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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 17:34 GMT
Choir born out of steel
Caldicot Male Voice Choir
Caldicot Male Voice holds close links with Llanwern
A cloud was cast over the Thursday night rehearsals at Caldicot Male Voice Choir following the morning's news of massive job cuts at Llanwern.

Chairman Peter Heslop learned that his job in the sinter plant had, along with 1,339, others, come to an end and he decided that he would not be in the mood for song on Llanwern's blackest day in 39 years.

"I am fortunate that none of my children followed me into the industry," he said.

Islwyn Watkins, former choir secretary
Islwyn Watkins: 'Corus acted in dirty way'
"I think the mood at practice will be sombre tonight.

"I do feel for the youngsters, it is them that this news will hit the hardest."

The choir has been one of the focal points for generations of workers at the plant and hearts were heavy after learning of the decision by Corus to end steel production in south east Wales.

There are parallels with the hit film Brassed Off, in which band members in the northern colliery town of Grimley are drawn together when their pit closes.

The band continued to perform, united by a common bond.

The personal stories of workers who sang with Caldicot Male Voice Choir can be traced back through two generations.

There has always been a close relationship with the plant

Islwyn Watkins, Caldicot Male Voice Choir
"There were boys that came to live here for the work that came from the Welsh Valleys and brought their traditions with them," explained former choir chairman Islwyn Watkins.

"They wanted a hobby and they decided to form a choir.

"All along, the choir has been made up primarily of workers from Llanwern and there has always been a close relationship with the plant."

Choir members Jason and Alun Dawe avoided the heavy cutbacks and will keep their jobs at the "light end" of the plant.

Worthy ambassadors

But Mr Watkins - who worked at Llanwern for 20 years - said the remaining workforce may not have too much faith in Corus, following the turmoil of recent weeks.

"The dirty way that Corus have done this, the company could well close the light end of the plant in 12 months. It depends on how they carry out their obligations to the plant," he added.

The choir has performed at the plant on countless occasions and proved worthy ambassadors for the workforce over the years.

The 80-strong choir became one of the best in Wales, winning half a dozen titles at the traditional Miners Eisteddfod at Porthcawl.

It also won the Royal National Eisteddfod title for best choir at Swansea in 1982.

The choir has also performed internationally in Germany and America.

Its dream of finally finding a "home" to rehearse from was realised four years ago when the choir moved into a purpose-built hall in the town.

Despite Thursday's bleak news, the majority of members were expected to arrive as usual for practice - but with their thoughts filled for those now facing a bleak future.

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Business
Outcry over Corus job cuts
01 Feb 01 | Wales
Mighty steel dies like coal
30 Jan 01 | Business
Corus decision on job cuts imminent
01 Feb 01 | Wales
'Betrayal' of a nation
05 Dec 00 | Business
Steel chiefs quit
01 Feb 01 | Business
Q&A: Why did Corus cut jobs?
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