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Solway Singers

O Clap Your Hands!

Joyful choral music with organ, brass and piano


Edward Taylor Conductor

Jordan English Organ

Jonathan Millican Bass

Avril Tisdall piano


St Cuthbert’s Church, 11 May 2024


A richly varied programme was presented which consisted mainly of relatively recent (late 19th century onwards) settings of sacred music by British composers. It was a brave choice to begin with Gerald Finzi’s anthem ‘God is gone up’. The choir responded eagerly to the challenges of Finzi’s demanding score and held their own against a very powerful accompaniment from members of Border Brass. Following this, Charles Wood’s setting of ‘Hail, Gladdening Light’ gave the choir an opportunity to show their ‘a cappella’ skills which included clear diction, accurate intonation and some delightful high notes from the sopranos. John Ireland’s ‘Greater Love’ abounded with a variety of interesting textures, ranging from ‘a cappella’ to brass and organ accompaniment and including a haunting trumpet solo and solos from members of the choir. In Gustav Holst’s ‘Turn Back, O Man’ the organ maintained a steady march-like accompaniment and there was a short passage for female voices only which was followed by one for the male voices, and these were nicely balanced. The organ solo which followed, ‘Elegy’ by Paul Spicer was played by Jordan English who portrayed with sensitivity the calm lyricism of this piece. There were three more works before the interval, John Joubert’s ‘O Lorde the Maker’, William Walton’s ‘Set me as a Seal upon Thine Heart’, and ‘Toward the Unknown Region’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The latter featured a very difficult piano accompaniment played by Avril Tisdall with considerable flair.

In the second half of the concert we heard six items, each containing highlights worthy of note. The anthem ‘O Clap your Hands’ by Vaughan Williams, from which the title of this evening’s concert was taken, proved an appropriate fanfare with which to resume. Stanford’s ‘Songs of the Fleet’ were impressively and beautifully sung by Jonathan Millican whose voice rose effortlessly above the combined forces of wind, chorus and piano. Colin Mawby’s setting of ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ inevitably invites comparison with those of Mozart and Byrd, a masterpiece nevertheless requiring a big dynamic range and having a magically quiet ending handled perfectly by the choir. Another organ solo followed, ‘Romance’ by Frederick Wadely, another opportunity to hear Jordan’s fine playing, and giving the choir time to relax before the final two items. The first of these ‘Ubi Caritas’ by David Briggs, abounding with challenging chromatic harmonies ‘a cappella’ and perfectly in tune and with a final wonderfully sustained chord. Another masterpiece brought the concert to a close, a setting of ‘Te Deum’ by Herbert Howells. The energy and enjoyment shown by the choir was equal to that at the beginning of the evening and demonstrated an impressive staying power maintained throughout a very demanding programme.


Martin Johnson

Solway Singers Concert  

O My Soul Awake!

18th November 2023

St Cuthbert’s church may best be described as elegant. Harmoniously proportioned, the 1778 re-build is a fine example of Georgian church design, acknowledging its history (was it really dedicated by St C himself?) while remaining true to the modernist ethic prevailing in those febrile years before the French Revolution, Napoleon and Beethoven.


Jordan English at the organ of course coped valiantly with every demand of this programme and emerged victorious after Blest Pair of Sirens; he proved here yet again again what a safe and nimble-fingered pair of hands he brings to the task. Staying with the instrumentalists for a minute longer, Isabella Briggs and Tiegan Lowthian provided the choir with a pause to rest in both halves of the concert; Bella’s Brahms was impassioned and fiery while Tiegan’s Franck was appropriately delicate and wistful. (I don’t believe a word of the story that this sonata was a wedding present: if so, it was a strange marriage indeed).


But this concert belonged to the choir, and yet again what progress it has made! This was choral singing of a very high order, sufficient to place the Solways in the first rank of provincial choirs – and I’m sure this is just the beginning. Obviously there is room to develop – there were moments for example when soloists were overwhelmed by adjacent voices, and there was a very occasional lack of cohesion in the onset of some phrases, particularly following pauses – but overall this was a terrific evening of challenging material, confidently delivered.


Mozart’s early and little-heard Missa Brevis was a fascinating insight into the development of the composer. Passages of commonplace writing were frequently interrupted by unexpected flashes of genius, no more so than in the passus, et sepultus est, so strongly pre-echoing Don Giovanni in its invocation of darkness. Stanford’s Latin Motets provided a reassuringly warm sound of the familiar while Edgar’s Light of the World brought the first half to a rousing close. Ola Gjeilo’s Ubi Caritas was sung with sensitivity and understanding, despite its manifest challenges. If there was a dip in the concert, it followed with Shephard’s unremarkable Holy is the true Light, and Parry’s Songs of Farewell, 1 & 2. In the end there developed the sense of an unremitting mezzo-piano; perhaps they should not have been programmed so closely together? The traditional songs by Eric Thiman, John Rutter and Stanford were fine examples of the English choral style; spanning over a century between them yet, because programmed next to each other, illustrating their common heritage.


But the star of the show was undoubtedly Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, challenging not only because of its legendary technical difficulties but also because it is so well known. This had me on the edge of my seat: I had not expected to be so thrilled by the choir, yet the hairs on my neck stood up!

This was fine singing, coherent, blended and powerful in the unstrained way that properly trained voices know how to deliver. Edward Taylor has done a splendid job in developing and reinforcing this choir and I hope that he stays in post long enough to take them as far as they are capable. A long way, one suspects.


Nick Butters


Solway Singers Concert  


10th December 2022

A good audience turn out were treated to a wide variety of vocal music last night.

The choir opened the concert with John Rutter’s Magnificat. This seven part biblical canticle is a challenging work that the choir admirably performed. From the first vibrant entry “Magnificat” you knew this ensemble were technically and musically adept. Diction was clear throughout and there was an exciting dynamic variation. The two soprano soloists, Sarah Lewis-Briggs and Molly Byrd, phrased their lines delicately and were always supported and not overpowered by the choir. This piece also had complex and intricate organ writing, which was delivered with seemingly effortless ease by Ian Hare.  

After the interval we were treated to 5 short Christmas related works:

The first was Mack Wilberg’s inventive arrangement of Ding Dong Merrily on High. While the upper voices were mainly singing the melody, the lower parts had great fun singing “Ding Dong” with syncopated interplay that gave a rousing start to our second half.

We then heard Morten Lauridsen’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium. This for me was the most exciting of the evening’s performances. The choir captured the quiet contemplative theme of “profound inner joy”.  Tuning, control of dynamics and the layering of the different vocal textures  were exemplary and unified the rich harmonies which were carefully managed by their conductor Edward Taylor. Throughout the evening he was clear, confident and encouraging.

Next, Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Christmas Carol, where the tenor Rob Anson, showed his versatility by performing the solo cello part with ease and aplomb.  Anthony Peacock, the baritone soloist, who despite having a sore throat, gave an enchanting and musical presentation. The choir again sang with meticulous attention to the dynamics and breath control and showed their flexibility this time, by singing a variety of English folk song melodies with obvious enjoyment.

This was certainly an evening of contrast that was continued by John Tavener’s, God is with Us. Here the lower section of the choir was able to take centre stage and showed they have a full tonal and dynamic range. Rob Anson now as the tenor soloist, demonstrated clear diction and sound tuning. The balance between the organ and choir was exemplary.

The evening was concluded with the Bob Chilcott imaginative arrangement of The 12 Days of Christmas. We all enjoyed this clever but technically demanding work. The piano accompaniment, played by Avril Tisdall, gave the music drive and energy. I’ve never heard so much musical variety on “5 Gold Rings”;  from opera, carols, barbershop, gospel and the blues. The final “and a partridge in a pear tree” was greeted by enthusiastic applause from a most appreciative audience.


Frank O’Connor


Solway Singers and Carlisle Cantate Children's Choir

St Cuthbert's Church Saturday 14th May



Not one, but two choirs, directed by Ed Taylor, and accompanied by four of Cumbria's finest musicians provided a wonderfully varied feast of British music, starting with four folk songs arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  The Solway Singers did full justice to this composer's consumate craftmanship.  Of special note was the clarity of diction of the male voices who were pitted against a formidable array of sopranos and altos.  The Carlisle Cantate Children's Choir performed three songs, impressively from memory.  The well-known 'Rhythm of Life' enjoyed an appropriately jazzy, virtuosic accompaniment from Ed on piano and Charles Hattrell on double bass.  John Rutter's 'For the Beauty of the Earth' was lovely to hear sung by young voices, and the syncopations of 'Defying Gravity' from the musical 'Wicked' were handled with aplomb.  The final fortissimo was followed by spontaneous appreciative applause.  Entry to this choir, who rehearse for an hour on Thursday evenings, is open to motivated boys and girls of seven and upwards.    The first half finished with John Rutter's 'Birthday Madrigals', written in 1995 to celebrate the 75th birthday of the great jazz musician, George Shearing.  Two of these were unaccompanied, a test which the choir passed with distinction, the others had witty accompaniment from Avril Tisdall and Charles.

After the interval the two choirs joined forces to perform 'Benedicite' by Andrew Carter, a masterpiece comprising eleven contrasting sections, each representing an aspect of God's creation.  They were accompanied on the organ by Jordan English who played throughout with great sensitivity and a wonderful variety of appropriate registrations.  Particular highlights included the haunting pianissimos in 'Sun and Moon', the dark, solemn 'Whales and Water', 'Ice and Snow' with its virtuosic organ accompaniment, and 'Thunder and Lightening' which featured the very lowest notes on the organ, a menacing bass which could be literally felt.  The three songs for the Children's Choir, 'Badgers and Hedgehogs', 'Butterflies and Moths' and 'Grannies and Grandads' provided further variety, raising many smiles whilst giving food for thought.  The final number 'O let the earth bless the Lord' performed by the whole company brought the evening to a close on a triumphant note.


Martin Johnson             





Christmas 2021 Lanercost priory

Anthony Peacock farewell concert

Solway Singers,’Reflections at Christmastime’, Lanercost Priory, 11th December 2021



This Solway Singers’ first concert since Christmas concerts in December 2019 marked the retirement of Anthony Peacock their Musical Director since 2004,.

In part they dedicated this concert to all the victims of the pandemic. So the first half was devoted to a performance of Faure’s Requiem Op.48, scored for soprano and baritone soloists, mixed choir and organ. Anthony  Peacock’s sensitive direction induced sweet contemplative singing from the choir that truly captured the spirit of the work. The two soloists, Sarah Lewis-Briggs and Jonathan Millican, especially in ‘Pie Jesu’ and ‘Libera Me’ enhanced this contemplative tone with their superb and restrained singing. Ed Taylor on the organ ensured the sensitive spirit of the work with his masterful accompaniment.

After the interval, by way of a bridge between the sensitive contemplation of the Requiem and the jollity of Christmas Carols, we were treated to an organ work - Eugene Ggout’s virtuosic ‘Rhapsodie sur des Noels’ nimbly and exuberantly performed by Ed Taylor.

The choir then performed well and with crisp yet sympathetically dynamic singing a variety of interesting carols, with delicious solos in ‘Away in a Manger’ by Flo Rice and Joanna King, and other music including Rachmaninov’s ‘Ave Maria’ with which they had won Carlisle’s Music Festival in 2016. Emma Garbett and Kathleen Peacock emphasised this dynamic dexterity in their finely sung duet “Laudamus Te’ from Vivialdi’s  Gloria. Avril Tisdall, the choir’s indefatigable piano accompanist, accompanied them with her customary aplomb.

As well as carols for the audience there were additionally two hilarious versions of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. Anthony Peacock sang Peter Medhurst’s ‘The First Day after Christmas’ in his beautiful tenor voice. It would however have helped the audience enormously to have had the words as much of the hilarity got lost without a microphone. Jonathan Millican with microphone gave a side-splitting monologue performance of Frank Kelly’s ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, brought the house down.

All in all the bumper audience was treated to a bumper concert which from the pathos of exquisitely contemplative singing in Faure’s Requiem to the syncopated and dextrous singing of John Hewitt’s ‘Ragtime Carol’. The choir certainly did their retiring conductor proud with their sterling performance. Anthony Peacock went out on a deserved high! Tonight’s organist, Edward Taylor is the choir’s next Musical Director

Christmas Concert 2019


Solway Singers under their distinguished conductor, Anthony Peacock, brought ‘A Classical Christmas’ to audiences in Stanwix at St Michael’s Church last Thursday and on Saturday at St Michael’s Church Dalston with Gordon Mursell organ and Avril Tisdall piano.


The Classical and longest part of their rich programme was Mozart’s Missa Brevis in G K.49. The mix of the choir and soloists (Emma Garbett, soprano, Deborah Hewerstson-Tisdall, alto, Chris Hardman, guest tenor and Geoffrey Gray, guest bass) with Gordon Mursell accompanying was skilfully coaxed by Anthony Peacock into bringing out the vitality and sparkle of this jewel of Mozart’s early works. The solo parts were artfully and expressively sung by each soloist. The choir produced crisp and flowing singing throughout the tutti sections.


Before this we heard works of substance from the early 18thC and from the late 20thC. The choir opened the concert with two sacred anthems by modern British composers: Richard Shephard’s  ‘Holy is the true light’, unaccompanied and Geraint Lewis’s ‘The Souls of the  Righteous’ with organ. In both the choir displayed a sweet tone and dynamic mastery.

This was followed by a spirited performance by Gordon Mursell of perhaps the most magisterial of Bach’s organ works the Prelude in E flat BWV 552.


After the interval Christmas Carols, but first a well-executed rendition of the recitative, “Comfort Ye” and aria “Every Valley’ from Handel’s Messiah by tenor Chris Hardman, accompanied by Gordon Mursell. Then the choir performed a delightful and recherché selection of carols, some a cappella and others accompanied mostly by piano, interspersed with old favourites for audience participation. Also Geoffrey Gray bass gave a bravura and topical performance of Thomas Sterndale Bennett’s  hilarious carol  ‘The Carol Singers’, very skilfully accompanied by Avril Tisdall. The choir carols were performed with warmth, luminosity and expresiveness. For me, the trio of David Willcocks’‘Masters in this Hall’, Peter Warlock’s ‘Bethlehem Down’ and Willcock’s arrangement of ‘Silent Night’, the latter two a cappella, showed the choir at its best, full of rich and expressive tone and comfortably at ease with the intricacies and dynamics of the music . The final trio included Ragtime Carol with Avril Tisdall accompanying with verve and flair. They brought the concert to a rousing end with a masterful rendition of Andrew Carter’s tongue-twisting ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ taken at breakneck speed!



John Churchill




Spring Term 2019


Solway Singers were in good form for their spring series of concerts, which were held over two weekends in early May. Apart from the fact that all the performances were in Anglican churches, the venues could hardly have been more different.


St. Mary’s Church, Wreay, just outside Carlisle, is one of the most interesting in the country, full of symbolic ornamentation and carvings which refer to death and rebirth, drawing upon Christian, pagan and the personal references of Sarah Losh, the extraordinary woman whose inspiration was the driving force behind its creation. The church is apparently one of special interest to Prince Charles.


The choir has performed here before, and, if not quite packed to the doors, the pews were very well filled with an enthusiastic and expectant audience of about eighty people.   


In complete contrast was the austere, almost Presbyterian, atmosphere of St. Cuthbert’s Church, Bewcastle, which is situated far away in the apparently limitless upper regions of Cumbria, in what was the heart of Border Reiving  country.  Here, in spite of the population being vastly outnumbered by sheep, amazingly, almost a hundred people squeezed into the tiny building, having previously been amply ‘tea and caked’ by retired Bishop John Richardson and his charming wife, Felicity-Anne, who live in the Old Rectory, next door. Whether the tea and cake, or the superb singing of the choir, the audience afforded the choir a lively standing ovation at the end of the concert.


In complete contrast, the final concert of the series took place in the more urbane luxury of St Barnabas’ Church, a recently, lovingly, restored Art Decco gem, situated slap bang in the midst of a housing estate on the western edge of Carlisle.  Here again, a good-sized audience turned out to hear the choir, and, as in the previous two concerts, they were not disappointed.


A nicely varied programme began with Brahms’ Liebeslieder Walzer (Lovesong Waltzes). This appealing group of eighteen very short songs were capably sung by the choir, assisted by five soloists, two from the choir, Kathleen Peacock and Deborah Hewerton-Tisdall, and three singers, well known in our area and far beyond - Susan Jordan, Chris Hardman and James Johnson. Well matched in every case, the soloists provided an interesting variety of colour and texture at intervals throughout this group of lovely songs, which were written by Brahms for Clara Schuman.


After a short interval, the Singers continued with a group of English parts-songs by Elgar, Finzi and Ireland. The choir excelled in these pieces, particularly in Ireland’s The Hills, and also in the very tricky, Owls, by Elgar: this is a rarely heard piece, and quite unlike anything else Elgar ever wrote. 

Following these, guitarist, James Booth, enchanted the audience with his beautiful playing of pieces by Bach, and Villa Lobos, the spellbinding sound of the guitar gently floating around the rafters of each beautiful venue.


Some boisterous singing by the men of the choir followed in The Miller of Dee, and the sopranos showed equal ability, but with far more delicacy, in I know where I’m going, a wistful fragment of a piece, both from Rutters’s A sprig of thyme.

Again, James Booth delighted, this time with Bagatelle no.1 by William Walton, and, in his final piece, he was joined by choir soprano Sarah Lewis-Briggs in a poignant song by John Dowland.


The last group of the evening showcased music by Sir Hubert Parry, the hundredth anniversary of whose death occurred last December, and the audience joined the choir in a spirited rendition of Jerusalem, which was particularly moving at Bewcastle, surrounded as we were by ‘England’s green and pleasant lands’.


The enthusiasm of the audience in each venue was apparent, and in response to this the choir finished the evening with Aaron Copland’s I bought me a cat, a rousing and amusing end to a very entertaining programme.


Helen Penny.

May 2018 The Promised Kiss of Springtime

Solway Singers, conducted by Anthony Peacock and accompanied by Avril Tisdall, presented two stunning concerts of 20th Century music from Britain and America on Saturday evening at St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale and at Canonbie United Church on Sunday afternoon. Also taking part was guest soloist Olivia Beckett on Cornet.

This choir produces a beautiful tone with wonderful light and shade in all their music making. These, coupled with their clear diction make every performance very enjoyable. Singing was dynamic when called for by the music and well controlled in the gentler and more intimate passages. While all the music-making was of a very high standard, the outstanding performance at both concerts was the choir’s interpretation and rendition of ‘Toward the Unknown Region’ by Vaughan Williams. The contrasts of very controlled, expressive and sustained singing in the quiet sections with the electrifying singing at the enormous climax of the piece, which the choir had mastered to a very high degree, were spell-binding. The performance of this and the rest of the programme was enhanced by the wonderful accompaniments of Avril. Special mention should also be made of the performances of the two Jerome Kern songs and the Old American songs by Aaron Copland. Two members of the choir, Deborah Hewertson-Tisdall and Sarah Lewis-Briggs ably performed solos and duets and Olivia Beckett, a 14 year old Cornett player amazed both audiences with her technical control of the instrument and her fluent cantabile playing. The concert ended with ‘The Ground’ by Ola Gjeilo. The opening humming section was very effective, as were the brilliantly sung climax and the atmospheric ending. There is no doubt that under the masterful direction of Anthony Peacock, Solway Singers have become one of the premier choirs in the region.


Helen Penny

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