The first Sunday in February 1904 was Men's Sunday at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Church Gresley and fifteen men formed a male voice choir for the day. The minister was so impressed he urged the men to continue as a choir, as the cliche goes, the rest is history. However, the title of Church Gresley Primitive Methodist Male Voice Choir, was over the years shortened to the one now used as shown above. Within those fifteen men were five Walton brothers, and George Walton was the first conductor of the male choir, a position he held for eighteen years.
In the choir's history of 114 years there has only been six conductors, each contributing an important phase in the choir's history.
G. Walton (1904-1922)
T. L. Clark (1922-1932)
C.W. Jackson (1932-1948)
R. A. Baker (1948-1977)
R. H. Davies (1977-1994)
K.W.Harper (1994- Present)
By 1910 the membership had increased to 45 and music festivals figured largely in the life of the choir with great success, from April 1922 to March 1923 the choir won nine first prizes. November 1927 saw the choir achieve one of its greatest festival successes by taking first prize in the London Semi National Eisteddfod at Central Hall Westminster, against stiff opposition. The Swadlincote Urban District Council held a Civic Reception in the Town Hall and the Chairman to mark the achievement presented the choir with a beautiful illuminated address. Over the years festival work was reduced to keep pace with concert demands but the choir still managed to gain 91 first prizes.
In 1935 the choir made its first radio broadcast, live from Birmingham Studios during a variety show, the BBC was well satisfied and other broadcasts followed.The choir's Celebrity Concert to bring top line singers to the area began in 1949 featuring one of Britain's finest tenors, Heddle Nash. A return visit by public demand was made by him in 1950. The concert hosting many notable artistes has become an annual event in the choirs calender, much appreciated by all.
The choir toured Florida, by invitation, in 1984 and was honoured to lead the parade of 43 Nations at the St. Petersburg Folk Fair Festival. The choir also performed at Disney World Epcot Centre just two of 12 public performances during a nine day tour. A return visit was made for the United Nations Diplomatic Committee in 1989. Other tours were made to Germany, France and Ireland. In the first German tour in the Saxony Region near Osnabruck the Choir had the pleasure of singing at the N ATO Schutzenfest (shooting festival) prize winners ceremony, entertaining the armed forces of Belgium, Holland, Germany, Scandinavia, America and of course British Troops.
The choir followed up an invitation to take part in the Annual International Irish Music festival in 2001 and included a tour to take in three separate concert venues. A memorable tour for many reasons. Firstly, because it was the year of the disastrous animal foot and mouth epidemic in the UK. In the event the music festival was cancelled and no public concerts were being held. The three concerts scheduled for the tour were cancelled by venue organisers but amazingly the tour operator set up three alternative locations, Tuam Cathedral-just north of Galway, Skibbereen Town Hall and Sacred Heart Church in Castletown Bere at the southern tip. Despite encountering diligent security and luggage checks at the Irish border and treading on disinfectant mats when entering all public buildings the tour was very successful and aided by visits to Jameson's Whisky Distillery and Waterford Glass Works which included musical contributions by choir members during the visits.
A tour to Normandy in 2008 was an emotional and enjoyable trip. The choir had visited Pithiviers in France for a weekend on returning from the Black Forest in Germany in 1991 but this latest visit was longer and included visits to the D-Day beaches in addition to singing in three churches and the choir was honoured to give a special daytime performance in Beauvais Cathedral. Visits were made to Monet's garden, the Bayeux Tapestry and a performance on the anniversary and in memory of the armed forces who secured the Pegasus Bridge prior to D-Day was given at the Memorial.
Over the years the choir has made many friends and as a result exchange visit has taken the choir to Ilfracombe (Devon), Neath and Cumbran (SouthWales), Gateshead (Northumberland),South Woodham Ferrers(Essex) and the members were happy to renew acquaintances with the Lingen Mannerquartet (MVC) from Germany during the centenary year. Weekends away with concerts at Sheringham and Norwich in Norfolk and at the Spa in Scarborough and Whitby,Yorkshire were enjoyed. The exchange at Cumbran involved the Pontnewydd Male Voice choir which was formed in the same year as Gresley - 1904 and the choirs joined together in celebration concerts for both 90 years and the centenary years. Gresley choir has also taken part in all the Festivals of English Massed Male Voice choirs at the Royal Albert in addition to the World Choir Concerts in Cardiff Arms Park.
The choir was honoured to take part in The Lieutenancy Service at the Parish Church of Ilkeston presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire and Lady Hilton as a Thanksgiving for the lifework of Her Majesty The Queen in the presence of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
In 1995, the first year of the National Lottery, the choir was awarded a grant to purchase an organ, piano and electronic equipment to assist with its concert work for the community. Unfortunately an invitation was received to accept the award live on television in an hour long programme on BBC, as it then was, but the choir declined the invitation in order to honour a concert at a local church.
In the same year the choir also took part in the Massed Male Voice Choir in Hyde Park for the 50th. Anniversary VE Celebrations in the presence of the late Queen Mother and at the end of the year the choir joined Michael Ball in his Christmas show for Carlton Television.
The birth of Gresley Boys Choir took place in 1996 to try and fill a gap that had occurred in the choral field following a reduction in church choirs and in order to provide choristers for the future. The Boys Choir made its debut at the choir's charity at Trinity Church, Burton-on-Trent in May 1997, which also involved the llfracombe Male Voice Choir.
The opening of the National Memorial Arboretum and Dedication Service and the unveiling of the 49th. Division Polar Bear monument at Croxall near Alrewas in June 1998 was special for the area.The choir was pleased to take part in the service in the presence of many military regiments from the UK and from around the world. This year was also the 50th. anniversary of the Celebrity Concerts made special by the visit of the renowned International tenor Bonaventura Bottone in concert with his wife soprano Jennifer Dakin.
The Yorkshire Cancer Research Committee held its 75th. Anniversary concert in the Sheffield Arena instead of the Royal Albert Hall for the Millennium year and invited choirs outside Yorkshire to join them. Gresley was delighted to accept the invitation and enjoyed the concert and even more pleased when the charity was to benefit to the tune of £25,000.
With such a long history, many items of memorabilia and an extensive musical library; a basement fuel store in West Street Methodist Church, where the choir rehearses, was redeveloped into an Archive room in 2003. This was called the Atkins Room named after the Chairman at that time.
The following year was the Centenary for the choir when a whole year of celebration events was arranged around the normal programme of concerts. The year began with a birthday thanksgiving services in the choir's "home" church in Swadlincote on February 1st in the company of Hon. MP Mark Todd, The Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire - John Bather esq., and Mrs. Bather, Chairman of SDDC Councillor Mick Bale and Mrs. Bale, members of the Clergy from all the surrounding churches and many invited guests from the district who have been involved with the choir throughout its history.
The choir's Charity Concert in May was a major success and held in the Meadowside Sports Hall in Burton-on-Trent with massed choirs comprising, Bestwood, Biddulph, Moira, Tamworth and Gresley Male Voice Choirs together with performances by Gresley Boys Choir and Special Guest artiste Hannah Bradbury - soprano. The event raised £2,300 pounds for the Council Chairman's Charity. County Air Ambulance bringing his total for the year to a record £22,000.
The choir is always mindful of two clauses set down in the objects of its constitution:
“To provide the community at large with choral music of variety performed to the highest possible standard” and
“Supporting any other charitable purpose in any manner approved by law”.
To this latter object and assisting many other organisations an amount on average in excess of £10,000 is raised annually with the choir's concert work and in 1994 instigated its annual Gresley Charity Concert. Many charities have benefited from the proceeds of this concert notably the local Burton on Trent Queens Hospital for its Echo and MRI scanners, and local Hospices.
A comprehensive history of the choir entitled – “Sol-Fa So Good” was published in 2005 penned by the retiring Chairman Roy Atkins and is available at £7.99 from the choir or at Waterstones Bookshop in Burton-on-Trent.