Early Days

The year was 1908 and the place was the front room of a small terraced house in Dunstan Street, Netherfield. Mattie Mann, a burly coal merchant who was known to everyone in the area as he plied his trade with his trusted horse and cart, invited three friends into his parlour to practise part songs. In the flourishing railway and mining community of the early twentieth century others soon joined them and a male voice choir was formed, drawing heavily from the local churches and chapels of the Carlton area. Thus, Mattie Mann earned the title of ‘founding father of the Carlton Male Voice Choir’. The earliest reference to a choir performance is during the miners’ strike of 1920, when the choir, probably named the Netherfield Male Voice Choir, held a concert in aid of miners’ dependants on waste land near Carlton Hill and  sang a number of songs including ‘Martyrs of the Arena’ and, perhaps appropriately for the occasion, ‘Comrades in Arms’.

In 1928, a major reorganisation took place and in the early thirties the Carlton and District Male Voice Choir, led by Sam Best, entered its first ‘golden era’. An early decision was taken to adopt “Deep Harmony” as a signature tune. (To this day the hymn is sung as an anthem at every choir rehearsal and often as a ‘warm-up’ before concerts.) The choir of around thirty voices was set new challenges – showpiece annual concerts within Carlton; competing in and winning festivals; and the annual pilgrimage to sing for charity at Skegness or Mablethorpe. The first trip was to ‘Skeggy’ in August 1930 with singers charged 1/- for the journey by ‘saloon bus’. The choir sang in the afternoon and evening at the Tower Gardens and collected £2-12/6d of which one guinea was donated to Skegness Cottage Hospital with the rest going to the Choir Benevolent Fund, which had been set up to support choristers who were experiencing difficulties during the Depression. While returning from one ‘awayday’, this time by train, the engine came to a halt at Sleaford. The choir (rapidly getting a reputation for such things) decided to give an impromptu concert and lined up on the platform in double semi-circular formation. Half way through “Two Roses” the guard waved his flag, blew his whistle and the train started to move. Sam Best decided that what Carlton and District Male Voice Choir starts, Carlton and District Male Voice Choir finishes! According to an eye-witness, “the song finished poco poco accelerando and the ‘concert’ ended in an undignified scramble back to the moving train”! The choice of day for the outings was determined by the fact that the cheap return fare from Nottingham by the L.N.E.R. was 2/9d, but only on Sundays. And so on one Sunday each year there were empty seats in the choir stalls of nearly all the local churches and chapels, for most of the men were regular church choristers!

The outbreak of war in 1939 was a seminal moment for the choir. The membership was quite young with many eligible for service in wartime and so on 4th April 1940, with just 11 members present, Sam Best proposed ‘that we suspend practice until more favourable times’.