During the early months of 2017, and at the grand age of 93, Alan Pascoe's wife Pam, wrote down her memories of the Choirs early days. It is a charming account of her life with our Founder and 'how it was' in those days gone by....
"Ideas for a Male Voice Choir had been with Alan long before. Actually out in Borneo. Singing, I think, is natural to everyone, and different countries, regions and even families developed their own favorites.
Cornwall, with its separation geographically from England, had its own music and in particular at Christmas time when families gathered together, the old Carols would be sung in Chapels and at home round the piano. Alan’s family, from the Helston area, and mine from Camborne, both Alan and I grew up with these Carols, and were inclined to think of them as ‘proper’ with their complicated harmonies as compared to the popular English carols which were usually sung with the air and possibly a little descant harmony at the end.
After leaving home for University, Alan was always with a Choir, in Exeter and at Oxford, at both of which he sang with a Madrigal choir. There was nothing like this in Borneo, and no other Cornish Officers serving in British North Borneo.
However, there were always the occasional official visits of one of the Services...’Showing the flag’ as it was said, and on these occasions there would be a plea sent around to all offices asking for volunteers to help to give some entertainment to the troops who were given short periods of break from duty. You had to specify how many and when you would have them and for what form of entertainment.
Alan always said we would have any Cornishmen and of any rank. We usually opted for an evening visit when office hours were over, and we would make a meal at our home after which Alan would ensure their safe return to their base. As you can imagine this became very sought after by service men, especially those young men, probably homesick, and with family men missing their own children who were able to spend some time, playing with Mellyn and Glyn.
On arrival at our house, Alan always, when introducing everyone, would say to the senior officer, "Now Sir, with your permission, as we are all Cornishmen in my home together for a short while, may I have your permission to ask for no Ranks?" Any officers present were always pleased to be asked for their permission, and it was never refused, so any NCOs were able to relax, and officers could forget rank for a bit which led to some memorable occasions, strictly confidential, as everyone agreed.
In an evening’s entertainment, after the meal and over a drink someone, usually Alan probably, would start to hum something out of force of habit. It would not be long before others started joining in and quite naturally harmonising together. The little harmonium would be pulled out, and our little stock of music, and often with the two children to their delight being allowed to join in, the evening continued happily.
So, the Pascoe's home visits became quite an event not to be missed by visiting troops.
Royalty had to visit British colonies regularly, and when the Queen did not go herself, she was always represented by one of the royal family or a high-ranking member of her government. Borneo was to have its royal visit.
It so happened Sandakan, where we were stationed at the time, was to be the recipient port of call for the royals who were to be represented by Prince Philip. What a prospect, but again, this must be a separate story. Back to the Loveny origins. The Britannia carried a huge crew, so, as usual, Alan sent his invitation for any Cornishmen, and got the reply that there were eighteen. We'll have the lot, irrespective of rank, replied Alan, informing me and saying "wouldn't they love to have a pasty?" The day eventually came after countless detailed arrangements made.... another story...
Having spent nearly all day preparing pasties (another separate story!!), the Naval transport delivered our mixed bunch of guests and Alan gave his usual welcoming introductory speech. Every one of the men were absolutely and impeccably dressed and mannered as demanded on Britannia, each well aware that one misdemeanor meant instant dismissal, so when Alan turned to the officers and said "Gentlemen, caps over here please, pointing to the sideboard, there was a moment of obvious shock in the men. Alcohol was forbidden for the crew on Brittania, but Alan said they were ashore now, and with that drinks were served. Glyn and Hilary appeared, handing round dishes of ‘makanan kecil’ (Finger food) and immediately captured the men's interest and they started chatting. Having to be on utter best behaviour, dinner was getting strained until one of the officers, a man from Penzance, said very formally to Alan, “As one Cornishman to another, permission to eat my pasty Cornish style Sir?” Completely taken aback, Alan replied, “Granted”, and of course all formalities dropped and the evening, with drinks and singing, finishing up with the inevitable sentimental pieces and finalised with hymns, was a delight to everyone and the catalyst for that Male voice choir of the future. I shall add a naughty comment here saying that Alan did admit he was glad the Navy sent transport for the men and he didn't have to drive them back to the wharf.
These rare parties, with musical Cornishmen, made Alan long for each repetition, and he kept thinking, why was there no choir in his own home village? What a scandal, and why hadn't somebody ever done something about it? Not even his father had bothered, though of course he was well known in the area as a willing soloist. Alan's mind started dwelling on this, and there and then, he determined that if and when we ever got settled at Carnglaze, this was something he would do.
Some years passed now, as we were transferred to various departments and districts in Borneo.... each one a story in itself until, after a stretch of three years and three months with no local leave at all, we became due to return home. Oddly enough, it was a sad farewell from our native friends and particularly so for the children who knew no other life.
However, back to Loveny. Settling at Carnglaze was hard for all of us. Alan had to look for a job. He found himself over qualified for jobs he applied for in Cornwall, including one at St. Austell's English China Clay, which he really thought he would get. So he had to accept the fact he had to leave Cornwall to work so, to Birmingham as a Graduate recruitment Officer for British Motor Company, BMC, (later to be British Leyland), and that must be another separate chapter.
Alan became so disenchanted with life in the Midlands and how poorly it provided our children with pastimes compared with his own childhood memoirs of the freedom of the countryside. The final straw came when he watched little Trevenan playing in the garden with a hosepipe pouring water into a plastic paddling pool. Alan came in to me saying, "Look at that child. At home we have our own river and woods he could go to, and as for the others, though there's lots of entertainment for them, they are all artificial and I want my family to grow up with nature, not city made." l was really shocked and realised how unhappy and out of place Alan really was, which was beginning to affect us all, so I agreed, and the process of moving to Cornwall began..... another chapter!
So, back at Carnglaze with all that entailed... We became ardent Male voice Choir supporters, attending every concert that we could, children too, so they quickly became familiar with choirs and harmonized, often with unaccompanied singing.
Auntie Lulu had given Alan a tape recording of a wonderful account of the life and history of Thomas Merritt and his incredible self taught ability to compose choral and other music. This re enforced Alan’s determination, and he (unofficially) got his office staff to make separate copies of each Merritt carol, which were carefully guarded and preserved ready for that future time when his fantasy choir became a reality. Despite the fact that this was not to be for many years to come, he continued with his hopes, and each year, he contrived to take a part of his annual leave in December, when as a family we returned to Carnglaze in time to go "down west". We would attend at least one of the Chapel Merritt Carol concerts, spending the day with Jenifer, his sister and John Harris, her husband. These concerts were actually chapel services, and were totally supported by the Community.
We became avid followers of local MV Choirs, and the ones we were unable to go and hear in person, we were now able to listen to on the rapidly developing recording devices, so we were very quickly familiar with all the Cornish MV Choirs and their repertoires. This made Alan even more determined to rectify the lack of a Choir in St Neot, so he took to discussing this with a few local men friends, usually over a pint in the London Inn,
The landlord of the London Inn, then Jack Haley, worked as a traveling rep for St. Austell Breweries so, being local, not only did he know everybody around, but he had contacts all over the area. There was soon a little gathering of men interested, and Alan got them all together, and gradually a few names were gathered. So it was decided to have a get together at Carnglaze to discuss possibilities. I naturally served cups of tea, and brought out what music the Pascoe and Jaco families kept for their own usage. I was asked to play the piano while these few men sang along so by the end of the evening, this little assembly had become Founder members, Jack Hayley, Arthur Sweet, Frank Smeeth, Ewart Honey, Gilbert Roose and a very youthful Colin Arthur, then a quiet teenager with a gentle but tunefully true voice, and myself at the piano all to meet same time and place next week, and bringing along any other good singers known to them if they wished to. That was a Thursday, so from that time on, Thursday nights were devoted to choir night and regular proceedings took place
Alan saw to the fire in the sitting room where the piano was and the men assembled. Children tidied away belongings left around and prepared themselves for an evening in their bedrooms, taking the dog with them. The fire would be built up enormously, and the music arranged. None of the men had music. They couldn't read music anyhow except Colin who had had piano lessons. With great difficulty we had improvised by copying and enlarging the music notes, bar by bar on the back of separate sheets of wallpaper, which, with the aid of numerous spring type clothes pegs, we clipped onto a very Heath Robinson contraption that rested from the floor against the big stone chimneybreast of the central open hearth fireplace, and chairs arranged so it could be seen by as many seated as possible. During the course of the evening, the fire roared up. The men got increasingly hotter with their efforts, and usually all the windows had to be opened in desperation. At halftime, I left the piano and brought in the trolley with cups of tea. And Arthur Sweet solemnly went around with his battered trilby hat to collect fifty pence from each person, which was to be put towards buying copies of music. The first Conductor was a schoolmaster from Bolventor, Mr. Reg Bennett who had formed a teenager’s choir at St. Luke's chapel and was known for ‘knowing his music’. He had lived here many years but still thought himself more sophisticated, and constantly bemoaned the Cornish pronounciation of the ‘oo’ sound. “The moon in June”, he would say in desperation, “not the Miune in June”. Poor man, he had endless patience as the music score had to be learned bar by bar, with him using a bamboo pointer provided from the garden by Alan to show each separate note by hand, and more often singing himself for the men to copy which actually was much more successful as the men could all sing according to their abilities. As harmonies were introduced, the men became more and more enthusiastic, and when numbers enabled four parts it began to feel like a real choir.
Of course not everyone could come every week so it was a case of repetition for those who had missed.
Eventually enough men came together and it was decided they should perform in public. St. Luke's Chapel at Bolventor was decided upon as the venue with Reg Bennetts as conductor. It was a tiny, very devoted chapel struggling with a pitifully small and aging congregation to keep going, and deserved any support available. A really suitable cause, to be aided in raising funds, and the home chapel of our first conductor, and several members. Excitement was high. It had to be done properly. Choristers should all wear their darkest jacket and trousers. This was no problem... everyone had a funeral garment and most could sport a proper shirt and tie. I was to be the accompanist, and with Glyn's help, I was to record the performance on my new fangled small tape recorder for the men to hear themselves afterwards. The chapel was minute, lit with oil lamps and heated by a single black leaded stove in the centre aisle with its chimney pipe going straight up through the ceiling and roof. Mellyn and Glyn sat either side of me, and the little chapel gradually filled to such capacity that we were all jammed together. The choir did not disgrace itself and got through the programme with satisfaction. Because the chapel people there were really strict, there was no applause which was a bit unnerving, and the Chairman introducing each item was enthusiastically flowery in his speeches. It proved to be a long programme. The Soloist, by invitation, was a farmer called Tamblyn, a big strong good natured man renowned for his wonderful base voice, and thus greatly in demand as a soloist at choir, chapel and other events ensuring a large audience. He brought his own accompanist who played immaculately and complemented his singing. I realized that she was a brilliant accompanist, and that though I was able to provide what the men needed for learning practices, I was incapable of accompanying them properly. So, I made it my business to find out more about Elizabeth, and later on after the days of Tom Pickard and Thelma Tucker she took over as accompanist and, with Nick Hart, helped Loveny to the position of Cornwall’s most prestigious MV Choir.
Reg Bennetts continued with the choir until the time came when failing health necessitated giving up. Tom Pickard, a Liskeard man who conducted the Liskeard men’s choir agreed to take over and progress continued with more concert invitations. Thelma Tucker as pianist with her ‘Millpool Trio’ were frequently the guest ‘turn’ in Loveny’s programme and were together, with Tom and Choir, at the Morval concert.
Thelma was the organist at Millpool Chapel, and the mother of Jenny, the soprano in the Millpool trio who were greatly in demand at concerts locally. At one concert in Morval School, Tom was to conduct with Thelma at the piano, and the trio as guests. Tom was to bring a great friend who was an experienced Conductor to assess the choir's progress so it was a serious evening. Tom, was particular about the choice of items, and being Cornish and old fashioned as well, he insisted on some hymns, his favourite being 'Abide with me' which the choir had learned well
The little schoolroom where the concert was held was packed, and the choir got a great reception. After a couple of items it seemed that Tom was uncomfortable. He seemed to be getting very hot and a bit flustered when, suddenly to everyone's horror, he collapsed onto the floor. Geoffrey Pearce’s wife, a trained nurse, took over and quickly Tom was put in the front seat of Geoff big car and rushed to hospital where sadly later he died of that heart attack. Tom’s friend, left behind with the stunned audience, addressed everyone, and said all that was left for everyone to do was what Tom would have wanted, so very quietly and almost reverently, Thelma took over as Conductor, gave the sections their note, and they sang 'Abide with me' before dispersing.
Meanwhile, Alan who had heard of a young, out of work, somewhat way out young man Nick Hart living with his parents up near Minions, had taken a liking to him and offered him a job guiding at Carnglaze to help him out. Nick’s father, a retired doctor and his mother lived in an old farmhouse up at Bolventor and Nick and Jenny, his wife had started a pony trekking business
Alan's suggested that Nick should join the choir. After several sessions, it was obvious that Thelma having to lead the choir unaccompanied, and was being far too kind hearted to discipline the men who, like naughty children were taking advantage of her. One evening she was unable to be present so Nick proposed they just had a sing song, having made the effort to get there. Of course, being Nick, he couldn't help but make a jokey takeover as Conductor, but it became obvious very quickly that he knew what he was doing, and the men responded. To cut along story short it was Alan who had the delicate task of suggesting they should help each other out. After a while Nick took over the choir, and Thelma concentrated on playing. A new routine took over, and Nick soon revolutionised things, starting by putting each man into his appropriate section so maybe a tenor suddenly discovered that he really was a baritone and so on. Gradually new items were introduced and a sense of unity developed.
It was decided the choir should get organised. A committee was formed, a Men's committee. They should dress alike for concerts. Not all could afford a separate suit just for choir. Wives starting to grumble. They should really have special choir dress for concerts. That’s women's job, clothes. Meanwhile at home, wives getting impatient with men’s dithering, got together and decided they needed their own say, so made their own committee. All men must wear a white shirt and a tie for concerts. However no two shirts looked the same, so the ladies decided to raise funds and buy enough shirts of the same style for them. This was the beginning of a huge venture that over the years led to the complete recognisable Loveny uniform of today. Colour was agreed upon after Alan proposed blue. In the slate trade, Carnglaze slates were known as St.Neot Blues, and the choir, having started at Carnglaze, this was appropriate. after more and more fund raising over the years, the lady's committee covered the cost of free uniform trousers and jackets together with a tie, but the men had to order and pay for their own shirt which the ladies ordered in bulk through the help of one member who was a Naval Quartermaster at Devonport, being responsible for the tailoring and provision of his commands division at Devonport. The tailor came and each man was measured individually for his uniform. So the final result was an impeccably turned out group of men in their distinctive ‘Blues’ which became their trademark. Since then, as you all know, additions and changes have taken place, but the Blues still characterise Loveny and is recognised with the respect it has earned over the years.
Nick introduced some very unusual items, some coming from his youngest son who was into his musical training in London. The whole atmosphere of Loveny singing had taken on a novel sound, some quite unconventional and revolutionary pieces in MV Choir history. Nick entered the choir for local, and later County Festivals, always with his own twist to the required schedule. The climax came when at the Cornwall County Festival, Loveny won the prestigious County cup with their Zulu Song Nick’s son had gleaned from an international gathering and passed on to his father to try with the choir. It was a sensation, and earned tumultuous applause every time it was included in a programme.
Nick continued with his fun making now and again at concerts. The choir and audiences loved it. However, occasionally the men would decide it was time Nick had a bit of his own medicine, and arranged a take down for him. The first was at a tiny little chapel where the entrance door was at the back and opened directly on to the central aisle to the pulpit, where the choir was to sing. During a very quiet passage of one song, there was suddenly an enormous hammering at the entrance door. There was a horrified silence while choir, Nick, and all the audience strained their heads to see what it was. Very slowly, VERY slowly the door opened, and to everyone's horror two policemen, clad in helmets and cloaks, with their truncheons swinging in their hands came in gradually, looking suspiciously around, and growling “Allo, Allo, Allooo, and wits goin on on ere?” There was a deathly silence and everyone was transfixed as they made their way slowly to the pulpit where they stood glowering around, and at Nick in particular. Nick was unusually struck dumb and after a moment looked helplessly at the congregation, when suddenly the tallest policeman in a very deep voice, turned to the pianist and said “Ready?” She motioned to the choir who, automatically took their places, and then turned to Nick with a very exaggerated movement indicating he should be ready to conduct, then the pianist struck a chord and moved to take Nick’s place. The audience, and Nick, by now were absolutely dumbfounded. Suddenly, as one man, the choir drew a big breath. The baton was raised .......and out came... ‘A policeman's lot is not a happy one’.
Adrian Burrows, the tall policeman, and John Hudson, the short plump one raised their helmets and made exaggerated signs to Nick before resuming their places in the ranks of the choir. Well. Can you imagine the scene? ZEARLY DAYS.
Everyone was convulsed with laughter despite being in character, and, Nick, though being made to look a bit silly, took it all in good part, addressing the audience as though for comfort, saying, "Now, you see what I have to put up with.” Of course, everybody loved it, and it made a great bond between the men who had actually been somewhat nervous of what his reaction would be, having to take a joke against himself.
The second occasion was even more dramatic
It was a much bigger venue and event, and Nick had decided it would be just the opportunity to show off with the difficult Zulu item. It was well rehearsed, in fact, the men were getting a bit fed up as it was such a demanding piece. The man who took the solo bit, stepping out to introduce the dum, dum bit, was a young games and PE teacher at Bodmin Comprehensive School, and music was his second subject, so he and Nick didn't always see eye to eye on things choirwise. It was his idea to give Nick a little ‘come uppance’ and instructed the choir to give him absolute cooperation, and to leave everything to him. He did warn them all to be prepared for a surprise, but refused to say any more.
The concert arrived, and the choir, knowing there was something special but unknown afoot, had made a special effort to turn up in full. The concert went well. The Zulu item was second after the interval, and there was obvious concern amongst the men as Michael’s place was empty. Where was the crucial soloist? Nick looked distracted, and knew that he would have to do that bit which, of course, he could do impeccably having learned it before he could teach Michael. All went well, but when the moment arrived when the soloist stepped forward, and Nick was just stepping down from his rostrum, there was a loud, high shriek from the side of the stage, and out in front of Nick and the bemused choir, leapt an African, clad only in his brilliantly coloured wrap over rug, with brown arms and legs flashing and waving as he took centre stage and began his chant. The choir, of course immediately realised this was the surprise, and boldly took up their parts with no hesitation. The show must go on, and Nick automatically resumed his conducting with the choir responding with, unusual enthusiasm, The applause was deafening as all the choir added their appreciation to that of the audience, and this became a talking point for a very long time. The full details slowly filtered out. Louis' lovely young, beautician wife had been recruited, and, with her bag of cosmetics, had taken her husband to the cloakroom at halftime; stripped him of his uniform and painted him all over with a dark suntan lotion before dressing him in a native costume they acquired whilst working in Africa. This event became one of the many stories of Loveny's volatile history. This item became a favorite in Loveny's repertoire though never again repeated in such dramatic form.
Alan and Nick had many discussions about the Choir’s repertoire. Alan was keen on including Cornish songs as he felt these should be promoted and preserved as part of the Cornish heritage. Amongst these Nick was able to add a variety of other songs providing a balanced concert programme. The really Cornish pieces, e g Carols were not well known in East Cornwall, so did not get the volume of appreciative applause at concerts, and were, moreover difficult to learn, with their intricate harmonies. However a high standard of concerts continued, and the choir was never without being in demand. One or two more County Competitions had been won, and eventually, Nick announced that they had qualified for an entry at the prestigious Welsh Eisteddfod, which, was an incredible compliment. Loveny did go to the Eisteddfod. By now, Alan's regional pride had started a desire to get the choir singing in the Cornish language as Welsh is used in Wales. He decided Cornish should be used in Cornwall, and this produced sparks with Nick as you may imagine. I suppose at that time, Alan and I were of the very few really interested, and in fact actually learning the language. Even amongst the Cornish Bards at that time, there were very few indeed who did anything other than study it as a dead language like Latin. They wrote it, but anyone actually speaking it was looked upon as cranky and too way out for respectability, Alan and I had decided to learn it, and went to evening classes at Liskeard Board School which was of course where my father had been Headmaster.........
Very shortly after Loveny’s formation, there formed a unique, close, almost family feeling. A strong sense of camaraderie grew which, I think, still exists to this present day. Well, everyone knew each other and their families, being in the same country area. A need arose for someone to be responsible when the choir wished to express support in differing events. For many years, Alan and I did this. On behalf of the choir, we represented them at personal events such as funerals, family celebrations or tragedies. Each individual chorister was supported as and how the choir was able, and in turn welcomed and included in many family events. There was no doubt this was a very tight knit community, and the choir world, wondered what Loveny would be up to next. There was no doubt that being a member of Loveny was a total commitment by the men and also their wives, but the character that has grown continues to strengthen. And years go by. Older members pass on and glad to say are being replaced and still being inspired by the Loveny ‘traditional spirit’. One aspect of its being has always been a close knit caring for each other attitude.
So, to conclude, I would like to say how very proud I am and most certainly Alan would have been, had he lived, to know how wonderfully his dream had come true; how much pleasure has been given and help donated to so many deserving causes. But, most of all, to know that family members are taking part and enjoying the experience too. Of course one could go on and on, but I think I have done enough to give an impression of the beginnings, and that I should now let a younger person make new chapters as and when deemed necessary".