Wednesday, 21 November 2018

First home town gig for choir couple

A MARRIED couple from Henley who met through a male voice choir will perform in the

A MARRIED couple from Henley who met through a male voice choir will perform in the town for the first time.

John Downing and Anita D’Attellis are taking part in the London Welsh Male Voice Choir’s concert at St Mary’s Church at 7pm next Saturday (May 9).

They will be raising money for the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in Greys Road.

Mr Downing, 75, a former press photographer, sings in the choir, while pianist Mrs D’Attellis, 40, will appear as a soloist.

The couple, who live in Norman Avenue, first met while performing with the choir in the early Noughties but had to travel up to 125 miles to visit each other after Mrs D’Attellis took a teaching job at a school in Sherborne, Dorset.

They married in 2007 and moved to Henley in 2011 after Mrs D’Attellis “fell in love” with the town while passing through on her way home.

Mr Downing, who was born in Llanelli, South Wales, said: “We met through the choir and funnily enough the last concert she did before taking the job in Sherborne was when I really got talking to her. We spent the next few years running up and down the country to see each other.

“She was travelling back from a concert in Birmingham and came through Henley. She fell in love with it and called me straight away. We came to look at houses and soon after moved in here.”

The London Welsh Male Voice Choir was founded 115 years ago and was among the acts to perform at the London Olympics in 2012. Mr Downing has been a member since retiring in 2001 and is one of more than 120 people to regularly take part in concerts.

He said: “This is the first time we’ve been in Henley and it’s just down the road from our house.

“The choir does everything from opera to pop music. Anita will be playing the Hungarian Rhapsody among other pieces. We are very lucky to have two great pianists, they work very well together.

“We are all very excited.”

Mrs D’Attellis, who studied music at Birmingham University and attended the Royal Academy of Music, regularly accompanes choirs across the region. She plays for the Aliquando Chamber Choir in Henley and Benson Choral Society, as well as teaching part-time at Eton College.

Mr Downing said: “Anita has been performing all her life since she left school.

“She is the brains, she’s a brilliant pianist and does seven or eight hours a day practice at minimum, more if there’s a concert coming up.

“I’d do an eight-hour day at work but that includes breaks, her’s will be so intense at the piano, going over everything.”

Next week’s concert will include a slideshow of pictures played alongside a composition called Can You Hear Me? by conductor Edward-Rhys Harry. The pictures, which show children in war zones, slums and poverty-stricken parts of Africa, were all taken by Mr Downing during his 40-year career.

Mr Downing said: “The song was written for the United Nations Peace treaty and I liked it so much that I decided to dig through my library to get photographs that match the words.

“I have something like 60 photographs of children from around the world. I’ve been lucky enough that wherever I’ve been I’ve photographed children because often they are the ones who suffer the most.

“I’ve never had a book published so this is the first time I’ve ever put my pictures together and I wanted it to be for charity.”

Mr Downing was chief photographer for the Daily Express from 1985 until 2001 and worked on major stories including the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher in a Brighton hotel in 1984.

He said: “Because I was chief photographer I was always first on the major stories, which were often war zones or disasters. I was in the Grand Hotel when the bomb went off. The job takes over, it’s all happening around you and you forget the danger for a while. It only becomes clear when you’re looking back at the pictures afterwards.

“I knew a photographer who took a picture of someone shooting him, the camera is a defence against the horror of what you’re witnessing. It was always afterwards when I was shocked by some of the pictures I took.”

Mr Downing was also imprisoned in Uganda for two days during the reign of Idi Amin in the Seventies.

He said: “Amin announced that all Europeans were spies so I was taken from my hotel room, knocked about a bit and taken to prison. I was there for two days before I was deported but I had taken photographs inside the prison and hidden them.”

Mr Downing won numerous awards, including British press photographer of the year seven times between 1977 and 1989. He also helped found the British Press Photographers’ Association before retiring in 2003.

He said: “It’s a young man’s game. When I see something on the news like the earthquake in Nepal at the moment I’m so glad the phone isn’t going to go and I’ll be off to the airport. It’s exciting when you’re young but now I’m pleased for the others to take on the role.”

Tickets for the concert cost £20. To book email

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