Ashingtom Male Voice Choir
Ashington & District
Male Voice Choir
A community choir with a rich tradition


Our History


History

The Early Years

Choir in 1916
  Earliest photograph of the Choir

The Choir was founded in October 1916 by Mr. W. H. Batey, a fine local musician. The Council minutes of September 22nd, 1916, record . . . "A letter was received from the Ashington Male Voice Choir asking for the use of the Council Chamber on Wednesday night of each week for practices. The object of the Choir was for advancing musical education in the district and for helping local authorities. lt was agreed that the use of the Council Chamber be granted on the usual terms.” Mr. Batey laid the foundations of successful choral singing of a high standard winning many contests and earning a fine reputation for the Choir.

1921 to 1959

The strike of 1926 affected the Choir with attendances falling and "the choir funds were used to alleviate financial distress of fellow members”. Wallsend Male Voice Choir offered the Choir financial help towards meeting the costs of entering musical contests. In 1932, Mr. Batey resigned as Conductor and as the membership was declining and no new members joining, the Choir was disbanded. In 1936, the Choir was reformed by Mr. Allington and Mr. Nesbitt. In response to a newspaper advert nine men turned up at the Industrial Working Men’s Club. One of those men was Mr. Jack Morton who went on to complete over 50 years’ service. He reminisces that the ‘Music Kist’ holding all the Choir’s music at that time was kept under the bed of Harold Drinkwater, Choir Secretary, and that an open-air concert to be given in the Hirst Park on 3rd September 1939 (the day war broke out!) had to be cancelled.

Choir in 1948
           The Choir in 1948

Mr. Nesbitt’s son, Dennis, conducted the Choir before joining the forces in the Second World War. He later became principal cellist with The London Symphony Orchestra, and in 1956 he was invited to Ashington as Guest Soloist, and Guest Conductor, at a concert to mark the amalgamation of the depleted Morpeth and Newbiggin Male Voice Choirs with Ashington Male Voice Choir, which then altered its title to ‘Ashington and District Male Voice Choir.

Choir in 1953
            The Choir in 1953

The Choir was in danger of disbanding in 1953 when Conductor Mr. Joe Dawes resigned and again in 1960 when Conductor Mr. Arthur Johnson resigned, but at the Special Meetings held on both occasions the decision to continue was taken by a small group of loyal men. Both Mr. Dawes and Mr. Johnson maintained the high standard of singing. Mr. Johnson took the Choir to Blackpool Musical Festival and the Choir were winners at musical contests each year from 1953 to 1960 while he was Conductor.

1960 to 2008

In 1960, Mr. Steve Howard was appointed Conductor and Miss Ella Hughes was appointed accompanist. Mr. Howard continued the Choir’s success at contests, he introduced an Honorary Members Scheme, and he organised the Choir’s first Annual Concert which was held in November 1963, in the Technical College.

When in 1969, Mr. Howard resigned Miss Ella Hughes was appointed conductor. By 1973, the Choir’s membership had grown from 25 to 47 voices and in that year the Choir competed at Blackpool Musical Festival. The Choir were winners at competitive musical festivals each year from 1970 to 1980, except in 1973 and 1979. In 1972, they were awarded the John Gillespie Trophy at Tynedale Musical Festival for the highest marks for an own choice piece and were awarded the Rose Bowl as winners at Stanley Festival. In 1974, as winners at Stockton Musical Festival, Noel Cox, adjudicator, wrote of them "a sensitive group who make MUSIC when they sing.”

In 1977, the present patrons’ scheme was introduced, and a regular Choir Newsletter was first distributed. Since then, the Choir’s patrons have given support in many helpful ways. In 1976, the Choir began engaging top professional guest artists to appear at its Annual Concerts. The 1976 Annual Concert featured Maryetta and Vernon Midgley who have since then returned to Ashington becoming favourites with the Choir and audiences. Other guest artists have included Philip Langridge, Joan Savage, Anne Lorne-Gillies, Peter Morrison, Marilyn Hill-Smith, and the Band of H.M. Royal Marines.

Choir in 1978
             The Choir in 1978

In 1978, the Choir was invited by Wansbeck Council to take part in an exchange visit with the Dahlerbruck-Rotthausen Male Voice Choir from Schalkesmuhle, one of Wansbeck’s twin towns in West Germany. The Choir enjoyed a wonderful first visit, singing in concert with 32 choirs, cruising along the River Rhine, visiting Bohn and best of all forming firm friendships.

The Choir joined the National Association of Choirs in 1979, which brought it into contact with other Northeast Choirs. As a member of the National Association of Choirs North East Group, the Choir has enjoyed the privilege of taking part in Massed Choral Concerts in the City Hall, Newcastle and singing in a memorable Massed Choral Concert in Durham Cathedral.

In 1980, the Choir was awarded a winning mark of 91 by adjudicator Graham Carton who wrote "The ensemble was excellent and the control at the soft ending was one of the most memorable moments of this Festival.” The Dahlerbruck Choir was welcomed on its 3rd visit to Ashington in October 1985 and the Ashington Choir’s 3rd visit to West Germany took place in 1988.

Choir in 1970s
            The Choir in 1984

During 1980, the Choir also began exchange visits with the King’s Lynn Male Voice Choir which was based in Norfolk. The King’s Lynn Choir visited Ashington for the 3rd time in 1986 to take part in a successful joint concert to commemorate Ashington Choir’s 70th Anniversary.

1984 marked a special achievement when after successful fund raising, the Choir was able to purchase its first uniforms including the distinctive blue blazers which are instantly recognised at massed choir events.

Choir in 1995
         The Choir around 1995

Ella Hughes continued her outstanding commitment to the Choir and was involved from joining as accompanist in 1960 up until her retirement in 2008. Over the years Miss Hughes contributed personal resources to help the Choir and brought international stars to perform at its Ashington concerts. One of the highlights of Ella’s time with the choir was the first performance of "Fell ‘em Doon.” The oratorio was written by local men Mike Kirkup and Derek Hobbs, and it chronicled the birth of Ashington as "the biggest mining village in the world.”

Choir in 2000
       The Choir in 1999 to 2000

2008 to 2015

Following Ella’s retirement, Neil Morton took on the role of conductor and musical director. Neil had previously sung in the bass section of the Choir and had been accompanist. The then president of the Choir Mike Kirkup commented that "the appointment of Neil seems to have worked well” and that "he has brought in one or two innovations that have been well received.” Neil went on to lead the Choir up until 2015 and still has ties with the Choir today.

Choir in 2015
               The Choir in 2015

2015 to 2017

In September 2015 Jonathan Shaw was appointed musical director and led the Choir in its Centenary year, whilst Derek Brett continued his fine work as accompanist.

At the Choir’s 2015 Christmas Concert, several members were given recognition for their long service. Nine members had racked up an incredible total of 245 years’ service between them. Amongst the long serving members were brothers George and Bill Wade who between them had sung with the choir for 79 years. It is long serving members with wholehearted commitment like these that have enabled the Choir to survive through thick and thin for over a hundred years. This has now become an established tradition and qualifying members are recognised each year at Christmas.

2015 was the year of preparation for the Choir. The committee set to work to provide new uniforms for the Choir, last issued in 1984, in anticipation of the centenary year. Jackets, trousers and a newly designed tie to celebrate the 100 years, were all issued, with the aid of a small grant from the Ridley Family Trust.

2016 was a busy and landmark year for the Choir. On the 9th April, the Choir was part of a Choral Spectacular featuring 21 North East Choirs at The Sage Gateshead. Ladies, Mixed and Male Voices, presented by Dr Alwyn Humphreys MBE. The programme was varied and uplifting, and show cased the best of choral tradition. The evening ended with massed voices of around 750 voices in the rousing ‘Blaenwern’, followed by ‘Jerusalem’. An experience never to be forgotten.

The Choir’s Centenary was marked on the 14th May with the Annual Concert in the Josephine Butler Academy, Ashington, a packed house with invited guests and dignitaries and an audience of around 250. The Choir, academy choir, junior school choir, Anna Cocoran, Susan Robertson, expertly lead by Johnathan Shaw MD and accompanied by Derek Brett. Neil Morton put in a guest appearance to conduct a selection from ‘Fell em Doon’ by local composer and songwriter duo Derek Hobbs and Mike Kirkup. A very memorable night of entertainment and an opportunity to showcase the Choir’s music ability.

Sadly, during 2016 the Choir lost their president and friend Mike Kirkup. Mike was a very well-known character, editor and producer of ‘CREEF OF COALS’. Mike supported all things Northeast and was a great asset to the Choir over the years. He and Derek Hobbs were a well-known duo producing amongst other things ‘FELL EM DOON’ in tribute to the local history of mining.

2016 also saw George Wade’s service recognised by members at the Annual General Meeting when he was elected President of ADMVC after 43 years of continuous service with the Choir.

Choir in 2017
            The Choir in 2017

In December 2017, the Choir said farewell to Jonathan Shaw. Jonathan had gifted the Choir with a great enthusiasm and vibrancy which stood the Choir in good stead for the future.

2018 to Date

During 2018, the Choir was delighted that Neil Morton agreed to take up the reins once again and lead the Choir. Neil with renewed vigour and enthusiasm has brought his experience and training and accepts no less than perfect performance.

The choir welcomed Neil back and worked hard on several new and re-introduced pieces from their vast library.

Like many other choirs, the Covid pandemic had a significant impact on the Choir. Coming out of the restrictions in 2022, membership had suffered during the long break. However the Choir has rebuilt its strength once again with around 30 plus active members regularly attending rehearsals and concerts.

Sadly, the Choir lost a dear friend in Chairman Bob Brind. Bob had given many years of service and his proudest time with the Choir was 2016 when he took the lead in organising and preparing for the Choir Centenary year. His superb leadership and organisational skills proved invaluable during this time and long afterwards. The Choir sadly misses his comradeship and generosity of spirt.

During 2023, the Choir was back in full swing with 8 concerts throughout the year. This included venues such as Beamish Museum and the Morpeth Gathering, as well as traditional events. The Choir was delighted that a charity concert in aid of humanitarian efforts in Ukraine raised almost £1000 thanks to supporters and helpers. Following a very successful autumn and Christmas season with 4 events, the choir took a well-earned break over the festive season.

Choir in 2023
The Choir in 2023

 

2024 is a New Year for Ashington & District Male Voice Choir - new start, new repertoire, joining up with old friends and hopefully some new ones too!

 
Forthcoming Events

Saturday 18 May 24 3:00 pm
Annual Concert
Guest Artists will be Eclectic Lite
Venue: Holy Sepulchre Church, Wansbeck Road, Ashington, Northumberland, NE63 8HZ
More details...

Saturday 8 Jun 24 10:30 am
Miners' Memorial Service
Venue: Woodhorn Museum, Queen Elizabeth II Country Park, Ashington, NE63 9YF

Saturday 6 Jul 24 11:00 am
Concerts at Beamish Museum
The Choir will also be singing between 2.00pm and 3.00pm.
Venue: The Pit Chapel, Beamish Museum

Sunday 7 Jul 24 10:30 am
Ashington Town Fayre
Promotional Stall (Provisional)
Venue: High Street, Ashington

Saturday 28 Sep 24
Concert at St. John's Church, Ashington
(Provisional) To be confirmed.

Sunday 20 Oct 24 3:00 pm
Remembering Local Heroes
Charity Dedication Concert to Alan Thompson, R.I.P., and the crews past and present of the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea RNLI Lifeboat. Guest artist is Susan Robertson.
Venue: St. Bartholomew's Church, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, NE64 6DB

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Ashington & District Male Voice Choir - A friendly male voice choir based in the North East of England