As singers we are all involved in the business of story-telling. The songs we sing are all about telling someone’s story and the songs we like to sing the best are the ones that are also, in some way, telling our story. As choral singers we are also engaged in living and breathing the greatest story of all; the story of community coming together, as we do, to make and to share our music.
Also as a member of a choir (and especially a male voice choir) you get to meet some guys who have fantastic stories of themselves to tell.
Mick Tunney has been a member of the Mansfield & District Male Voice Choir for about 8 years.
“It had been in the back of my mind actually for a number of years but eventually, encouraged by my wife, Yvonne, I decided to join.” said Mick
“Being in the Choir has been a breath of fresh air. I’ve always been used to team work and I’ve always been a team member. You couldn’t get a better team than is the Choir”
Mick left school at the age of 15 and worked until the age of 30 at Thoresby Colliery on the coal face. He completed an electrician’s training course and then worked as an electrician in the mining and water industries until his retirement.
The Forest Town baritone also had a fantastic career in his younger days as a boxer and a footballer.
Mick was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) to a service family but left India at the age of 5 when the family moved to Ireland. Mick’s family lived in Castlebar, County Mayo until the age of 10 when the family moved to Mansfield.
“My father came to work with part of the family who had set up the Hyde-Barker travel business” explained Mick. “Having left Ireland as a fifteen year old and travelling the world in the Navy he knew quite a lot about travel!”
Hyde-Barker is a well-known name to local folk and are still trading from their premises in King Street, Southwell.
Mick’s father was very influential in encouraging Mick to take up the sport of boxing. The Tunney’s shared their surname with a former world heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney. Gene Tunney’s family came from Kiltimagh, Co Mayo which is less than 15 miles from Castlebar although Mick is not sure if the families were related.
“My father also wanted his son’s to be able to look after themselves and used to buy us boxing gloves for Christmas.”
Mick started to learn the noble art initially at the Portland gym on High Street, Mansfield Woodhouse. The gym was run by a well-known local character called Blackie Sims. Blackie used to do his roadwork (with his distinctive running style) in the Woodhus area donned in a tracksuit and a towel around his neck.
Mick’s began to box competitively at the age of 11 and he went on to have a very successful career. He had over 50 bouts, defeating some quality opponents along the way including, at the age of 17, a boxer called Johnny Pritchett who fought out of Bingham just down the road from Mansfield. Pritchett went on to have a very illustrious career as an amateur and as a professional won the British Commonwealth title at middleweight. Mick was defeated only once in his boxing career – losing on points in a bout down in Neath, South Wales. He was a National Junior Boxer at U17 level.
At the young age of 19, however, Mick retired from boxing.
“My mother always hated boxing and Yvonne and I were soon to be married. It was time to finish. I always say that persuading Yvonne to marry me was undoubtedly the outstanding achievement of the career”
Mick’s other sport was football.
“I didn’t really know the rules when I first came to England and used to pick the ball up like we did playing Gaelic football in Ireland. The other boys use to shout at me but it just had the effect of making me tougher” smiled Mick
He soon got the idea and, as a pupil of St Philips School in Mansfield became a member of a very successful junior football team. The team picture speaks for itself in terms of the number of trophies which the team won.
“I was actually at least a year younger than the other boys on the photo” explained Mick who was very quick to acknowledge the very positive influence of the schoolmaster, Mr Lee, on all of the boys.
Mick went on to win his Notts. FA schoolboy cap and began to play, at the age of 17 in the Cumberland Amateurs football club who were a very well-known and successful team during the 60s and 70s. There’s no doubt that hopes of a professional career as a footballer were affected by his involvement in boxing. You can’t really do both – even back then. But Mick was captain of several successful semi-professional teams who won numerous trophies including the Notts. Intermediate League and the Spartan League.
“I was right half as we used to call it then. A defensive mid-field player you’d describe me now and I just used to be able to see things on the pitch that other players couldn’t always see. I think it may have been something to do with the fact that I’m dyslexic”
Mick’s playing career carried on until he was in his mid-thirties finishing at Clipstone Welfare FC and being involved in junior coaching for many years after his playing career had finished.
We’re grateful to Mick for sharing some cherished memories. His story continues as all of our stories continue. We’re grateful also for the opportunity that we all have to make our own contribution to the story of choral singing as a part of a team and the greater family.