For many years there were two male choirs in Ferndale, Côr Meibion Morlais and the Ferndale Male Voice Choir. The history of the Ferndale Male Voice Choir is as much a part of the musical heritage of Ferndale as our own, and so we feature here our “Comrades in Arms” from the Ferndale Male Voice and their musical mentor Haydn Allen.
The choir was formed in 1949 when they were based at the Ferndale Imperial Conservative Club and hence known by the original name of the Ferndale Imperial Singers. The name was changed in 1967 to the Ferndale Male Voice Choir and the Choir was then based at the Ferndale Band and Musical Institute until their final performance in 1990.
During this time they were highly successful in Eisteddfodau, on radio, on television, and also in film. They toured Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe) and South Africa in 1973, doing their best to bridge racial divisions, but unfortunately attracting sometimes unfair criticism from the U.K. anti-apartheid movement.
The Choir benefited from the services of several hugely talented in-house soloists – Tom “Footy” Richards, Ronnie Thomas, whose son Richard was accompanist to Côr Meibion Morlais in 1980-2, and Len Morris who served as Deputy Conductor of the Ferndale Male Voice until 1985 and then of the Morlais until 1994.
Morlais is the new home for several former Ferndale members and so they continue to carry Rhondda’s rich musical heritage to the four corners of the world.
Below are programme notes from the Ferndale Male Voice Silver Jubilee Concert in 1975, presented now as a tribute to the members and musicians who made the Ferndale Male Voice an excellent choir – gone but not forgotten:
Twenty Five Years of Song
The darkened streets around the now demolished Tudor hall, Ferndale, were, as they normally are, deserted, with only the sudden cacophony of scurrying footsteps, breaking the infinite and dismal silence. Inside the hall, however, those of the community who had ventured out were rewarded with the sound of a male voice choir dedicated to the euphonic beauty of total quality rather than the brash glamour of copious volume.
The emphasis on total quality was a deliberate policy pursued by Mr Haydn Allen who in 1950 became the conductor of the then Ferndale Imperial Singers, a few months after its formation. Mr Allen, even at that young age had displayed not only his musical prowess but also his maturity in the post of deputy conductor of the Pendyrus Male Voice Choir under one of the choir’s most celebrated conductors, the late Mr Arthur Duggan.
Haydn Allen’s individual contribution to the choir, and therefore, the musical life of this valley has been immeasurable and consequently a worthy evaluation (even if Haydn’s retiring nature would allow it) would be too immense a task within the confines of this space. The choir’s success throughout its twenty five years, especially in eisteddfodau is, however, tangible proof of Haydn’s talents.
Another of Haydn’s characteristics is his ability not only to perceive local musical talent but also to promote it. Ifor Davies and Bryan Davies are the two outstanding examples of this. Ifor, who regrettably left the choir in 1974 because of ill health, gave to the choir not only his undoubted ability on the keyboard but also the benefit of his considerable musical expertise. The choir has also been fortunate in being able to call upon the considerable talents of Mr Bryan Davies, who for a short period was the choir’s accompanist before leaving the area to pursue a teacher’s training course. It is with both pleasure and pride that we include Bryan’s arrangement of the Negro spiritual “Where Shall I Be”. This, incidentally, is the first performance in Ferndale of this arrangement.
Many local singers have also been given platforms by the choir, for example, Beryl Watts, David Evans, Susan Dennis, Margaret Davies, George Lloyd, to name only a few.
The undoubted talent of the choir itself has in turn been recognised by not only the broadcasting media but also the film world. In 1963 the choir was asked to provide the choral backing to the film “Zulu”, in which the choir’s president, Mr Stanley Baker, starred.
As well as its appearances on both television channels the choir members look back with affection to their contributions to the Welsh language radio programmes, “Aelwyd y Gân” and “Cenwch i’m yr Hen Ganiadau”, It was during the former programme that the choir was described as having sung “an innovation for a Welsh Male Voice Choir singing what had hitherto been regarded as a work confined to mixed choirs”, “The Force of Destiny” (Verdi) which for nostalgic reasons is included in tonight’s programme. To sing this, requires excellently controlled tonal quality and it is this attribute which gained for the choir the opportunity of touring Southern Africa in 1973.
Although controversial, the good will promoted between individual Rhodesians and South Africans, and members of the choir is a matter totally outside the realm of politics and can lead, as does all good will, to a greater tolerance and understanding. It is with the hope of increasing this understanding that the choir looks forward to another tour of Southern Africa in 1976.
It is impossible to predict the future, as those members of the choir who were at the Tudor Hall twenty five years ago will testify, but whatever may occur it is certain that the Ferndale Male Voice will continue to produce its unique sound and gains both for itself and this Valley an even more formidable reputation.
The following track is I’se Weary of Waitin’ with soloist Tom “Footy” Richards.