By Carl Llewellyn

Saturday 12th September 2015 was an evening for celebration when the Dowlais Male Choir celebrated 50 continuous years as a musical fraternity. The concert venue chosen to mark the occasion was the Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Centre, where around 700 people made up the audience. The choir felt gratified so many people had supported the event.

The stage was set with a grand piano, microphones, rostrum and either side there were two screens displaying choir photographs since its formation. An array of blue and white balloons were placed around the hall and a floral arrangement was provided to add colour to mark the occasion. The lady who designed the floral display was Dorothy Burns, a former winner at the Chelsea Flower Show. So the scene was set for a golden performance.

A brief history of the choir…

The original meeting, held fifty years ago, were made up of employees of the Messers Guest, Keen and Nettlefold Ltd who’d formerly been members of the disbanded Guest Keen Glee Party under the baton of Elwyn Morgan in the 1950’s. One of the prominent activists responsible for its formation was Des Kelly, who planted the seed among his fellow work colleagues, who’d previously been choristers in the Guest Keen Glee party. With Des’s pursuit in finding if any of his work colleagues were interested in forming a male voice choir there seemed to have been a favourable response to his endeavours.
A meeting was arranged on Wednesday October 27th 1965 at the Guest Keen Memorial Club. Thirteen men employed by Messers Guest, Keen, and Nettlefold Ltd turned up. Those present were obviously disappointed with such a poor response but the low numbers did not deter those present; a proposal was made to hold another meeting to see if more prospective members would be interested. At the subsequent meeting twenty-five men appeared which was rather more encouraging. At the meeting it was decided to make an announcement, by displaying some posters announcing the first rehearsal of the “Newly formed male voice choir”, which would take place in the Guest Keen Memorial Club on Wednesday 10th November 1965.
Originally an invitation to Elwyn Morgan was considered but after some discussion Les Williams ( Choir’s first treasurer) suggested he’d speak with D.T. Davies, a local musician of great repute throughout South Wales as conductor, adjudicator and accompanist, to enquire if he’d be interested in becoming the choir’s MD. Although D.T. Davies was involved with the Dowlais United Choir it was felt there might be a possibility he would consider the newly formed choir’s proposal. To everyone’s delight D.T. Davies agreed on the condition if public response was favourable. D.T Davies attended the meeting on Wednesday November 10th along with approximately thirty-five men. With such a number D. T. Davies felt there might be a basis for a male voice choir, and he made it known that he would continue being their Musical Director if the choir reached 100 choristers, so there would be at least 80 voices on stage at one time. The rest as we say is history.

The choir has been fortunate in having eight Musical Directors and ten accompanists throughout its history. Five of the choirs Musical Directors having previously been the choir’s accompanists, notably Annette Moore, Gareth Ellis, Stewart Roberts, David Last* and Darya Brill-Williams

Musical Directors
D. T. Davies 1965-1977
Wynford L. Jones 1977-1987
John Samuel 1987-1998
Annette Moore 1998-1999
Gareth Ellis 1999-2002
Stewart Roberts 2002-2007
David Last 2007-2012
Darya Brill Williams 2012-

Granville Lewis 1965-1976
Anne Lewis 1976-1979
Granville Lewis 1979-1981
Annette Moore 1981-1998
Gareth Ellis 1998-1999
Kim Tully 1999- 2000
Stewart Roberts 2000-2002
Jonathan Cooper 2002-2004
Huw Evans 2004-2005
Darya Brill-Williams 2005-2012
Michael Jones 2012-

*David Last & Jonathan Guilford have assisted the choir in the absence of their regular accompanist.

A memorable occassion…

During the concert the choir chairman Iwan Jones invited the choir’s president Professor Sir Mansel Aylward to join him on stage. Sir Mansel requested the choirs former Musical Directors to join him stage to receive presentations from the Dowlais Male Choir. Sadly, out of the eight Musical Directors, only six were able to attend – Wynford Jones, Annette Moore, Gareth Ellis, Stewart Roberts, David Last and Darya Brill-Williams. Due to the ill health of John Samuel, Susan Rees (a soloist who accompanied the choir on previous occasions) received the presentation on his behalf. The choir’s first conductor D.T. Davies had passed away in 1980′s.

The presentations to former Musical Directors Wynford Jones, John Samuel, Gareth Ellis, Stewart Roberts, David Last, accompanists Jonathan Guilford, Jeffrey Howard and Michael Jones , soloists Jason Howard and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts included personalised cufflinks with the box lids displaying the choir’s anniversary badge. The former and present lady Musical Directors Annette Moore and Darya Brill-Williams were presented with a silver necklace with a treble cleft pendant made of mother of pearl and Swarovski crystal. Harpist Eve Price was presented with a brooch in the shape of a treble clef. Not forgetting the compere Dean Powell who received a bottle of wine.

To add pomp and ceremony to the choirs golden centenary celebrations, the choir invited a number of dignitaries, sponsors and patrons. The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Mid-Glamorgan Mostyn James, the choirs former president Lord Ted Rowlands of Merthyr Tydfil and of Rhymney, Roy Noble O.B.E. (Choir’s Guest Speaker at 2015 Centenary Dinner), Sir Stanley Thomas O.B.E, His Worship the Mayor and Mayoress of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil David and Deborah Isaacs, choirs sponsors Stephens and George Managing Director Andrew Jones, Rabart Decorating Centre and choir vice president Alan Bush and John Griffiths, proprietor of the Lord Raglan, Cefn Coed. All programme sponsors were invited for their generous contributions.

His Worship the Mayor David Isaac was called upon to say a few words, congratulating the choir on their 50 year existence and presented the choir with an official scroll. Due to the Mayor’s association as a chorister 30 years ago, he’s always had an affinity with the choir, so in return Iwan Jones presented him with a choir tie with invitation to became a Vice President. One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation to two choristers, namely John Francis and Meurig Price, who have served 50 years as choristers of Dowlais Male Choir. In appreciation and acknowledgement of their 50 year service, John and Meurig were presented with gold watches and inscribed glass plaques.

Interestingly, two of the soloists Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts and Eve Price were winners of the D.T. Davies Young Musicians Award Bursary, although decades apart.
Baritone Jason Howard, known originally by people in Merthyr as Jason Jones, gave an enjoyable performance with a varied programme. In his youth he was a member of the choirs baritone section through his brother Digby’s influence. Digby Jones played an active part in the choir and became the choirs chairman until his demise in health, which resulted in his death in 1995. Jason was accompanied by renowned pianist and musician Jeffrey Howard.
Tenor Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts’ association with Dowlais choir began in 1986, when he won the D.T. Davies Bursary Award. Originally from Troedyrhiw, Jeffrey pursued a career in music as a tenor soloist and performed an enjoyable repertoire. Jeffrey was accompanied on the piano by his former music teacher Jonathan Guilford. Jonathan is the musical director of Cor Meibion Pontypridd and SATB choir Con Voce.
Both soloists accompanied the choir with Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts singing that well loved song “Unwaith Eto’n Nghymru Annwyl” (Once ago dear Wales) and Jason singing “Li’l Liza Jane”, a song sang in remembrance of a former choir soloist Morgan Davies, more affectionally known as Mog.
Jason Howard and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts combined to sing the famous “Pearl Fishers” duet.
Eve Price won the 2015 D.T. Davies Bursary Award and gave an excellent performance at the young age of 14. The audience were delighted with Eve’s repertoire on the harp and have shared the choirs view that Eve will be a big name in time to come.

Musical maestro Darya Brill-Williams directed the choir with precision and discipline, with a repertoire of 18 songs, featuring Welsh, musical, sacred and popular pieces.  It is worth noting that Darya wore a royal blue and silver outfit for the first half of the concert, signifying the choirs first 25 years, and a black dress with a gold drape over the shoulder to signify the last 25 years.

The extremely talented Musical Accompanist Michael Jones was faultless in his playing, particularly during the interlude of ‘Finlandia’, a song dedicated to co-founder Des Kelly. Michael is also the Musical Director of Colstars, the Operatic and Amateur Dramatic Society based in Trecynon, Aberdare. The choir are very fortunate to have both Darya and Michael at the helm in the choirs golden year.

Secretary Keith Morgan’s wife Denise and chorister Robert Howells’ wife Andrea sold the choirs silver and gold compilation CD’s for a special price of £10. ‘Precious Memories’ celebrates 50 years of choral music making and the album has over 40 tracks, recorded between 1965 and 2015. Huge thanks to first tenor Cledwyn Price and MTS CD DVD for  producing a stunning two disc set in a 6 panel digipack with tunnel pocket and 12 page booklet.
Thanks also t0 Cledwyn Price’s grandchildren Dominic and Shelly Williams for taking on the task of selling programmes on behalf of the choir.
There were a number of choristers who played a part in helping the evening to be a success and we thank them all. There were at least two choristers we must mention, namely Gerwyn Williams and David Powell. Gerwyn, our concert secretary, who has recently suffered ill health with a long hospital stay, still played his part in organising the gala performance and David Powell, our Public Relations Officer also worked tirelessly in many aspects of the concert organisation. Gentlemen, we thank you!

At the end of the concert, Musical Director Darya Brill-Williams invitated prospective choristers who would like to join the choir, former Musical Directors, former choristers, choristers from other male choirs to join Dowlais Male Choir on stage to sing the hymn “Gwahoddoiad”.  In concert tradition choir the  Welsh National Anthem ” Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” was sung to close proceedings.

There were many compliments made about the choirs performance by former Musical Directors, choir patrons, and others who appreciated the evening’s repertoire and performance.

It’s 50 years since the choir was formed, with many highs and lows throughout its history. Although numbers may have dwindled, the choir has survived to keep the ‘Dowlais Sound’ alive. Wyndham Carey, a former chairman of the choir had a talent for putting his own words to music. A television series in the 1970s called “Vandervalk”, set in Amsterdam involving the exploits of a detective, had a theme tune that became quite a popular piece of music; Wyndham was inspired to compose a set of words about the choir and went about setting them to the Vandervalk theme tune. It was performed originally by the Lifeguards, and then adopted by the choir for an after concert song.

The Dowlais Sound

There is a sound in the air, you can hear it everywhere,

It’s the Dowlais Male Voice Choir;

To hear them sing is a wonderful thing, of their songs you will never tire.

Hear that sound,

Hear that Sound,

There is music in that sound, it’s the sound of a hundred men;

Hear and there, everywhere,

Hear their voices fill the air,

It’s the Dowlais Male Voice

They sing with one voice

From the first to the last Amen

They’ll sing of life and of love,

They’ll sing of the God up above,

They’ll sing the old and the new,

They’ll bring some Hiraeth to you.

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