Bob Davies

Bob Davies

The emergence of the modern Carlton Choir can be traced back to a chance encounter in the summer of 1972. Joe Watson worked in insurance and on one of his home visits told a client that he sang for Carlton. That client was the General Manager of the Fuel Oil Supply Company of Nottingham, Bob Davies, who in his spare time was a bass-baritone with the Nottingham Co-operative Singers and a good enough soloist to enjoy competition success. Joe persuaded Bob to attend a Carlton practice, but when asked if he’d come to sing, Bob jokingly replied “No, I’ve come for the Conductor’s job! ‘’ As it happened the MD for the last ten years Albert Finch was no longer in good health and had just announced that he would be leaving the area. What a lucky coincidence for the choir! Not only did Robert Hywel Davies hail from a family steeped in Welsh choral tradition, with a father who’d conducted both the Silverdale and Newcastle-Under-Lyme male choirs, but Bob himself had wielded a baton from the age of eight (we have photographic evidence!) and had already conducted local choirs. In June 1972 he was appointed MD of the Carlton and District Choir. Little did the singers know what they were in for!

Bob later reflected on his early days with Carlton. He’d joined what he described as “a small local choir of just over thirty voices, who enjoyed themselves, but who were not known outside the neighbourhood. They liked singing and a few pints, although not necessarily in that order! Discipline was not great and things had to change, from just an enjoyable sing-song to serious singing, as well as more decorum on stage”. He added that “a bit of sarcasm worked wonders!” Blend and balance were not very good and “the top tenors in particular relied on two or three good voices, the rest were, let’s say average, to be kind. The section badly needed strengthening!” By 1974 things had become so serious that he told the men to “refrain from recruiting basses and baritones, as these are more than strong enough to hold their own. I think we should have a competition – ‘Tempt a Tenor’. For every tenor recruited we’ll give you fifty Greenshield Stamps and a Golden Halo”. Bob’s aims were clear: to increase numbers to a balanced choir of sixty and bring it up to a standard where they could perform for a paying audience in “a proper theatre instead of a school hall”, adding “we are not the best choir in the district but we will work until we are!”

Enoch Price, Chairman at the time and who in 2012 completed seventy-five years with Carlton, recalled that “in Bob we realised we had someone different. He quickly gained respect with his determination to obtain ‘only the best’. Perfection was the keynote. His humour, on and off stage, was infectious, but above all he brought new life into our programme and a down-to-earth musical knowledge which attracted new members and larger audiences. He displayed a drive and enthusiasm that eventually took us into new places, like the Royal Concert Hall, with capacity audiences”. Within a year Bob and his equally ambitious Chairman had relocated the Festival Concert from its traditional small local venue to Nottingham’s Albert Hall. The gamble paid off – numbers on stage rose to fifty four and 1200 tickets were sold, with a donation going to the Friends of Multiple Sclerosis. Bob remembered the old Albert Hall as “a place with a lovely atmosphere and good acoustics. This was a big step in the history of the choir, the first time the choir had sung in such an important venue, the first step ‘from obscurity to stardom’!” The summer of 1972 was the start of a new era for the choir and exciting times lay ahead! Eventually to be awarded the MBE, Bob Davies, who led Carlton for twenty-one years, is fondly remembered for many things, not least his wit and wisdom! An example of this was immortalised on an old rehearsal tape: “You must agree that it must be one of the most wonderful gifts you could have in life, to be able to sing along with your friends and have the fellowship of a choir like ours – because without any of these it would be a terrible loss – if you know what I mean!” Typical of Bob! Yet somehow everyone knew exactly what he meant!