Just back from a delightful trip to the Lake District. Holiday? No: signing-off an organ; something that the Covid months have made very difficult. The delightfully hidden village of Ravenstonedale, not far from Kendal, is blessed with a beautiful 1891 two-manual organ by Harrison & Harrison. Probably the dampest organ I’ve ever seen, it gave David Wells and his team some enormous challenges as they had never seen screws so destroyed by rust. But nothing would prevent them from carrying out a perfect restoration of this sturdy little instrument, which fills the village church with cathedralesque sounds. Actually this is the sixth organ I’ve signed off in recent weeks, as we emerge from Covid restrictions, others being at Corbridge (a scrupulous rebuild by Malcolm Lightbown), at Alderley Edge (equally good work by Andrew Sixsmith), at Chesterton, near Cambridge (a colourful new organ based on vintage pipework by Henry Groves & Son), the others being in Rochester and at St Mary Platt, mentioned in my last news item.
It was a joy to be back in Kent last week – the county where I spent the first fourteen years of my working life, and met & married Anne. There were two of my current organ projects to visit. The first was St Mary Platt, where an organ splendidly rebuilt to my scheme by HN&B in 1983 has just been overhauled and electrically updated by Colin Jilks, who has maintained it for forty years (see console photo) and who added the top manual and solo reed in 2001. The second was the 1880 Forster & Andrews at St Margaret’s in Rochester, being given a root and branch restoration by Henry Groves & Son. Platt was finished and Rochester nearly so – both showing exemplary work. We caught up with old friends and also re-visited Knole, Ightham Mote (see photo) and Chartwell. A rich and enjoyable four days.
On 17 May 2021 I delivered a talk via Zoom to members of many organists’ associations, at the invitation of the Nottingham & District Society of Organists. The talk, which lasts 90 minutes, is about various recent interesting organ projects of mine and their challenges, and was watched as far away as New York, from where David Briggs kindly sent me an appreciative email shortly afterwards. Links can be found in the ‘Illustrated Lectures’ section of this website, but for convenience, here they are: Part One and Part Two.
Today, with the sun streaming through the windows of All Saints’ church, Elston (near Newark) we bade farewell in a moving funeral service to a leading light of Nottinghamshire’s music — John Morehen. Following organ lessons at Gloucester with Herbert Sumsion, John had been a Clifton College music scholar, then the first organ scholar at New College Oxford. His doctoral studies at King’s College Cambridge eventually led him, via the organ loft of St George’s chapel, Windsor and many solo broadcasts, to the music department of Nottingham University, where he rose to the Professorship. His musical activities in the city and county are too numerous to list here (they can be read about in his Obituaries) as also are his innumerable kindnesses and generosity to others. He leaves a great hole in our community. Rest in peace, John.
Another venturing forth today – to St Philip’s cathedral, Birmingham. I was privileged to act as consultant for the complete rebuilding of the historic organ there in 1992-3, by Nicholsons, who have been in charge of the instrument since the 1890s. It fell to them to save the organ in 1940 after a fire-bomb left the cathedral open to the skies (see photo below).
It was stored in Pershore Abbey (a stone’s throw from where Carlo Curley’s ashes are now interred) and reinstalled in 1948 with a new console and electro-pneumatic action. I greatly enjoyed revisiting the instrument and was delighted to see that nothing much needs doing to it other than a gentle clean and some overhaul work to the keys and pedals. The Schwarbrick and Snetzler ranks sound as beautiful as ever, and the pair of 18th century cases still gorgeous.
I ventured out today to Ranmoor (Sheffield) – strictly necessary, on business, to ‘snag’ and sign-off an organ. Andrew Carter (seen here at the Ranmoor console) has been refurbishing every last piece of the fine Brindley & Foster / Nicholson / Wells organ at St John’s. This magnificent Victorian church has a superb choral and organ tradition – maintained to this day. The organ has a fine Nicholson console from their comprehensive rebuild and electrification of 1963.
The David Wells rebuild and enlargement of 1997 was to a typically well thought-out tonal scheme by Roger Fisher. The recent work has been a complete releathering, cleaning, sorting out the wind system, tonal balancing and a full console refurbishment. It is the final major project in the long and distinguish career of Walker-trained Andrew Carter, who is handing over such contracts to Peter Wood & Son of Harrogate, with whom he will work for the time being. We wish Andrew all the best.
Not getting out much in January, it has been a pleasure to put together for publication an autobiographical book by retired Nicholson Tonal Director, Guy Russell. Entitled A Life Full of Pipe Dreams, it will shortly be published by the Institute of British Organ Building. It’s a great read, half the text being about Guy’s life in the trade, the second half being a remarkably complete guide to pipe voicing. A unique book written by a unique and talented individual.
December has remained a busy month on the organ consulting front, with projects in Cambridge (Chesterton), Corbridge, Birmingham (Olton), Radley College, Ravenstonedale, Rochester, Sheffield (Ranmoor), Platt (Borough Green) etc all underway with organbuilders, and others being planned. Thanks to Covid, travel has been limited to visiting one organ-builder, which made me smile as my latest two big projects will in due course involve very lengthy travel — to Nairobi Cathedral in one direction (Kenya) and to Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, in another (New Zealand)! I’m sure we all long for the inoculation so that things can gradually get back to normal. Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to anyone reading this.
It was good to be able to undertake an organ survey earlier this week, in a fascinating church in the charming Warwickshire village of Alveston; sadly it will be the last visit for a while, due to the Covid restrictions. The organ is a very well-made Nicholson of 1898, rebuilt by them in 1959 and rather fiddled around with in 2001 — not by them. It will ‘come up’ very effectively and give the church another century or so of distinguished service. The Rood screen and chancel are so beautiful I wanted to put up this photo on my website.
What a total delight it was to be performing again today — and with my good friend and esteemed colleague, baritone Stephen Cooper. St Peter’s Church, Nottingham, with its enterprising Director of Music, Dr Peter Siepmann, has relaunched its popular Saturday morning concerts — socially distanced and sans coffee. Accompanied at the piano by yours truly, Stephen sang groups of delightful songs by Arthur Somervell and Eric Thiman, bookended by ‘Fine knacks for ladies’ and Finzi’s roistering ‘Rollicum rorum’. So good to be back in the saddle.