisfy ourselves that we would be a good fit, but his appointment was finally ratified at the beginning of April.
Nick Nicholls, speaking shortly before handing over his Choir chairmanship responsibilities to Stephen Gibson, said: “We are delighted to welcome Jimmy as our new M.D., and we look forward to the beginning of a new era for our Choir. For any men out there who enjoy singing, this would be excellent moment to come and join us!”
Jimmy himself concludes, “Above all, it is a profound honour to conduct the Mevagissey Male Choir, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from its members just as much as I hope to impart my own knowledge. I am particularly determined to uphold and further the legacy of Graham Wilcocks, a renowned figure in choral music who was highly regarded for his meticulous attention to detail and deep passion. It is my sincere hope to carry this torch and to maintain the Choir's high standards. We are embarking on an exciting journey, and I am delighted to be a part of it.’
Before moving on, it’s appropriate here to say a word of appreciation for Mike S Thompson, our Assistant Musical Director, who has stood in manfully, uncomplainingly, and with no little skill during the long interregnum, when we all knew that he would far rather have been taking his place among the Baritone ranks. Mike has done a sterling job and his work is still not over, as it will take time for Jimmy to get up to speed with our repertoire and, for a little while yet, Mike has agreed to continue to guide us through the pieces that Jimmy is less familiar with.
In at the Deep End!
So it was that, halfway through February and just a few weeks into the job, Jimmy found himself standing between us and an audience for the first time, as he shouldered some of the conducting duties at our first concert of the year.
We were raising funds for the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI), whose 2,600 volunteers provide eyes and ears at almost 60 stations around our coasts, from Fleetwood in the Northwest round to Filey in North Yorkshire. Founded in Cornwall in 1994, the NCI keep both a visual and listening watch, monitoring radio channels in poor visibility and trains its members to deal with emergencies.
Between them, Jimmy and Mike took us through ‘Hallelujah’; ‘Mr Blue Sky’; ‘Tears in Heaven’; and ‘Blue Moon’ before the interval and ‘You are so Beautiful’; ‘Every Time I Feel the Spirit’; ‘My Lord! What a Mornin’!’ and ‘Anthem, from Chess’ in the second half. In between times, we were joined by Mevagissey Ladies Choir, with whom we performed ‘Morte Christe’ as a rousing finale.
Perfect Send-off for the Cornwall Youth Choir
Three weeks later, on 11th March, we were performing again, this time as guests of Cornwall Youth Choir who were raising funds for their forthcoming trip to the Hull International Choir Competition. CYC is a family of choirs for children and young people aged 2-25 and living in Cornwall, and made a name for themselves on a national, albeit digital, stage during the pandemic. Their first big live performance post-lockdown was at the youth proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Now they are looking forward to their first ever international choral festival at the end of this month, the first ever organised on English territory by Interkultur, the world’s leading organiser of choir competitions.
Conducted by Angela Renshaw, a dear friend and former Assistant Musical Director with our own Choir, the youth choir were nothing short of sensational, with a glorious mix of songs including Lisa Young’s ‘Thulele Mama Ya’, Ola Gjeilo’s ‘The Ground’, and ‘The White Rose’ – no, not that one, but the song written by Irish composer Michael McGlynn - and Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’. We were also delighted to see Isaac Salaman, a previous beneficiary of a bursary from our Choir, performing with the CYC, including duetting with Vienna Bate in a superb rendition of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Everything has Changed’.
For our own part, we did many of those we had sung at the Coastwatch concert, with the addition of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.
Unquestionably the highlight for us, however, was the finale, in which we supported the youngsters in Harry Glasson’s modern-day anthem, 'Cornwall my Home', as arranged by Matt Douglas, who can be seen here conducting us:
The event raised over £1,000 towards the trip to Hull visit, which takes place April 27 - May 1, and brought the following response from Angela.
‘We'd like to thank you all so much for performing with us last Saturday at Saint Augustine's. To have the Meva ‘power’ with the youth voices was unique and we'd very much like to perform with you again if you'd be in agreement. I think there is a huge potential for collaborations having heard the ‘Cornwall my Home’ video’, which, just a few days after the event, had surpassed 9,000 views’.
We can’t wait, Angela! Meanwhile, we wish the CYC every success in Hull!
We’ve Added Some Polish to our Bass Section!
Jimmy Cannon is not the only new face among our ranks in 2023. We have also been delighted to welcome a new member, Artur Stankiewicz, to our Bass section.
For the past eight years Warsaw-born Artur has been singing with Reading Male Voice Choir, with whom he has been lucky enough to perform in such beautiful places as Italy’s Lake Como, Alsace in France and his own home city in Poland. Reading MVC also took part in last year’s Cornwall International Male Choir Festival.
Artur originally came to the UK 20 years ago ‘to improve my English’. His plan was to stay for a year, then return to Poland to finish his Masters degree. Ten years later, he successfully applied for British citizenship. ‘I now I have dual nationality - my chest of drawers is full of ID documents, making me feel like Jason Bourne!’
It was only in January this year that Artur finally moved to Cornwall. ‘I always wanted to live by the sea’, he says, so when the pandemic persuaded his Reading employers - IQVIA, a clinical research organisation - to allow him to work from home, he began the search that eventually brought him and his partner to Holmbush, on the edge of St Austell.
He lost no time getting in touch with the Choir. ‘Before moving, I did some online research, studying Cornish choirs, and after seeing Meva Choir on YouTube and attending one of the concerts, I decided that it was the most professional and applied to join!’
Artur is now looking forward to a first visit from his family in Poland. ‘We have been seeing each other twice or 3 times a year, but my parents cannot wait to visit me and my partner here in Cornwall.’
When he’s not working or singing, Artur confesses to being an ‘adrenaline junkie’. ‘During the winter, I love snowboarding in the Italian Dolomites and during the summer I get my fix on a Jetski.’ He’s also a keen member of St Austell Tennis club. ‘But when I need to slow my pulse rate, I grab my telescope and do a bit of stargazing.’
Artur has already become a popular member of the Choir. ‘I really enjoy the warm and friendly atmosphere during rehearsals - and going to the pub afterwards’, he adds with a smile.
His current favourites from our repertoire are ‘Tell my Father’, ‘Anthem’ and ‘The House of the Rising Sun' the opening song in our ‘Back to the ‘60s’ medley, and the piece he selected for his voice test.
‘I am looking forward to my first concert. I’d also like to organise an exchange between Meva and Reading Male Voice Choir sometime in the future.’
Over to you, committee members!
Sadly, we have to report the passing of David Hodges, a former Chairman of the Choir and popular member of our Bass section. The news came from his stepdaughter, Julia Smith, and Paul Read, his son-in-law. ‘He so enjoyed his time singing with the choir and travelling around the world,’ they say. The following tributes were paid by various singing colleagues ‘David was ‘a lovely, lovely person, with a wonderful sense of humour and a fine singer;’ ‘He was a fine bass singer, excellent chairman and very good friend’; and ‘a fine Bass singer - I am so pleased to have had his company and shared the same stage as him.’
This newsletter has been held back to allow the inclusion of news of our visit to St Mawes on 22nd April. We had been invited to the village hall to open the Roseland Music Festival, an annual fortnight of high quality cultural events on the Roseland peninsula, inspired by Greg and Christine Williams.
It was our second appearance here, having performed at the event in May 2019, when we helped raise £1,200 for the RNLI, and once again we got a very warm welcome from the organisers. Adding ‘Every Time I Feel the Spirit’, ‘Tell my Father’, ‘You Raise me up’’, and ‘California Dreaming’ to our Coastwatch programme, we were met with an enthusiastic response from the audience, encouraging us to perform an encore, the popular ‘Lower Lights’. Here you can see us performing 'Anthem' from the musical, Chess.
They had also been treated to two pieces, by soloist, Saul Sandey, one of our Basses, who sang – ‘Sea Fever’, the John Masefield poem set to music, in the first half, and ‘Ol’ Man River’, from the musical ‘Showboat’ in the second. Tribute should also be paid to our youngest member, Second Tenor Alex Pearce, who performed admirably as the soloist in ‘You Raise Me up’.
Having availed ourselves of the Festival committee’s generous hospitality during the evening, the bulk of our members retired to the nearby Victory pub for a pint or two and probably the first proper ‘afterglow’ sing for three years. It’s great to be back!!
Nick Steps Down
After eight years as Chairman of our Choir Committee – that’s a sixth of the Choir’s life! – Nick Nicholls has decided to step down. Nick took over in March 2015, a year in which we performed at the Plymouth Guildhall with the Plymouth Military Wives Choir, and initiated plans for our tour to Cyprus the following year, where we sang with the Akrotiri and Episkopi MWCs. During his tenure, we have sung twice at Minack Theatre, been featured twice on BBC’s Songs of Praise, produced two popular CDs and raised many thousands of pounds for good causes.
Nick’s burly and bearded frame will, thankfully, continue to be seen within our Top Tenor ranks, hopefully for many years to come, but he will be a huge loss to our committee. He has served us with passion and sensitivity throughout and, under his leadership, we have emerged from two years of pandemic in far healthier condition than many of our fellow Cornish choirs, and with a renewed vigour and enthusiasm,
Nick is succeeded by his Deputy Chairman, Stephen Gibson, whose Deputy Chairman is Tony Scarratt, like Stephen a member of our Baritone section.
A Busy Year Ahead
And so we move on! We have an exciting year in front of us. With three concerts already behind us, we now look forward to the visit of Abertillery Male Voice Choir on 20th May. We shall be hosting the Welshmen at St Augustine’s in St Austell. On 10th June we revisit Noss Mayo, one of our favourite Devon venues, a pretty village on the estuary of the River Yealm. Later that month, on Monday 26th, we’re back in Mevagissey for the village’s annual Feast Week.
On Sunday 2nd July we shall be at the Ship in in Par, where we have been invited to put on a Concert in the Garden. We are hoping to take on more outdoor events like this in the future, to bring our music to a wider and more cosmopolitan audience. A week later, on 8th July, we will be in nearby St Goran following which we will be focusing on our popular quay concerts, singing every Monday from 31st July to 28th August on the harbourside.
On 10th September, we shall be in Probus performing at the Probus Arts and Crafts Festival. In October we have our annual Harvest of the Sea date in St Andrew’s, followed by a visit to Lostwithiel on the 14th. A quiet November is followed by a series of Christmas concerts in December, with private performances for local retirement homes and Cornwall Hospice Care interspersed with our public events at St Andrew’s and St Augustine’s. More details can be found on our website.
Of course, the big event on our horizon is our 50th anniversary concert, scheduled for 12th June at Truro’s Hall for Cornwall. Plans are currently being put in place for this event, and will be shared with all our followers once they are crystallised.
By then, hopefully, we will have made further additions to our repertoire. Jimmy Cannon is naturally keen to introduce some additional material and we already looking at arrangements of pieces such as Fly Me to the Moon, Rhythm of Life, Somebody to Love. It does mean we may have to ration our public appearances, to ensure we have time to learn them. Having said that, bringing pleasure to our followers and the public in general is the reason we sing – along with raising funds for good causes
Finally, don’t forget you can find photos of us performing at recent concerts in our ‘Recent Concert Gallery’ in the About Us section of our website.
Finally, finally…after two years of near inactivity, but with a music team to pay and new music to purchase, all donations, however, small are still welcome. Our bank details are as follows:
Sort code: 20 74 20 Account number: 7071 7940
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