About the Choir
Garndiffaith is a village located in Torfaen, in the Eastern Valley of South Wales. It is a small rural area situated between Talywain and Varteg, three miles north of the town of Pontypool and 3.5 miles south of the town of Blaenavon. It is part of the Abersychan suburb of Pontypool.
Situated near the old British coal mines and works, the Garndiffaith area is renowned for its agricultural and industrial heritage based on the mining of iron and coal. The choir practices at Zion Hill Community Centre in Pontnewynydd on Mondays and Thursdays from 7:30pm till 9:00pm.
The Zion Hill Community Centre provides us with excellent practice facilities. We have a large Practice Room with a first class piano. There is a large hall adjacent to the practice room where we can hold concerts. The Community Centre has a bar and catering facilities.
What we do:
Want to join us?
ave Roberts - We are always looking for new choristers. If you enjoy singing, come along to a practice.
No experience is necessary (there is no voice test), we’ll teach you all you need to know. We practice every Monday and Thursday evening between 7:00pm and 9:00pm – just turn up. You’ll get a very warm welcome and can join us in the bar afterwards!
Give us a ring (Dave Roberts: 01495751353) and have a chat with one of our choristers.
Musical Director & Pianist
John Jolley – Musical Director
Born in the Isle of Man, John’s musical career started with studying piano with Mona Goldsmith and the organ with Doctor of Music George Tootell, resulting, at the age of fifteen, to him becoming Organist and Choirmaster at Loch Parade Methodist Church in Douglas. He had been a member of the Douglas Town Band from the age of nine.He was accepted into the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Staff Band as Principal Euphonium at the age of 18. He served for eight years also playing Piano, String Bass and Pipe Organ. After service he became a professional musician in the entertainment industry and appeared with many top line artists.
In the sixties John came to Wales demonstrating the Hammond Organ and studied singing at Cardiff College of Music with Gerald Davies, also Covent Garden Soprano, Jenny Maud. In the eighties he was involved as Musical Director of the Pontypool and the Blaenavon Brass Bands after which he became Musical Director of Newport Male Voice Choir for a period of five years until ill health forced retirement.
From March 1996 until 2012 he was the very successful Musical Director of Blaenavon Ladies Choir. In addition he was associated with The Gleemen as their accompanist on several tours in 2000/2001 prior to accepting the permanent role of official accompanist in 2003. During this period both choirs benefited from John’s exceptional talent for arranging musical scores. Following Gethin Banfield’s retirement, the choir was extremely fortunate that John accepted the post of The Garndiffaith Gleemen’s Musical Director; a role we hope will continue for many years!
Gareth Kibble – Accompanist
Born in Caerphilly, Gareth attended the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama from year nine until the end of sixth form. Following school he attained a degree in music and his Masters Degree in Advanced Musical Studies from Cardiff University. Although piano is his principal instrument he enjoys playing saxophone, guitar and drums. Currently he leads a Soul / Funk / Rock Band named “Maddie and the Pandas” playing Keyboards, saxophone and backing vocals. He teaches piano, guitar and drums privately and at several primary schools. Although new to the role of male voice accompanist, he has successfully integrated into the role of the choir’s accompanist, has performed well in practice and at concerts and has become a valued asset to the Gleemen.
The choir originated in a small mining village on the Eastern edge of the South Wales Coalfield in Monmouthshire (now County Borough of Torfaen).
At the choir’s inception choristers drawn from the locality were ostensibly from the coal and steel industries although, in recent times, members hail from a wider area with more varied occupations.
The choir was founded in 1948 by Horace Carter, a local musician, whose ethos was to develop a choir capable of competing in Local, and in National, Eisteddfodau. It was decided that the choir would compete in the “Glee” Class – this category being for choirs of up to 40 voices; hence the name “Garndiffaith Gleemen”.
Firm foundations were soon established and cemented for twenty seven years by Horace Carter, assisted by Tom Hobbs (Choir chairman), Bill Baber (Choir Secretary) and Nancy Price (Accompanist). During these years the choir was constantly honing its’ repertoire and thus achieving many successes in Eisteddfodau, including Swansea, Cardigan and Pontrefendigaid, and in National Competitions. This is demonstrated by an impressive array of cups and memorabilia in the choir’s trophy cabinet.
Three Long Playing Records have been released (no longer available) and the choir made an appearance on UK national television in the “Opportunity Knocks” programme. The choir was in great demand and membership peaked at 46 choristers.
As a result of a local Methodist Minister moving to Spilsby (in Lincolnshire) the choir was invited to sing in Spilsby’s Methodist Church. This was the first of some twenty annual visits where the choir was billed as “The famous Welsh Choir”.
Other noted events were two prestigious concerts at Preston’s Guild Hall with the band of The Lancashire Regiment, and an appearance with the Massed Monmouthshire Male Choir. As a result of the Spilsby concerts the choir was invited to perform a charity concert at St.Botolph’s chuch in Boston, Lincolnshire, which is known locally as “The Boston Stump” and is the biggest parish church in England.
The choir regularly took part in the South Wales Miners’ Annual Eisteddfod in Porthcawl, winning first prize in 1974. Following this win, the choir was invited to sing at the 75th Anniversary Dinner of the South Wales Miners in The Park Hotel in Cardiff.
The choir entered its second phase in 1977. A significant and unheralded change occurred when Horace Carter resigned for health reasons. At the same time Tom Hobbs and Nancy Price also left the choir. Fortunately, Gethin Banfield (who joined the choir as a chorister in 1966 and had become Deputy Musical Director), stepped into the vacancy and became Musical Director. At this time he was ably supported by Bill Williams who became a charismatic Choir Chairman. Gethin was to hold the post of Musical Director for the next 34 years. During this time, the choir concentrated more on concerts and supporting local events and charities and placed less emphasis on competitions.
One of the most significant events in the choir’s history occurred in 1973 when the choir formed an association with the Liedertafel Alt Wiesloch Choir from the Heidelberg area of Germany, when they made their first visit to Wales. This association was facilitated by Dr.Alan Griffiths who was then working for I.C.I. Fibres in Öestringen in Germany. At the German choir’s first concert in Wales, they sang unaccompanied for over an hour and made a big impression on the audience. Their musical Director was Norbert Hörner. The Gleemen, led by Gethin Banfield (who conducted the choir in the absence of Horace Carter) and Bill Williams, made their first visit to Wiesloch in 1974 and in June 2013 the two choirs celebrated their fortieth year of happy association with the German choir’s visit to Wales.
The Gleemen had never sung outside Europe until 1998 when this was rectified by a successful tour of Alberta, Canada. The visit was based in Didsbury and Calgary and was followed by a coach tour of “The Rockies” via Edmondton. This visit was facilitated by Gethin Banfield’s brother who is resident in Didsbury. The choir has participated, on four occasions, in Mass Male Voice Choir concerts at The Royal Albert Hall in London.
Other Mass Male Voice Concerts include Cardiff International Arena, St.David’s Hall Cardiff, the Centenary Celebration of The Welsh Rugby Union at Cardiff Arms Park, the World Choir concerts at Cardiff Arms Park and The Millennium “Songs of Praise” concert at the Wales Millennium Stadium and broadcast by the B.B.C. The choir has also been involved with exchange visits with other Male Voice Choirs including St.Newlyn East (Cornwall), Leigh-on-Sea (Essex), Orpheus Male Voice Choir – Grimsby & Cleethorpes, Abertillery and Ystrad Mynach.
A further change occurred in 2006 when Gethin Banfield retired and John Jolley, an accomplished musician (who had been choir’s accompanist for nine years) became musical director.
The post of accompanist was filled by Gareth Kibble who is a talented pianist.
During the choir’s history it has been sustained by many friends and supporters. Notably, George Stone (Headmaster of Garndiffaith Junior School and president for forty years) followed by Mrs.Mary Evans B.E.M. (Supporter, President and benefactor for many years). The current President is the Reverend Bev Morgan.
Throughout the years there has been constant, and massive, support from choristers’ wives, and supporters of the Ladies Support Group, together with contributions from our Vice Presidents and Patrons.
One of the choir’s initial tenets was to hold an annual concert which would feature the Gleemen, accompanied by soloists of operatic stature. This has been maintained, and is currently “The Annual Remembrance Concert” which incorporates the parading of Standards and “Tributes to Remembrance Day”. Over the years the choir has performed with Bryn Terfel, Gwyneth Jones, Kenneth Collins, Gerraint Dodd, Keith Erwin, The Midgeleys, Dame Josephine Barstow & Dame Ann Evans and many others. The Annual Concert is supported by our local Member of Parliament, the Mayor of Torfaen, and other local dignitaries. The venue for the concert was initially “Garndiffaith Workmen’s Hall”- progressing over the years to Pontypool and Abersychan Leisure Centre's. In recent years it has been held in the hall of the Pontypool Campus of Coleg Gwent, on the Saturday nearest to Remembrance Sunday, and in 2016 Garndiffaith Millennium Hall became the venue for Annual Concert, which will continue to be the venue in 2017.
During the long history of the choir, some of the most memorable events were, in fact, impromptu singing in locations such as: The Cathedral Cave of Dan-yr-Ogof Show Caves, The Dom (Cathedral) in Speyer (Germany) and at the top of the CNN tower in Edmondton (Canada).
Thursday 30th March 2017 Evening Concert Talywain House
Tuesday 11th April 2017 Afternoon Concert Ty Ceirios
Thursday 20th April 2017 New Inn Pensioners Concert Panteg Public Hall
Thursday 1st June 2017 Charity Concert Baptist Church
Saturday 1st July 2017 Concert St Cadoc’s Trevethin
September 2017 Merchant Hill Baptist Church Pontnewynydd
(Evening - day to be confirmed)
Saturday 14th October 2017 Parkside Colliery Choir Millennium Hall
Garndiffaith. Guest Artist: Sarah Dunbar (Soprano)
Thursday 19th October 2017 Pensioners Hall, Blaenavon
Saturday 11th November 2017 Annual Concert Millennium Hall
Tuesday 21st November 2017 Afternoon Concert (2pm) Ty Ceirios
Thursday 30th November 2017 Evening Concert Talywain House
Thursday 7th December 2017 Evening Concert Trinity Church,
Sunday 10th December 2017 Salvation Army Concert Pontypool
Thursday 14th December 2017 Christmas Draw/Social Pontnewynydd
Last practise prior to Christmas Evening Community Hall
All times for 1900 hrs unless otherwise stated.
Sarah Dunbar Soprano
Sarah Dunbar guest artist at the Gleemen Joint Concert with Parkside Colliery Male Voice Choir on 14th October 2017
Sarah is a soprano currently on the Opera Performance MA at the RWCMD under the tutelage of Suzanne Murphy and David Doidge
* Cleopatra-Hasse's Marc Antonio e Cleopatra (Woodhouse Opera 2016)
* First Touriere-Suor Angelica, (Zezere Arts Festival 2014)
* Madam Silberklang in Mozart's The Impresario - (City Opera 2012)
* Spirit 2 in Masssenet's Cendrillon- (Zezere Arts Festival 2011)
* Semele (RWCMD)
* Opera Gala with WNO Orchestra (RWCMD)
* Video Games Live - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
* Mozart's C Minor Mass-StMary's Cathedral, Glasgow
* Bach's St John's Passion-Glasgow Cathedral
* St Giles Cathedral Soprano Deputy
Garndiffaith Gleemen Repertoir
Over the years, the choir has taken hundreds of pieces of music into their repertoire. This tends to be refreshed from time to time as new pieces are introduced and older pieces become less used.
Included in our current repertoire are the following items:
Sacred and Spirituals
Ivor Davies MBE
Ladies Support Group
The choir has a very busy social life. The practice room is fortunate in having excellent facilities (including a licensed bar) which enables choristers to take every opportunity to celebrate suitable occasions – Christmas, New Year, Wedding anniversaries, etc.
There is a very active Ladies Support Group who arrange themed evenings of singing and dancing and provide buffets for visiting choirs and other events. These and other fund raising events raise money and enable the Ladies Support Group to make annual, generous donations to the choir’s funds.