Record deal gives choir something to sing about

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The Independent Online

For nearly 60 years they have enjoyed small-scale celebrity as the centre of a tight-knit former mining community in Wales.

But the Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir from the Vale of Llangollen is now preparing for international stardom after winning a recording contract in a remarkable story which is also set to be made into a film.

Their propulsion into the limelight came when Daniel Glatman, who was the manager of the boy band Blue, heard the choir sing at a wedding, fell in love with the sound and negotiated a deal with Universal Music, the label behind Eminem, 50 Cent and Jamie Cullen.

"It absolutely moved me, the sheer passion and pride of these chaps," Mr Glatman said. "The hairs on my neck stood up and that hasn't happened to me for a while."

And when he told his friend, Zygi Kamasa, the British movie producer behind Bend It Like Beckham and George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, the producer took up an option on the rights for a film, too.

"The story of this choir who were picked from obscurity to be signed by the biggest record label in the world is a classic feel-good story that has huge potential," Mr Kamasa said.

The Fron Choir was founded in the town of Froncysyllte in 1947 to compete in an international eisteddfod to promote goodwill in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Although the original singers from the mines and quarries have been replaced with some from the police and fire service and new fields such as IT, the choir has remained at the heart of its community.

The 65 members, who range from teenagers to octogenarians, have performed all over the world in festivals. But their acclaim hitherto is likely to be as nothing compared with the flurry of publicity expected when their debut album, Voices of the Valley, is released on 20 November.

The CD includes traditional songs such as "Jerusalem" and "Abide With Me" as well as popular tunes such as "Sailing" and "Unchained Melody", although the choir's normal repertoire was influenced by the international choirs at that first eisteddfod and includes music in Latin, Greek and Russian.

Dennis Williams, 75, a retired engineering manager and founder member, said: "It's unbelievable really. There's so much going on at the moment, it's even taking me away from the golf course. It's incredible."

Matthew Hayward, 18, whose great grandfather was a founder member, hoped the interest would encourage others to help keep the tradition going.

"If it creates a revolution in male voice choirs and gets young people in off the streets that would be amazing," he said. "We're quite well known locally so we've got local stardom but to actually have international stardom... I don't think anyone has got their heads around that yet."

Mr Glatman said television programmes such as The X Factor meant many people wanted the fame and money of a recording deal.

"These guys are really refreshing," he said. "It's a group of people who are enormously proud of their tradition and want to create awareness of it as a dying tradition."

Dickon Stainer, the general manager of Universal Classics and Jazz, said it was only when they visited the band in North Wales that they understood what singing meant to them.

"It's not just a way of life, singing is a spiritual thing to the Welsh," he said. "It comes straight from the heart and it goes straight to the heart. It's timeless. We thought this was the ultimate boy band really."

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