Beaufort – Cendl or Y Cendl in Welsh – is a community on the northern edge of the county borough of Blaenau Gwent in the South Wales valleys, neighbouring Ebbw Vale, with a population of around 4,000. Many well-known performers started their careers in the Beaufort Theatre ballroom, including the frontman for beat group Tommy Scott and the Senators, better known as Sir Tom Jones.
Beaufort Male Choir is one of the oldest choirs in Wales, and draws its singers from all over Gwent. The tradition of choral music in Beaufort can be traced back to 1867, when concerts were reported to have taken place in the Barham Chapel school room and Bethesda Chapel.
A tradition of giving
By 1870 the Merthyr Express was reporting that Beaufort was “noted for the number of singers it contains”. By 1895 a male voice choir from Beaufort was winning eisteddfod competitions throughout Wales. Its success culminated in winning the coveted first prize at the National Eisteddfod in Swansea in 1926. Contemporary accounts describe the tumultuous welcome the choir received on its return home, with conductor Randall Williams being carried shoulder-high.
Throughout the years of the Great Depression the choir established a strong tradition of supporting various charitable causes. In 1926, a group of choristers who became known as The Street Singers toured Somerset, sleeping in church halls and tents and singing to raise funds. These were used to purchase leather to make and repair shoes for destitute children in the Beaufort area.
The tradition of charitable support continues today and, in 2015, the current choir repeated the tour of the 1926 Street Singers. The experience was filmed for the BBC’s One Show. That in its turn led to a joint performance of Delilah on television with the legendary Sir Tom.
After disbanding before the Second World War, the choir reformed in 1948. It soon returned to its winning ways, with 18 first prizes including that of the Miners Eisteddfod in Porthcawl in 1956.
In the mid-1960s the choir decided to move away from competitive singing to concentrate on concert performances, particularly to support charities. It is impossible to calculate the amount of money raised for countless charities by the Beaufort Male Choir. It has performed throughout the UK and also in Germany, Malta, Ireland, France, and Holland.
Prestigious concerts have included singing at Kensington Palace for a Heads of State Summit meeting, massed concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, and performing for HRH King Charles III when he was still the Prince of Wales. The choir has sung at the Houses of Parliament, and at the Senedd for St David’s Day celebrations.
More recently, the choir formed a remarkable partnership with art rock band Public Service Broadcasting. The band were recording a new album, Every Valley, in Ebbw Vale. The theme of the album was based around the coal industry of South Wales, particularly the time of contraction in the industry and the miners’ strike. Beaufort recorded the final track on the album, Take Me Home, written by Rod Edwards, which reached number four in the album charts!
The choir subsequently performed with the band before thousands of fans at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, Level One in Cardiff, the Hammersmith Apollo, the Green Man Festival, and the Royal Albert Hall. It was a remarkable experience which still lives on – and led to the members of Public Service Broadcasting being made honorary choir members.
The Beaufort sound
In early 2023, the choir sang at the memorial service for the rugby and broadcasting great Eddie Butler. Later in the year, it performed at the unveiling in Brynmawr of the memorial statue of Roy Francis, the first-ever Black British coach in any sport. The busy programme of concerts continued with participation in the Welsh Association of Male Choirs Massed Concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, and an appearance at the Principality Stadium before the Wales versus Barbarians game.
Under the guidance of the talented music team of Craig James, Conor O’Leary, and Carolyn Selfe, the choir has continued to extend its unique repertoire and refine the recognisable ‘Beaufort sound’. The efforts of twice-weekly rehearsals and a busy performance schedule are not easy – but the rewards are enormous!
The physical and mental health benefits of singing have been recognised for some time, and joining a choir creates a new, unique bond with other choristers. That special sense of belonging culminates in the moment of silence after singing. A moment when choristers glance at one another knowing that, together, they have produced a sound that makes the heart sing.