By Geoff Whitehead
A true choir legend and friend to all, Ken Heys passed away peacefully this week.
Ken was made an Honorary Life member of the Choir last year, which gave me an opportunity to ask Ken about his life in the Choir which has spanned more than 60 years. He has had the dubious (Ken’s words!) honour of singing under every Musical Director since the formation of the Choir in 1924 including the great Fred Thomlinson ‘the silver haired maestro’ as Ken called him.
He was there at some of the RMVC greatest moments; winning at Llangollen International Eisteddfod in 1958 (a unique 4th victory) in front of over 8000 people (with 30000 more on the hills outside) when they were described as a world beating Choir by the Caernarvon Times. He remembers the Cork International Music Festival and the choir so big it took 2 DC 3 Dakota aircraft in a stomach lurching flight – another victory followed and a pint or two of Beamish stout, the best Ken ever tasted; the International Koorfestival in Holland in 1973 (and all the repertoire) when they were narrowly beaten by the Helsinki University Choir – made up of music graduates.
Ken remembers BBC TV and Radio appearances throughout his time in the Choir – getting time off work for rehearsals: Mahler’s symphony No8 in Liverpool Cathedral in 1964 stands out. Reaching the final at the Festival Hall in London of the BBC radio’s Let the People sing – robbed of victory as Ken remembers by Bromley the local choir!
And it goes on… Celebrity concerts at the Picture House in Rawtenstall, trips to Bocholt, sailing and singing down the Rhine to Cologne, his iconic solo Nothing Like a Dame at the Bridgewater Hall in more recent times and his last trip to Cornwall in 2017…it is difficult to sum up a lifetime of singing but what comes across powerfully, in speaking to Ken, is the importance of the music and the magic of the togetherness of the choir to produce great singing – to improve and be the best – an inspiration as important now as ever!
Ken, a top class baritone in his day, singing semi – professionally in clubs across the Northwest spoke highly of his fellow choristers and musical directors. He wanted to thank the RMVC for giving him, as a working man in Rossendale, opportunities and friendships he may not have enjoyed without it . We too thank you Ken for giving so much to the choir over the years!