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From Fishpond to Royal Albert Hall!

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007

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From the Fishpond to the Royal Albert Hall! (Reflections Magazine 2005)

Singing in the pub seems a popular local predilection – but a pub choir?

Does this herald the dawn of an innovative cultural revolution?

`Not only here for the beer!'

It does for the members of Derbyshire’s unique Fishpond Choir, who, founder and appropriately named landlord John Gill assures me, are not “only here for the beer…!!”

Based at the popular Fishpond music venue in Matlock Bath, they are certainly no rowdy bunch of male, beer-swilling inebriates singing Nellie Dean on a Friday night. On the contrary, they are a seventy-strong mixed-voice choir with a burgeoning reputation for the excellence of their superbly orchestrated performances; an excellence which has been rewarded with an invitation to swap the confines of the Fishpond and sing live at the Royal Albert Hall!

The Nelson Mandela Concert is a week-long televised musical festival celebrating the 10th anniversary of Democracy in South Africa, and commences on Monday July 5th at the Royal Albert Hall, with the Fishpond Choir featuring on both Saturday & Sunday.

John Gill, owner of the Fishpond, and also a well known Derbyshire musician, started the choir three years ago, “In an attempt to create an opportunity for lovers of song to enjoy themselves in a relaxed atmosphere, without the disciplined restraints necessary with a formal choir”.

But all that changed two years ago when fate conspired to bring John face-to-face with South-African born musical genius Dana de Waal, and John invited Dana to listen to the choir.

Dana takes up the story: “I was very impressed by the great enthusiasm shown and thought that with training and hard work this choir had great potential. I live for music and I love a challenge, so when John invited me to take over his former role as Musical Director of the choir I readily agreed”.

Dana and his lovely wife Anne Bollen de Waal live at Darley Abbey and relocated to the UK just after the turn of the Millennium. Both are natives of South Africa, with Anne’s ancestors hailing from the UK, which made the relocation more attractive. “We have been in Derbyshire for two and a half years now and we love it here” says Dana.

Both are fully trained and acknowledged professional musicians, and in fact Dana was dubbed `The South African Pavarotti’ and composed the South African Millennium Song, which he performed at the Millennium celebrations in South Africa to great national acclaim. Anne is an accomplished pianist and together they form an excellent team who combine their immense talents to bring the best out of the choir.

Chorister Lynne Atkin said, “Initially some members were concerned that Dana would be too technically exacting and that the fun element, an essential ingredient, would be compromised. But to our obvious delight, we soon found that Dana’s sense of humour and his mimicry of certain sections failing to produce the right sound, gave rise to spontaneous bouts of laughter, and the enjoyment we’ve all felt from day one has continued unabated.”

Indeed, the harmonious blending of human voices began attracting attention on choir practice nights at the Fishpond soon after the official formation of the choir in January 2001, and some who simply came to listen were so impressed that they joined. Choir secretary Vicki Clemerson was one of them, and says, “I joined the choir because of the warmth felt in their company and the sheer joy of the varied repertoire of their music.”

The choir gave it’s first public performance at the Fishpond on April 1st 2001, and has since played to packed audiences all over Derbyshire.

Dana de Waal became Musical Director in January 2002 and in the ensuing two years choir membership has increased from twenty five to around seventy, and the choir can now boast that it is not only the best, but also the biggest mixed-voice choir in Derbyshire - as John Gill recently lamented, “The pub seems to be getting smaller and we are trying to find ways of accommodating new recruits!”

The choir made it’s first appearance on Central Television on December 3rd 2002, and were so impressive that they were invited to return on December 23rd when they were featured bringing the 6 o’clock News to a close with a superb rendition of the carol `Adeste Fideles’.

2003 saw the choir’s burgeoning reputation further enhanced with the recording of their first `sampler’ CD, and a series of splendid performances. They featured at the Wirksworth Festival, the Buxton Festival at the Pavillion Gardens - and in October they received international acclaim with a superb concert in Les Salles Des Fetes in France during their first tour abroad as part of a four-day cultural exchange visit with Darley Dale’s `twinned town’ of Onzain. The trip was a resounding success and proved a very enjoyable experience for both the choir and the people of Onzain.

Founder-member and Choir Chairman, Peter Thorpe, praised the raised standard of performances and the outstanding work of the de Waals, saying

“Dana is pure inspiration, and we are always uplifted to give our very best at all times. We have always been a happy, friendly group of singers, but now we are proud of the standards that we are achieving”.

Dana does all the musical arrangements himself, regularly composing new and interesting choral works which are added to the growing repertoire, which already includes folk songs from Russia, ballads from South Africa and classical pieces from around the world. In fact the choir sing in a variety of languages (nine at the last count!) and the repertoire is wide-ranging both musically and geographically. Anne de Waal has also composed an endearing arrangement of the biblical text from John 3 verse 16, which has proved a favourite and is sung with great enjoyment, receiving regular encores from appreciative audiences.

When the choir sing `Shosholoza’, a migrant worker song in the Shona dialect from the old Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) era, and `Nkosi Sikele Afrika’ (the National Anthem of South Africa) in the Xhosa dialect, the atmosphere is emotively charged with an enhanced spirituality, and the effect usually draws spontaneous and rapturous applause from the spellbound listeners; the whole captivating essence of the performance being one of jubilation.

The choir’s performances are simply spellbinding, with some hauntingly beautiful melodic harmonies, evocative arrangements of traditional lyrics and perfectly orchestrated music, in fact the whole experience of listening to them is one of sheer pleasure and there is an uplifting joy in their magical blending of voices.

As alto Lynne Atkin points out, “Although Dana left some of his beautifully engaging music back in his homeland of South Africa, we in Derbyshire are priveleged and fortunate to be able to experience his astonishing talent in the flesh. Whether it comes from the collective voices of the choir or from the `Maestro’ himself, Dana’s music literally makes the spine tingle.”

I am forced to agree with her, hearing is believing, and once heard Dana de Waal and the Fishpond Choir are never easily forgotten.

Their forthcoming appearance at the Royal Albert Hall is the pinnacle of achievement, the choir’s crowning glory and just reward for their dedication and endeavour. It will provide the perfect stage for their musical excellence.

But don’t just take my word for it, go and join the cultural revolution at the Fishpond Hotel in Matlock Bath where you will find the biggest and best – and perhaps uniquely – the only pub choir in the whole of England!



* The choir will always have room for music lovers. The tenors and basses are in the minority and would like to extend their ranks. Anyone interested in learning more about the choir, performances, bookings, or membership can contact Vicki Clemerson on 01246 – 591263 or e-mail FishpondVicki@aol,com

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