Nobody does it better. The London Welsh Male Voice Choir has had two opportunities to bid ffarwel to Dr. Haydn James, its Musical Director and Conductor for the past 30 years, and to Cliff Morgan, its retiring President. The first was Haydn’s last concert at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff in January, and the second was a glittering tribute dinner to both in London in March. Both occasions tugged at the heartstrings. Above all, however, music was the winner because this choir knows no better way in which to pay tribute than to sing. Both men are stepping down after many years of distinguished service to the choir
Haydn’s list of achievements since he joined the choir as a second tenor and soloist in 1966 are legion. As Keith Warren, the choir Chairman, remembered at the dinner, the first time Haydn conducted the choir was on the tour to Switzerland in 1967, which he did “with aplomb”. For a conductor who has had to put up with many rickety platforms in his time, Keith also mentioned an anxious concert at Glyndebourne in 1979 that Haydn just about managed to finish “without falling over”. Mention was also made of the choir’s audacity to sing God Save The Queen in Corwen, that bastion of Welsh nationalism.
Haydn’s own fond recollections included his 12 years as conductor of the ladies of the Dylan Singers “in a little room at the back of the London Welsh Club”. “I took 25 women to Paris” was another highlight. Many of these delightful and delighted ladies had a table of their own at the dinner.
Overall, he remembered 1,400 rehearsals, 589 engagements and 1,200 committee meetings. But it would be the musical memories that he would cherish most, the associations with Rick Wakeman and Sir George Martin, and the privilege to conduct soloists including Rita Hunter, Aled Jones, Sir Geraint Evans, Bryn Terfel, Katherine Jenkins and Charlotte Church. Ten nights with Take That at Earls Court also stood out, as did engagements at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Sydney Opera House, and the unforgettable service at the Cenotaph on November 11th 2008 that marked the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War
.Even now, Haydn is working with a group of young voices at the London Welsh Centre, well aware that the future health of Welsh music in the capital city lies with them. We can also look forward to seeing him continue to pursue an active life as Musical Director of the Welsh Rugby Union, leading the singing at future Welsh rugby internationals. He is also in continuing demand as conductor of the British and Irish Lions touring choir, and with a number of Cymanfa Ganu festivals in North America
.Colin Jones, chairman of the choir’s music committee, read congratulatory messages to both men from the Comrades Choir and the Hong Kong Male Voice Choir. A message, however, was not enough for Jim Burns, President of the Saengerfest Choir who had brought his wife Elaine on a special journey from Boston, USA, to present Haydn with the gift of a Paul Revere bowl and a commemorative certificate. He also presented a book on Boston to Cliff. Philip Madoc, succeeding Cliff as President of the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, made a gracious speech, and the Downing brothers, aided and abetted by John Edwards and Joe Jones, gave a light-hearted musical tribute in their own particular style. Nick Jenkins, a member of the Treorchy Male Voice Choir, gave a sidesplitting speech that was almost as hilarious as the kilt he was wearing, and prevented the evening from becoming mawkishly sentimental.
Proposing the toast to Cliff Morgan, OBE, CVO, who has been President of the choir since 1989 and a Vice-President for a number of years previously, Haydn noted that Cliff initially declined the invitation to succeed Doug Evans as President, thinking he wasn’t up to the job. However, Haydn said “this most unassuming man” had been “one of the most brilliant ambassadors the choir could have had, and a great inspiration to us all”.
Cliff won 29 caps as fly half for Wales. This, together with his exploits with the Lions and the Barbarians meant that he was one of the fifteen players to be inducted into the original International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997. He was a natural broadcaster, talker and communicator, and his commentary on one of the best tries of all time, during the Barbarians’ match against the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973, is rightly celebrated.
He became head of sports and outside broadcasts for the BBC for 11 years, and for ten years was the inimitable presenter of the radio programme Sport on Four. His sporting reputation is therefore secure. His love of music is not as well known. A pianist, he knows how the power of music can transcend barriers of geography and language, and can bring diverse people close together by expressing emotions that lie deep within the soul.
Cliff’s reply to the toast was necessarily brief in length, but full of his trademark warmth and appreciation. It included a particular word of thanks “to the ladies, without whom we couldn’t live”. As 90 present and former choristers joined to end the evening with song, Haydn stepped to one side and invited Cliff to conduct Gwahoddiad, the hymn with the resounding Amen that has long been a staple of the choir’s repertoire. He had no need of a musical score in front of him. He knew this one by heart. He might have had his back to the audience, but we choristers could see from his face how important this moment was for him. This was “his” choir, and the pride was mutual.