Jul 21, 2009

The Fron Male Voice Choir - An Interview With David Thomas Jones

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The Fron Male Voice Choir at Chester
Americymru is proud to present an interview with David Thomas Jones. David sings 2nd Bass with the Fron Male Voice Choir. He is a Welsh speaker and a secondary school teacher in Rhosllannerchrugog. The Choir is named for its home village Froncysyllte, a small village at the eastern entrance to the Vale of Llangollen, also home to Thomas Telford's Llangollen Canal Aqueduct across the River Dee..

Americymru: What inspired your recent version of 'America the Brave'?
David: Sorry about this “America the Brave” is not my work I came across this on You Tube. I find it amazing that people use our tracks to create such wonderful work.

Americymru: Can you tell us a little about the history of the choir?
David: The choir was formed in 1947 primarily to compete at the newly formed Llangollen International Eisteddfod, the choir has a history to be proud of. Throughout its sixty two years of existence “The Fron” has achieved regular competition success both in Britain and abroad. Success on the competition stage include wins at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, BBC choir of the Year to name but a few, and the choir have gained international wins at festivals in Germany, Athens and Malta.
Americymru: What is the Choir's relationship with the Llangollen International Eisteddfod?

David: We have probably competed at the eisteddfod more than any other choir plus we are often involved in evening concerts. This year we participated in the opening gala concert along with Cor Godre Aran, the Colin Jones Singers, Mark Evans, tenor Alexei Kalvecs and Faryl Smith. As for competing we have been fortunate to have won the Male Voice Choir competition on three occasions 1977, 1984 and in 1994 we have come in the top three on numerous occasions. Each year the choir donates the trophy for the Male Voice Choir Competition in memory of our first Musical Director, Lloyd Edwards.

Americymru: How do members join the choir? Is there an audition process?
David: Many of our present members have been recruited by existing members. Once in however the choir gets a hold on you, I’ve been a member for the past 24 years. We still have six of the founder members who attend practice regularly and are hardly missing from concerts. Not bad after 60 years.
After our first CD was released a number of perspective choristers joined but left when they realised the commitment and work necessary. Now we ask prospective members to sit and observe for a couple of weeks before having a voice test. This gives the chorister time to consider if its what he wants and the voice test is mereley for Ann to decide which is the correct section of the choir for the chorister. They then serve a three month probationary period before singing again for Ann who then decides if they are ready to become a full member.
Americymru: How often do you rehearse? Could you describe a typical rehearsal session for our readers?
David: We rehearse on Mondays and Thursdays at Acrefair school (between Ruabon and Llangollen) from 7pm until 9pm no practice is the same. Being close to Llangollen we often have international visitors at our practices. Its an open practice and everyone is made welcome.
If we need to learn things quickly we split into bass and tenors and Ann Atikinson our MD and Owen Roberts our Deputy MD goes through the note bashing, we then come together to put the finer touches to pieces. Other times we are preparing pieces for concerts for the following weekend.
Americymru: What is a typical year's tour schedule for your choir? What kind of events do you typically perform at?
David: We have always taken on all kinds of engagements and still do. In 2005 however we were singing at a wedding and one of the guests was Daniel Glatman the manager of the boy band Blue. He approached the choir and said he had been blown away by our performance and offered to be our manager. The choir was very sceptical and despite agreeing to him acting on our behalf we did not expect to hear from him again. However the next time he approached us he told us he had been very busy and had managed to get UCJ (Universal Classic and Jazz) interested in the choir. He arranged for three representatives of UCJ to come to the choir .They came to a practice and that was it, we were offered a three record deal with UCJ. Due to Daniels involvement the press nicknamed us the Oldest Boy Band in the World.

Americymru: How did the sale of that first CD go?
David: On November the 20th 2006 the choir released its first commercial recording under contract to Universal and it became an instant hit. Under the baton of Ann Atkinson, who also features as a soloist on the CD, “Voices of the Valley” soon became the fastest selling classical CD in history selling in excess of 160,000 copies in 3 days. In the UK it has been awarded a Gold and Platinum disc; it held the number 1 position for 14 weeks and spent another 15 weeks in the top 10 it can still be found in the top 30 of the Classic FM charts over three years after its release. The success of the album has not been limited to the Classic charts; it has been in the top 40 of the ‘pop’ charts for 8 weeks reaching 9th at its peak. On the 20th of September 2007 the album was released in Australia and it jumped to the top of the Australian classical charts and again the Fron has been awarded a Gold disc for its Australian sales.
Americymru: How did the subsequent CD’s sell?
David: The following two album "Voices of the Valley - Encore" and voices of the Valley Home followed in the same footsteps as its predecessor. They have been awarded a gold and platinum disk and both were named classical album of the year. Encore for 2008 and home for 2009. To date the combined sales of all three albums have exceeded 1 million. All three albums were nominated for classical Brit Awards the winner were decided by an Internet vote and we were beaten by a Sir Paul MaCartney in 2007, by Blake in 2008, and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in 2009. We had the honour of opening the Award ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall where we were joined by Katherine Jenkins for World in Union.
Americymru: What knock on effect did the release of the albums have?
David: The success of the first album resulted in appearances on TV programmes in 2007 such as the Paul O'Grady Show; This Morning (twice); Country File; Parkinson Christmas Show; the Rugby World Cup Songs of Praise; and a documentary screened on BBC2 called "Strictly Male Voice." Strictly Male Voice was also screened in October 2008 on Network TV in Canada and the choir again appeared on ITV's "This Morning" show. 2008 also saw Rolf Harris and the choir collaborating on the single "Two Little Boys" which was re-released as a single along with the choir's new album "Voices of the Valley Home".
The filming of Rolf and the choir recording the single in Owestry also featured on a BBC documentary called 'Family at War'. On November 12th 2008 the choir was honoured to have participated in ITV's live Celebrations of Prince Charles' 60th birthday, On this show they joined the Royal Ballet and Eric Idle in singing "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life".
In 2007 we were asked to take part in BBC 2’s Busking Challenge, a competition where artists take to the streets to perform and the winner is the act that can raise the most money in 15min. We raised over £240 on the streets of Chester and won the competition. Our sum remained unbeaten until this year when another Welshman beat us, Tom Jones who sang outside London’s Festival Hall.
Americymru: What is a typical year's tour schedule for your choir? What kind of events do you typically perform at?

David: Since the CDs the choir have had two successful UK tours. The choir found the tours enjoyable but hard work and at one point they had four concerts in seven days. However what an opportunity it gave us, singing at such venues as London's Festival Hall; Glasgow's Regent Theatre; Manchester's Bridgewater Hall; Birmingham's Symphony Hall; Newcastle's Sage Theatre; and Ipswich's Theatre Royal; and of course not forgetting the two nominations for Classical Brit Awards and the honour of opening the Award ceremony in 2007 at the Royal Albert Hall. This year we were engaged to perform at the Profesional Football Association Awards Evening in London when Ryan Giggs won player of the season.
We’ve also had concert tours in Canada, USA, France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Ireland and Cyprus, next month we are in Poland.

Americymru: Have you worked with any well known artists?
David: During the first tour we were supported by Alfie Boe and in the second we were supported by the up and coming twenty three year old Kiwi, Will Martin. Will also joined us on our third album singing 'Home' - a song made famous by Westlife and Michael Bublé.

On our second album JPR Williams the legendary Welsh rugby full back joined Ann in a duet of How Great Thou Art. On the second album Michael Ball joined us for Rhythm of Life and on the third we were joined by Cerys Matthews for Calon Lan and of course Rolf Harris for Two Little Boys. We’ve also sung with Lesley Garrett on songs of Praise and we are joining up with her again in September at London’s Tower Festival which takes place at the Tower of London. We are also singing with Hayley Westenra in November at London's Festival of Remembrance which is being broadcast on National TV. We've also sung with Bryn Terfyl, Shan Cothi and Rebecca Evans to name but a few.
Americymru: Does the choir have standards or pieces that it's known for or gets asked to perform specifically?
David: We try to entertain our audiences with a varied programme of traditional welsh pieces, songs from the shows and classical opera choruses but since the success of our CDs our audience have become younger and songs from the CDs are always a hit. Particularly Dychefir Fi (You raise me Up in Welsh) and our collaboration with Ann of “World in Union”.
Americymru: Now you've released three CDs are things coming to an end?
David: No, UCJ have offered us a fourth album which we are in the middle of recording, it has to be finished by the end of July. Its to be called Voices of the Valley Down Memory Lane. There is also a film in the offering as Lionsgate Studios bought the option to screen the choir's story and they are currently developing a script for it.
Americymru: Where can people obtain recordings of your performances?
David: All three CDs are available from iTunes and Amazon we also have a DVD of us Live in Concert recorded in the St Jude’s Festival in London this is also available from Amazon. Our Fourth album will be available in November 2009
Americymru: Any plans to visit the USA?
David: Who knows, we have been to the USA on a number of occasions and it was one of the options for this year, but we put alternatives to the choir and they voted on Poland as it was a new place to tour. I think many of our older members are finding insurance to the USA expensive.
Americymru: Any final message for the members and readers of Americymru?
David: Yes, if you are ever in North Wales you will always find a welcome at our practice room. Contact the choir if it is during the summer months as we normally have a break but not this year. We will be in Poland the last 10 days of August.

You can follow the choir on twitter http://twitter.com/FronMVC and on MySpace www.myspace.com/fronmvc. We also have our own web site at www.fronchoir.com

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