Soon thereafter, the Carolers received an invitation to appear on the Festival of Village Carols in Sheffield, England, on November 30, 2002. The invitation was cheerfully accepted and on November 27, 2002, thirty-five of the fifty Carolers set off on their journey to the homeland of the original Carolers, the place where it all began.
They arrived in Manchester, England the following day and traveled to Micklehurst/Mossley for a visit to the farm (left) of Graham Heathcote (right), a descendant of William Heathcote, the chief founder of Glen Rock. During their visit the Carolers sang a few songs for Graham Heathcote and his family and met a year-old bull, named “Glen Rock”, born around the time the Carolers accepted the invitation to visit England.
One caroler recalled the words of a 90-year-old woman who said, with tears in her eyes, that she had not heard the carols sung in the Carolers’ style since she was a little girl. Trish Bater wrote: “I’ll never forget the first time I heard you in the Top Red Lion in 2002. It was an instant ‘I know these carols!’ and it underlined my faith in the strength of oral tradition.”
Following a live interview on the BBC, the Carolers performed on the Festival of Village Carols at the Grenoside Community Centre, Sheffield, England, to a standing ovation of approval from the Festival.
The Carolers arrived home on December 2, 2002 with a truly memorable experience fresh in their minds. Several of the people who hosted the Carolers during their visit to England have since visited Glen Rock, including Dr. Ian Russell, Martin Watson, Chris Lowry, Rick Prentice, Dave and Helen Eyre, Doug and Jane McCallum. Other Carolers continue the friendships started in England by providing live phone calls during the Christmas morning trek.
In a surprising twist of fate, shortly after Christmas of 2002, Musical Director Darryl Engler received an email from Tom Youngson, who was in attendance when the Carolers sang at the All Saints Primary School in Micklehurst. Tom related that he and several others in the audience were so impressed by the Carolers’ singing, that they set out on foot through the streets of Micklehurst and sang the carols to the residents there. The tradition of singing carols had died out many years before, and the Glen Rock Carolers were just what was needed to inspire them to sing again. So completes the circle: James, Mark, and Charles Heathcote, Mark Radcliffe and George Shaw brought carol singing to Glen Rock, and the Glen Rock Carolers returned the custom to Micklehurst!
I began to skim the 28-page notes by Dr. Russell; clearly this was a labor of love. He had compiled 71 minutes of caroling in and around Sheffield - in homes, pubs, streets, and at their Christmas Festival. Some of the titles rang out, "Hark, Hark" and "Awake, Arise Good Christians" ... I got to page 3, and was stunned. "It used to be the custom," Dr. Russell wrote, "of several villages to sing through the night ... Typically, a group would commence their tour at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve with "Old Christians" (Christians Awake Salute this Happy Morn ...) and conclude many hours later with a rendition of the Doxology ..."
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One advantage to spending a night typing from an endless pile of CDs is that you get first dibs on which CDs you want to review. Interrupting my publisher, Paul Hartman, who was deep into page mapping, I said, "Paul, I think I know something about this one." I told him about the Glen Rock Carolers, and how similar the music and traditions appeared. "So, can I write about them for this issue?"
Not the best timing. Press time was closing in, the pages were mapped. But, after consultation with the managing editor, his wife Sue, he finally said, "OK, 1500 words." Deadline? Yesterday.
I couldn‘t wait to share what I had found with the carolers I knew. I called the late Don Swartz. To say the recording sparked an interest would be a serious understatement. I also contacted Ed Bailey, whose web site appeared in my story. The article and review, appeared in issue #91, as did Ed‘s web URL. I sent the CD to him and Don, suggesting they circulate it among the members. My note simply said, "I hope you all enjoy this CD." Circulate it did. Ed said it created a bit of frenzy. Who could have guessed what would happen next? Across the "pond," a subscriber, David Eyre, reacted in much the same way, exclaiming to his friends, "I found someone who‘s doing what we are doing!" He wrote to Ed via email, and eventually to me. History was shared, trips were planned, a friendship was forged, and the Glen Rock Carolers finally, November 28, 2002, in Micklehurst, England, received their "Welcome Home."
In one of David‘s emails he claimed, "I hold us both responsible ..." I wonder. That Christmas, only 15 holiday recordings made it to the pages. With a full-time job elsewhere, I wasn‘t usually at the office, but the volume of CDs prompted me to help out that week. Furthermore, publishers on deadline seldom entertain the whims of reporters who want to add copy to an already packed issue. But with a wealth of experience and appreciation of traditional music, these publishers recognized the value of the Glen Rock Carolers and their links to the old world.
So, as we like to say in the news biz: If you want to blame somebody for the events that ensued - please, blame my editors.