Updated: Aug 9
‘The Choir has much more energy’ – here’s why!
It Just Keeps Getting Better!
‘We thought the Choir sounded better than it has for a very, very long time’! This is just one of many compliments we have been receiving after our recent performances. It is hard to put into words how proud this makes us feel and how pleased we are with the results of the hard work we are putting in with our new Musical Director, Jimmy Cannon.
it is astonishing how quickly Jimmy has settled into his role. With seven performances between our trip to St Mawes at the end of April and the first of our quay concerts, there has scarcely been time to draw breath. The constant need to prepare for these events has given him little time to get to grips with our repertoire, yet get to grips he has, and he is now confidently directing us on many of our songs,
Of course, as Choir members we are still getting used to Jimmy, too, but one of the most frequent comments we hear from our audiences now is ‘the Choir has much more energy’. We have felt this new injection of passion ourselves, and there is no doubt that Jimmy’s introduction has been a major factor in helping us dispel the post-pandemic gloom and recover from the shock of Graham Willcocks’ retirement.
There is a huge willingness to learn within the Choir, and we are looking forward to the post-Christmas season when we hope we can begin learning a few new pieces under Jimmy.
Finally, it would be a huge oversight not to acknowledge here how big a debt we owe to Mike Thompson, our Assistant Musical Director. Mike joined the Choir to sing but uncomplainingly sacrificed his place on the risers during the ‘interregnum’, and gamely continues to conduct us through the songs that Jimmy is not yet comfortable with. And Jimmy would be the first to agree that he has benefited immensely from Mike’s advice and help in settling in.
Teamwork! Mike and Jimmy are stunned to discover we got a note right!
Fund-raising for Cornwall Community
Two weeks after our successful appearance at the Roseland Music Festival, on Friday 5th May, we took part in a fund-raising concert at St Johns Church in St Austell on behalf of Cornwall Community. We were one of a number of other local choirs, including Imerys Ladies Choir, St Mewan School, Carclaze Voices and Noteability, involved.
Our a cappella programme – Matt Fox could not be with us - comprised ‘Lower Lights’; ‘Away to Rio’; and ‘My Lord! What a Morning’ while the audience were also treated to a solo performance by Jimmy Cannon, with his interpretation of ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘Early One Morning’. The event was organised by our former Top Tenor, Alan Dibb, and raised £1,800.
A Warm Welcome for new Welsh Friends
Another two weeks and we were playing host to guests from Wales, the Abertillery Orpheus Male Choir, or Côr Meibion Abertyleri, to give them their correct name. It was the first time we had sung with them and what a wonderful night it turned out to be.
Abertillery OMC were founded in 1908, although they had existed under other names since the 1870s, and in the early days, they were predominantly associated with the local coal mines. One of the highlights in their history was an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1982 when they were on their first continental tour. He even joined in the singing, we understand.
In 1999 they performed in the closing ceremony of the Rugby World Cup at the new Millennium Stadium and more recently, in November 2022, they formed part of the on-field male voice choir prior to the Wales vs New Zealand Rugby International at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
Now here they were in St Augustine’s, St Austell, led by their Musical Director, Stephen Bard, as they had been for the previous eight years.
As the home team, we opened proceedings with three of our favourites. We had toyed with the idea of including ‘Gwahoddiad’, but, given the pedigree of our guests, thought better of it. We shouldn’t have worried, Stephen Bard laughingly told us: ‘Gwahoddiad is actually an American tune!’
It was then the turn of our guests whose accompanist, we were astonished to learn, would be a young man named Dan, who was just 19, and had, late in the day, been drafted in to due to the unavailability of their regular pianist.
Abertillery OMC with 19-y-o Dan on piano to the left
Dan performed faultlessly, accompanying his choir in ‘Speed Your Journey’, ‘Jacobs Ladder’ and ‘Pokarekare Ana’, a popular New Zealand tune, to which they sang the words of the Welsh anthem, ‘Calon Lan’. Even our own legend, Matt Fox, was impressed. We then performed our ‘Back to the ‘60s’ medley before the combined choirs closed the first half with a joint rendering of ‘Morte Christe’.
The Welshmen opened the second half with ‘Gweddi Afficanaidd’ (the South African national anthem); ‘The Wonder of You’ and ‘This is my Valley’, their own Welsh version of Harry Glasson’s anthem, ‘Cornwall my Home’. We replied with three more of our own, leaving the Welshmen to conclude with ‘Rachie’, sung in Welsh, ‘Benedictus’ and a rousing rendition of ‘Alexanders Ragtime Band’.
The concert ended with ‘An American Trilogy’, performed to its stirring conclusion by the combined choirs. It was a fitting end to an event that raised over £1,250 for Cornwall Hospice Care. Jimmy described our performance as ‘superb’ and said that he had many compliments from the Welshmen which made him feel ‘very proud’.
The evening did not end there, as both choirs retired to the nearby Britannia Inn for refreshments – and, yes, to sing again!
Your favourite choir in full voice at St Augustine’s
An Overdue Return to the Banks of the River Yealm
Saturday 10th June found us on the road, crossing the Tamar to Noss Mayo a few miles from south of Plymouth in Devon. It was actually our 19th appearance at this beautiful venue, but our first since 2019. The venue, was the pretty little church of St. Peter’s, perched high on the hill above the village and the wooded banks of the winding River Yealm.
The stunning view from St Peter’s.
Led by MD Jimmy Cannon, and accompanied as usual by Matt Fox’s piano, the Choir presented a 22-piece programme of great variety, including the classical excerpt from Bizet’s ‘The Pearl Fishers’, the modern classics of Paul Simon’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, and the now familiar rapid romp through a medley of ‘60s favourites. Solo work was provided by Paul Pearce, Alex Pearce, George Phillips and Saul Sandey.
It was the usual knowledgeable, enthusiastic turnout at St. Peter’s, who were delighted by a standout debut performance on the concertina by Mike Thompson, the Choir’s assistant MD. The mellow tones of Mike’s instrument betrayed its 173 years of music-making, but all who enjoyed it so much were stunned to learn that Mike himself only began learning to play it for six months ago!
Our hosts, as usual, were lovely – very jolly, very helpful, and welcome suppliers of Mevagissey Male Choir-sized refreshments at half-time.
Organiser Jane Barnett was in touch later to say a huge thank you for "another memorable evening. It was so very good to see you all again after the Covid enforced absence. Your programme was perfect and very much enjoyed by all attendees, as endorsed by the emails I have received this morning! Hopefully we'll see you in 2 years' time"
"I gather The Swan was treated to an impromptu reprise which was also very much enjoyed!", she added. We have to 'fess up. Yes we did put in a late appearance at the local pub, as tradition demanded, and who are we to buck tradition?
Roll on our 20th visit!
‘At Home’ with Choir Members
Sandwiched between Abertillery OMC’s visit and our trip to Noss Mayo, we enjoyed a ‘Choir ‘Entertainment Night’, a social evening for choir members, friends and the public at large. The music hall-style evenings had become an annual feature prior to the Covid break and organiser Peter Bowker was persuaded to revive the idea, Various members of the Choir and its followers entertained the Jubilee Hall audience to a series of songs and sketches totally unrelated to our normal repertoire.
These events are a great opportunity for members and their partners and friends to meet and socialise informally, and they help reinforce the spirit of camaraderie that exists within the Choir.
Ukrainian Ladies Add New Dimension to Feast Week
Ukrainian Harmony Light up our Feast Week concert
No sooner had we returned from Noss Mayo, than we were preparing for our Feast Week concert at St Andrew’s. We are proud to have played a part in these celebrations every year since 1975, the year after our foundation, apart, of course, from 2020 and 2021, the two pandemic years.
Every Feast Week concert is special but this year we had an additional reason for celebration. First, we were delighted to welcome as our guests, Ukraine Harmony, a small choir formed by Ukrainian refugee women who have come to live in mid-Cornwall since the Russian invasion of their own country.
Torn from their menfolk who are defending their homeland, these ladies, with their children, began arriving in mid-Cornwall last spring. Inspired by the conviction that song is a strong part of any national identity, Victoria Gardner, herself a Ukrainian who now lives in Charlestown, encouraged them to start singing together, and Ukrainian Harmony was formed.
Ukrainian Harmony’s first ‘public’ outing was an impromptu performance at a summer party for refugee Ukrainians last July, at St Austell Rugby Club. Since then they have sung at Truro Cathedral and given a number of other concerts, the highlight of which was at Goodison Park, Liverpool, last August, at halftime in Premier League football club, Everton’s match against Dynamo Kyiv. This performance, in front of 40,000 people as backing for Ukrainian superstar Tina Karol, achieved a phenomenal 40 million social media hits!
Not only have they helped introduce UK audiences to the music of Ukraine, but their singing has also brought comfort and fellowship to the ladies themselves. Although singers have come and gone as new refugees arrive and others move on, the spirit of their home country is evident in their passion for song.
Ukrainian Harmony is linked to Helping Children of Ukraine CIC, is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, based in St. Austell, which is working with charities in Ukraine to support children and families affected by the invasion. To date they have supported some 200 families. Other projects include collecting and shipping relief supplies, helping Ukrainian families match with host families in the UK, aiding transportation arrangements, and hosting social events with partner charities. They also offer programmes such as art therapy, baking, traditional crafts, and dance groups, through their collaboration with Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change, and provide assistance and support for sponsors opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees.
It was a delight to hear them performing songs from their home country with such passion. They gave us three in the first, in between two of our own sets, and, as a bonus, we were treated to a stunning piano recital performance by 11-year-old Sofia Purey, daughter of one of the Ukrainian choristers, playing ‘Veloma’ by Italian composer Fabrizio Paterlini.
Sofia delights us with her piano recital
Midway through the second half the ladies returned with three more of their country’s favourites, the final one of which they persuaded us to sing with them. They had taken the trouble to come along to our rehearsal the previous two weeks and teach us the Ukrainian lyrics to one of their songs. Learning Italian for ‘Nessun Dorma’ and French for ‘The Pearl Fishers’ was nothing compared to getting our tongues round the Ukrainian language! But it worked on the night!
The ladies attempt to teach us Ukrainian lyrics at rehearsal
One of Jimmy’s preferences is for getting more soloists involved in our songs. Hence the Feast Week audience was treated to solos by Paul Pearce (‘Mevagissey Bay’); Charlie Whetter (‘Hushabye Mountain’), Saul Sandey (‘The Hippopotamus Song’), and a duet by father and son Paul and Alex Pearce (I Dreamed a Dream’). Saul and Alex also had featured solos in ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’ respectively.
And so to the Pub!
We believe that if we are to reach wider audiences and raise more money for charities, we need to get out more. So it was that on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd July we pitched up at The Ship Inn at Polmear to entertain the lunchtime eaters and drinkers in the pub garden.
An occasional few drops of very light rain was not sufficient to dampen the enthusiasm of a sizeable audience, whose entertainment began with our rendition of ‘Away to Rio’ as a kind of flashmob, i.e., on a given signal we began singing from wherever we individually found ourselves in the garden. However, we refrained from making our way to the stage as flashmob tradition would dictate, finishing the sea shanty – one of the oldest pieces in our repertoire – where we started.
As in most normal concerts, we performed two sets, five songs in each, although the second half included our 11-minute-long ‘Back to the ‘60s’ feature.
It was a particular delight to find our former Musical Director Graham Willcocks among the audience and the smile on his face was a fair indication that he was happy with our sound. The one piece he won’t have heard before was ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, the Queen song that we have been working on with Jimmy over the past couple of months.
We’re hoping to find more outdoor venues in future, in order to bring our music to a broader cross section of the public. Certainly the Ship’s clientele appreciated it, popping over £175 into our collection buckets!
Welcome to our New Sponsors
It is easy to forget the important part that our sponsors play, particularly in helping fund our constant requirement for new music etc. in these difficult times.
So it is with great pleasure and gratitude that we have welcomed three new sponsors this year: in Market Square; ‘The Fishermen’s Chippy’, on Oliver’s Quay, ‘Mary’s Pastys’ on the West Wharf; and ‘Bimble & Wander’ (St Austell-based photographers).
They join a number of other businesses whose support over a number of years has been exceptional: ‘Mevagissey Stores & Post Office’, ‘Varker Appliances’; ‘St Austell Printing’; ‘Rosevears of Bugle’, (home furnishers); ‘Woolacotts’ (household appliances); and Steve Andrews’, tyre specialists.
As Steve Andrews, one of our kindest benefactors in recent years, recognises, by supporting us he, in turn, helps us to support local charities and organisations through our fundraising concerts.
All our sponsors are generous supporters of our Choir, for which we are extremely grateful. So, please, do support all of them whenever you can!
A Concert for our Neighbours
On Saturday 8th July we made the short journey to one of our close neighbours, St. Goran Church in Gorran, to sing for the congregation, residents and holidaymakers. It was our 14th visit since June 1977. Apart from entertaining the packed audience, the purpose was to help raise funds for the Friends of St Goran, St Just and St Michael, Caerhays, churches.
Mike leading us at Gorran
Once again our programme of 20 songs included some sparkling individual contributions, from Charlie Whetter, Alex Pearce, Paul Pearce, Saul Sandey, Chris Williams, with stunning guitar work of Graham Hoskins. All once again supported by the fantastic piano accompaniment of Gorran Haven’s own Matt Fox.
The rafters of St. Michael’s resounded to the music of Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Queen, ELO, hymns, anthems and musical theatre, all leading to a superb climax of a full-throated rendering of Morte Christe. And then the audience were on their feet, joining the singing of Harry Glasson’s love-song to our county, ‘Cornwall, my Home’.
Pat, and her crew of wonderful helpers, made it a lovely evening for our boys – a beautiful evening, in a beautiful venue! And a magnificent £540 was contributed to the cause.
Gorran's Magie Jordan contacted us the next day with the following tribute: "What a fantastic evening you treated us to yesterday. Thank you all very, very much. I have been fortunate to see and hear the choir many times but last night was incredible... you just keep getting better and better. Some of the songs and harmonies were spine tingling."
"I do know how much rehearsal is needed to reach that level, " she added, "and on behalf of all the audience I thank you for giving your time to give so much pleasure. Lots of the audience were visitors and I know they will take last night home as one of their holiday highlights."
Even Our Rehearsals Draw Praise!
St Andrew’s, of course, is where we practise on Monday evenings and we’re always happy wo welcome visitors who want to sit at the back and listen. We’ve had some very positive comments in the church’s visitors’ book over the years:
‘Such a joy to listen to Mevagissey Male Choir’s rehearsal today. Brings tears to my eyes taking me back to the South Wales valleys and my own choir in Norfolk.’ Tara and Peter Riddle Norfolk’
‘We stopped by while staying in never busy to listen to the male voice choir. Beautiful voices. We left uplifted to continue our journey back to Wales.’ - Anonymous
A Summer Visit to Penrice
Since 1981, we have enjoyed performing annual Christmas concerts at Penrice House, a residential care home in Porthpean, between Mevagissey and St Austell. However, we had never sung there outside December – until this year, that is.
Some months ago, Penrice Care Manager Clare Rowe-Hall asked if we would take part in an open day to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing of Joan Rosemary Cobbald-Sawle, who bequeathed the home to provide elderly people with a home for the rest of their lives.
So it was that we found ourselves at this wonderful venue on 22nd July. And what an eye-opener it was as we made our way up the half-mile drive to the house. Over the 40 years that we’d been visiting, none of us had ever seen the beautiful, wooded grounds and garden in daylight!
Sadly however, although we had light, we had no sun. It was pouring with rain, scotching hopes of a outdoor concert in the lovely gardens. So we found ourselves in the large community room where give our carol concerts.
The event included a talk on the history of Penrice House, and the presentation of long service awards to three staff members. Then, at 2pm, it was our turn. For residents, of course, it was a new experience to enjoy a totally new repertoire from us, having in the past only heard us sing carols and other seasonal songs.
‘It was such an enjoyable event’, said Clare later, ‘and it wouldn't have been the same without the Mevagissey Male Choir. Everyone in the home loved your performance and have done for the past 35 years You were fabulous as always and we look forward to seeing you again in December.'
Second tenor Charlie Whetter with his mother, a resident at Penrice, and his husband.
So, What’s Next?
By the time this newsletter goes out, we will have embarked on our 2023 quay concerts, news of which will be included in the next edition. Suffice to say that the first, on Monday 31st July, saw more than 40 members on the risers and a massive crowd on the jetty, with other listeners all around the harbour, despite the gloomy, but dry, weather.
This video shows us performing our newest piece. It still needs a bit of work, particularly on the choreography! Nonetheless, we our bucket collection raised over £400, which we donated to the Mevagissey Museum Roof Repair Fund.
The month of August is devoted to our quay concerts, but ten days into September we will be in Probus, helping celebrate the village’s Arts and Crafts Festival. On the 30th, we’ll be on our way to Newquay for a joint concert with legendary songwriter Harry Glasson (composer of ‘Cornwall my Home’, among many other favourites) and the Champagne Ladies Choir.
It's back to St Andrews on Sunday 8th October for the church’s ‘Harvest of the Sea’ service, and a week later, on the 14th, we will be performing at Lostwithiel Church. Three weeks later, on 4th November, we will be joining Champagne Ladies again, this time with ‘Eight in a Bar’ as we raise funds for Kidney Research at St John’s Church, St Austell. And then we’re into our Christmas programme. Eek!
Finally, without wanting to look too far ahead, it is worth adding a reminder that 2024 is our 50th Anniversary year and we have booked the Hall for Cornwall on Wednesday 12th June for a special celebratory concert. Make a note in the diary now.