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.
AMVC Pictured in 1916 – the earliest photograph of the choir.
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.
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.
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.
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 North East 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.
In 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.
|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.
AMVC Pictured in 1948.
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.”
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.
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.”
Following Ella’s retirement, Neil Morton took on the role of conductor and musical director. Neil had previously sang 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 still has ties with the choir today.
In September 2015 Jonathan Shaw was appointed musical director and will lead the choir in its Centenary year, whilst Derek Brett continues his fine work as accompanist.
At the choir’s recent Christmas Concert a number of 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 are brothers George and Bill Wade who between them have sung with the choir for 79 years. It is long serving members with whole hearted commitment like these that have enabled the choir to survive through thick and thin for a hundred years.
George Wade’s service was recognised by members at the recent AGM when he was elected President of ADMVC.
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