Most people know that today's King's Singers were young boys or merely a glint in their Father's eyes when the group was founded.
Since 1968 there have been just twenty-four members of the group - a very low turnover - helping maintain the wonderful sense of stability and belonging that are a King's Singer's good fortune. At concerts and in interviews we are often asked about the beginnings of this great British institution. How did the group start? Why did you decide to specialise in "everything"? Why are you called the "King's Singers"?
The group takes its name from King's College Cambridge, where Martin Lane, Al Hume, Alastair Thompson, Richard Salter, Simon Carrington and Brian Kay were choral scholars. This was (and is) a busy life. As well as reading for a university degree, choral scholars sing six days a week in the college chapel, and often perform at dinners and balls in and around Cambridge.
Using the variety in repertoire found in their student days - from a medieval Magnificat in chapel to a madrigal, glee, part song or pop song arrangement away from chapel, the King's Singers were to go on to build a successful career. Nothing that could be sung in 6 parts was ignored.
In 1965 the choral scholars made an album calling themselves Schola Cantorum Pro Musica Profana in Cantabridgiense! Despite the catchy name it wasn't a best seller, but a copy was thrust into Sir Neville Marriner's hands and a concert was arranged at Hale Park for August 1966 (barely 2 weeks after England's footballers had won the World Cup!). Engagements as Six Choral Scholars of King's College Cambridge followed until a concert was arranged at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for May 1st 1968. The London debut forced the singers to think up a "real" name for the group. It was suggested that two names were used - The King's Singers for serious stuff and The King's Swingers for pop. They decided to start with The King's Singers.
After the London success concerts began to appear in the diary, and for a while these were slotted in with the singers individual careers. It was at this time that Nigel Perrin and Tony Holt joined Al, Alastair, Simon and Brian to become the line-up of the group until 1978. As they say, they "put themselves about a bit" forming relationships with promoters, the BBC, record companies (settling with EMI), as well as working with contemporary composers, fine arrangers and other "collaborative artists" to expand and enhance their act. The early '70's saw many UK engagements, with forays into Europe. But it was in 1972, when a 35-concert tour of Australia and New Zealand was offered them that the singers faced a decision - whether or not to become a fulltime group. It didn't take long for them to make up their minds!
And so the international career started. Trips to South Africa, Canada and the USA soon followed, as well as all over Europe. In the periods not touring the group was recording for EMI or for television and radio, laying down a work regime that exists to this day. Highlights in the first ten years included guesting on The Nana Mouskouri Show, The Ronnie Corbett Show, their own show - The King's Singers World of Music including one episode with Dudley Moore and one featuring the oft remembered Flanders and Swann song "In the Bath", The Royal Variety Performance, a version of David Bowie 's "Life on Mars" voted "People's Choice" on London's Capital Radio, and, after ten years - Gold Discs from EMI. Not to mention hundreds of concerts.
After all this Alastair Thompson made the decision to leave. As the group remembers: "It had been tacitly assumed that, if anyone elected to leave, the group would be disbanded: we had been convinced that it would be almost impossible to find, let alone to absorb, a new member once the 1969 line-up had settled down. Now, however, we had come such a long way (we had lasted longer than the Beatles!), and our contractual commitments stretched so far into the future, that it would have been impossible to give up even if we had wanted to."
And so it was that Bill Ives became the first proper replacement, and the group was able to continue, amongst other things filming The Madrigal History Tour, working with Paul McCartney on the Frog Chorus, breaking into the Far East market for the first time, appearing regularly on Johnny Carson 's Tonight Show in the USA, launching a publishing company and writing a book. There are too many exciting projects and events to list in this short history!
The other singers to have been a part of the King's Singers are Jeremy Jackman, Colin Mason, Bob Chilcott, Bruce Russell, Nigel Short, Gabriel Crouch, Robin Tyson, Stephen Connolly and Philip Lawson, piling up the points on their frequent flyer cards, as concerts were more equally spread around the world. Special mention must go to Al Hume and Simon Carrington, founder members who sang for an incredible 25 years with the group - a remarkable achievement. As he left, Al wrote: "I have seen it grow from nothing. Some say that we provide pleasurable, if detached, entertainment; others that our obvious personal enjoyment expands to involve the whole audience; even more describe our concerts as a great outpouring of fundamental humanity; and then there are those who feel that the group's recordings and concerts demonstrate that vocal music (not everybody's cup of tea) can be enjoyed rather than endured, that "classical" formats and music can be fun, not stuffy." After all this time we hope this is still the case.