RARING TO GO: Members of the Deerbolt Singers – pictured here at a performance in Barnard Castle Methodist Church with the late John Lowles – can’t wait to start singing again
RARING TO GO: Members of the Deerbolt Singers – pictured here at a performance in Barnard Castle Methodist Church with the late John Lowles – can’t wait to start singing again

Among the many events missing from this winter’s calendar was the annual concert by the Deerbolt Singers, a group which can trace its roots back almost 50 years. Despite having fallen quiet during the Covid pandemic, choir stalwart Gill Gibson says the singers can’t wait to bounce back with renewed vigour.

THE Deerbolt Singers began life as an all-male choir formed by conductor Ron Ward for prison officers in 1972.
In about 1976, they held a joint concert with Glaxo Ladies Choir and later that year the ladies joined up with Deerbolt Choir practising in the social club at the prison.
It was a very successful choir performing many concerts and we have it on good authority that the bus usually stopped at a local hostelry on its way home from a booking.
This chapter came to an end when, in 1977, Ron was posted to Wetherby Prison and Graham Dormer, a Glaxo employee, took over as conductor.
He was followed by Enid Pilcher and then Des Cook as leaders.
The choir was being asked to sing all around the North East. Membership was growing with many more women and the men decided to move on and join Middleton Male Voice Choir in the early 1980s.
When they parted company Margaret Forrest, who until then had been a choir member, took up the reins and became our leader.
She led us for almost 40 years until she retired through ill health in 2016.
Under Margaret’s leadership we went from strength to strength. Our pianist was Freda Frier. After Freda retired, Clare Owen stepped in and she is still our pianist today.
We have travelled around Teesdale, Weardale, North Yorkshire and Cumbria entertaining groups.
We held two of our own concerts each year, one in the early summer which usually had a theme.
We all dressed up in appropriate costumes for this – the World Wars and Women of the Bible to name but two.
However, we became best known for our annual Christmas concert, held in Barnard Castle Methodist Church on the first Sunday in December.
By now, we were rehearsing in the old school room there.
The church was packed and the singers processed in from the back in complete darkness, each holding a flickering candle, singing Once in Royal David’s City unaccompanied.
It was a special moment and we were often told that for many this was the start of Christmas in Barney.
We usually had a guest singer or pianist and the refreshments during the interval were home made mince pies and ginger wine all made by members.
We sang carols and Christmas music old and new and there were appropriate readings – to give our voices a rest. The money we raised from all our concerts always went to local charities. Over the years a considerable amount was given to good causes.
After Margaret retired, John Lowles a local music lover and teacher became our leader and we continued to sing under his direction until he too had to stand down due to ill health in 2018.
By that time we had moved base to Startforth Community Centre for our weekly practices.
This was also the base for Euphoria, a large group of musicians and singers, men and women.
Their founder and leader, Amy Purvis, who is herself a talented singer and musician, agreed to take us under her wing.
We held one joint concert with Euphoria to a packed hall at Startforth in the summer of 2019 – then of course in 2020 everything came to an abrupt halt with the coronavirus.
Our numbers have dropped through ill health and members moving away, but we were still able to lead a carol service in Startforth Church in December 2019.
Amy and all choir members are keen to start singing again as soon as conditions allow, when we will be meeting on Tuesdays in the late afternoon in Startforth Community Centre.
We would love some new voices to join us.
You do not need to be able to read music, just enjoy singing with a group of friendly like minded ladies.
I needn’t tell you how good singing is for your health.
After singing together for almost 50 years, we are looking forward with great enthusiasm to singing once again under Amy’s leadership.