How We Started

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Back row centre: Dr Colin Bradsworth
(reproduced with kind permission from Abraham Lincoln Archives, New York University , Fifteenth International Brigade Photographic Unit)

It started with a war. The Spanish Civil War.

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Dr Colin Bradsworth working as a field surgeon in Spain

In 1939 Dr Colin Bradsworth returned from the battlefields of Spain, where he had been a field surgeon with the Republican forces,as part of the International Brigade.

One thing which stood out in Bradsworth’s mind, was the way in which the Spanish people had used music as a weapon in every aspect of the struggle. The soldiers, the workers, the peasants, even the children had fought with a song on their lips.

On his return to Birmingham, he attended a social dance at Bristol Street Schools,  Almost on impulse he stood up in the middle of the room and announced that he would like to start a worker’s choir in Birmingham and called for all those who were interested to come forward.

Dr Bradsworth was joined by a number of willing volunteers, including Elsie and Martin Marshall, and Bessie Abrahall, Elsie’s sister. The trio remained lifelong supporters of Clarion.

The group met as the Birmingham Orpheus Choral Society for its first rehearsal in the Shakespeare Rooms at The Old Contemptibles in Livery Street. The three gathered around a piano played by a Scottish friend, Jock Leishman, and started to rehearse the “United Front Song”.

The singers quickly plunged into work, giving concerts to the troops, in factory canteens, in air-raid shelters and on the streets.

The first known concert by the choir was given to a Tenants Association audience in the Co-op hall of the Birmingham suburb of Yardley Wood.

Before long, the name of the choir was changed to Birmingham Clarion Singers, as a tribute to the work of Dr Bradsworth, a member of the famous Clarion Cycling Club.

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