In the beginning.......
In the year 1951 it was decided that Rhymney should mark the occasion of the Festival of Britain by holding an eisteddfod on Saturday November 3rd. During the September of that year regret was expressed in certain quarters that the town, which had long been proud of it's tradition in choral singing, was not to be represented in the male voice choir section of the eisteddfod, so a party of some 30 voices was formed to compete, under the conductorship of Tom Emlyn Owen, in that one event. Mr. Owen, a Rhymney man, conducted his first male choir at the tender age of 16 years. In his 18th year, he was accompanist to the famous Rhymney United Choir when they sang in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, on June 6, 1925, at which time he was "presented" to King George V and Queen Mary.
On the competition day the conductor, with Mr. Gwilym Morris as accompanist, took his party to the stage and the subsequent performance was good enough to gain the second prixe. As a result of this success and not uninfluenced by the enjoyment each singer had experienced thus far, a meeting was called for the following Wednesday - the sole item on the agenda being a discussion on the possibility of the organisation becoming permanent. The meeting voted in favour and the first official practice was held on November 15th 1951 in the vestry of Ebeneezer Chapel, Twyn Carno, Rhymney.
The choir's first engagement, in February 1952, was a concert in Leamington Spa under the auspices of the Welsh Society of that town: but on that occasion the choir was nameless as no one had thought of giving the party a title. However, following a conversation between Alcwyn Savage and Gwyn Jones in a car parked at the bottom of Harcourt Place, Rhymney, it was suggested that the choir be named in memory of the Silures - those wild and wooly people who once lived in this area and who proved more than a match for the Romans - and so the "Silurian Singers" were born.
During the years 1951-58 the Silurians, in addition to winning prizes at many local eisteddfodau, became well-known as a result of their excursions throughout Monmouthshire and neighbouring counties giving concerts in aid of all manner of charities, and this period was a most enjoyable one for the choir. In those days most of the solo "artistes" were found from wqithin the ranks of the choir, and Haydn Hughson's rendering of the monologue "The Single Hair" is still remembered, as indeed is the performance of "The Bold Gendarmes" with actions by Bob Wilson and Danny Owen. The conductor was also ably assisted by Miss Beatrice May Davies who became accompanist in February 1953 and Mrs. Myfanwy Jones, who succeeded her in October 1956. Both these ladies entered wholeheartedly into all choir activities and their devoted service is gratefully acknowledged.
Mr. Tom Emlyn Owen - the first Musical Director of the Silurian Choir
The Choir gathered members and support in a short time and embarked on building a strong musical foundation on the concert platform. Even in those formative years the Choir was not content to rest on its laurels and with it's success at local eisteddfodau the choir strove toward greater musicianship by entering the National Eisteddfod to be held at Ebbw Vale. The choir's hopes were almost dashed with the failing health of Mr Owen but fortunately a young man from the neighbouring community of Dowlais came to the rescue. A musical director who not only put his mark on the choir but over the next forty years exercised tremendous influence on male choirs and in fact the whole choral traditions of South Wales and we refer of course to the late Mr Glynne Jones. Wales was a poorer place for his passing at Christmas 2000.
Under the baton of Mr Jones the Choir embarked on its golden age of competition success, with no fewer than four National Eisteddfod victories, and its visit across Offa's Dyke gained the Cheltenham Gold Cup as overall choral champions. Again the competition success went hand in hand with an innovative programme of concerts and music commissions.
Rhymney Silurian Male Choir with the Cheltenham Gold Cup
with conductor Glynne Jones
Following the departure of My Glynne Jones to another choir you may have heard about called "Pendyrus" the Silurians were led by a man of great professionalism from a valley in the opposite direction to that of Mr Jones and we looked towards Ebbw Vale and Mr Paul Bailey.
Mr. Paul Bailey-the third Musical Director of the Silurian Choir
Mr Bailey was indeed a dedicated professional and an exacting taskmaster. The partnership was soon rewarded with invitations to international conferences and even being invited to sing for oriental Royalty
Rhymney Silurian Male Choir with conductor Paul Bailey and accompanist Mrs. Myfanwy Jones
It was under the reign of Mr Bailey that one of the greatest management decisions of the choir was taken. It was decided a deputy conductor. The choice involved appointing a newly qualified teacher born and bred in Rhymney and a chorister to boot. Now having served his apprenticeship with Mr Bailey the obvious successor at Mr Bailey's departure in 1969 to return to full time education was that deputy Mr Ralph Williams.
Rhymney Silurian Male Choir with new conductor Ralph Williams
Under the stewardship of Ralph Williams the choir continued on the competition stage with successes including the Portcawl, Cardigan and National Eisteddfodau within Wales and the Cornish Open Championship at St. Austell. Prestigious concerts with performed at Eton College and Royal Variety Concert at Windsor.
Rhymney Silurian Male Choir with conductor Ralph Williams and accompanist Jonathan Price
Never content to rest on its laurels the Choir has been to the fore in expanding the Welsh Male Choir Repertoire with works commissioned from such eminent composers as the late William Mathias and Mervyn Burtch. The Choir is highly regarded for the concert it gives in aid of many national charities, which incidentally account for over 80% of the Choir's time. An innovation, which the Choir embarked on, was on the international scene. After many years of trying the Choir embarked on the establishment of gaining international friendships through music.
Mr. Ralph Williams-the fourth and current Musical Director of the Silurian Choir.
From 1977 contacts was established with three choirs from Germany, two from the Stuttgart area of Germany in Neckarweihingen /Ludwigsburg and Aichscheiss near Esslingen.and one from Dauchingen in the Black Forest. From the link with the choir from Neckarweihingen a village forming a part of the town of Ludwigsburg the twin town of Caerphilly and the Rhymney Valley a 30-year bond of friendship was celebrated in 2007. In April 2008 a delegation will be visiting the Choir in Neckarweihingen to celebrate its Fiftieth Anniversary In addition further exchanges have been established with choirs from France, Spain, Italy, Finland, Norway and a short concert tour to Pisek in the Czech Republic to the twin Town of Caerphilly County Borough. Its dedication to overseas friendship was rewarded with the Choir being invited to sing for the President of Germany during a State Visit to the United Kingdom. In addition the Choir was awarded in recognition of its national and international achievements with the W.S. Gwynn Williams Award.
Rhymney Silurian Male Choir with conductor Ralph Williams and accompanist Mrs. Maureen Dallimore
During this period a major omission was rectified and the choir released two highly successful recordings under the "Sain" label. The most popular songs from both cassettes are now available on a CD.
Rhymney Silurian Male Choir with conductor Ralph Williams and accompanist Ashleigh Powell
What can we say of the future of the Choir? Primarily the Choir will not be found wanting for based on the commitment of past and present choristers and the musical team the foundations have been laid. The present Choir will soon be embarking on a recruitment campaign to ensure that the Rhymney Silurian Male Choir continue and in continuing it will never rest on its laurels but ensure that when people talk of Welsh Male voice singing they will remember this little corner of Wales and the “Siluries” that Celtic tribe whose descendants still live and sing here.