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West Midlands Barbershop Harmony Club


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Ivor Williams             1935 - 2014

Ivor WilliamsIvor joined Anvil Chorus only three years ago from a Learn to Sing course and although a late convert to our craft, rapidly became a valued and proud participant, while his partner Lillian became one of our most avid followers.

During one early rehearsal Rod Butcher asked for a copy of the sheet music and Ivor obliged. Rod isn’t often lost for words but Ivor’s habit of tippexing out all parts except his Bass line rendered even Rod speechless and gave us an inkling of the character that was our Ivor.

In his younger days Ivor was well known in the area as a singer with local dance bands, earning himself the nick name 'Matt Monro of the Midlands' and eventually, due to popular demand, recording a CD for his fans to remember him by.

Ivor often said that Barbershop had given him a new lease of singing life and he just loved being with us on the risers and, ever the performer, particularly enjoyed our public appearances and relished the challenge of Convention, so it's fitting that the picture is of him enjoying the Sweet Pea experience at Harrogate this year.

Sadly, just a few short months later Ivor passed away having fought a difficult battle with Lung and Liver Cancer.

Ivor was a keen follower of the modern jazz scene and recently, having just listened to Randy Chisholm of Marquis sing 'I Will Never Pass This Way Again' said " Sitting with my mouth wide open, goosebumps on goosebumps and yes, a little tear, I’ve just witnessed a one off. What a sad loss to music. Thanks for giving me the opportunity of hearing something so beautiful."

Ivor, you made us laugh, cry and sometimes grit our teeth, but you were always a treasure, Rest in Peace.


 

John Ellis

John Ellis

John was one of the longest serving members of the Club having joined in 1980 arising from an approach by a long-standing friend of the family who happened to be the Club Chairman at that time – Geoff Robinson.  During his 34 years of membership John undertook almost every conceivable role in the Club other than that as Chairman. So he covered responsibilities as Secretary to the Management Committee for many years and as part of this managed to get us all registered for our Conventions as well as making hotel bookings. During the years when we provided quartets to go around the Midlands singing for loved ones, he was a key player in the planning of timings and routes for the singers involved in the financially lucrative venture.

Beyond this role John has more recently, and within the development of the Executive, with its charitable status, led the Administration activity which incorporated the organisation and promotion of Learn to Sing courses which have proved a useful recruitment source for the Chorus.

Unlike many choruses in the UK, West Midlands should be proud of the fact that we produced our own in-house magazine usually about 8 times a year and without question this was entirely down to John’s enthusiasm and his willingness to badger members, as only he could do, for news articles. He wrote copiously for the magazine and Edited it into its final form for printing.

He won the two Club Awards by taking the Sides Family Trophy in 1986, voted for by the entire membership, as well as the Joe Riseborough Rosebowl in both 1995 and 2005 when the Management Committee formally recognised his substantial and ongoing contributions to the life and success of the Club.

John would have accepted that he was not the strongest of our Lead singers but he put huge efforts into learning songs old and new and at the time of his death had successfully recorded no less than 19 songs to our Purple Dot Standard – this only being bettered by just eight existing chorus members. He was part of the Chorus which won the Bronze medal in Harrogate at the 1988 Convention as well as a Silver Medal in the Irish Convention of 2003 in Tallacht, Dublin. Whilst many singers studiously shun the opportunity to be on the front row, John seemed to have an inbuilt need to be out there and no matter what re-stacking took place, given the chance, he would find his way back to the front!

Rod Butcher recounts the tale about calling John out to the front of the audience at a singout some years ago, and then leaving him to conduct a song alone – noting the John never batted an eyelid but carried off the directing with aplomb. Another tale I am assured is true, is the evening when John was announcing songs to an audience when he explained that we sing many song to, about or containing the names of ladies. He went on to announce the next song which was ‘Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina…..’!

John was elected a Life Member of the Club with Rod Butcher in 2011, a very deserved recognition, sitting alongside his BABS pins for his 25 and 30 years membership of the Association. Quite apart from his contributions to Anvil Chorus, John became a stalwart in the organisation and delivery of the BABS Annual Harmony Colleges held at Universities around the Midlands and he did this for some 29 such events taking in bookings, dealing with the associated finances; sorting out accommodation and handling myriad questions on the reception desk where Barbershoppers from all over the country got to know him with his quips and assistance. Unfortunately John was unable through his illnesses to attend the 2013 College but scores of those attending sent personal messages back to him from that event.

As his Wife, Celia, said to me just before the funeral service, ‘John absolutely loved his Barbershop’ which is why he gave so much to his main hobby over the years. It was a fitting tribute that there were around 50 singers at his funeral drawn from current and past members of Anvil Chorus but also representatives from BABS and those associated with Harmony College. The singing of ‘Irish Blessing’ offered a moving conclusion to the funeral service. It was ironic that out of a large Barbershop attendance not a single pitch pipe [and telephone apps disabled ] was found for the key to this song – a point which would not have been lost on John who invariably carried his and was always ready to step into the breach and probably singing it in the key he preferred anyway , as Duncan Whinyates notes.

We are delighted that Celia, who is herself a long-standing Honorary Member of the Club, plans to keep her association with us.


John Baker

John Baker

“It was usually on the last Thursday of each month; my front door bell would ring and on answering it, I would find John Baker. Having wished me “Good Evening” and passed through to the lounge and given my wife a hug, he would ask if we had the kettle on. He would then make some comment about our sugar spoon being the only spoon we had in the house.

I have known John for many a year as have most of the barbershoppers. He is the perfect example of “I don’t know but I know a man who does !”

John was a stalwart barbershopper and would be an asset to any club who held his membership. He was a founder member of the Nottingham Barbershop Club and a couple of Anvil members recall that he provided the first music for Anvil Chorus. He was the bass in the Sherwoodaires with no less than John Grant, and he used to comment that he knew John Grant before he was famous.

Some years ago, I am unable to remember how many, (it seems for ever) he moved back to Birmingham and joined Anvil Chorus. The Chorus was never quite the same again, John was the eternal volunteer and whenever help was needed you would find John in the middle. It wasn’t long before he was appointed Chorus Manager. I remember phoning him and spoke to Do. John was out but I told Do that John’s name had been put forward to fill the post of Chorus Manager and we wanted to know if he would accept. I learned later that it was a silly question; of course he would accept. He did a stint as membership Secretary too but I guess his heart was as Chorus Manager.

Since that date he has been involved in every outing and competition the Chorus has undertaken – places like Holland and Republic of Ireland and Conventions too numerous to mention. I remember John’s trip to Holland. He had injured his foot to prior to the event and travelled with two crutches. It could only happen to John that a fellow member decided to change the length of his crutches, one very high and the other very low. It was him who suggested that we sing a tag in Dutch on the Saturday Show at DABS. At a short stop in Brussels, John blew his pitch pipe in the main square to gather the chorus members. Barbershoppers came from everywhere and even two Sweet Adelines came. They heard a pitchpipe and came to investigate. On the return sea journey he arranged with the Bursar that we perform two short sing-outs. He had the philosophy of the impossible we do immediately, miracles take a little longer. Incidents like this are myriad.

John worked in the Campus Crew for many years at Harmony College and was responsible for arranging the provision of polo shirts for the faculty and students. He had a tremendous ability to make people feel and be very welcome. He seemed to know everybody by name.

Over the last few years, John was not a well man but he would not let this affect his beloved barbershop and his support of Anvil Chorus. He never complained of his illnesses and any mention was merely discussion. For him, nothing was too much trouble, often at his own inconvenience and, certainly Anvil Chorus was a better chorus for his being a member. If John had any faults it was his willingness to volunteer for anything that needed doing, and he complained vehemently when things did not go right – sometimes unjustifiably. He himself recognised that he had a short anger fuse but he bore no grudge and always came back smiling. I guess that you could describe him as a little man with a big heart.

He was a great friend to me personally and was extremely helpful and encouraging both inside and outside barbershop. It is difficult to repay such friendship. His departure to that ‘chorus in the sky’ has made us all very sad. We have had difficulty coming to terms with this loss and we feel his going very acutely after his long and committed, no, devoted service.”
John Ellis, PRO, Anvil Chorus 


Colin Williams  -  1951  TO   2011

Colin Williams

Colin Williams was a Member of Anvil Chorus for almost 25 years. He originally sang lead and for about three years sang with the Grand Central Chorus. Colin was also a Founder Member of Gentlemen Songsters and made regular trips to South Wales to sing in recent years with Synergy. In later years he ‘graduated’ to sing tenor in a very strong section of our Chorus.

Quite apart from his singing contributions to the Chorus, he served as a Member of the Club’s Management Committee; appointed Chairman in 1994; and for some time took on the role of Public Relations Officer. He won the Sides Family Trophy [ Anvil Chorus’s Barbershopper of the Year ] in 1989 . Throughout his long membership Colin enjoyed singing in quartet. In 1986, with John Winterbottom, Roy Hodge and Dennis Hodgetts he formed Chime and Again who performed regularly for five years, appearing both locally and in Limerick, Plymouth and Bangor [N.I]; Colin later sang lead in Centenary Square and more recently tenor with Classmates.
Colin had to face up to the considerable challenge of ongoing serious illness during 2009 and 2010, but throughout confronted this with enormous courage and good humour. Following successful stem cell implant treatment over Christmas of 2009, he had a very active 2010. He decided to retire from his post with Royal Mail. After this he hosted his second daughter’s wedding in the summer; enjoyed a Mediterranean cruise with his wife and dear friends Roy and Irene Hodge; and rehearsed and competed with Classmates in the Senior Quartet contest in November. Regrettably it was quite soon after this contest that Colin became seriously ill again and he passed away peacefully with his family around him, on 11 January 2011.
It was fitting that representatives from each of the Choruses and quartets attended his funeral and both Synergy and Anvil Chorus sang at the wake.


Geoff Robinson

Geoff Robinson

Geoff was one of the Founder Members of the West Midlands Barbershop Harmony Club and as it established itself he became the first Chairman. An accomplished musician who not only sang but played piano and violin, Geoff was for most of his time in the Chorus singing Baritone and for many years was the Section Leader. Those who knew him at that time will recall him putting the Section through its paces with concentration on accurate singing, doubtless due to the fact that he had perfect pitch !  He also used a technique of having the singers rehearse in pairs or threes whilst others watched and listened.

Quite apart from singing Baritone, he moved in later years to sing Bass and also at times acted as a ‘roving’ Section Leader coaching the Leads too. Occasionally he was ‘out front’ when the Director was away or delayed in attending. Geoff was a proud member of the 1988 Bronze Medal winning Chorus in Harrogate.

Professionally Geoff was a Teacher of Mathematics and later Deputy Head Teacher at Menzies High School which is where the Chorus first formed. He also became a School Governor of our current rehearsal venue, Grove Vale School in Great Barr.

Geoff recruited many singers into our hobby, including John Ellis in the early days, along with several other members with whom he came into contact through his membership of the West Bromwich Mountaineering Club, indeed the Chorus still has members who share that hobby.

Geoff was in so many ways therefore a major contributor to both the initial establishment of the Chorus and its further development over two decades.


Gil Ryder

Gil Ryder

Gil Ryder  was a member of the Chorus for about ten years and was a regular attender with his close friend Ron Young during that time, both of them singing bass. Both of their wives were involved in Barbershop singing too and indeed Olive Ryder still takes to the risers with Second City Sound.

A long-standing member of the Club, shortly after joining, was amazed when the guy in front of him on the risers said ‘I think I have some bad news for you’! Expecting to have an adverse comment about his singing, George Badland asked what that might be, only to discover and recall that he and Gil had both been in the same 2030 Squadron ATC some 40 years or so previously. At that time Gil was the Mace bearer whilst George was a bugler. This was their first meeting after all those years.

Gil’s lovely rich bass voice was a fine contribution to our sound, but gradually his health began to fail as serious heart problems gradually grew worse, and eventually things deteriorated to the point where he needed a heart transplant. Those of us in the Chorus at that time well recall his admission to Papworth Hospital, which at that time was one of just two hospitals in the country undertaking transplants. What was not so well known was the fact that the ambulance taking Gil down to Papworth for his surgery got lost en route and eventually came across another ambulance fortuitously heading in the same direction. It transpired that the second ambulance was taking a patient to receive the lungs from the same organ donor – an amazing coincidence.

His operation was a great success and he returned to his hobby in good shape. To recognise the contribution made by the Hospital the chorus went down to Papworth Hospital to sing for one of their Open Days, of all things travelling there and back on a double decker ‘bus !  True to form, Gil turned up dressed as a Conductor for the trip – a quite memorable and enjoyable day out.

With his friend Ron and ably supported by their wives, Olive and Jean, Gil organised several car boot sales for which chorus Members contributed items with all proceeds going to the Club. Anyone who has been to such a sale will appreciate the effort involved and the two guys worked tirelessly to do this to help the Club. This was formally recognised when Gil and Ron jointly won the Joe Riseborough Rosebowl for outstanding contributions to the Club. Gil was also a motorcycle fanatic sharing this interest with John Baker both of whom could tell many a tale about their various exploits.

Sadly, and in large part due to the anti-rejection drugs he needed to take, Gil’s health later deteriorated and he could no longer make it to rehearsals, although he would call in periodically to see how we were doing and to renew his many friendships in the Chorus.  Many will recall his final visit at which stage he was terminally ill and when he insisted on saying his farewells to each member there that night. He was presented with a specially recorded and unique CD of the Chorus titled ‘Under the Direction Of ‘ which contained many of the then recent Convention performances of Anvil Chorus.


Stan Cox

Stan Cox

Stan was a long-standing member of the bass section of Anvil Chorus, joining in the early 1980’s having been introduced by Geoff Robinson with whom he shared another hobby as co-members of the West Bromwich Mountaineering Club. Barbershop became a large part of his life and he was to be seen at many Barbershop events including the then Annual Sussex Camp.  He was one of very few Assistant Directors, covering for Rod in a contest, who having heard a poor start to a song, promptly stopped the performance and restarted.

He was a man who it seemed always had a twinkle in the eye accompanied by a shrewd sense of humour. Always willing to put his heart and soul into a performance he is fondly remembered for taking a lead role in the ‘send up’ of ‘Wait ‘til the Sun Shines Nellie’. He had good musical skills and would never pass up a chance to step out in front of the Chorus to direct whenever the opportunity arose.  Amongst his many skills Stan was viewed as the Club Carpenter; made boxes to balance the height of the vertically challenged on each row of the risers; made the first Club banner in bright red and silver material to match the uniforms at that time; and could be relied upon to find ways and means to fix almost anything, or find someone who could. His boxes for the Chorus trophies are still in use today

Second City Sound, our sister Chorus, was formed in 1990/1 and initially Stan was its Director, later becoming the Assistant Chorus Director to John Riseborough and subsequently John Brackpool [originally  Pratley] carrying his musical skills to that Chorus whilst still singing with Anvil Chorus. He was a proud member of the Bronze Medal winning Chorus at Harrogate in 1988

Stan enjoyed his cigarettes, and even whilst confined to hospital, he was always seeking out ways to sneak out to have one of his ‘fixes’. In later years he suffered a serious stroke but fought back from this really well. It’s said that whilst over in Ireland for one of their Conventions, he was waiting outside for other Club Members to emerge from their Hotel, and had decided to do his daily exercises, which included repeatedly flexing his affected hand into a fist and then releasing this. Rarely was Stan rendered speechless, but he was taken by surprise when a passer-by assumed that he was begging, and promptly thrust a coin into his outstretched hand!

Such was Stan’s affection for the Chorus, that he left a substantial bequest of £1000.00 to the Club in his will which the Management Committee committed to Education and Training initiatives.


 
John Carter

John Carter

John Carter joined the Chorus singing bass, following his initial approach to obtain music to use in his local church. His introduction to the Chorus and Barbershop singing in general led to many years of contributions to our hobby in a variety of ways both within our club and to later the British Association of Barbershop Singers.  Not long after joining the Chorus his son Jonathan also became a member, also singing the bass part alongside his dad.

John became a regular attender at rehearsals and singouts as well as contests – Mr Reliable in so many ways. He was the sort of guy who had a mischievous sense of fun and humour which came to the fore in so many ways during his membership. Memories of this are many, including his unannounced use of bells when performing ‘Jingle Bells’ one Christmas; and his claim to have used up half of his garden fence in producing stage props, including tankards, when we sang ‘Saloon’ at the Birmingham Convention. In making the tankard, his wife asked John, what have you done with my dressing table”   This talent developed when, appearing in a Music Hall act to raise funds for the chorus, he sang ‘Sonny Boy’ during the performance of which his ‘arms’ were extended to twice their normal length. The audience reaction each night was wonderful to see. On a visit to Ireland one year he was carrying an imitation starting pistol – another prop – which attracted considerable attention from the armed Police Officers at the Airport. Probably on this same trip, the quartet in which he occasionally sang used the title Four Kings Singers, which the compere of the contest amended just in time to the Four Devils! On another occasion he manufactured a wonderful roll-up screen for the Monday Morning Show through which along with Colin Williams; Roy Hodge and Rick Scott, poked their heads to perform ‘I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside’ just like the seafront photo-booths.

On numerous occasions John hosted guests to Anvil Chorus

Beyond activities in the Club, John devoted considerable efforts to the development and running of part of the Association’s Harmony Store – the section which at that time was dealing with the sale of recoded music of Choruses and Quartets, much of which he arranged to import from the United States. He could be always seen at the ‘shop’ usually dressed colourfully, but at one Brighton he excelled himself by not only his clothes, but with a Barbershop hat with flashing lights, a picture of which appeared on the front of the local newspaper that weekend when he became the image of Barbershop at that Convention.  As book-keeping was not his forte, his brother Kenneth took control of the finances of the Harmony Store, leaving John to lead on the sales front where his happy-go-lucky style must have clinched many a sale for the Association.

John’s wife, Joan had one complaint. She could only go with John anywhere twice, the second time was to apologise.