From Sir Geraint Evans to Bryn Terfel - some of the great voices of the past half century have performed with the City of Chester Male Voice Choir. JO HENWOOD reports on the choir's next big event when they will team up with Welsh singing sensation Katherine Jenkins.
BUDDING professionals in the singing business ought to book a date now with the City of Chester Male Voice Choir to be sure of greatness in the world of classical music.
In 1958 Sir Geraint Evans - then plain Geraint Evans - sang with the choir, years before he became an international opera star.
In 1989, a young bass-baritone fresh from the Guildhall School of Music, joined the choir at one of their festival concerts, a whole year before making his opera debut at the Welsh National Opera. That was Bryn Terfel.
At the choir's festival concert at the Town Hall in March - a sell-out performance with soprano Denise Leigh - the audience was bowled over by the rich bass voice of another Guildhall graduate, the charismatic Sion Goronwy.
With history in mind, if anyone wants to start a book on the next big name in opera you might be well placed to put a pound or two on the boy from Bala.
The City of Chester Male Voice choir was started in 1941 by a young worker from the Hydraulic Engineering Company in Chester, who organised 16 of his colleagues to entertain at the works' dinner party.
This developed into the Cestrian Male Voice Choir (the choir's name until 2000) and that young man, the redoubtable Fred Warren, went on to conduct the choir for a record, unbroken period of 50 years and sang with them until he died in 2004.
With a motto, 'We Sing to Serve', the choir have raised more than £250,000 for charities all over Chester and throughout the country.
Most recently, they have given funds to the Claire House Hospice, the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Saltney and the BIRD centre in Broughton which helps improve the quality of life for people with brain injuries and learning difficulties.
But it is the choir's next big fundraiser that is sure to see the money rolling in as they have secured Welsh singing sensation Katherine Jenkins to sing with them at Chester Cathedral on Friday, October 14.
14. The mezzo-soprano has already outsold opera greats like Kiri Te Kanawa and Lesley Garrett in the charts.
The Duchess of Westminster, President of the City of Chester Male Voice Choir, will be attending that concert along with the Lord and Lady Mayoress of Chester - a particularly poignant moment for Councillor Mike Jones, who will then be Lord Mayor, who was a member of the choir for eight years.
Proceeds from the concert will be going towards the Chronicle -backed Miles of Smiles charity, which for 13 years has raised thousands of pounds to help send sick, disabled and disadvantaged children on memorable holidays. Tickets cost £10 to £15 and are available from the Chester Gateway Theatre box office on 01244 340392.
Working with the stars has never gone to the choir's heads and a large part of their work still centres around the local Chester community.
They are available for bookings for all sorts of events including weddings and community or charity fundraising events and it was Mike Heath-cote, chairman of the choir for the last 13 years, who was the brains behind the Tsunami Earthquake Appeal Concert at the Northgate Arena in January.
They also work closely with choirs in Chester's twin towns and they will be hosting a guest choir from the German town of Lörrach at the Town Hall tomorrow (Saturday, May 7). Tickets for that concert are available on the door for £5 and the concert starts at 7.30pm
Under the direction of Granville Lund, the choir is going from strength to strength and their repertoire has been expanded to include more modern and popular music whilst still retaining the male voice favourites and tradition.
With all the tours and celebrity concerts, it is still the friendship and the love of singing that keeps the choir going.
Mike Heathcote said: 'I have made some great friends over the years in the choir and the singing keeps you young and healthy.'
Peter Johnston, who is taking over the chair from Mike, said: 'You can feel the excitement from among the choir each time we go on stage to sing - it's such a wonderful feeling.'
If you are interested in joining the Chester Male Voice Choir, they meet every Wednesday at 7.30pm and every Sunday at 8pm at Hamilton Street Methodist Church in Hoole or call their secretary Gerry Smith on 01244 316664. There are no auditions but if you can hold a tune and enjoy singing you will be very welcome.