Friday, 6 June 2014

Vernon Williams: A Memoir

My father-in-law was an opera singer...

Something that I knew little about when I was courting Janet, his daughter.

In the latter part of his life he wrote a short memoir of his early life in Wales and his singing career with Sadler's Wells. It's very simply written and Janet has added some photographs. It gives a very clear impression of what it was like to grow up in Wales during the first half of the 20th century. I've attached it here to be downloaded for those that may wish to read it.

“My Musical Times” by Vernon Williams: Download

He was nearly 50 when I first met him and he had all but retired from professional singing. He earned his living running an industrial insurance “book”, the job that he, his father, and his grandfather had earned their living from in the coal mining valleys of South Wales. He ran the local church choir and his agent would ring him occasionally for a gig. The family moved to Southall from South Wales after he successfully auditioned for the Sadler's Wells Opera Company when they were on tour in Bristol. Curiously, although working at the Wells required commuting twice a day to east London, Southall was chosen as the place for the family to settle as it was easy to get onto the A40 for the journey by car to Wales.

I must have been a great disappointment to Vernon as Janet's new boyfriend as although I love listening to music I can't produce a note. I remember being recruited to the church choir and being told to not make a sound but pretend I was singing by miming. I heard him singing in a concert given by the choir. His voice filled the large church hall and the annunciation was so good that you could hear every word clearly. I moved from Coventry to Southall in 1966 to take up residential work in a home for lads aged 15 to 18 with anti social behaviour issues. 50+ hours per week residential work, coupled with the £25 a month that I received from Ealing Council was a poor basis for marriage so I left and worked for Vernon at the insurance company. I did not like the work so quickly found another job.

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