the story so far
We’re sure that much of Bagatelle’s story will resonate with many of you who have had the pleasure and honour of singing in quartet over the years. We would like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about our story, a quartet that is passionate about barbershop, for learning and performing songs well and above all else is keen to have fun with all our mates in this great hobby of ours.
Bagatelle has been known by many for over 26 years. (Check out our wall of fame...or shame!) We haven’t won any championships (ooh stop press, we won the National Seniors Quartet competition in Sheffield recently. Amazing! And even upto that point the statement wasn’t quite true – we won the Abingdon music festival in 1993!) and we haven’t won any convention medals (again that’s not true – we won bronze at the Irish convention in 2001, due entirely to Steve Hall’s quartet being disqualified. Oops). We’ve never sung in the US (again not true – we went to visit great friends from the Phoenicians at the Far Western District competition in Reno in 2000 and sang in a bar!). And we were never announced on the Friday or Saturday of convention for getting through to the finals stage on Sunday (ah yes, but we did sing on finals stage and finished 7th overall back in 1996. How? Read on.)
We’re truly grateful to everyone that has sung with us, endured us, coached us, bought us beer, judged us and above all else to everyone who has encouraged, supported and applauded us. We have all made fabulous friends across the barbershop world, near and far.
We’re sure our story is similar up and down the barbershop country and we bet many of you can associate with many aspects of it. So here it is, our story so far, how it all began, the superb times we’ve had, the time out due to very sad events and our latest exciting decision to resurrect Bagatelle after 17 years and do it all again (oh no we hear some of you say!).
Bagatelle. Where do we start? At the beginning sounds like a good place.
We were founded back in 1993 but the quartet’s roots go back further than that. Although Great Western Chorus, Capital Chorus and Don Amos all have a major part to play now in our continued development, we actually owe the quartet’s humble beginnings to Thames Valley Chorus (TVC) in Reading. The two original members were Aidan Brand and Pete Dawson. Aidan moved to Benson in Oxfordshire in 1988 and went to a TVC open evening in January 1989 after having been with Capital Chorus for six years prior to that. That’s where he met Pete Dawson as they sat together as newbies on that first evening. They got on like a house on fire and ended up on the front row of the chorus, side by side.
The two of them sang in many quartets together from 1990 onwards but never managed to find the right fit until, in early 1993, they teamed up with Bob Horwood, a TVC Bass, and Ian Douglas, a TVC veteran baritone. How Pete and Aidan managed to cajole/coax a very competition weary (but successful) Ian Douglas out of quartet retirement is something that remains a mystery. Beer must have been involved. Ian had been in Rogues Gallery (1982, silver) and Partners In Time (1984, silver) singing baritone. A further mystery is how Ian was persuaded to sing lead in this new quartet. And there it was, a new quartet – but no name.
Why did we call ourselves Bagatelle? We were in the pub one evening (now there’s a surprise) after quartet rehearsal trying hard, but failing, to come up with a suitable name that we all liked, when one of us looked around for inspiration. The pub was advertising a games night, and one of the games was Bagatelle. It had a certain ring to it and we all liked it (or were we just fed up thinking about names). So it was, we became Bagatelle. It was that or shove ha’penny, or last orders or licensing rights, all of which I’m sure have been thought of as suitable names by other quartets. Of course, we had no idea at the time how many similar sounding, but less complimentary, nicknames we could be called….. and were. All were along the bag-‘o-….. theme. But hey ho, it got ourselves known.
We were coached as a new quartet at Harmony College at the beginning of September 1993 and did quite well, but a few Tuesdays later Bob told us, in the break at chorus rehearsal, that he was leaving the chorus and the quartet. Well Pete and Aidan dropped him like a stone – we were just weeks away from our first barbershop competition (prelims) and needed a bass. Without telling Ian, we moved straight into recruitment mode and scanned the chorus for a likely victim. We found a very gullible one. He had only recently joined TVC, but knew a bit about barbershop because his dad Stan Balchin sang with Chesham. His name was Andy Balchin. Actually, his name still is Andy Balchin.
We told him the rules of the quartet (it didn’t take long) and said we were taking part in the quartet competition at Prelims, oh and by the way, it’s in seven weeks’ time, here’s the sheet-music for the two songs, we meet on Sunday night, have them learnt by the next rehearsal. After just a few minutes conversation he was a fully-fledged Bagatelle member - he couldn’t bow out now, the quartet rules didn’t allow it.
Andy said he was travelling to San Francisco the next day on business for a week but being a keen newbie, and knowing that he needed to impress our resident silver medallist, the great Ian Douglas (we never let him forget his status in life – he hates it), he said he would spend every available minute learning the two songs – Zip-a-dee-doo-dah and Ride the Railroad Tonight. Andy duly spent hours rehearsing using his old Walkman and turning down loads of great meals at some brilliant San Francisco restaurants. The following Sunday was our first rehearsal together. Andy had not yet even been introduced or spoken to Ian. Andy said it was going to be nerve racking for him, but that expression of fear fell on deaf ears. We don’t listen to things like that!
We always met at Ian’s house for rehearsals. Pete and Aidan arrived early at the next rehearsal so they could enjoy the moment of Andy turning up much to the surprise of Ian – a surprise because Ian hadn’t even been told of Andy’s recruitment, or indeed of Bob’s departure. We weren’t very communicative in those days. Well actually, we never were. Ian took everything in his stride and didn’t seem to bat an eyelid when Andy turned up, early, keen and jet lagged. Ian presumably just assumed Bob had somehow morphed into Andy. His memory wasn’t very good and he soon forgot about Bob. He must have thought Andy was with us from quartet inception, wherever and whenever that was.
One of the quartet rules was that if Ian said we were singing a song there was no debate. And thus, when Andy turned up to the first rehearsal, note perfect on the two songs, Ian announced that Ride the Railroad Tonight was no longer a quartet song and that we were singing Midnight Rose instead. Only 6 weeks to go to prelims, and Andy had another song to learn, quickly! Andy soon realised the ways of Bagatelle. It was this kind of situation that could have been our downfall but it actually created a great laugh and stronger bond between us. We loved each other’s company right from the start and have many stories to tell, way too many for this article, but a beer will get us talking if you’re at all interested.
Oh and by the way, Ian with his no nonsense approach to choosing songs, soon decided that he didn’t want to sing lead anymore, which is why he told Pete he was singing lead in future. We’re not painting Ian as a Prima Dona – far from it. Those that know Ian will know that he has a unique way of taking people along with him – a truly special and very humorous person. Pete became the new lead of the quartet in 1994 and boy was he good. Ian had made the right decision, as he always did.
the middle 8
Like many other quartets across BABS (and presumably the world) we have sung in all manner of different places. We have sung in or at village hall shows, birthday parties, weddings, funerals, office events, craft shows, restaurants, pubs, canal boats, railway stations, planes, old people’s homes, on a big stage at the Hexagon and multiple other locations including of course all the barbershop convention stages such as Harrogate, Brighton, Blackpool, Glasgow and Bournemouth. We’ve seen many back-stage areas and many changing rooms. Does that all sound familiar to everyone? We even recorded a CD, but as yet sales have been poor, with just 4 sold!!
We competed at every Prelims and Convention for eight years from 1993, mainly but not always in the original line-up, achieving our best result of 7th overall in Bournemouth in 1996. Even that was a story: we weren’t expecting to do well that year and sang our set of Forgive Me and Give Me the Moonlight/Silvery Moon Medley. We came off stage, had a beer then returned to the auditorium to hear the results. The six finalists were announced as were the two mic warmers. We were never disappointed when our name wasn’t read out, even though there was always that build-up of a sense of anticipation and excitement just in case. Anyway, no Bagatelle, so we returned to our favourite spot, the bar. Then the semi-final paper results were put up around the bar and someone came running over to us to announce that we had in fact come eighth, and that we would be mic warming. Well, firstly we had disbelief. Secondly, we had a little disappointment that a mistake had been made and that our name hadn’t been read out earlier, but we got over that really quickly. Thirdly we had to have another beer to celebrate. Lastly, the panic set in as we realised we needed two new songs to perform during the finals contest on Sunday. That took about 5 minutes (resurrecting two competition songs from earlier years – one being Knee Deep in Daisies!!) before we returned to having one final beer before spending the night rehearsing. We sounded brilliant that night!!! We weren’t too shabby on Sunday either and were told that our marks would have got us 7th place overall. Well happy!
We have had a varied repertoire over the years ranging from Disney to Al Jolson, Beatles to Beach Boys and Harry M Wood to William Steffe (Side by Side to Battle Hymn of the Republic to save you looking that up). All repertoires vary with the times and with the members of the quartet, but we were always confident of entertaining and doing what the audience asked for (including get off!!!).
Over the years from 1993 to 2003 it was not always possible for the normal line up of 4 to attend all events. Holidays, family commitments, illness all get in the way and we are therefore very proud to include a number of other honorary members on our “wall of shame”. They can proudly (we hope) say they sang with Bagatelle over this period, standing in at a competition or at a show, included John Ward, Stuart Owen (we clearly taught Stuart everything he knows!!), Brian Milbank and Simon Adams.
Ian left the quartet in 1999 at which time we decided to employ the same recruitment tactic (as was employed on Andy) on another unsuspecting new TVC member. Simon Lee joined the quartet as a bass at which point Andy moved to sing Baritone, and immediately forgot all his words, which seems to be a common fault with baritones. We sang together for a couple more years until the quartet was put to bed for a while. Simon now lives in France and I hope is now looking for a French chorus/quartet to sing with.
the next verse
Although Andy B and Simon were no longer singing barbershop at that stage (c.2003/4) Aidan and Pete kept going and decided to form another quartet. They teamed up with two more newbies, Andy Rzysko (new Andy) and Richard Leathem, to form Figaro. Little would this new Andy realise that one day he too would be inducted onto the wall that is Bagatelle – more of that later. What followed with Figaro was an adventure that lasted 12 years with plenty of Bagatelle type laughs, hard work, beer, more beer and success (two 6th places in the BABS quartet finals and one Seniors Championship winners medal among others).
Back in 2008, we lost our fabulous lead, Pete Dawson. Far too young and it was a very emotional time for us. A truly great friend. Sadly Pete’s passing was a really low point among so many highs. We will never forget the joint Memorial Concert held by Thames Valley Chorus and Windsor Royal Harmonics to celebrate a great singer and buddy, loved and respected by all. We all miss him.
After that the remaining members of Bagatelle and Figaro still had much fun together but it was never about getting together to sing. Eventually in 2013 Figaro got together again and will be forever grateful to John Ward who stepped in to help Figaro win the Seniors, with - up until 2018 - the highest score ever achieved by a Senior Quartet. Aidan, our archivist and statistician - will tell you the exact score but it was over 70%. We did it for Pete, probably the best tribute we could give him.
Figaro then competed in the Seniors competition in the US following which they too took a rest.
the last verse
And that brings us to the present day. Bagatelle has been sleeping since 2002 and although we have all carried on singing in different ways (not necessarily all in barbershop), all that changed in 2018 when firstly Andy B decided he had missed barbershop so much that he joined Great Western Chorus. Andy then invited Aidan and Ian to his house, which was only about the third time the three of these great mates had been together in 15 years, although they had been in regular contact during that time (Ian had actually been best man at Andy’s wedding). A few beers were drunk, many toasts were made to our great mate Pete and then we mused over the idea of pulling Bagatelle together again. We sent Pete a message but so far he has failed to respond (!). Nevertheless we decided to push ahead. Unfortunately, Ian couldn’t join in again despite his keenness as he lives at the back of beyond now. However, the idea of resurrecting Bagatelle was well and truly planted. Aidan and Andy then went into full Bagatelle recruitment mode. Andy by this time was deputy bass section leader at GWC and immediately told Aidan of a great lead there (Martin Proctor, the lead section leader), who had also learnt his Barbershop trade with TVC. We knew that Martin (also known as “Barberpedia” in his thirst for history & knowledge of all things Barbershop, for which he gives a big thanks to Gerry Holland for taking him under his wing) would fit right in with the Bagatelle rule book. Andy approached Martin, gave him very little opportunity to say no, and so it was that Martin became Bagatelle’s 11th member and fourth lead. Soon thereafter Aidan had recruited new Andy Rzysko (Ex Figaro and TVC) as the baritone. It was now March 2019 and Bagatelle was back. Our rehearsals were fun again and the spirit within the quartet is what it should be. We are so pleased to have had many genuine comments from people already saying well done for getting Bagatelle going again.
Now we’re building a new repertoire and rehearsing hard for competition. We are so honoured, chuffed and somewhat overwhelmed to be your 2019 National Seniors Quartet Champions. It was a truly special weekend in Sheffield, and one which we dedicate to Pete Dawson. It was the first time that Bagatelle had competed in the Seniors, and not only did we win but we also qualified for the National Quartet Semi-finals in Harrogate. Wow! What a year. We thank each and every one of you for being there, in Barbershop. Please watch this space for updates and please follow us on Facebook and Instagram. If you are interested in booking us then send us an email!
Bagatelle recruitment policy
If Aidan or Andy B asks you then you’re in. No right of reply and no chance to say no.
Current vacancies – none.
Bagatelle Rule Book
Respect the recruitment policy
Recognise that Ian is always right, even when he’s not singing with the quartet
Must be able to drink beer
Ring Ring the Banjo tag is a must sing at the end of every pub night, as loud as possible.
There you have it. Bagatelle was formed back in 1993. And it was in the original four line-up of Aidan, Pete, Ian and Andy that we had a barrel of laughs, and a lot of barrels. The new line up with connections going way back to the original Bagatelle is already hard at work on the next barrel. That sense of fun and camaraderie has become the mantra for all who sing (and hopefully have sung) with Bagatelle and we are lucky to have created and continued something special from a group of guys who love the barbershop hobby, who like the odd barrel and who we can all call our best mates.
Once you have Barbershop in your veins it always stays with you. With massive thanks to Martin and the new Andy for complying with the Bagatelle recruitment policy and rule book, and for carrying on the spirit of Bagatelle, to all our families for seeing the fun we have and supporting us throughout, and also the biggest thanks ever to our wonderful hobby that is Barbershop.
That’s our ongoing story, and one which I’m sure many aspects of which will resonate with many quartets across the land.
Aidan Brand, Andy Balchin, Andy Rzysko and Martin Proctor.