BRIAN Kay’s career has been full of happy coincidences. Every time one door has closed, another has immediately swung open.

Modestly, he puts this down to being in the right place at the right time, and, of course, there is some truth in this.

But it overlooks another vital ingredient – talent.

And Brian Kay has that in abundance.

Best known as a radio broadcaster, choral conductor and former King’s Singer, Brian – who has lived in Fulbrook, just outside Burford, for nearly 40 years – has also appeared in TV and film, most notably singing Papageno in the film Amadeus, and been a backing singer for Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd.

Music was always destined to be a major part of his life. He grew up in Yorkshire, where he, his two brothers and his sister (later to become one of the Swingle Sisters) were given every encouragement by their parents.

“My father was the leading light, both as comedian and tenor, of the York Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society,” he recalls.

“As kids, we used to go along every week to see them rehearsing, and I just longed for that moment every week. It started off my love of amateur singers, which remains with me to this day.”

Another early influence was boarding school at Colwyn Bay, North Wales, which Brian loved.

“I was auditioned for the school choir when I was 12, by a lovely man called Richard Barraclough.

“When I ended up decades later as chorus master for the Huddersfield Choral Society, there he was as secretary, and he remains a dear friend.

“I often think if he had turned me down for the school choir, the whole story might have been quite different.”

A choral scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge, followed and he sang in the choir there under the direction of the legendary David Willcocks.

“It was an unbelievable experience, and he remains the greatest influence in my life. I read Music, so it was music all the way, and it has been the same ever since.”

It was during his undergraduate days that Brian co-founded the King’s Singers.

“Six of us in the choir had a lot of fun moonlighting at the famous Footlights Club. The combination of two counter tenors, one tenor, two baritones and one bass was rather unusual in those days, and we had such fun doing it, so we said ‘let’s go on doing it a bit longer’.

“And that became the King’s Singers.”

The group debuted in London in 1968, and over the next 15 years Brian toured with them worldwide, clocking up 2,000 concerts and numerous TV appearances, which he looks back on with great fondness.

“We had a great time. And we feel very proud to have started something that’s gone on for so long,” he says. “The current group are affectionately known to us as the grandchildren and they are just wonderful. They still, I think, set the standard for male voice singing.”

During Brian’s final concert with the King’s Singers, at the 1982 Cheltenham Festival, one of those happy coincidences kicked in when he was approached by the producer from the BBC World Service and asked if he could do some presenting work the following week – a challenge he was delighted to accept.

Witney Gazette:

Brian with the Burford Singers at their Coronation Gala concert in June last year

Around the same time, he was invited to sing in a series of concerts at the South Bank Summer Festival.

One of his fellow singers was soprano Gillian Fisher, and they married just over a year later.

Meanwhile, his work with the World Service had led to a stint as a Radio 3 announcer — which he enjoyed, but left after two years to seek a more creative role.

“I wanted to be a presenter, write my own scripts, choose my own music and deliver my own message,” he says.

Luck was on Brian’s side yet again, because soon afterwards he was invited to take over from Richard Baker on Music and Rhymes, which he presented for nine years.

A chance meeting in a lift with the then newly-appointed BBC controller Nicholas Kenyon led to the launch of Brian Kay’s Sunday Morning, which he presented for nine years.

During that time he also presented Friday Night is Music Night and Melodies for You.

“It was non-stop broadcasting for 25 years,” he says. “How lucky is that? I sat in my shed at the bottom of the garden making programmes. It was a really exciting way to make a living. I had a great time.”

At the same time, he was developing a parallel career as a choral conductor. Shortly after leaving the King’s Singers he succeeded Nicholas Cleobury as chorus master to the London Choral Society, which was conducted at the time by a very young Simon Rattle.

Conducting roles with the Cheltenham Bach Choir, Huddersfield Choral Society, Leith Hill Festival and The Really Big Chorus were soon added to his tally, and he was also invited to become the first chairman of the Association of British Choral Conductors, which was formed in Oxford in 1986.

These days, of course, he is best known locally as conductor of the Burford Singers, which he took over from his friend Brian Etheridge 12 years ago — and for once, he is able to enjoy the luxury of a local gig.

“Just down the road every Thursday evening and three concerts a year,” he says. “I love it. And it’s lovely to be able to bring my own standard of music-making to Burford.

“One of the great things about the Burford concerts is the intensely loyal audience. They pack the place every time.”

Brian celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year, but has no intention of slowing down.

“I’m damned if I’m going to!” he says, forcefully. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I get such joy out of it. I wouldn’t give up music for anything. So as long as I have the health and strength to do it, yes please!”

  • Burford Singers are joining forces with the Cotswold Chamber Orchestra for their next concert, a performance of Mozart’s Requiem and Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna at Burford’s St John’s church at 7.30pm on Sunday, November 23. For more details and ticket information, see or call 01993 822412.