Gwyn Arch

A Celebration


What recollections do you have of rehearsals, concerts or tours? Please send your memories to and then I will add them to this page. Thank you

Despite the fact that I wanted to come to Bulmershe College because of its widely acclaimed music course, I only put it second on my list of colleges because I didn’t think I’d ever get in to such an august establishment. However, I was rejected by my first choice college, and duly arrived in Reading for my interview. I remember discussing the merits of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra with Gwyn, and doing some sight-singing from Bicinia Hungarica. I was extremely grateful (and surprised) when I learned I’d got a place!

I adored the music course. It was so practical, and I loved having piano lessons from Eric Parkin, who taught me so much about interpreting music. I enjoyed the lectures from Denis Gilbert and Brian Fawcett. I sorely tested the patience of John Spurgeon and Phillip Priest. Furthermore, I was not Gwyn’s best student.

I can still remember meeting Gwyn in the Students' Union Bar one evening - he kindly offered to buy me a drink, and I asked for a brandy and Babycham! He was not impressed by my extravagance…

I left college under a bit of a cloud as far as Mr Arch was concerned... I decided that we needed more males at the last night Eisteddfod party, so I invited a few lads from the village to even up the numbers. I saw Gwyn chatting to these boys asking who, exactly, had invited them to a private party, and they pointed me out. After Gwyn had ejected them, I got dressed down something rotten!

To make matters worse, I would surreptitiously 'acquire' bits of music, thinking they'd come in useful when I started teaching (which in the fullness of time, they did!). I was disembarking from the coach back to Reading after the last Eisteddfod, and my carrier bag full of nicked music split and fell open at his feet. He asked tersely, "Is that your music?" "Yes," I said in the smallest voice imaginable. "See that you hand it all in," he barked.

Despite this rocky start, I came good in the end, becoming a successful head of several schools, and eventually ending up as an international tutor. I forged many long-lasting friendships at Bulmershe, including my cherished best friend, and I met the love of my life there (although I wasn’t to actually marry him until some 40 years later). I remember my dad trying to persuade me to apply to Reading University rather than Bulmershe - I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t take his advice. I had the most privileged start imaginable, thanks to Gwyn Arch, and I will always be grateful. I owe him everything.

Sue Cahill Williams, Bulmershe College 1969 - 1972

The 'Fried Egg Story'

I was a music student at Bulmershe from 1970 to 1973. A weekly task, given to us by Gwyn Arch, was to compose a piano piece. Gwyn would give us a stimulus. It could be a chord sequence, a musical structure or form, anything that would get us writing. Gwyn would play back our efforts and comment on them. Sometimes he was complimentary, sometimes not! One week, we decided to enliven this session by choosing single words or phrases, the more outrageous or unlikely the better, that we could legitimately say ourselves or, better still trick Gwyn into saying. I chose 'fried egg'. How could any of us bring that naturally into the lecture? Gwyn started playing our pieces. One of them, I forget now whose it was, contained a long glissando (a continuous slide upwards or downwards between two notes). 'Oh,' said Gwyn, 'it sounds as if someone has slipped on some ice!'..... 'Or a fried egg.' I piped up. 'Yes, a fried egg even,' Gwyn replied.

Tim Allen

I think Reading Town Hall is the concert venue where we all sang ZADOK THE PRIEST with our David belting it out on the organ. How he loved his organs. Gwyn also had his orchestra there and Chiltern Choral Society. I cannot believe it! The stage looks so small in the photographs but perhaps it's the angle of the camera.

I have just heard the archive of I WILL GO WITH MY FATHER PLOUGHING which I sang solo at Colorado University in their gymnasium with David Stannard playing. I sang this in honour of my parents 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary which was being held on that very day whilst we were in USA.

Another funny story from Colorado: When David played the piano in the gymnasium he was so horrified that he STARTED TO TUNE IT. I can't play this until it is tuned, he said. He was such a lovely man. We miss them all.

I am trying to get Radio 3 (Petroc) to play THAT'S THE SPIRIT from the Cantata which GWYN wrote as requested. He took us to St James Church in Picadilly in (1972/3/4) where two actors played the written parts and our soloist was the amazing Baritone from Cambridge and the beginning of his lengthy career, I think. (for the life of me I cannot put a name to him at this point) .. The Cantata was written about the theme WHICH WAY TO TAKE in life. Our soloist was wonderful and we the choir sang ok too. To honour Gwyn's name I would like them to play one of the songs from this if they have it in the Archives. I am choosing That's The Spirit which is full of bounce, tune and zest. We will see about that.......IT'S STEPHEN VARCOE!!

How I wish I was with you all and 'I'm sure the rehearsal will go well as they will all be ‘up for it’. My dog will not give me the time off and although he sits through all the singing lessons I did before I came here – under the grand piano without a sound – he will want to come AND HE CANNOT. I won't leave him.

Margaret Willis (nee Lavell)

The Central Berkshire Girls Choir is a phenomenal result of Gwyn’s legacy. We are so proud and honoured to have spent so much time with him, be inspired by him, and have learned so much from him, and still to be singing because of him. Many of the Girls have continued musical careers or interests, with several music teachers, choir leaders, professional singers, coaches, trainers and creative professionals among the alumni. And even those who have not pursued a musical or creative career still retain an absolute love of singing. Whenever we come back together to sing, even after some 30 years, it is though time has stood still. Every note, every ‘crunchy chord’, every breath, every lyric, every ‘jazz hands’ choreography move, is still there etched in our memories, we’ve still got the magic, we feel it again every time we sing, and we will never forget the incredible gift Gwyn has given us.

Helen Rees

There is no doubt that Gwyn Arch was a very talented man. I have been to concerts where I have seen his name in the programme, possibly one of his own compositions or maybe an arrangement of a well known song. I did not sing in the Girls’ choir at college, only the main choir which was open to any student whether they were studying music or not. In my first year we sang Faure’s Requiem which, today, remains one of my favourite pieces.

Gwyn was certainly a force of Nature and certainly inspiring. I seem to recall that he taught us Music Education on Monday mornings but I also think the training was shared by David Stannard? The man I am thinking of was also very talented, has written books etc and again, was inspirational. I am wondering if the two of them shared the teaching but I do know that what we were taught was relevant and pertinent and looking back, I think they were ahead of their time. I do remember really enjoying these sessions. I kept my college notes and used them a lot in my first years of teaching class Music.

I did have to go back to Bulmershe (now Reading Uni) when I was studying for an extra qualification (can’t remember what this was!!) but I know I’ve done enough credited courses to qualify for a “degree”. I had got there early so spent some time wandering around the campus. It felt very strange. Life moves on.

Avril Gorringe (nee Robbins)

I was at Bulmershe 1982 - 1986 with music as my main subject, so naturally I joined the Bulmershe Girls' Choir. I remember Gwyn as completely unflappable, and always very mild mannered when talking to us, even if it was to ask us not to talk when in a concert! I particularly remember singing annually for a mass in a high Anglican Church in Reading, which was in Latin and had incense and lots of herbs which smelt divine. I was also lucky enough to go to Holland with the choir as part of a competition, and I think Gwyn probably knew we would have some time to travel around, as he had planned trips to Arnhem, a concert in the cathedral there, and also a trip to the Kröller-Müller Museum with its fantastic collection of Van Gogh paintings. We sang My Heart is Offered Still To You at every opportunity - on the coach, in the hotel.... I find I still not only remember my part, but also Gwyn's directions as to how to pronounce some of the words. It is wonderful to be able to sing it again and to pay tribute to Gwyn in this memorial concert.

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Kate Fray (nee Jelly)

Gwyn insisted on trying one of the girl’s knitting whilst on the coach going to a concert somewhere!

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The picture of him looking dazed at the table was an early morning breakfast in Sweden. He and ‘Dave the Bus’ had wanted a boiled egg but the church we were staying in had no egg cups. So he and Dave made holes in their bread rolls to make their eggs stand up. I think ‘Dave the Bus' drove us just about everywhere for about 3 years - we loved him!

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In Cork we would stand at the back of the concert hall on the last night after we had sung. I took the picture of Gwyn and David Stannard, the Bulmershe music tutor who was our accompanist, while they were ‘resting their eyes’ and unaware!

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Gwyn ensured that we had many memorable experiences during our 4 years - concerts, tours and exciting recordings. We made great friends and I’m still in touch with the family I stayed with in Rovaniemi. He also passed on a great deal of expertise which I was able to use in school, running children’s choirs for many years myself.

Jayne Lancaster

It occurred to me that I still have the much treasured LP which we made with Gwyn at Rickmansworth Grammar School in 63/64.

This was such an exciting event for us! Gwyn and our music teacher Roy Abrams went to a recording studio somewhere near Marble Arch and recorded many of our favourite songs (all Gwyn’s arrangements). I think we were there for several hours.

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Following on from that, we were all SO thrilled to see the film West Side Story at the Astoria, Tottenham Court Road. I have memories of Gwyn and Roy sitting surrounded by the girls Choir, all of whom were sobbing loudly as the scenes played out… The cover photo for the album was taken by Dan Jelley, my art teacher, whose daughter Kate later went to Bulmershe. Such a memory ❤️

I was at Bulmershe from 65-68, studying music before taking up a 30+ year teaching career. These photos are the second? (Possibly third?) time we went to Llangollen, sadly after which I left college. I’m on both newspaper clips, but on the front row of World beaters are back, directly under the B on the banner, wearing a pale (yellow!) skirt and a darkish top, laughing upwards. Next to me is David Morgan, and also James Porter, the Principal at the time.

I was then Christine Withey, and Gwyn had been my English teacher at Rickmansworth Grammar school prior to that.

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There are also some photos of the choir rehearsals.

I’m so sorry I can’t be at the memorial concert on 9th April!!

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Christine Saunders
Canterbury, Kent

I remember needing to find some kind of box for Gwyn to stand on when we were rehearsing somewhere as some of the choir couldn't see him! I also remember us getting Gwyn to empty his pockets as the contents made too much noise whilst he was jumping around enthusiastically whilst conducting and we were recording for Let The People's Sing! Who can recall Gwyn (piano) and David Stannard (double bass) jamming jazz/blues one evening? - where/when/why I'm not sure.

Attached is a photo of the Girls' Choir at Llangollen, taken in 1974. I'm 4th from the right, front row)

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Kathy Taylor

I was a music student from 1970 to 1973 and enjoyed 3 wonderful years of singing in the Girls Choir. It was brilliant, however it was years later, after singing in great choirs under the baton of many famous conductors, that I really understood and appreciated what a great conductor Gwyn was. The reason his choirs were so successful was that he not only taught us to be technically perfect; the words, the notes, the dynamics etc, but he taught us to think about the words we were singing and to always feel the emotions behind those words as we sang. We would convey happy, energetic or sad, soulful emotions to the audience, but singing as one and perfectly controlled. The result was beautiful, expressive songs that would often leave the audience wiping tears from their eyes.

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Singing at the Eisteddfod in Llangollen was one of the highlights of every year. It was fantastic seeing choirs from around the world, many in their traditional costumes, all engaging in the joy of singing. The atmosphere was electric. I remember one embarrassing moment, when the Girls Choir happened to be the last choir on the stage and we were told to stay there while everyone sang the Welsh National Anthem (in Welsh of course). In a moment of panic we realised we didn’t know the words and there we were, on stage, facing the huge audience. So Gwyn, with his back to the audience, mouthed the words to us and we imitated the shapes his mouth made, so it looked like we were actually singing the words (while trying not to laugh at his exaggerated expressions). Thankfully we got away with it and afterwards one of the organisers commented on our ability to sing in Welsh!

Rae Turrell (nee Blundell)

I have many, many fond memories of the Girls Choir. I joined in my 1st yr at Bulmershe thanks to Mandy Moore.

Gwyn was asked to provide the angelic choral section of Neptune from the Planets suite for a concert being performed in a large venue in London somewhere (maybe someone can remember where). Technology being so basic then, he was given our cue as a few notes which he played on the piano. We practised a great deal, as it was, if I remember rightly, in 16 parts, so there were only 3 or 4 of us singing each part. The parts followed each other, like London’s Burning, one after the other, building to a wonderful climax. HOWEVER, on the evening we performed it, the cue was in fact on a violin, which, as we were sitting behind the orchestra, the 1st 4 singers couldn’t hear and so missed it. The rest of us, supposedly following on in turn, realised with burning cheeks that it was going terribly wrong. There were a few who managed to slowly catch up, and eventually we all joined in, but it was reminiscent of a siren being slowly cranked up, rather than the angel choir which it should have been. It was awful! Afterwards, when Gwyn returned to the coach for the homeward journey, he said one lovely lady had commented to him “well, I’ve never heard it done like that before”.

In my time in the choir (78 to 81), we visited Cork (ringing “beautiful, beautiful Bulmershe” on the town’s church bells), Scandinavia (where we saw the midnight sun), Austria and Bavaria. We performed on the Val Doonican Show (songs from The Girls Sing The Boys album), on Songs of Praise, the Eisteddfod, and many other concerts locally. It was awesome, and 40 years later it still gives me a sense of achievement that I could have been a small part of such an amazing choir, thanks to Gwyn’s creativity and talent.

Fran Grant, nee Barker

I think 1970 was the first Girls' choir tour that Gwyn organised. We democratically chose material, pastel blue and pink flower pattern and a dress pattern (mini of course) to make our concert uniform. We each had a sash with “Bulmershe girls choir” (I think) emblazoned on it. I’ve got it somewhere still. Angela Rose (lifelong friend since college days) I’m sure will correct me if I have misled you.

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Gwyn asked me to be a compère at our concerts as we had no programmes... ie say a few words about each song and the title. Invariably every time I would get carried away telling the audience something about the song, hopefully in an interesting, lively manner but forgetting to actually tell them the song title. In the end it became a joke and you can imagine Gwyn in his inimitable way turning it into part of the entertainment.

Catherine Delany

Many years after leaving college I went to watch the classes in a local competitive music festival (possibly Chester) and found to my surprise that Gwyn was one of the adjudicators! I decided I should definitely speak to him so introduced myself by saying “Hi - my name is Sharon Clixby - you won’t remember me from college but I was one of your music students and sang in the Girls Choir, and my husband Tony sang in the Folk Choir", to which he replied, “Oh, but I do - you and your husband were the only married couple we took on the USA tour in 1973!”

Sharon Clixby

As a conductor, Gwyn was driven by the parallel ideals of perfectionism and fun, and so inspired all who made music with him.

Memories of the performances at the Hexagon and the Anvil by the massed choirs of Berkshire schools will always remain with us. The concerts were based on our children’s songs, and were a thrilling opportunity for us to hear them brought to life on such a grand scale.

Our guest spots with Reading Male Voice Choir (perhaps in only slightly less need of such a determined conductor) were equally memorable, in particular one shared concert with a children’s choir. RMVC to a man decided to join in the actions to one of our children’s songs to produce a stage full of gobbling turkeys, young and old. Priceless!

It was all possible, of course, through the boss!

Simon Mayor and Hilary James