FAREWELL TO A SWEET TENOR

WHOSE LIFE AND LOVE WAS MUSIC

By Carl Llewellyn

The sad news of former chorister John Cannon’s passing was received on Tuesday 13th September 2016. John, who would have been 84 on September 27th had been associated with Dowlais Male Choir for many years.

John was the eldest child of Arthur and Gertrude Cannon and was brought up at No 249, Lower High Street, Dowlais with his siblings Mary and Jimmy. He was educated at  Gellifaelog Boys school and after leaving school his first employment was with Mendle Simon’s furniture shop in Pontmorlais (now a motor bike business). After leaving, he went to Basingstoke to work in a factory making re-tread tyres where the staff were mainly Irish, and as a result came back to Merthyr with an Irish accent! John worked for such companies as Export Packing, the Cake Factory on Goat Mill Road  then “ICI” and finally in 1960 he gained employment as a switch board operator at GKN steel works, Dowlais. He was one of the first casualty’s of GKN redundancies in 1983, but not one to sit around John became temporarily employed as a switch board operator at Prince Charles Hospital before he retired.

John married Elizabeth (Betty) Gibbons on 26th March, 1955 at Wesley Chapel, Dowlais and were married for 61 years. They met in the 1950′s when both of them joined the Dowlais Wheelers Cycling Club, based in a green hut on the Bont .With a growing family the Cannon’s originally lived at Penywern initially until they moved to a new flat in Dowlais. Then later the Gurnos and finally No 6 Heol Bonymaen, Pant in 1979, where the family still reside today.

John and Betty have two children, Stephen (born 1960) and Rozalyn or Ros (born 1965), four granddaughters Sarah, Emily, Beatrice and Catherine, and four great grandchildren Eliza, Daisy, Belle and Dylan. They all doted on him. With such a beautiful voice, John was advised to seek voice training, so it was no surprise when he attended the Cardiff School of Music every Friday, It was there he excelled in voice training and as a result John developed a unique tone with a sweet resonance.

He became part of a local group of entertainers called “The Merthyr Gang Show”, along with another former member of the choir called Idrys Harmon; they were an act called Edwards & Connors( John Davies & John S).

In 1965 when the Dowlais Male Voice Choir was formed, John joined straight away and in the early years became an asset to the choir by becoming the Public Relations Officer. With John’s job as a switchboard operator he was the ideal candidate for the position as PRO, a post he held for many years.

It was a forgone conclusion that D. T. Davies, the choirs first Musical Director, recognised John’s talent as a soloist, and persuaded him to sing solo’s at choir concerts. Here are some of the songs included in his repertoire:

- Star of the County Down

- The garden where the praties grow

- Girl’s were made to love and kiss

- Edelweiss

- Danny Boy

John combined with the choir in singing solo parts with songs such as Kalinka and Silver Birch, and enjoying being a mimic, would use his talent to create a trombone sound.

He also had a talent for playing piano and organ, without music, only playing by ear.

These days television hosts a variety of entertainment,  such as famous duo’s Morecambe & Wise, Cannon & Ball, Ronny & Rhian, etc, but the Dowlais Male Choir had a similar duo in Morgan (Mog) Davies & John Canon; both men were employed at Guest Keen. John was a charismatic character displaying a light heartiness in his dialogue and was well liked by everybody. His sweet tenor voice combined with the rich bass voice of another former chorister Mog to become a unique partnership. I can still picture the duets John and Mog sang, one being “Tenor & Baritone” but the one song that especially comes to mind is “Bo Gendarme’s”; this comic song became an all time favourite with the choir and the audiences. Not only were John and Mog choristers but very good friends, and if a soloist cancelled their booking through ill health or some other circumstance John & Mog would always step in.

John loved rugby, and joined the choir on their bicentennial rugby excursions to Scotland where he would always come back voiceless (what can you do with a telephonist with no voice?!).

One song synonymus with John, Mog and the choir is Antonin Dvorak’s New World symphony  titled “Going Home”. Those who are not familiar withDvorak’s music will recall it as the theme tune to the Hovis advert of 1973 (Britain’s favourite TV advert). If you’d like to hear Dowlais singing the soundtrack, with Wynford Jones conducting the choir and soloists John and Mog, ‘Going Home’ is featured on the choir’s new compilation CD “Precious Memories”, for sale on line or via choristers. I hope you like our rendition!

In the early years of the choir, John organised a rugby excursion to Edinburgh to see Wales play Scotland;  the choir members and friends met at the GKN Club and arrived in Cardiff at 7:00 pm, with enough time to have a drink in one of the public houses near the railway station called the Red Dragon. When John left the pub to go to the railway station to sort out the tickets, he was surprised to see no train in the station. Apparently the train timetable used the 24 hour clock so the  09:00 train had left that morning, so he had mistaken the time for 09:00 p.m. You can imagine John’s face turning white, but after some negotiating the railway company put on another train to Scotland leaving Cardiff Railway Station at 23:00. The coach was old and cold, but the party of choir rugby fans were hospitable and offered the guard some alcohol beverages, to which effect he left the train at Newcastle three sheets to the wind.

After John’s retirement from the choir, he entered singing competitions in Swansea, and it was no surprise when he gained first prize.

He also had a talent for painting and sketching; there were a number of his works on display around the locality such as the walls of the  Pant Cad-Ifor Inn, and beyond. John, who had partial sight problems won the Eisteddfod for the blind in 1990  and 1992.

Everybody has their memories of John Cannon: his smile, his infectious laugh, his sense of humour and his beautiful voice.

The choir would like to offer their sincere condolences to Betty, Stephen, Rosalyn and his daughter-in-law Ellen and the rest of the family and I would like to end my tribute by reiterating the words of Antonin Dvorak’s New World symphony  titled “Going Home”, as a fitting mark of respect to such a gentleman.

John Cannon

 

Going home, going home
I am going home
Quiet like, some still day
I am going home

It’s not far, just close by
Through an open door
Work all done, care laid by
Never fear no more

Mother’s there expecting me
Father’s waiting too
Lots of faces gathered there
All the friends I knew

I’m just going home

No more fear, no more pain
No more stumbling by the way
No more longing for the day
Going to run no more

Morning star lights the way
Restless dreams all gone
Shadows gone, break of day
Real life has begun

There’s no break, there’s no end
Just a living on
Wide awake with a smile
Going on and on

Going home, going home
I am going home
Shadows gone, break of day
Real life has begun

I’m just going home

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