Vale Harmony- The Story Vale Harmony’s roots are in Barbershop… four-part close harmony singing without any musical accompaniment… a cappella. Our story begins in 1977. Sixty miles away in Bristol, the Great Western Chorus were looking for new members and were using car stickers to attract them. A group of friends in Pershore travelled to Bristol to find out more and were enthusiastically welcomed into The Barbershop family. They returned to Worcestershire fully committed to starting their own chorus under the name The Abbey Chorus. By 1978, Vale Harmony were up and running under the musical directorship of Mike Trollope, and the Great Western Chorus gave a concert in Evesham to support this new chorus they had 'fathered'. Vale Harmony’s first public engagement was on 14th November 1978 and we've been entertaining audiences locally and further afield ever since. Under the directorship of Mike Trollope, membership quickly grew from its founder membership of four to more than 20 and in 1979 we joined the British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS). We are still affiliated members and we maintain a fabulous friendship with Great Western Chorus. Key Milestones: 1980: Musical Directorship passed from Mike Trollope to Norman Ley at a time when the Barbershop revival in England was gaining pace and musical standards were rising very quickly. By this time, the chorus were rehearsing at Fladbury Village Hall having before that been at Pershore High School. 1981 John Powney joined the chorus and, at virtually the same time, bass singer Chris Hartwright joined... in fact their BABS membership numbers were only one apart! It was in 1981 that Vale Harmony first entered BABS National Convention Competition under Norman Ley. It was the first of virtually annual participation in Conventions with Vale Harmony doing very well. In 1982, the chorus finished in a brilliant 12th place! One year they took a minibus to Brighton and they also took part at Keele University. THE AMERIE FOUR In 1984 Dr David Wilson became MD and created a Quartet called The Amerie Four, named after the house where Dr David lived in Amerie Court, in Pershore. Its members were: Dr David Wilson (tenor), Norman Ley (lead), Eric Beer (baritone) and Derek Rutter (bass) The Amerie Four took part in that BABS Convention at Keele University and were judged 6th best quartet in the country. Interestingly, The Amerie Four’s first jackets were made by dressmaker Beth Milsom, who is now in charge of Pershore WI's events programme. She has booked Vale Harmony to entertain them in October 2022! FRINGE BENEFIT Also taking part at the Keele Convention were Fringe Benefit, a quartet formed in the mid-80's which lasted until the early 90's. They were regularly vying for supremacy at conventions.with the Amerie Four quartet Fringe Benefit's original members were: John Powney (tenor), Doug Davies (lead), Chris Dobbins (baritone), and Chris Hartwright (bass). Sadly, Doug died of leukaemia and Chris Dobbins took his place as lead, with David Wilson joining as bass. Fringe Benefit took part in a number of Conventions and did very well. VARIETY CONCERT IN EVESHAM The Vale Harmony Barbershop Chorus, whose formal name is the Pershore Barbershop Harmony Club, continued to perform and entertain locally, raising money for charities as well as taking part in local competitive festivals. In 1985, on 21st June, Vale Harmony put on a big charity Variety Concert at Evesham Arts Centre which you see by visiting this YouTube link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeO6NuBmK2w It was recorded on VHS and made available by John Huntley, who noted we had won a nationwide song contest. Dr David Wilson was the Musical Director and you can see him in the picture below in the white jacket in a black and white still from that period.
Back row (l to r): Bob Hilliard, Doug Davies, Bob Cross, Dr David Wilson (white jacket) Derek Rutter, Chris Hartwright & Eric Beer. Middle row: Ken Corrigan, Ron Woodhall, John Jones, Norman Ley, John Merrick. Front Row: Dick Green, Alan Quarterman, David Witts, Brian Weaver, Cliff Edmunds and Chris Dobbins 1990: David Morehen took up the baton as MD for a five year period and David eventually went on to be a BABS judge for Conventions.
In 1995, John Powney became the Musical Director with Mollie Hilton as Chorus Director. The chorus performed in the Hereford Music Festival and won the competition, taking home a big cup, with John Powney actually directing on that occasion. Membership was around 20 at that time and it grew to between 26 and 28. In 2001, tenor singer, Eddie Howell, was proposed by the then club chairman, Chris Dobbins and backed by the chorus, to apply to BABS for a bursary to attend Director's College in Missouri in the USA. By then, Eddie was, the MD of Vale Connection, our sister chorus for women, and two years later, in 2003, he was appointed MD of Vale Harmony. Below, Eddie Howell as MD with the chorus. During Eddie's years the chorus won the Helene Cass Cup in the Open Class for Choirs at the Worcester Competitive Music Festival and the chorus is still taking part in competitive arts festivals in Worcester, Dudley and Cheltenham. CHARITY CONCERT In 2009 Vale Connection and Vale Harmony put on a two-night Concert in aid of Cancer Research and Alzheimer’s Research UK and raised more than £10,000, a stunning achievement. Several members of both choruses also combined to form a mixed voice group to add variety to the entertainment. Later in 2009, Eddie decided it was time to hand over the baton to Charles Snailham who was appointed from within the chorus.
OCTET: 8 To The Bar In 2010 An Octet was formed called ‘8 To The Bar’ comprising Eddie Howell, Chris Hartwright, Derek Styles, Neil Burrows, Chris Dobbins, David Wilkinson, Kevin Fisher and Andy Parsloe. On Saturday 11th May 2011 Vale Connection invited "8 To The Bar " to perform at their two-night Charity concert in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital ‘Children’s Heart Appeal’. The Concert, called "One Heart in Harmony" was held at the No.8 theatre in Pershore and raised a considerable sum. (Below) "8 To The Bar" at the Charity Concert for Birmingham Children's Hospital. (l to r) Derek Styles, Chris Hartwright, Andy Parsloe, Chris Dobbins, DavidWilkinson, Neil Burrows and Eddie Howell.
THE FRENCH TRIP (Above) In March 2013, ‘8 To The Bar‘ were invited to perform at a Music Festival in Laval, France. Unfortunately Neil Burrows couldn't be present but the seven singers received a rapturous applause. They are pictured above (l to r) Derek Styles, Chris Dobbins, Chris Hartwright, Kevin Fisher, Dave Wilkinson, Andy Parsloe, Eddie Howell. By September 2012 it was decided that the skills of John Powney, Chris Hartwright and Chris Dobbins should be pooled to carry out the duties of Musical Director until a new permanent director could be sourced.
TRIUMPH AT CONVENTION
2014: Vale Harmony competed at the National Convention (in Harrogate) for the first time in seven years on the 40th anniversary of BABS. A total of 48 choruses from the UK took part, split into four Divisions. Under the direction of Chris Hartwright we became 4th Division Champions! The victorious members that night were (below l to r) Chris Dobbins, Eddie Howell, Bob Carter, Derek Styles, Dave Wilkinson, John Franks, Chris Hartwright (MD), Mike Gearey, Andy Parsloe, Jim Cook, Ian Fothergill, Clive Woods, and Colin Pemberton. The same year, in 2014, we took part in competitive festivals at Cheltenham, Dudley, and the Pershore Plum Festival and the Worcester Victorian Fayre, VALE HARMONY ON THE TELLY Another highlight of 2014 was when the chorus appeared on BBC Midlands Today singing a hastily reworded World Cup Song. You can see if you us click here for BBC – World Cup Music Coverage – Vale Harmony featured from Jonathan Brooke on Vimeo. (Please note: It takes a little while to load the video and our appearance comes at around two minutes to the piece. When it's finished, let the following videos run to see some of our other performances the following year, 2015. Also in 2014 in Marchwe lifted The Simpson Trophy for the best choir in the Open Choir category at the Dudley Festival of Music, Drama and Dance (below) In July 2015 we performed a joint concert at The Artrix Theatre in Bromsgrove with the Redditch Orchestra and Vale Connection. Called "Celebrate America" we repeated the show at the Evesham Arts Centre. (below). In 2015 Vale Harmony left the Convention stage with fantastic applause ringing in our ears in a packed Arena at the Venue Cymru in Llandudno. We were the last of 36 choruses to sing .Newly promoted the previous year to the 3rd Division we were placed 4th out of 11 in the Division... a tremendous climb in just two years.
(Above) The Llandudno team (l to r): Eddie Howell, Chris Hartwright, Ian Fothergill, Clive Woods, Derek Styles, Dave Tresigne, Dave Wilkinson, Colin Pemberton, Andy Parsloe, Bob Carter, Chris Franey. 2016: Mike Gearey became MD and in April we put on a joint concert with Great Western Chorus at Pershore Abbey the "A Cappella Extravaganza".
The concert attracted a full house and we made £600, donating £450 to Pershore Scouts, £150 to the Pathfinders (Sight Concern) and the Pershore Youth Swimming Club. That year we took part in Worcester Arts Festival, Victorian Fayre and Plum Fayre and even sang at a wedding for Richard and Carol Swann in Defford(below).
December 2017 saw our second joint concert with Great Western Chorus at Pershore Abbey, titled "The Christmas Cracker"
(Above) Vale Harmony and Great Western Chorus with GMC's MD Linda Corcoran. We raised £1,500 for Alzheimer's Research UK.
2018 saw us take part in a charity concert at the Evesham Arts Centre on 21st September for the Tracy Leukaemia Trust. Alongside the Avonbank Brass Band
2018 also saw us strike up a friendship with the caravanners and Motorhomers of Rotary International. We were the after-dinner entertainment at the Three Counties Showground and they invited us back for a repeat performance in 2021. The pic below shows some of the Rotarians joining in with us.
The money we raised there was put together with public donations when we sang at the Worcester Victorian Fayre making a total of £500 that we were able to give to Pancreatic Cancer UK. Kiaragh Brown, from Sheriff's Lench, near Evesham, a UK Youth Ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK, received the cheque from us in January 2019,
CHANGING GEAR At the end of 2018 the chorus took a collective decision for a significant gear change in the history of the club. Long serving member, Eddie Howell, put forward a proposal that we move away from singing only Barbershop songs and that we broaden and freshen our repertoire. The aim was to boost recruitment and make the chorus more attractive to male singers, particularly in the younger age ranges. To that end, the chorus dedicated the first six months of 2019 to learning new songs. There were no public appearances, neither singouts nor competitions, from January to July. This gear change was ultimately to lead to us dropping the name Barbershop from our title, testing the proposition that potential new recruits were being put off by the very word "Barbershop". We were still singing in the close-harmony, four-part style that makes barbershop special but we now had additional material with which to entertain more general audiences... and draw in new recruits. The gear change would later lead to a different change of gear... new updated and bright performance uniforms. More of that later. By the end of 2019 we were singing in public again ....once more (below) at the Worcester Victorian Fayre, in the Crowngate Shopping Centre, raising money ...this time for Prostate Cancer UK. We raised an excellent £163.
2020 - COVID STRIKES
2020 started with a bang...winning two trophies at the prestigious Dudley Music Festival. (above) We won the Eva Preece cup and the Barbershop Trophy (below). The date was 7th March... and just weeks later Covid 19 hit, and the nationwide lockdown began!
During the pandemic shutdown, we'd maintained contact with each other and met as a chorus by Zoom on our Wednesday rehearsal nights Building on the change introduced by Eddie in 2019, we took the opportunity during the pandemic to rebrand ourselves with new performance uniforms and a new name and logo, designed by baritone member, Nigel Mobbs.
We're now known as Vale Harmony The A Cappella Fellas, reflecting that broader repertoire alongside the traditional barbershop songs which we still proudly continue to sing. A committee of members spent a long time deciding on how best to change our look on stage and we invested in new trousers, two sets of polo shirts ...yellow and red... and a set of formal red shirts together with a range of coloured ties.. 2021 As with everyone else, Covid continued to restrict our activities but in 2021 were were able to start rehearsing outdoors, courtesy of Nigel Smith, the landlord of the Fleece Inn at Bretforton who let us sing in his outdoor gazebo(below).
And on 4th September 2021 we re-appeared in public, outdoors at the Rous Lench Pig Roast (below) in our new yellow polo shirts.
In August 2021 we resumed indoor rehearsals at our "home", the St Andrew's Centre in Pershore and we were able to again entertain (below, in our new formal red shirts) the caravanners of the Rotary club , at the Three Counties Showground, raising £300 for Prostate Cancer UK
At the end of 2021, we were honoured to be invited to lead the audience in an emotional carols and remembrance service at the Fladbury Crematorium (below).
2022 - LOOKING FORWARD Looking ahead to 2022, we will be:
defending our trophies at the Dudley Arts Festival on March 5th ,
singing alongside the Cheltenham-based Go Vocal Chorus at the Evesham Methodist Chapel on March 19th
hopefully (Covid permitting) fulfilling our much-postponed fixture at Pershore Abbey.. our Spring Sing on May 7th, the third joint concert with the magnificent Great Western Chorus.
As we embark on our first full year with our new name, new uniforms and new songs we welcome any man who would like to join our friendly chorus and continue the illustrious journey of Vale Harmony.