The Choir was formed in 1941 and began at a works dinner party. At the Hydraulic Engineering Company’s works in Chester, a few employees decided to use some of their accumulated welfare club funds to hold a works dinner party, and to entertain their guests with songs and comedy turns - and so began a choir which was eventually to become the City of Chester Male Voice Choir.
The founder and inspiration of this enterprise was Fred Warren who was encouraged by the management of the company to widen his vision and develop his group into a proper choir which could perform with success in public.
With limited vocal resources at the factory, friends and other outsiders were persuaded to join in and the ensemble went from strength to strength, giving performances far and wide in and around the Chester area at churches, village halls, army and air force bases and elsewhere, raising some £5000 for the British Red Cross. During this time, the BBC also featured several ‘Workers’ Playtime’ broadcasts from HECO, which were recorded for overseas transmission.
From the beginning in 1941 with just 16 original members (see Past and Present Members) the Choir had grown to 35 members by the end of the war, and Fred and his colleagues decided that it was time to cast off the concert party image, become an independent choir and expand, calling themselves the Cestrian Male Voice Choir.
This name was chosen because, at that time, there already was a Chester Male Voice Choir which had been in existence for a good many years. The motto ‘We sing to serve’ was adopted, an indication of their ethos. The aims, as conceived by Fred Warren, were to learn and appreciate good music, entertain the public, promote goodwill and Christian fellowship in members and audiences, giving their services free to deserving causes. By canvassing around the various churches where the choir had performed with such success, Fred found no difficulty in recruiting more voices to build up the Choir, and in the process of time, fathers would bring their sons and others would bring their friends. It did not necessarily matter if they could not read music, given willingness to learn.
Initially, several different venues were used for rehearsals until the Choir was invited to base itself at the Methodist Central Hall in City Road, Chester, where Fred had become a respected member and choirmaster. At that stage in their development the Choir was still only helping deserving local causes, but this was soon to change.
A chance meeting with Bruce Dargavel after a concert in South Wales inspired Fred boldly to invite this distinguished operatic bass-baritone and radio star to appear in concert with the Cestrian Choir. So the scene was set for the first public ‘Grand Concert’ to be presented at the Central Hall on the 17th March 1949, and over 500 people packed the hall. This concert was a great success and in the event was to be the first of the festivals. (Covered in our The Festivals and The Festivals Listed sections)
As well as the Festival concerts, another tradition was established with Christmas Spectacular events involving local school children and other local performers with, of course, special seasonal attractions for children in the audience. However, the Central Hall had to be closed in 1981, and a new venue had to be sought. The public concerts were then given at the Northgate Arena for two years, but this was not an ideal hall for choral work, and the Town Hall has been the venue ever since.
Public concerts in Chester were, of course, only a part of the programme. Fred was not lacking in ambition, not afraid to pursue new avenues for his Choir to demonstrate its ability and quality. Through his Salvation Army band background, and by active personal promotion, he was able to secure concert engagements with their bands throughout the region, and particularly at their annual national festivals at Blackpool. He was also able to attract eminent top brass and military bands to join in concert with the Choir - Brighouse and Rastrick, Black Dyke Mills, Besses o’ the Barn, CWS, Foden’s, the Royal Marines, the Welsh Guards, the Coldstream Guards. Thus the Choir became well-known, not only in Chester and Cheshire, but also in the wider North West Region, in North and South Wales, and the Midlands. This was an era when ‘Sounding Brass and Voices’ was a popular form of entertainment nationally, and the Cestrian Choir could be said to have played an important part in this phase. In Chester, the Choir also took a major part for several years in the British Legion’s local annual Festival of Remembrance.
For a period, the Choir entered into competitions, and there were some successes at Llangollen, Mold and Chester Festivals between 1953 and 1955. However, it became apparent that competition singing, if taken seriously, meant concentrating on a limited repertoire, to the detriment of the wider range of songs which the choir aimed to provide in fulfilling Fred’s ideals and vision of living up to their motto, so this type of activity was unanimously abandoned in favour of public and charity concerts.
Another feature of the Choir’s activities has been their willingness to tour abroad. By 1970, the Choir was ready to broaden its horizons and eagerly accepted an invitation by the British Council to visit Czechoslovakia in 1971. In succeeding years visits have been made to West Germany (twice), Holland (three times), the USA, France and Malta. For most of these overseas tours, well-known guest artistes were engaged, and the Arts Council gave financial assistance. These ventures are more fully covered in The Tours
During its time as a member of the North Wales Association of Male Voice Choirs, the Cestrian took part in several of the triennial ‘Festival of Massed Male Voice Choirs’ concerts held in the Royal Albert Hall in London, and at that concert in 1991, in his year of retirement, Fred Warren was honoured to be invited to conduct the massed 1000 voices in their rendition of Morte Criste. In this year too, he took the baton on tour for the last time when the Choir went to Cornwall as a farewell tribute to their charismatic leader.
Over his 50 years in charge, Fred Warren had created a strong Choir which could perform any of a wide range of songs and which was amongst the best in the land. In its heyday in the sixties and seventies the Choir had over 120 singing members on stage for its big concerts. After retiring in 1991 after an unbroken 50 years as conductor of the Cestrian Male Voice Choir he remained an active member of the Choir as a first tenor and as the Choir’s welfare officer for another 13 years almost until his death at the age of 91 in March 2004.
The Choir’s new conductor from 1991 was Peter Dalton, who gave his full support, talents and effort into service of the Choir for the next six years to 1997.
During his time in charge, and after a gap of several years, the Choir returned to competition singing, with a success at a music festival in Buxton. The Festival concerts continued, with little change, to be the highlight of the Choir’s year, and Peter conducted at eleven of the Festivals during his term of office. He led the Choir on their concert tour to Sens and at several large prestige productions. Notable amongst these were the annual charity concerts (e.g. ‘Magic of the Musical’ with the Manchester Police Band, and ‘Bless ‘em All’ with the R.A.F. College Band) and the Christmas Spectacular concerts at the Northgate Arena.
In 1997 Granville Lund took over as Director of Music for the Choir. He was to remain in this position and lead the Choir for the next 8 years. He had previously conducted Swindon Male Voice Choir, and Hereford Police Male Voice Choirs. When he started with the Cestrian MVC he was also conducting Highfield Male Voice Choir from Runcorn and the two choirs formed a bond that still exists today with several singers being members of both choirs, and the two choirs sharing the stage in concerts on several occasions. Granville conducted the Choir on their tour to Malta and during his time in charge of the Choir he widened the Choir’s repertoire, and also made good use of his ability to transcribe and rearrange songs to suit the Choir.
In 1999 after being known as the Cestrian Male Voice Choir for more than 50 the Choir changed its name. It seemed appropriate, as the new millennium approached, and because it had often been found when performing away from Chester that the audiences did not always realise where the choir came from, to adopt a new name specifically designating its home at this world-renowned city, where it is the only male voice choir. (The former Chester Male Voice Choir had lapsed many years before.) So with the full support and encouragement of its founder Fred Warren, it became the City of Chester Male Voice Choir.
In 2005 Hugh Dunley took over as conductor of the Choir for a very short period of time before he too moved on. In 2006 Rodney T. Jones, who for many years had been the conductor of the Flint Male Voice Choir and Chester Ladies Choir, was appointed as the Musical Director of the City of Chester Male Voice Choir.