OVER recent weeks the Telegraph & Argus has run a series of interesting stories and glimpses of singers and bands who were prominent in the Bradford music scene.

How many readers know that one Ukrainian émigré singer from Bradford - Tino Valdi - 60 years ago assisted the English team in winning a European Song Competition? This was the 1961 Knokke-Heist Song Festival or European Cup for Vocal Recitation, staged in the white-stoned Casino of Knokke-le-Zoute in Belgium.

This competition, (Dutch Song Festival of Knokke, French Festival de la Chanson de Knokke or Coupe d’Europe du Tour de Chant) had been held from the 1950s and consisted of participants invited from six European countries. During its long history, many British singers were showcased, such as Engelbert Humperdinck, Dave Berry, Anita Harris, Roger Whittaker, Elkie Brooks, Gerry Marsden, Matt Monroe, Dave Whitfield and Frankie Vaughan.

The English team consisted of Ken Kirkham (Decca), Kathy Kirby (Pye), Dick Francis (Parlophone), Carmita (Fontana) and Tino Valdi, together with their manager Johnny Franks. The popular contest was televised in all the countries except Britain.

With this strong line-up, the group began with a good start and during the seven-day contest never looked back. One commentator said that “unless the English team of five warblers go down with an acute attack of laryngitis, I see no reason why we shouldn’t win the European Singing Cup in the plush casino...”

By the seventh day the Song Festival had come to a gripping end. Some onlookers felt Belgium and England had been neck and neck throughout but on July 27, 1961, the English team were declared champions and the Belgium team runners-up. The top prize was £1,430. The English team’s triumph was screened on television throughout Western Europe, with the exception of Britain. Following their historic win, the team also received many opportunities from TV producers and European recording studios. All the members of the triumphant English team went onto to pursue singing careers in light entertainment.

* In September 2019 the T&A ran this tribute to Tina Valdi, following his death, aged 90: Adopted Bradfordian Volodymyr Luciw was the ‘Voice of Velvet’ who achieved worldwide success as a singer. Better known by his stage name, Tino Valdi, he settled in Bradford from Ukraine following the Second World War.

A winner of a host of awards for his singing, Tino toured with Sir Bruce Forsyth, sung at World Fairs and met Pope John Paul II throughout his long and illustrious career.

Born in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine in 1929, Tino grew up during the war and at 15 was captured by the Nazis to build anti-tank defences. In 1944 he was taken to Germany to work in mines, where he stayed until the end of the war.

He was a displaced person in the British sector of Germany when he met Ukranian musician Hryhory Nazarenko who taught him to play the bandura. After a few years Tino left Germany and came to Bradford, working in Salts Mill, where his dream of becoming a singer came to fruition.

Tino told Eugene Nykolyszyn: “For the first time in my life I had a steady income. I could put some money aside to buy a 50 shilling suit. Although my English was not as good as it is now Salts Mill employed an ex-Polish combatant by the name of Andrzej Mazurkiewicz who acted as an interpreter for the foreign workers. My passion was always to continue with my singing so I started to take private lessons with a singing teacher Harry Horner, who lived in Bradford Road near Frizinghall. He taught me how to pronounce properly. This came in useful when singing English songs.

“I will always be indebted to Mr Horner because he impressed on me that if I wanted to pursue my interest in singing I would have to go to London. When I discussed my intention to go to London my friends said nothing would come of it and I would soon return to Bradford. I never did. I ended up travelling the world.”

Tino’s singing lessons led to a scholarship to Trinity College of Music in London, then another scholarship for the National Academy of St Cecilia in Rome. As his career took off he performed at the 1958 World Fair in Belgium and later the Royal Albert Hall and was invited to join Bruce Forsyth’s touring variety show. Competing at the Coupe d’Europe in 1961, judges said Tino had a “voice like velvet”. In the 1960s and 70s he performed on radio, TV and in many venues in the UK and overseas. In the late 80s, after being diagnosed with cancer, Tino embarked on a new career promoting music, art and literature. He co-ordinated the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Ukraine in Rome in 1988 and in 2008 was awarded the Order of Merit, 2nd degree, by the Ukranian president. He received the British Music Hall Society’s Lifetime Achievement award on his 88th birthday.

In 2016 Tino returned to Bradford for a celebration of his career at the Ukrainian Club in Lidget Green. He presented a specially-made piece of Ukrainian religious iconography to the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor Geoff Reid, as a gift to the city.