Welsh boys’ choir Only Boys Aloud secured third place in the grand final of Britain’s Got Talent. After wowing the judges with their rendition of Calon Lân (Pure Heart), one of Wales’s best-loved hymns, during their first appearance on the hugely popular talent show, Only Boys Aloud sang another hymn in Welsh at the semi-final, this time impressing with Gwahoddiad (Invitation). It was again Calon Lân which moved the judges and audience to vote them into third place for the final.
Only Boys Aloud could have easily decided to sing pop songs, or to sing in English, with the aim of getting more votes, but they were true to their roots and proudly belted out the old chapel and rugby match favourites.
The choir was formed a few weeks before the Ebbw Vale National Eisteddfod (cultural festival) of 2010. They followed in the footsteps of the adult choir Only Men Aloud who had previously come second in a TV choir competition, losing in the end to another Welsh choir. Wales has the highest density of male voice choirs anywhere in the world, linked to heavy industry as well as the singing traditions of the chapels and the eisteddfodau competitions, but their members are growing older. Both Only Men Aloud and Only Boys Aloud are trying to overturn this decline and inspire younger men and boys to sing. It is also an opportunity for youngsters from relatively deprived areas to develop their confidence and a sense of responsibility through their commitment to the choir.
Simon Cowell remarked that he was touched by Calon Lân even though he had never heard it before and could not understand a word.
Calon Lân means ‘pure heart’ and it emphasises the importance having a pure heart rather than any amount of wealth or beauty; not exactly the values associated with celebrity-obsessed teenagers these days.
Gwahoddiad (Invitation), also known by its first line ‘Mi glywaf dyner lais’ (I hear thy welcome voice), is often believed to be a Welsh hymn, but was actually written in English by an American and later translated into Welsh. With its message of the redeeming power of God’s love and forgiveness, it struck a chord with the Welsh congregations of the Revival and became hugely popular.
Although the boys came third, losing out to Ashleigh and Pudsey, the girl and the dancing dog who took first place, there are now calls for them to perform at the Olympics, and it’s certain that this is not the last we’ve seen or heard of these talented teenagers.