Honley Mail – Musical Memories of Christmas
When this time of year comes around I can’t but help thinking back to times gone by and particularly Christmas as it used to be when I was a child and a young adult and how music was a part of that, so I thought you might be interested if I was to share a few of these with you.
Whilst being born in Leeds, as long as I remember my single digit years were spent living on Southgate, Honley. In fact my mother and father were caretakers at Southgate Methodist Chapel (now Honley Players). Myself and my sister went to the chapel regularly and our social lives revolved around it. So for as long as I was associated with the chapel (until its closure in the early 1970’s) I sang in the chapel choir, so music was part of my life from a very early age.
A late aunt of mine (Elsie Houghton), who was well known in the Holme Valley as something of a local celebrity and raconteur and who also played a major part in what is still running as the Holmfirth Arts Festival, used to go around to various events telling her favourite dialect tales and used to embarrass me as a young person when, in my presence, she insisted on telling this tale.
One Saturday evening close to Christmas she was visiting us when, having put on my best bib and tucker, I came into the room to say goodbye, as I was going out. In reply to her question as to where I was going I informed her that it was the choir Christmas party. A couple of weeks later, again on a Saturday evening, she had called again as I was just about to go out. “Where are you going tonight” she asked to which I replied “the choir Christmas party”. It was immediately clear that she was suspicious, as I had used the same explanation on the previous occasion. In answer to her implied question I said “….well I am a senior member of the junior choir and a junior member of the senior choir”. So from an early age ‘the choir’ was established as a good excuse for going out!
Moving on – every Christmas Eve we used to go to a party at friends and then at midnight we collected, along with many others, at the roundabout in Honley to start a marathon carol singing session around the far flung areas of Honley. The tradition was that we always sung Christians Awake at the stroke of midnight and as we then toured the various parts of Honley, stopping at strategic points, we sang one verse of Christians awake and several verses of another of the well known carols. Our finishing time was usually around 3.00 am (sometimes later, as I recall) and what a great time we had. I refer to strategic points because these were largely chosen to be (where-ever possible) where we knew there would be a welcome. This varied between families/people who waited up and in many cases came out to sing with us to other places where they put on food and drink – anything between a mince pie and a glass of something to a table overflowing with food (particularly when we visited certain of the outlying farms). It was fair to say that some of the adults were somewhat worse for wear after a few glasses of the various homemade and other wines and brews on offer. Not bad considering a significant number of us were Primitive Methodists and ‘believed’ in total abstinence – even the communion wine was diluted Ribena (other blackcurrant juices were available). As I got into my mid-teens and older, I also took great pleasure in leading this motley crew (conducting would be too fine a word to describe it).
Incidentally my membership of Honley Male Voice Choir came as a direct result of a conversation with our chapel choirmaster (Harold Armitage), who was a member of the HMVC, and so I joined before my seventeenth birthday.
Whenever Christmas came around is was a tradition in my family that we all descended on one of my aunt’s in Leeds and I recall that the highlight, for me anyway, was when one of my cousins, who was a brilliant pianist, got us all around the piano to sing songs (not all Christmas ones) out of the News Chronicle Song Book and his brother used to sing ‘The Laughing Policeman’, which he did amazingly. In fact I find myself smiling now at the memory of him doing this. By the way, this same cousin (the laughing policeman) sings with Steven Roberts as part of Sing Live (I wonder if Steven realises the talent he has at his fingertips!!?).
So just a few examples as to how music, made by ourselves, was an important and enjoyable part of every Christmas – I can’t but wonder if our younger people today just don’t know what they are missing. – Roger Wild