It is our custom to invite the Mayor to be President of Warrington Male Voice Choir during their year of Civic Office. This year, we are delighted to have Councillor Wendy Johnson, who is the 136th Mayor of Warrington, as our President until his term of office ends in May 2020.
I first became involved with the Warrington Male Voice Choir following the tragic death of the two young boys, Tim Parry & Johnathan Ball, who became victims of IRA violence on 20th March 1993. Many people in Warrington wanted to turn this tragic event around and the Warrington Choir led this movement by making many visits to Northern Ireland and The Republic to sing at concerts for Peace and Reconciliation. These concerts brought members of the opposing communities together around the harmony of music, so much so that the Choir had the honour of being nominated for the Tipperary International Peace Prize. As Patron of the Choir, I accompanied them on many of these visits when I spoke to many and varied audiences. The North of England has a long and distinguished musical tradition both instrumental and vocal, and as one who many years ago worked in the town, I am proud to be associated with the choir whose work for peace demonstrates that music has the capacity to breathe harmony into the soul.
Barrie Johnson provided WMVC with inspired and dynamic leadership for twenty-seven years. Born in Warrington, he sang in a local church choir from the age of seven, joining the Male Voice Choir in 1972. He was elected Chairman in 1984, and was determined to create the conditions to restore the choir to its former standing as one of the UK’s foremost concert choirs. Over the next decade the choir doubled in size, established regular overseas tours, made frequent recordings, performed increasingly in prestigious venues, and attracted significant sponsorship and patronage. This revitalisation culminated in the choir winning the National MVC Championship in 1994, in the first competition entry for twelve years. His initiative to form a junior section, the Warrington Boys Choir, and later the Harmony in Blue ensemble, led to younger members reducing the age profile of the choir and improving tone. As Chairman, Barrie sought to foster and extend the extraordinary fellowship that exists within the choir. In March 1993, on the day following the tragedy, he initiated the choir’s humanitarian response to the IRA terrorist bombing of Warrington town centre. He drove forward the choir’s subsequent peace and reconciliation efforts, dealing directly with Peace groups, Church leaders, British and Irish politicians, government Ministers, community leaders and paramilitary prisoners. He forged a unique role for the choir in promoting hope and harmony in Northern Ireland. He proposed the choir’s Warrington Fund, to encourage and financially support grass-roots reconciliation initiatives with children and teenagers in the troubled interface areas of West Belfast. More recently, Barrie utilised Terry Waite’s close association to further extend the choir’s humanitarian reputation through prison concerts and international concerts for Peace. His vision and efforts led directly to the choir being nominated for the Tipperary International Peace Award 2008. Barrie retired as Chairman in 2011 and was appointed Life Vice-President. He now lives in the Isle of Man and is currently compiling a history of the choir for publication.