Singing played a large part of my life right up until my early twenties. My Dad had always sung, be it in Gilbert and Sullivan productions or in the choir that he’s been a member of since 1976. He also sang in our Church choir with my sister and so it was that I joined him and started singing in the choir of Holy Cross church in Cowbridge. Quite a few of us did including my sister and various others from school all getting conducted by my friend Joly’s dad Norman. We got paid for singing at weddings though normally this entailed locking the church gates and getting money thrown at us by the groom and bride so that we’d let them out to get to their reception. We carved our names in the choir stalls thereby joining an illustrious group of past choristers, we refused to sing God Save the Queen when the service necessitated it much to my Dad’s disapproval, we got to laugh at the various priests who could not sing in any way, shape or form the music that various Evensong or Eucharist services required, we hung out with the old bloke Selwyn who sang out of tune every Sunday but who was a nice old man and who welcomed us into his Old Peoples’ home one Christmas and showed off to his fellow residents that he knew lots of young people and they liked him so much that they’d come to sing for him and that they should be grateful to him that we’d taken the time to do so.
Basically we had a right old laugh and I loved it – there is a photo of us somewhere taken in the church graveyard that shows us post service one Sunday and we all look as happy as can be, they were very happy innocent days (Save for the junior Welsh nationalistic refusal to sing the British national anthem) and I need to find that photo.
In 1982 a few years after I joined the church choir I auditioned for the South Glamorgan Junior High Schools choir whose rehearsals took place every Tuesday in Tragedarville Primary School in Cardiff – I got in and this meant that every Tuesday I got driven into Cardiff for a choir practice under the guidance of John Wickett. It’s over thirty years since I sang with the choir and racking my brain I have come up with a few memories – they aren’t killer anecdotes but I hope that you’ll indulge me.
So my friend Richard Harbour and I plus a few others (girls I think) went to sing in the Junior High Schools Choir and we sat behind some girls who we didn’t know as they were from the big city itself – Cardiff! They asked us where we were from and we told them that we lived in Cowbridge but they thought we said Trowbridge: “Not Trowbridge, Cowbridge!” – oh we did laugh. We did a concert in the Western Leisure Centre over in in Ely – this one got taped (by CBC no less) and I bought a copy of the tape but taped over it with the charts on Radio 1 – anyway that concert was memorable because we sang with some kids from Ely one of whom was called Duncan and who was black – we lived in Cowbridge and had never really met any black people before, Duncan was very nice and he asked if we wanted to touch his afro hair – and we did! Multi-culturalism in action right there. We also did a concert in Cardiff City Hall – this was a big concert for some foreign dignitaries and Richard and I were standing behind those two girls who had thought we lived in Trowbridge but now knew that we lived in Cowbridge and also now knew all about such things as Cowbridge Week, Mr Grove our headteacher, and the snow ins that we’d had there. Each time we finished singing we got to sit down on the raised platform on the stage while various big cheeses spoke about how great Cardiff and Stuttgart were and each time we did this these two girls backed into us and got very cosy and it was very pleasant – I can remember who one of these girls was as I still know her now some 30 plus years later but I won’t embarrass her by mentioning her name here.* Richard’s Dad used to pick us up from rehearsals and there must have been some other child involved in these lifts home as we used to drive home via St Athan and we’d always stop for a bag of chips whilst we were there and the chips weren’t served in newspaper, oh no, they were served in the pages of The Sunday Times colour supplement – classy!!!
I was still singing in the Church choir and also in school during my county singing days – the first Y Bont Faen Primary School Production that I sang in was a performance of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and which starring role did I, the singer who represented his county at singing get? That’s right, they stuck me in the chorus – 31 years on and I am still pissed off about that, and the next year when we put on Captain Noah? Chorus, again. It was an outrage!!! It was time to go to secondary school and audition for the South Glamorgan High Schools Choir – well I got into that and by this time I was living in Cardiff** and so every Tuesday after school my sister and I would walk around to Helena Braithwaite’s*** house where she would cook us tea, normally burgers and chips – the latter made in her deep fat fryer – which we’d eat whilst watching telly before she’d drop us down for rehearsals and she’d pop off to conduct the South Glamorgan Youth Choir. There were also times when Cathy and I would get a bus to town, go and look in HMV and buy some records and then have tea at the Great British Burger before heading into rehearsals. Dad would pick us up after practice around the back of the Friary in some dark Cardiff back street and take us home where we’d stick on our new bits of vinyl on before heading off to bed. I didn’t really enjoy the High Schools Choir as much, I can only remember once piece that we sang namely Captain Noah but this time in Welsh and so as soon as my voice broke I was out of there and my singing days were over – or so I thought…
Coming up in My Life as a Singer: Part II – I get a girlfriend, make friends and enemies for life, go to a Kibbutz, get naked in a German flat, meet a dog called Spaz and get fed veal by Generalfeldmarschall Rommel’s son!
* I really won’t. ** With my parents, not on my own, I was twelve. *** Mrs B conducted the choir my Dad sings in to this day and was the head of music provision on South Glamorgan schools. You might want to use the word nepotism – I won’t.