Here’s a picture to treasure - five Kings of Herts chorus stalwarts who between them have amassed 135 years of barbershop experience!
Three of them have just received their 25-year membership badges from the British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) - the trio flanked here by two members who are proud possessors of 30-year badges!
From the left, meet Brian Hocken, John Williams, Ken Smith, Don Cooper - and Stanley Pearce, a founder member back in 1984.
And if you add Peter Stocking, Jim Hobley and Alan Hook, three other proud 30-year members, the club’s 25-year plussers’ badge total rises to a magnificent 225 years. (That’s 255 if you add on the rather less active David Fensome).
“Something to be proud of for all of us. Barbershop, for men of all ages, can really grab a hold of you from the word go,” said Peter Stocking, a Kings member from 1986, and, like Stanley Pearce, a lead singer.
Retired banker John Williams recalled: “The founders met in a pub in Harpenden singing for pleasure and it all grew from there.
“It’s a great pastime. You learn a range of songs from ballads to up-beat tempo numbers, you never stop learning and often you are singing chords and harmony that make the hairs on your neck stand on end!
“Performing to a live audience is great, whether it’s singing at competitions, festivals, dinner events or shows for care homes and retirement clubs. It gives you a real buzz.”
John, Don Cooper and Jim Hobley sing with the basses and Ken Smith with the baritones.
Don was persuaded to join the Kings by his wife Pen, who was already three years into singing with the Welwyn Harmony women’s barbershop chorus.
“It proved to be an absorbing pastime for my retirement,” said Don, now 86, and a former sales manager with a manufacturer of promotional items.
Don also went on to sing with his wife in the Just Acapella group in Hemel Hempstead.
Though less involved now, he says his years with the Kings have helped keep his mind healthy and active. “There have been many enjoyable times. Singing at local events and for charity, attending educational classes and competing at national barbershop championships attended by over 1,000 singers! Great memories.”
Brian Hocken joined the Kings in June 1991. “Our upstairs meeting room was in the Harpenden Conservative Club. Songs were learned in the downstairs bar in the ‘afterglow’ - no words accessed from the websites in those days! In later years we graduated to ‘teach tapes’ as a way of learning. The section leader tested your performance by listening to you recording the new song. A critique was then issued on your performance!!
“Over the years we have performed in many different places, from the House of Commons to The Stables at Wavendon. Much fun and laughter along the way. We may never win medals but with ‘eyebrows raised’ we will always entertain. It’s only a hobby – but what a hobby!!”
Ken Smith, another banking professional, who joined the Kings with John Williams, has been a singer in both the chorus and offshoot harmony quartets.
Music has always been a central part of his life.
In 1967, with brother Roger, he formed The Fables skiffle group in his home town, Plymouth, playing in local pubs and folk clubs. At home his mother played the piano and his brother learned to play a home-made guitar given to him by his uncle, who ran a band called Frank's Revellers in Plymouth during the war years.
“Roger passed the guitar to me - until then I was the washboard and tambourine man!” said Ken.
“When we left the West Country Roger joined Wantage Barbershop Chorus and he told me where I could access a chorus down the road from me in Harpenden.”
Kings’ membership led to Ken also singing in two quartets, Tuesday Knights and, latterly, Broadside.
He has organised or helped to organise six barbershop holidays abroad with his brother's chorus - now Oxford (previously Wantage). “On average, some 75 barbershoppers, some with wives, enjoyed singing holidays in France, Holland, Spain, Cyprus Italy and Austria. And there were two trips to the Weingarten Festival in Germany with the Tuesday Knights,
“Fantastic holidays and outstanding memories of the super guys you meet in barbershop.”
The Kings’ senior badge-holders are looking forward to the year ahead. The 25-strong chorus is setting about modernising its repertoire after limited activity early last year resulting from the Coronavirus restrictions.
Thirty-year badge men Stanley, Peter and Brian, aim to keep their noses ahead in the BABS honours race - but there’s a way to go yet. BABS skip the 35-year recognition to set a 40-year target!