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Grayston Burgess looks back to Canterbury and Cornwall

<< Continued from part 1

Every morning we were picked up by the 'Puckey Bus' driven by a local hero (Mr Puckey) who had to put up with our antics when we stormed in with excited chatter, satchels, books and general brouhaha. We were then taken to Carlyon Bay, where we joined the other schools for academic lessons and were brought back again to St Blazey in time for Evensong at the local church. While the day-boys were gallantly keeping the flag flying in Canterbury we, in Cornwall, were singing a Boys' Voices Evensong every weekday. On Saturdays we joined a select volunteer force of altos, tenors and basses from the Senior King's School (mostly ex-choristers) and sang Evensong at the Church of the Good Shepherd at Par, a thriving china clay port.

Most Sundays were spent travelling in the valiant Puckey Bus to far off destinations in the Cornish countryside, where we gave recitals, much to the joy and excitement of the locals who came out in force to hear the famous choir. Our hosts on these occasions vied with each other to give us enormous Cornish cream teas, which we tucked into with enormous relish known only to ravenous young choristers - and all during wartime when eggs, cream, sweets and cake were at a premium! To save money, Clive learned to cut the boys' hair, an occasion for chatting about schoolwork, behaviour, games and problems. Clive also got his bus-driver's licence and took over driving the Puckey Bus.

By this time Mr Puckey had done so well from his daily routine that he was able to buy another bus and so fulfil his other duties. Thus it was out of this highly improbable circumstance that we were able to maintain the choral discipline and the cathedral repertoire which has helped to sustain that great tradition of which we were privileged to be part.

It was when I arrived back in Canterbury in 1945, as head chorister, that I really began to appreciate the sheer beauty of the cathedral itself; the liturgy, the processions, and above all, the music, now enhanced by a refurbished organ accompaniment and six professional male singers - including Alfred Deller, Reginald Tophill, Stanley Reid, and David Clegg - all superb musicians. Above all, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was taking part in the glorification of God, and I felt blissfully happy to sing His praise. This feeling has never left me even though, after I had been a Choral Scholar at King's, Cambridge, I went eventually into the competitive and hard-headed music profession. Of course, I am not alone. England owes a great debt of gratitude to the many famous musicians who have gained their early experience in cathedral choirs - Christopher Seaman, Mark Elder, Harry Christophers, Trevor Pinnock, Roger Vignoles, to name but a few from Canterbury. The likelihood of the Church now breaking the ancient tradition of boys' choirs for the sake of 'political correctness', breaks my heart.

 Copyright © Grayston Burgess 1999

This article first appeared in the Spring Bulletin of the 'Campaign for the Defence of the Traditional Church Choir'  and is reprinted here by kind permission of the Editor, Brian Burdett. The Campaign's email address is  and web-site

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