Basingstoke’s oldest choir is probably the Basingstoke Ladies Choir (BLC), founded in 1964.
It was the brainchild of Cornishman Ken Williams, who led his choir strictly, not tolerating delays, wayward voices or lack of discipline. His only dream was to bring the BLC back to his home county to sing with two male choirs, the Treverva and Holman Climax, as well as the Mabe Ladies’ Choir, a dream he sadly did not realize although the visit has been organised. because he had to miss it due to illness. An alternative Music Director (MD) had to be found at short notice and the role was filled by George Smith who was a music teacher at Basingstoke.
In December 1982, Jonathan Hedgecock became the MD who, coincidentally, was taught by George Smith while at school. Jonathan’s arrangements proved to be an asset to the choir as they were very popular with audiences. It was also an advantage for Jonathan on a personal level since he met his wife Yvonne there, who was also a member.
READ MORE: Back to Basingstoke in the 60s
Later George was encouraged by the Holman Climax Choir to move to Cornwall and become a traveling music teacher throughout Cornwall, as well as directing the Holman Choir for many years. The friendship between the Basingstoke Ladies Choir and Holman has led to many swap gigs over the years, as well as regular swapping with Treverva.
In the 1970s the choir appointed Colin Ridgers as doctor which proved to be a good decision as he took the choir to win music festivals in Bath, Southampton, Bournemouth and the Madrigal class in Cheltenham and at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom where they performed an arrangement by Wagner Rhine gold.
No choir is complete without a good accompanist and the BLC was fortunate enough to recruit Jonathan Hedgecock who for 40 years was a mainstay of the choir but many years ago the choir appointed a Russian lady very talented woman whose dress sense was not quite up to par. to the expected standard, in that she pinned her clothes with safety pins and had holes in her tights; but that did not change the fact that, during a performance at the Bournemouth Festival, she was the only accompanist to be praised by the jury.
Following this performance, the members instead got carried away filling up the award-winning cup at a local pub and got involved in an “open mic” party. This, unfortunately, led to individual members writing letters of apology to the committee for their behavior.
One year the choir performed at the Welsh Eisteddfod in Porthcawl where the hotel owners fled with the money.
SEE ALSO: History of Basingstoke: In the days of TV All Stars
In addition to the aforementioned musical directors who have led the choir over the years, mention should be made of Richard Seargentson, Elizabeth Fryer, David Dennis, Charmaine Fearne, Stuart Hicken, Jacky Protheroe and Margaret Brackenborough who led them for 15 years and took them on four trips abroad and on the BBC television program Last choir standing where they were placed in the final 15 choirs out of 1,000 participants.
The current MD, who took over in 2017, is Robert Elliott. He was a trombonist with the Third Battalion Royal Regiment of Wales and conductor of four men’s choirs as well as national and international arbiter.
The Basingstoke Ladies Choir have performed at many large and interesting venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Radio 3, Meridian TV, BBC Last choir standingNoel Edmunds’ I got you program as well as Thorpe Park, various cathedrals including Cologne, and the Mariannekirke in Germany, with also many trips to Alençon in Normandy (French twin town of Basingstoke), Stotzheim in Germany, and a trip to Dresden to sing at the famous Frauenkirke which has now restored to its former glory after being destroyed in World War II. Trips to Malta, Spain and Guernsey were also undertaken but, with Guernsey, due to bad weather the choir had to content themselves with singing on board the ship.
In 1996 the choir traveled to Ontario with the Basingstoke Male Voice Choir (costs raised by members hosting sponsored events), where they visited Toronto, Niagara Falls, a winery and the Marylake Shrine where they produced in snowy weather and people traveled up to 200 miles to watch them.
Covid and the lockdown have affected the BLC in that they have lost a number of long term members but are now repeating regularly once again. To mark the new beginning and make a fresh start, the choir has now changed its name to Hampshire Harmony. The first performance of this iconic choir will take place on September 24 at All Saints Parish Church in Odiham, sponsored by the Royal Air Forces Association. Together with Romsey Voices (mixed voice choir) and Teresa Lunn (soprano), they will raise funds for RAFA KIDZE Odiham to install a crèche on each frontline station, of which Odiham is a part. They will also take part in the Mayor’s benefit concert on October 1 at The Anvil, Basingstoke.
At the end of this era we say ‘Goodbye and Thank You Basingstoke Ladies Choir’ and ‘Hello and Good Luck Hampshire Harmony’ as they continue to create harmonies in the future.
Follow the choir on Facebook and via their website hampshireharmony.org.