Former Singers

  "Over time large houses need renovation, with old parts being replaced to retain the splendour, and so it is with The King's Singers, members have changed with slow regularity, and yet the same glorious house still stands."


The King's Singers are a real team, on the stage retaining the famous "sound" alongside impeccable blend, intonation, rhythm, ensemble and texture, and off the stage teaching young groups and choirs how to achieve the same. Of course there are changes: each new member has a stylistic influence, bringing fresh ideas to the group, suggestions for their ever-expanding repertoire, and new ideas on how to bring across existing numbers. This helps to prevent routine from creeping in: everything is constantly being reconsidered. But the aim has always been the same - for their audience and for them to have a good night out. Both they and the audience have so much fun that the critic of the "Seattle Times" wrote: "Listening to the King's Singers is just about as much fun as you can have in public with your clothes on!"


  1993 - 2012   1987 - 2010   2001 - 2009   1996 - 2004   1994 - 2000   1986 - 1997  
  Bruce Russell   Simon Carrington   Alastair Hume   Anthony  Holt   Colin Mason   Jeremy Jackman  
  1987 - 1996   1968 - 1993   1968 - 1993   1970 - 1987   1982 - 1987   1980 - 1990  
  Bill Ives   Brian Kay   Nigel Perrin   Alastair Thompson   Martin  Lane   Richard Salter   
  1978 - 1985   1968 - 1982   1970 - 1980   1968 - 1978    1968 - 1968   1968 - 1968    


Alastair Hume on The Kings Singer's pre-history

As all King’s choral scholars know there is a long and honourable tradition of getting away from the Chapel, and getting down to some good old-fashioned doo-wop, be-bop, scat and schmaltzy close-harmony singing at some of Cambridge’s lighter moments: these could be anything from May Balls, to after-dinner, to the Footlights. The only thing that the first generation of The King’s Singers, known quite possibly as The Grandfathers, did differently from their illustrious predecessors was to rehearse a little bit more than perhaps had generally been the case, to do it while slightly more sober than perhaps had generally been the case, and to take everything that could conceivably be done by the six voices that we had and cram it into what was laughingly known as “a programme”.

By “the first generation”, we mean the six who were to become the group who launched themselves onto an unsuspecting public in the years between 1965 and 1968, and they were, reading from right to left on any old photograph, Brian Kay, Simon Carrington, Richard Salter, Alastair Thompson, Alastair Hume and Martin Lane. We carried on our undergraduate singing after university, contacted all our old schools and offered them a concert for the price of a pint of beer during the vacation in the summer of 1965. On occasions Alastair Thompson was not available and photographic evidence exists that show that both Peter Hall and Neil Jenkins filled the tenor slot temporarily at this time.

During these three years the group had a few engagements with the same six, as above, and when Neville Marriner, with whom we’d recorded while in King’s College Choir, gave a copy of a private recording to David Booth-Jones, a huge arts enthusiast, we thought we were bound for fame and glory because David put us on at his house near Salisbury, where we performed with the Academy of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields doing serious stuff in the church, the lighter side a cappella at the house, and then in Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals with Simon Preston. Carried along by David’s enthusiasm, the next stop was the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 1st 1968. Even at that point I don’t think any of the six of us thought it would be a full-time career. Brian, Richard and Alastair T were all freelance singers, while Martin was studying law, and Simon and Alastair H were both full-time double-bass players with the BBC Northern Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic) in Manchester.

Following that concert we had six more engagements that year before disaster struck in November. Martin was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was only saved by a speedy operation. We were desperately upset as we’d all become very close during those three years of excitement and planning, and we took turns to sit with him whenever possible while he was recovering from his operation. We had some bookings coming up so had to decide quickly what to do. Ideally we would have approached another counter-tenor but no suitable ones were about. Nigel Perrin was absolutely right but was still a student at King’s. A dear friend of us all, Felicity Palmer, was sounded out and she agreed to come on board as our top voice. Then Richard Salter won a Richard Tauber Scholarship, which meant firstly that he would be going to Vienna, and secondly that he would shortly be making more noise than the other five of us put together, so we had another vacancy in the first baritone spot. We knew Tony Holt as a fabulous singer and wanted him but he was unwilling to take a chance on a bunch of unknowns as against the certainty of his teaching and singing in Chichester, so another old friend called Nigel Beavan stepped forward. On the occasions when Felicity was not free we called on the services of Eleanor Capp, Caryl Newnham and, for one night only at the York Festival, an obscure jobbing counter-tenor called James Bowman! Unfortunately for us by that stage James was too famous with too big and wonderful a voice, otherwise we’d have made sure it was more than just one memorable night.

Then Nigel Perrin left university and was approached about joining us, but he’d already signed up with group of, ahem, younger singers of his own generation who called themselves The Scholars. However, wisely keeping his options well and truly open he agreed to sing with both groups for the time being. Once when we had a run of three consecutive nights doing Christmas concerts in the Chichester Festival Theatre, and Nigel could only manage two of them, rather than pass up the chance of three concerts all in the same place we drafted in another old friend, ex-King’s choral scholar and stockbroker Richard Baker.

By the end of 1969 Tony had decided to leave Chichester and join us, and Nigel was at least singing with us most of the time, and so the Buggins’ Turn of the previous three years was brought to a close. Simon had left Manchester and the BBC Northern and come down to London, and Alastair H did the same in 1970. The increasing workload persuaded Nigel to throw in his lot completely with The King’s Singers, and so the personnel became fixed until Alastair T decided to leave after the tenth anniversary concert in 1978.


Keen-eyed observers will have spotted that Felicity Palmer, Eleanor Capp, Caryl Newnham and James Bowman were not at King’s, whereas Richard Baker and Nigel Perrin were. Both Peter Hall and Neil Jenkins were similarly at King’s, but neither Nigel Beavan nor Tony Holt were.

The short version (!) is that the group to start with consisted of Brian Kay, Simon Carrington, Richard Salter, Alastair Thompson, Alastair Hume and Martin Lane, with occasional appearances on tenor by Peter Hall and Neil Jenkins. Martin Lane was replaced variously by Felicity Palmer, Eleanor Capp, Caryl Newnham, James Bowman and Richard Baker, until a permanent replacement in the form of Nigel Perrin. Richard Salter was replaced by Nigel Beavan until a permanent replacement in the form of Tony Holt.


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