The following is a pocket history of the club through its various phases over the past forty-five years. Its aim is to give an insight into the type of activities and events that have kept the members’ interest over such a lengthy period.
The Early Years
John was already singing barbershop with the Thames Valley Chorus, based in Reading, and wanted to start a chorus a bit nearer home.
He decided to announce in the local press and on radio, that a new chorus was being formed in Chesham.
Soon after this, a group of seven singers came together to form the club. The first meeting was at John’s Chesham house, with the following founder members present. John plus Trevor Chrich, Peter Tinker, Peter Greenaway, Mike Barrett, Ian Stone and Bill Hine.
The club soon started to grow and by 1975 they had formed a management committee. One of their early decisions was to join the newly created British Association of Barbershop Singers, (BABS), later that year. It was also decided the club should be named The Chesham Barbershop Harmony Club. In the three years between 1974 to 1977 there were 25 new members recruited.
From the start the club’s ethos was to aim for continual improvement in the standard of all aspects of performance, whilst at the same time ensuring a sense of camaraderie and fun. To maintain their quality of singing it was agreed that each new recruit would take an audition before becoming a member of the chorus. It was also agreed that the club should enter the annual BABS convention chorus competition. From 1976 up to present times the chorus has attended every BABS convention, although they have not competed on two occasions.
The club has always arranged social events. These include an annual dinner, annual show and other events such as the annual Christmas party. These events were aimed at encouraging wives and partners to become integrated into the club family.
Up until 2012 the club were fortunate to have both Chorus Directors and music arrangers from within the membership.
The Chesham Buckaneers
1974 to 1989
1977 Convention Line-Up With John Wiggins as Director
Although the official club name was the Chesham Barbershop Harmony Club the chorus performed under the stage/chorus name of the Chesham Buckaneers. This was a deliberate misspelling to show that they came from Buckinghamshire (Bucks). This was often a good publicity point for discussion.
The club competed at their first convention in 1976, where they were placed 7th in the country. They are very proud of the fact that in 1977 the chorus came sixth at their second convention. Between 1976 and 1989 the club remained within the top ten choruses in the country, coming sixth on five occasions. They were also presented with the Small chorus award in 1986.
The highlights of this period were the visit and performances at Friedrichsdorf, West Germany. The town of Friedrichsdorf is twinned with Chesham and the club was very happy to host their Male Voice Choir on a reciprocal visit in 1987.
The Hemel Highwaymen
1990 to 1998
In an effort to gain more recruits, the club decided in 1990 to move base to the larger town of Hemel Hempstead. From a publicity and recruitment perspective, it became obvious that a change of name was required. According to legend the last highwayman to be hanged in England was a certain Robert Snooks, who was buried in Boxmoor Common, Hemel Hempstead.
Latching on to this piece of local history the members decided to use the stage name of The Highwaymen.
Following a coaching session given by Chuck Griffth, an American Judge, the club received an invitation to visit his Jacksonville chorus, “The Big Orange” in the USA.
It was agreed that all members would contribute to a saving fund with the aim of travelling to Florida in 1991. This trip was a real highlight in the club’s history with the chorus appearing on the Big Orange Annual Show and also joining them marching in the Disney Easter Parade. All those who went still remember the visit vividly.
Club Members Marching in The Disney Easter Parade
1997 was another year which saw the Highwaymen travelling abroad. This time we were invited to a music festival on the Greek Island of Zante. This was not such a happy adventure with accommodation being flooded and one member spending several days in hospital.
In 1998 the chorus also travelled to Athlone, for the Irish Barbershop Convention, coming a creditable third place and performing in the evening show.
At the 1998 AGM it was decided to relocate back to the White Hill Centre, Chesham. This resulted in the club name changing to “The Chess Valley Barbershop Singers”. The chorus name was also changed to “Knights of Harmony”.
Knights of Harmony
1998 to Present
The reinvigorated chorus took the stage at the 1999 25th Anniversary Convention at Blackpool, with just 24 singers. Despite being few in number they came tenth in the chorus competition, and won the most improved chorus award.
Knights Convention Stack (1999) with Tony Searle Directing
The club also won the best club display board competition, competing against over 20 other entries. The board was designed and assembled by Lynne Owen.
In 2004, the first Free Learn to Sing Course was run. This six-week course was designed to encourage more men to sing with the aim of adding to the membership numbers.
In 2010 the Knights won a local singing competition run by the Eden Shopping Centre, High Wycombe. The prize of £1000 was used to advertise the 2010 singing course which attracted over 60 singers.
By 2012 six courses had been run and club membership stood at 50. Further courses were also run in 2014 and 2019.
In 2012 the club appointed their first paid Chorus Director (Mark Grindall) who led the chorus for the next four years. Mark was succeeded by Sean Bui who is Chorus Director at the time of writing.
Following the appointment of Sean, and a subsequent change in the executive committee, the chorus agreed to the implementation of an improvement plan. The aim of this plan was to improve the standard of singing and also to endeavour to recruit more younger members. This plan was put in motion in 2018 and is still a work in progress.
In 2009 the club achieved charity status with the aim to advance, improve, develop and maintain public education in, the art of unaccompanied four part harmony singing in the barbershop style. This would entail in all its aspects by any means the trustees see fit, including through the presentation of public concerts and educational events.
The Registered Charity Number is 1134927
Contribution to The Running of BABS
The club support and involvement in the association started from the late seventies and has continued up to the present day.