A WAY OF LIFE

Treorchy Male Choir is more than just a musical organisation, it is a way of life. Choristers spend a great deal of time together and united they sing, they laugh, they drink, they socialise, they support one another and on occasions they mourn as one. Camaraderie and the love of singing are the two main ingredients behind the ongoing “brotherhood” of the male voice choir tradition. In Treorchy this is undoubtedly the case.

Today the Choir combines men from all walks of life and within the ranks are some outstanding characters.

Only in Wales, and many will say particularly in the Rhondda or its neighbouring post-industrial valleys, do these type of larger-than-life individuals flourish.

It is born from a humour used as a mechanism to escape and forget the hard toil of those years underground in the coal industry, or from the comradeship experienced by those in the armed forces.

Treorchy is certainly no exception and through the years some wonderful individuals have performed in the Choir.

Filled with a unique sense of humour, to be in their company is to be enveloped in laughter.
 

Such a sense of humour is of course essential in an organisation such as this. For in a moment of pressure, just before a concert in a major auditorium, or a difficult recording or broadcast, it’s a wise-cracking chorister who relieves the tension.


 
A busy social life is also an important component to the Choir and balances the enjoyment against the serious aspect of disciplined singing.

It is hardly surprising that the original Choir found its voice in a pub, the Red Cow in 1883. Nor is it a shock to learn that when reforming the present Choir, it was at the Pencelli Hotel in Cwmparc that the discussion first began.

It is no secret that the Welsh, like its Celtic cousins, have a reputation for a fondness for a few pints of warm ale. It’s during these proceedings that impromptu concerts often begin, that the fun-hearted revelry increases, making for another memorable night “with the boys.”

The make-up of the Choir complements and enhances this enjoyment of living a full and fun-loving time as a chorister. Many of them have traditionally had relatives in the ranks,
others are workmates or school friends. It’s such a combination that helps to create a harmonious choir – both musically and socially.

The wives and partners themselves are a patient group of individuals who allow these men the freedom to enjoy all that a choir life has to offer. As was once suggested, the marriage vows in the Rhondda may be changed to, “Do you take this man AND the Treorchy Male Choir?”

One can only imagine the amount of hours choristers have spent together in the rehearsal room, on the coach or plane, in the concert hall or in some hostelry to relax following another fine performance. It’s due to such close-proximity over such a long period that the firmest of friendships are created, ones than endure because of the common dedication for the Choir.

It is also a friendship where support is given to one another during times of personal difficulties or grief. But it's also a friendship that shares the happier times, the celebrations, the joys of touring and community singing in one of thousands of public houses dotted around the country.
 

If Wales is recognised for one particular aspect, then generally that is due to the prolific amount of singers it has produced, leading the male voice choir tradition to create the image of the “Land of Song”. However, the tribal passions of rugby football are another strong image people throughout the world have of the country. Therefore it's no surprise that men often become choristers once their rugby career has ended and a smooth transition from a rugby team to a male voice choir seems a natural progression. They both “train” twice a week, travel to “away games” or concerts and revel in the afterglow celebrations. The difference being that injuries aren’t so prevalent on the concert stage!


 
This love of sport has developed over the years into regular trips to various international rugby matches in England, Scotland and Ireland. For those home games in Wales, traditionally members have been welcomed in high-profile corporate events in the capital city of Cardiff to ensure a typical “Welsh” atmosphere in the proceedings.

It was due to such a demand that the “Treorchy Minstrels” was first formed to fulfil such engagements, a tradition the twenty or more singers continue to this day. Although they are often seen fulfilling duties on rugby international days, they also undertake smaller engagements, including weddings, funerals and at Christmas travel around Nursing Homes in the Rhondda to perform carols.

Many a Treorchy touring team has descended on Murrayfield, with memorable visits to St Andrews where concerts were actually held in the New Golf Club. Unbeknown to the members as they sang barrels of beer were being rolled down the main road from nearby pubs to quench the thirst of the beer-hungry Welshmen. Similarly, the Choir has enjoyed many weekend visits to Twickenham and are always guaranteed the warmest of welcomes at the Sergeant’s Mess in RAF Lyneham on the Sunday afternoon as they return home to Wales.

Military bases have traditionally welcomed the Choir with open arms and many unforgettable nights were spent in Sandhurst and Pirbright – where the choristers once stayed overnight prior to a tour of Canada. The memory of that night remains in a haze for many of the party-going choristers eager to embark on such a prestigious overseas trip.

Overseas tours themselves also involve choristers spending many hours travelling across the expanse of America, Canada or Australia. It was due to such long hours of coach rides that the choristers decided to form a rather unique “Clec Committee”.

The objective of this small group of men is to gather information on other choristers of idiotic mistakes they’ve made on the tour. They rely on their tale-telling friends, or “cleccers” to tell a member of the Committee and this chorister’s downfall is highlighted during the following day’s announcements, allowing them the chance to either receive a “Mention in Dispatches” or possibly a Bronze, Silver or Gold title. The overall tour winner has usually been presented with a trophy to mark his foolish errors!

 

Known as the “Bing Bong” awards (or in Australia, a “Billabong Award”), to read the stories is to find oneself in fits of laughter. They can all be viewed (with the exception of those deleted for decency's sake!) in previous editions of the Choir magazine Excelsior.



 

When it comes to coaches, the Choir uses two separate coaches for each of its journeys, with two distinct routes. Although they both leave the upper Rhondda at Treherbert to head down the valley and meet in Cardiff prior to the journey to a concert, they take separate routes through the Rhondda.

Traditionally one of these coaches, or “the early bus”, will leave a concert venue within the hour of a performance’s conclusion. This well-mannered, clean-living crew are therefore

known as the “Deacons”. However, the “late bus”, whose members enjoy a late-night sing-song in a local establishment are often seen bleary-eyed on their journey home when the “dawn is not distant”. And so they are called “The Rodneys”. As one can imagine, the fun-loving atmosphere on these journeys is enjoyed by one and all.

It would be difficult to name these characters that create such a merry atmosphere in the Treorchy Choir. But if someone could examine the decades of history of this group of men, some names would undoubtedly come to the forefront.

In the early days the Choir was made up of largely young men, and it was no surprise they enjoyed their free time together. The likes of Austin Evans, Gwyn Evans and Mal Morgan filled the role of those early revellers. Similarly Trevor Protheroe was known as the man who would bring hilarity to the seriousness of early Dinner and Dance evening as the Master of Ceremonies.


 

Mal Morris, John Francis, Tom Thomas and Will Jones were all remembered as being “characters” as were Gwilym Davies, Ernie and Ron Lewis. Then of course there was Derek “Dicky” Fear whose comical persona endeared him to each and everyone - complete with cigar!

The late chairman, John Davies, and his good friend Islwyn Morgan were well-known for their comical partnership based on an equal love of singing and beer. It astounding many how John, a hugely knowledgeable individual, could still grasp the attention of a crowd with his phenomenal speeches despite the lateness of the hour.

Few will ever forget Benny Griffiths, the cornerman of the Second Tenor section whose “Bennyisms” were legendary. His ability to call everyone, of all nationalities, “Bychan” was one thing, but his funny mixed-up liners such as “the pen is mightier than the pencil” still bring a smile to the face of those who remember him.

In latter years people will always remember Roger Morse and his comical stand-up routine, complete with unrepeatable stories of Elvis, submarines and the good Samaritan. His quick-witted reactions to situations, his comical poetry featured in Excelsior and his ability to relax any tense moment with a funny comment, have created a glowing reputation as a comedian!

Arwel Evans will never be forgotten for his impersonations of Benny Hill, Bill and Ben or Rhondda’s rock star, “Tommy Tinsel.” Few will ever forget his performance in RAF Lyneham when he entertained the Sergeant's Mess for the entire afternoon!

Of course, this list would not be complete without mentioning Phil Edmunds, the larger-than-life character who continually leaves audiences in fits of laughter with his “Cock-a-doodle-doo” and “Come Inside” comic songs. Practical jokers are also nothing new of course, as many remember the famous Daryl Stacey and Mervyn John “Cheltenham Coke Oven” scenario.

It would be impossible to relate the accurate story of Treorchy Male Choir in an attempt to bring to life the memories of those wonderful characters and those hilarious moments. For so many choristers they will remain in their memory as some of the happiest times and maybe that’s the best way for them to be remembered.





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