Do you have to be Welsh to join your choir?
Nigel: Certainly not, no! We have a fairly small percentage of Welsh people in our choir – the rest of us come from all over the place. From England, Scotland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Would you let a girl in? What if she was a really good baritone?
Simon: No, you have to be male – that’s the only condition!
What is the history of Welsh Male Voice Choirs? Is it something to do with mining and Margaret Thatcher?
Nigel: It’s a bit to do with Margaret Thatcher I think, but they were going long before she had a go at them.
Simon: It’s certainly to do with mining and the traditions of the valley – every Welsh village had a pit, a chapel, a pub and a choir in the old days. Most of the mines have closed, and you could blame Margaret Thatcher partly for that but the choirs are still going. Not just in Wales but all over the world. To our knowledge, we’re the only one in Asia.
So a choir was set up in the seventies in Hong Kong – do they tend to be a thing in ex-British colonial states?
Simon: Yeah, I think it probably is a colonial thing. Though, not necessary, as we occasionally go to festivals – we sung at the Royal Albert Hall and you actually get Welsh Choirs coming from places like Slovenia, which is extraordinary but it happens. But the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice choir was formed by a group of Welsh expats in 1978, so we’re just over 35 years old. Originally it was just Welsh – it was a small group just formed to perform at the St David’s Ball that year. But it’s grown since them to around 65 members from about a dozen nationalities.
How many bona fide Welshman are still in the choir?
Nigel: About 15-20 at the most – and they let you know it!
I like to think of Welsh as the ‘Cantonese of Britain’ – do you actually sing any songs in Welsh?
Nigel: We do! And the way we do that is that we ask one of our Welsh members to come to the front and read out the words to us as they should be said. And then we repeat them back. We have to memorise them phonetically. We do that with other languages as well such as Cantonese.
Simon: Tonight we will be doing at least one song in Welsh, one in Cantonese and one in Mandarin. The number of Welsh songs we sing depends on the occasion – if we’re singing at the Welsh ball, we sing a lot of our Welsh stuff.
Aside from gender, are there any other requirements for joining?
Nigel: You have to be able to sing. You don’t have to be able to sight read. So not all of our members read music, but they listen, come to rehearsals and follow along by osmosis.
Simon: You have to have a sense of fun. We sing seriously – quite professionally – but have a lot of fun with it.
Nigel: We go on tour such as to Bangkok for the St David’s Ball over there, we do a charity tour to the Philippines in the spring and we do a full Christmas season and two concerts at the Hong Kong Association of the Performing Arts in the Autumn.
You guys raised a huge sum of money for typhoon relief in the Philippines?
Nigel: The ChoirAid thing was great. The Welsh Choir organised that a moment’s notice, really, and we got six other choirs involved. We managed to get the cathedral and free up a Sunday afternoon for the choirs to sing a rendition of White Christmas. We raised HK$200,000 on one afternoon and we have DVDs now that will be on sale soon.
Has there been a renewed interest in the choir lately? Was Clockenflap an unusual gig for you?
Simon: We’ve started to do it more often now. When I joined the choir about 12 years ago, a lot of the things we did were private functions at balls and private parties – not a lot of open-air public concerts. We’ve tried to do that more and get ourselves better-known, so Clockenflap was certainly one of those and this will be another one. Hoping to sell ourselves to a new audience.
Nigel: And last Autumn we sang with Hayley Westenra – a pop/classical crossover artist from New Zealand, so we’re always looking for opportunities to do something a bit out of the ordinary.
In Wales, there’s a push to get more young people involved and there’s been ten new Welsh Male Voice Choirs founded for that reason. Are you also looking to attract new members?
Nigel: Absolutely, we’ve had quite a few younger members joining us.
Simon: The youngest is Henry, who’s 23.
Right. It’s rugby season and my friend Heledd, who’s from the valleys says ‘Sospan Fach‘ is the definitive Welsh rugby song. She reckons the lyrics translate as “Little Saucepan boiling on the fire; Big Saucepan boiling on the floor; And the cat has scratched Little Johnny.” What’s that about?
Nigel: I’ve got no idea! I’ve never heard the English words. I do sing it, but I only sing it in Welsh. We won’t be singing it tonight as choirs tend not to sing that one, but a lot of us know it so we tend to sing it at the pub or at matches. We will be singing Cwm Rhondda which is well known and I reckon is a more definitive Welsh rugby song.
Do you do any contemporary songs?
Nigel: We do Bohemian Rhapsody, Lennon and McCartney, we do ‘If I Fell Tonight’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’.
Finally, what is the lowest note you can sing?
Simon: Blimey. You’re asking the wrong people as we’re both top tenors – we sing high notes.
Nigel: You want us to sing it? That wouldn’t be good – we’ll find you one of the basses. I’d think it would be bottom C!
PARTY IN THE PARK – Thursday 27 March – HK$300
- The Cuban Brothers
FRIDAY NIGHT ROCKS – Friday 28 March – HK$150
The Underground HK, featuring
- Helter Skelter
- Hey Joe Trio
- Noughts & Exes
- Shotgun Politics
- Galaxy Express (Korea)
- Bamboo Star
- Dr Eggs
- Supper Moment
SATURDAY NIGHT REWIND – Saturday 29 March – HK$300
- The Cuban Brothers
- De La Soul
SUNDAY FAMILY EXTRAVAGANZA – Sunday 30 March – HK$300 adults HK$200 children
- Zing Zillas
As well as stilt-walkers, balloonists, clowns and face painters.
See hkfanzone.com for more details.
A beady eye on cultural events across the territory…
- To view all past events featured on Hong Wrong, click here.
- To view all past events related to HK’s Anthropology Society, click here.
A close eye on HK’s burgeoning music scene…
- ‘Hong Kong Kids’ Music Video.
- 9 Maps Album Launch.
- Ambient Monolake Album Mixes Sounds of the MTR.
- City Lines: 9 Maps, Cleen and Louise Joachimowski Play the Fringe.
- Clockenflap 2012. See also: Complete Clockenflap 2012 Guide.
- Clockenflap 2013.
- David Rovics Plays For One Night Only in HK.
- Expat Kid Rapper Returns With New Video: Cool or Cringe?
- Free Space Festival 2012.
- Guitar Duo Rodrigo & Gabriela: Pics + Video.
- Hidden Agenda Raided Again Over the Weekend.
- Hong Kong Ephemeral (Kowloon Hong Kong by The Reynettes.
- The Psy Gangnam Tribute: ‘Hong Kong Style’.
- Times Square Musical Flashmob by HK’s Top Indie Bands.
- Interview with Hong Kong’s Kim Jong-Un Impersonator.
- What’s Hip in Hong Kong’s Back Yard? Interview with Thomlinson.