Gwalia Singers

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Cantorion Gwalia









Previous decade: the 1960s





The A.G.M. held on 4th February was to see, after much heated discussion, the resolution passed enlarging the choir to a maximum of 25 members – watch out Treorchy!!


1st April saw us move “over the bridge” to Bethesda, Briton Ferry, which is the first concert I missed since the choir’s formation – I was in hospital – ah!! – Edmond John conducted. This concert is also famous in the choir’s history for Chris Shaw’s famous entry onto the stage from the back of the hall during the middle of the Lord’s Prayer!! Edmond nearly had a “thrombo”.


We were now beginning to travel. May: Penoir Golf Club, Brecon and 30th August: our first concert at St. Mary’s, Tenby, when we sang to the largest audience so far – 1,000 people. It just shows our cheek in those days when we opened the concert with Doris Arnold’s “Arise O Sun” with only 18 members singing. It was great!!


December saw our first “2 in 1 day” type engagement. A hospital in Carmarthen in the afternoon followed by a concert in the beautiful 16th century church of St. Mary’s Carew. This was followed by some magnificent eats in the old church hall with its huge log fire. The only thing that marred the day was the diesel fumes pouring into our “luxury coach” on the way home.


To illustrate how precarious it was in those days with so few members, our concert in the Rechabite Hall, Gowerton, in December saw Edmond John conducting and me singing first bass. This was because we only had 2 first bass available that night. I must say that night was the best I have ever heard the first bass singing!! In fact several of the choir members used to alternate between parts in those days depending upon who was available. You had to be flexible then.





On 23rd April we presented our 2nd Annual Concert at the Patti Pavilion, Swansea. Our guest artiste was Janet Rees from Llanelli, a 14 year old guitarist/singer of “Opportunity Knocks” fame and the chairman for the evening was our president, Alan Williams, M.P. Swansea West. 450 people attended and each paid 25p for their tickets. The total cost of the concert was £110.74 and the profit £53.89 – big money.


About this time we had our first TV audition with HTV in Cardiff – it was a disaster. I have never seen a more dejected bunch of men in my life when we walked out of the studio. However the night was redeemed by Ken Hutin’s famous performance in a hostelry just outside Cardiff. The famous “Ty Bach” story being the highlight of the evening.


September saw the choir’s first major adventure. We were invited to sing in a foreign country – England. We had a very successful concert at the Carlton Forum, Nottingham, on Saturday 25th September. This was followed by some equally splendid singing the following morning at the Main Street Methodist Church, Carlton. This despite the fact that most of the members were sporting thick heads.


On 14th October at a concert in Mumbles Baptist Church we were to be joined for the first time by a young lady who was to enhance many more concerts of ours in years to come – Hazel Howells. She proved so popular with us immediately that she did no fewer than 6 concerts with us between October and December that year.





It is interesting to note that the AGM held on 20th January was the forum for a long and intense discussion on “the regularity of concerts”. It was not resolved then and I doubt if it ever will be.


1972 also saw a major important change in the administrative side of the choir. Malcolm Herbert was appointed secretary. Malcolm made an immediate impact and the choir became better organised with even a hint of efficiency beginning to show. Malcolm, as you know, has held this position ever since and still carries out his duties enthusiastically and efficiently. Such a person is invaluable to any organisation.


The final item to report on in this particular chapter was the very successful Annual Concert held at Jerusalem Chapel, Fforestfach, on 28th April. Hazel Howells was of course with us on that occasion and for the first time in the choir’s history we engaged a professional artist – Richard Rees, the well-known bass from North Wales.”


Bryan continued his recollections during September 1989 in part 3:


"In July we gave a concert in Newquay, Cardiganshire. We also performed in the same month in Horton where our concert fee was £5.25.


September heralded the choir’s 2nd visit to “foreign” lands. We were again invited to sing in Nottingham. Our soloists on that occasion were Hazell Howells and that famous Russian tenor Vernon Simons. It was a memorable trip and the choir’s popularity was now spreading far and wide.


Versatility has always been a strong point with the Gwalias and in December of 1972 we were invited to sing at a BARMITZVA held in the Dragon Hotel, Swansea. Those of you who were present will surely remember the champagne which was provided for us. No glasses, so we drank it out of the bottles.





On the 31st January we held our A.G.M. This was to be an important event in the choir’s history because after a long and detailed discussion, despite some objections, we voted to enter the competitive field. This however was not to come to fruition for a further 2½ years. More of that later.


On 4th April we held our annual concert at Jerusalem Chapel, Fforestfach. Once again Hazell Howells was our guest soprano and this time we had the pleasure of having Dai Jones, Llanilar, as our guest tenor. I well remember that night the pleasure the audience got from their duet Hywel a Blodwen.


In May we sang in St. Peter’s Church, Llanelli and in July in Llandrindod Wells. Also in July, the choir drew up new “Uniform Rules”. Those rules have changed very little in 16 years except that I think the rule which laid down the wearing of “dark grey socks” has evolved into “black socks” probably during the time Don Frame was Stage Manager!!


Despite the fact that we were now getting more prestigious concerts we still never forgot our old friends, and still have not, and 1973 saw us once again performing charity concerts for Hafod Brotherhood and Pontardawe OAPs.


Choir at
                  Civil Service Club, 1973

The Gwalia Singers, pictured in 1973 at the Civil Service Club


In November some charity organisation had the bright idea of a concert combining a male voice choir with a pop group. We were invited – as the choir I hasten to add. It was a disaster, with teenagers rolling empty beer cans down the aisle when we were singing which landed at Della Binnig’s feet whilst she was accompanying the choir. We sang 2 items – very quickly! – shot off stage and went home. However here was another new “experience” and part of the learning process.


Just as in previous and all subsequent years 1973 was again a very busy one for the Gwalias."


Also of note

  •  Big discussion over whether to enter competition as clearly the choir’s standard and “diction” had significantly improved. “Misgivings were expressed, marquee singing was difficult, full attendance at practices would be vital, there was a danger of boredom if one or two pieces of music monopolised all the choir’s practice time, adverse adjudication might well have a demoralising effect on the choir and the normal concert schedule might have to be curtailed and programme arrangements might well entail performing very late in the evening!”

  • An extraordinary general meeting had to be held to discuss uniform purchase: “in view of the rise in prices since the rules were formulated, it was felt that a new member’s contribution to the cost needed to increase since a complete uniform now costs £30!”





"The A.G.M. held on 23rd January saw the choir form its first Fund Raising Committee. We decided it was time we had some money behind us because we were in the initial stages of considering the making of our first record and a possible trip abroad. The first members of this important committee were Islwyn Bennett, Viv Williams and Don Childs.


On 3rd April we again took Jerusalem Chapel, Fforestfach, for our annual concert. Hazell Howells guested and Dai Jones, Llanilar, was engaged. Unfortunately, however, he was taken ill and Nigel Hopkins, Morriston, stood in at the very last minute.


The concert held on 14th April was a nostalgic occasion for the choir and particularly for me for it was given at St. Jude’s Church, Swansea. It was from the St. Jude’s Operatic Society that the choir originated and it was in this church that I was brought up and gained most of my musical experience and knowledge – no clever remarks please!!


On 8th June we sang to an audience of 800 delegates at the Brangwyn Hall. This was the occasion of the National Labour Women’s Conference and there were several prominent Socialist MPs in attendance so our blue blazers were not the ideal dress for the occasion but we did not have any other type to wear so it was hard luck. This event was the famous occasion when Don Childs caught out Neil Kinnock with one of his infamous practical jokes. Neil Kinnock fell for it hook, line and sinker and Don still talks of the night he told the potential future Prime Minister of Great Britain to “go away and don’t bother him” or words to that effect!!!


June also heralded the choir’s first venture into the recording arena. We recorded our first long playing record at the B.B.C. Studio in Alexander Road, Swansea. The recording session itself is always to be remembered for our having to remove our shoes because some were creaking and being picked up by the microphones. Despite the fact that there were only about 20 in the choir then the venture was a resounding success and there are some lovely quality items on that particular record. So once again the choir was beginning to develop and move forward.


An Extraordinary General Meeting was held on 2nd October where, after long and heated discussion, it was decided to raise the maximum permissible strength of the choir from 25 to 30. A momentous decision. There was 1 proviso however. We already had too many basses and I was only allowed to bring in tenors as additional members.


1974 – again successful, busy and progress being maintained."


Also of note

  • “On the question of discipline the stage manager (Mr V. Williams) stressed that members were not to move onto the stage until he gave the word and that they were to remain standing still until the Musical Director and Accompanist had entered, and that immediate response to his instructions at concerts was essential!”

  • The choir had a great debate over whether to make their first “gramophone record” with the Harp Recording company.





"1975 started off on a bad note for the choir. The local Labour Party had organised a function to celebrate the fact that Alan Williams, MP for Swansea West, had completed 10 years “in the house”. Our wives were invited to attend but were treated very badly right from the beginning of the evening. We were disgusted, told the organisers so and walked out without performing. Another little experience in the school of life.


At the AGM held on 22nd January, Edmond John stepped down as chairman after doing a splendid job for 4 years and Ken Hutin was appointed as the new chairman of the Gwalia Singers. Also at this meeting some major changes to their constitution were agreed and Derek Turner was appointed as the choir’s first Public Relations Officer. We also agreed to purchase choir envelopes as well as headed note paper – what professionalism!!


Our annual concert at Bethlehem Chapel, Fforestfach, on 7th May saw the choir engage its first guest artiste with a “big name”. This was Wynford Evans, a tenor from Swansea who was, at that time, on the threshold of a promising career. Wynford has, of course, since then become a world famous tenor. I will never forget him “dragging” on his Woodbines in the chapel vestry before going on to sing and saying that he really ought to try and give them up.


At an Extraordinary General Meeting held on 18th June the choir established the principle of honoraria for both conductor and accompanist. The amount was set at £30 each per annum. The musical staff were now “professionals”.


On the 2nd August we had a memorable visit to Llanbadarn Fawr, Llandrindod, where we gave a concert in the local church as part of their Flower Festival. The church was “dripping” with flowers and it was such a hot evening that I gave the boys permission to sing in shirtsleeves – unheard of before. A beautiful trip ended with us being provided with a sumptuous cold meat salad dinner in an open barn lit by old fashioned oil lamps on a wonderful balmy August night.


Now a milestone (not a Barbershop Quartet) in the choir’s history. After agreeing some 2½ years earlier to enter the competitive field we entered the Eisteddfod at Knighton on 4th October. There were 6 choirs competing. We had 18 members on stage; all of the others were between 40 and 56 members. We came 4th with 172 marks with the winners, Newport & District M.V.C. gaining 178 marks. So under the circumstances we had done well. We sang the 23rd Psalm as the test piece and Kalinka (soloist – Vernon Simons) as our own choice. We, I particularly, learnt a lot from that first competition. To show how “green” I was in those days is summed up by the incident when we arrived one of the stewards said to me “do you want a rehearsal” and I said “no than you we know the both pieces well”. I received a strange and telling look from him which seemed to say very clearly without the spoken word “what a plonker”!!


Having previously agreed earlier in the year to consider a request for the choir to visit Mannheim, West Germany, at an Extraordinary General Meeting held on 2nd October, it was agreed, after several months of investigation by a special committee, not to accept the invitation. There were too many problems involved. Times don’t change do they?


 Choir at Civil Service Club, 1975

The choir, pictured at the Civil Service Club during 1975


Finally, Dilwyn Williams topped the attendance register that year with 100% attendance. Vernon Simons was a very poor second with a mere 98% record – he missed 1 practice (with apologies to the Conductor of course).

So 1975 was again a full and memorable year. The Gwalia Singers were now even more popular and well known and continued to be in great demand for concert work."


In September 1991, Bryan Myles continued with part 4 of the choir's history:


“The 5th December, 1975, was the famous “HOY” concert at Pontardawe OAPs. Don Childs was brilliant in his solo giving it all the “HYWL” any conductor could ask for. The story is too long to relate here but any of the newer members who wish to know the details can ask any of the long service boys who will, I’m sure, relate the story in all its glorious details."


Also of note

  • The choir discussed their first trip to Mannheim in 1976. This was the choir’s first venture “abroad”. It was felt however that the choir should not enter into an exchange arrangement and avoid “reciprocal obligations” on this, their first venture. There was a special “Ways & Means” committee set up to investigate all aspects of the trip. Later in the year it was decided to cancel the trip because the numbers of choristers wanting to travel was too small. An invitation had also been received to attend the Toronto Festival but this was declined and the choir voted by 18 votes to 2 that they should not consider any foreign trips until the membership had risen to 30.

  • At this meeting the choir set down rules for an Annual Dinner: “the date should be regular, preferably the week after the Annual Concert”; “The format should be a Dinner Dance”; “Attendance to be limited to members, wives, and official guests”; “A Top Table should exist of officers and speeches limited to the Chairman, one official guest and the Musical Director (if he wished)”

  • The choir also discussed making their second “Gramophone Record”





"Dealing with the musical aspect of 1976 first, the choir celebrated its 10th Anniversary by holding its Annual Concert in Ebenezer Chapel, Ebenezer Street, Swansea on 20th May. We “fielded” 25 choristers, used our own soloists – Vernon Simons, Laurence George & Terry Smith – and featured an organ solo by Clive Williams who, earlier this year, joined the choir as Deputy Accompanist. We also included a couple of different things in the programme – a piano duet with Della Binning and Clive Williams and a Quintet of Choristers (I cannot remember who they were) sang 3 items. The chairman for the evening was the late Rev. O. Tregelles Williams. The concert was a great success and we made £280.68 profit – a lot of money in 1976.


Just 6 days before this concert we sang to the Welsh Labour Council at the Brangwyn. Derek Turner conducted – I was away on business.


The concert for the Bishopston Over 60’s Club on 19th July saw Clive Williams accompany the choir for the first time for a full concert. Della accompanied the artists. This was the agreement we reached at the AGM in February when Della decided she was going to give up the position of accompanist within 12 months.

We again undertook many concerts in 1976 of which Derek Turner conducted 2 more as I was away on business in the U.S.A. and Canada.


The year finished on a high note with the choir’s first “foreign tour” – a weekend (4th/5th December) to Nottingham. On the Saturday night we gave a concert at Rushcliffe, Nottingham, with guest soloist Hazell Howells and on the Sunday morning sang 3 items during the morning service at St. Giles Church, West Bridgeford, the church which I used to attend when we lived in Nottingham.


The weekend was an outstanding success and we had made a lot of new friends and supporters.


On the administrative side, at the AGM held on 18th February, Tony Wright proposed the setting-up of a sub-committee to tackle recruitment – what’s new? It was also decided that terms of reference should be drawn up for all officers and other choir posts and the Civil Service Club annual subscription was raised from £3.00 to £3.15.


At an EGM held on 1st September, it was agreed that the Musical Director should be invited to serve on the Committee as it was felt “this would benefit the choir generally and would speed up decision making.”


It was also decided to replace Alan Williams M.P. as Choir President. Trevor Lewis was invited to be the new president, an invitation he gratefully accepted.


At the Annual Dinner held at the Langland Court Hotel we had a deficit of 6p on the night – what the hell was Treasurer Roger Francis doing?!!!


  Top attendances for 1976 - Hugh Jones    - 99%

                             Roger Francis - 97%

                             Mal Herbert   - 97%

                             Dil Williams  - 97%


That’s it for 1976!!"


Also of note

  • The choir established the post of “Librarian” to make copies of music for issue to all choir members.

  • It was noted that the choir’s social events had been very successful – especially the Annual Dinner, the New Year’s Day Party and the Fancy Dress Dance!

  • The choir participated in the Knighton Eisteddfod, which proved a valuable experience.

  • Mr Ken Hutin retired as Chairman and at this point choir membership stood at 25.

  • At their AGM the choir also established the role of “Honorary Life Member” with presentation of a certificate of recognition. Rules were established for appointment, privileges and even dismissal!

  • The choir considered “collaboration” with a Ladies choir and set up a team to look at a possible joint concert at Christmas time. The Ladies choir in question was not identified at this time!

  • It was interesting to see that the choir had a recruitment problem at this time and was concerned at absence at practice. A statistical document of attendance was first presented at the AGM. Mr. D. Williams was the only member recorded with 100% attendance.





On the weekend of 5th/6th March we paid our first visit to the Welsh Society, Bridgenorth, who were having a St. David’s Day dinner to celebrate their 21st anniversary year. We gave a full concert on the Saturday night and stayed over at the Falcon Hotel where we were to discover, in the early hours of the morning, Gerald East’s considerable hidden talents on the pianoforte.


On Thursday 14th April, we gave a short concert at the Brangwyn for the Swansea/Mannheim Twinning Association. Our Annual Concert this year was held on Thursday 26th May at Bethlehem Chapel, Cadle, when our guest soloist was Doreen O’Neill. Chairman for the evening was Trevor Lewis – “of course”.


This year also saw the start of our entertaining conferences at the university.


I remember vividly the concert at St. Peter’s Church, Cockett, on Wednesday 5th October – we had 3 top tenors in attendance – have times really changed that much? Alan Fewster stepped in as accompanist that evening as Clive was unavailable.


At the AGM on 9th February, Ken Hutin concluded his term of office as Chairman and Phil Gittoes, who had recently returned from living in Hong Kong, was elected Chairman for the 2nd time. In a closely fought contest he beat Vernon Simons by 1 vote – lucky escape for Vernon! At this meeting the choir agreed in principle to consider the competitive field although this did not actually materialise for some 15 months.


The subject of reserved seats at annual concerts for wives/friends caused a bit of a fracas. Islwyn Bennett, now living in Australia [sic - Islwyn actually moved to Vancouver BC in Canada], had had a bit of a problem over this matter at the last annual concert.


At an EGM held on 4th May, it was decided to introduce Honorary Life Membership to the choir to be given for outstanding services to the choir.


Three proposals were made immediately:-


  Name                        Result

  Della Binnig                YES

  Ambrose Miles               NO

  Remaining Founder Members   NO


So Della Binnig became the choir’s first Honorary Life Member.


The subject of recruitment, especially tenors, was still a burning issue.


A highlight of the year was the recording of our 2nd LP (the 1st commercial one) on the Cambrian Label with the title “The Magic of their Singing”. For such a small choir it really was a lovely record and was very successful. The unique front sleeve featuring a picture of a piece of Swansea China was, and is, considered to be very tasteful and up-market."


  Top Attendances 1977 - Dill Williams   - 100%

                         Gerson Williams - 98%

                         Tony Wright     - 98%

                         Mal Herbert     - 97%

                         Viv Williams    - 97%


Also of note

  • Mr P. Gittoes, the new chairman, identified that the choir had given 16 concerts during the year including the Annual Concert, Bridgenorth and the usual Carol Concert. 4 new members had joined and progress was well underway for the second recording.

  • The choir debated the rule that restricted the membership to 30 and it was generally agreed that the numbers could exceed 30 provided they were top tenors only! After more discussion it was finally agreed the membership should be “approximately 30”.

  • The need to improve the repertoire with lighter musical items was stressed and the Musical Director issued a document where the current repertoire was classified as: “Heavy” (14 pieces), “Middle of the Road” (23 pieces) and “Light” (11 pieces).





"So into our 13th Year – 1978


Saturday 20th May saw us take part in our first serious competition. It was the Welsh Brewers’ Choral Competition held in Carmarthen. Five choirs took part – Gwalia, Dinefwr, Dyffryn Tywi, Carmarthen and Dunvant.


Two choirs went through to the next round – Gwalia and Dunvant – we were on the way!!


Our programme that night   -   Song of the Jolly Roger

                                               -   Myfanwy

                                               -   Kalinka

                                               -   The Whiffenpoof Song

                                               -   Non Nobis Domine


The adjudicator was the late Haydn James of Swansea.


Due to wishing to pursue his musical studies, Clive Williams resigned as accompanist and Beverly Sanders, age 17, became our new accompanist. She undertook her 1st concert with the choir at Bishopston OAPs on Monday 10th July.


July saw the semi-final of the Welsh Brewers’ Choral Competition at Barry and Gwalia and Barry M.V.C. were to go through to the final in September. Seven choirs took part in this final held on Saturday 16th September including some “big guns” like Dunvant and Froncysyllte. Duvant won 1st prize of £1,000. This was really big money in the competitive field at this time.


Alan John was the adjudicator and he virtually dismissed the Gwalias as merely a Glee Party and I am sure he was wondering what we were doing there amongst such auspicious company. In later years he was to change his opinion drastically about us.


Wednesday 11th October saw us return to our birthplace when we gave a concert at St. Jude’s Church, Mount Pleasant, Swansea – it was quite nostalgic for the founder members.


At the AGM held on 8th February, it was reported that we had had some success with recruitment the previous year when we had recruited a whole 4 new members. At this period relationships with the Civil Service Club Committee were somewhat strained and we decided to “take the bull by the horns” and clarify certain matters between the 2 committees. At this meeting the constitution was amended concerning the size of the choir. It was felt that “a maximum of 30” was too restrictive so it was changed to “approximately 30” – not particularly definitive but we all understood what it meant.


Big decision taken at this meeting when we discussed an agenda item entitled “Casual Garments” – no, not off-the-shoulder T shirts – CHOIR PULLOVERS. We purchased some a few months later and the ladies’ section donated £98.48 towards the cost of them; well done ladies – you have been a considerable help to us over the years.


  Top Attendances 1978 - Roley Morris    - 100%

                         Roy Thomas      - 100%

                         Dil Williams    - 100%

                         Marshal Clement - 98%

                         Edmond Johns    - 98%

                         Hugh Jones      - 98%


Note – 3 1st tenors in the top 6!!!


That was 1978 that was.





We were into competition again early in 1979. In the first round of the Welsh Brewers’ Competition, 5 choirs took part and Dunvant, Tenby and Gwalia got through.


This year’s Annual Concert was again held at Bethlehem Chapel, Cadle. Guest soloist – Hazell Howells, guest organist – Clive Williams and concert chairman – Ambrose Miles.


The choir staged 30 members that night.


On Tuesday 5th June, we once again performed at the Brangwyn, this time for the Labour Party E.E.C. Conference; by this time we were thinking about changing our blazers to RED ones!!


Monday 2nd July saw us return to the university once again to entertain another international conference.


Thursday 19th July saw the choir’s first combined concert with a brass band – Penclawdd. This was at All Saints, Oystermouth and was part of the Gower Festival. We were to work with Penclawdd Brass Band on many occasions in ensuing years.


On 9th September, we paid an annual visit to St. Mary’s, Tenby, where we had now been going for several years. In those days, however, it was only the 1 concert in the evening.




Choir’s first entry into an under 40 voice semi-national Eisteddfod at the Miners’ Eisteddfod, Porthcawl.


  Test Piece   - Domine Non Sum Dignus

  Own Choice   - Comrade in Arms

  Adjudicators - Arthur V. Williams

               - Julian Moyle

               - Alan John (remember what he said in 1978?)


  Result -   Choir       Marks

             Gwalia      90

             Bontffaen   88

             Girlais     86

             Cambrian    83

             Ferndale    82


This was to be the beginning of a remarkable record of successes at Eisteddfodau.


Yet another major achievement was to be gained on Saturday 27th October. This was the final of the Welsh Brewers’ Competition held at the Memorial Hall, Barry.


  Adjudicators - Haydn James

                 Lyndon Hugh


  Result - Choir      Position   Prize

           Dunvant    1st        £1,000

           Gwalia     2nd        £500 - YES £500

           Blaenavon  3rd        £250

           Tenby      )

           Pontypridd )          not placed

           Glynneath  )


Gwalia Programme

Song of the Jolly Roger

Y Deryn Pur

Kalinka (solo: Vernon Simons)

Domine Non Sum Dignus

Yellow Bird (with Rhythm Section & Sock)

Comrades in Arms


For the 2nd year running we were by far the smallest choir competing but by now both adjudicators and other choirs alike knew that the Gwalia Singers, Swansea had arrived and were a small dynamic force to be reckoned with.

At the AGM on 7th February, Phil Gettoes ended his 2-year term as Chairman but was unanimously re-elected for a further 2-year period.


A decision was taken to add 2 choir members to the committee. Four nominations were put forward and Roy Thomas and Brian Lloyd were elected in a nail-biting vote.


We also decided to consider entering the National Eisteddfod to be held at Gowerton in 1980.


An EGM was held on 3rd October because after a whole 8 months Brian Lloyd resigned from the committee. Marshal Clement was elected in his place."


  Top Attendances 1979 - Hugh Jones    - 100%

                         Tony Wright   - 100%

                         Roger Francis - 97%

                         Mal Herbert   - 97%

                         Viv Williams  - 97%


Also of note

  • The choir now had 31 singers and 25 were almost guaranteed for each concert.

  • The choir increased the committee membership to include three committee members as well as the choir officers.

  • At the choir's extraordinary general meeting, it was agreed that the choir should be increased to a maximum of 40 members.


Next decade: the 1980s