It’s been a good few years since I visited the ancient church of St Mary, Clifton – just outside Nottingham. On Saturday December 18th I had the pleasure of leading a choral workshop based on early a cappella music for Christmastide (Philips, Sweelinck, Händl, Clemens non Papa, Mouton, Byrd, et alia) in its nave. Pleasantly resonant, it boasts a fine west end organ (Marcussen, 1973) and a beautiful chancel, decorated by Bodley, glimpsed here in a photograph of the Crossing with crib in place, above which can be seen part of a typical decorated ceiling by the York architect George Pace.
This is proving the busiest Autumn for several years. Over the past week, three more trips: two to perform, one to observe. On Saturday November 13th I was in York, to deliver a talk on my recent organ project to the York and District Organists’ Association. It was much the same talk as I gave in Taunton a week ago, but greatly enhanced by being in a fine room in the new Music Department at Bootham’s School, which boasted an enormous screen.
The next day I was ‘opening’ a charming little 1877 Gray & Davison at Whatton – close to our Bingham home – along with the excellent Cranmer Singers and their conductor Deborah Davies. The tenor-C Swell was a handicap but the restoration had been done immaculately by Chris Hind and Lewis Paul.
On Wednesday this week I joined my friends in the Nottingham & District Society of Organists for part of their trip to Worksop. First stop was the impressive Norman Worksop Priory, with its early Peter Collins organ standing proudly in front of the east wall, in an extension to the Priory church created in the early 1970s. Though its action has had to be reworked over the years, its tone carries surprisingly well down the lengthy nave, despite the lofty wooden roof. Then we visited the workshops of Goetze & Gwynn to observe interesting restoration work in progress (including a fairground organ). I peeled off after that but the NDSO visited Worksop College in the afternoon, where I had been involved in the organ rebuild a number of years ago. Alas, this coming weekend’s two activities have had to be postponed as my back has decided to say ‘enough is enough’ for a while.
Taunton is an interesting town, well worthy of a visit. Two churches boast Father Willis organs, in one of which (St Mary Magdalene) I had the very great pleasure of giving an organ recital at 11.00am on Saturday 6th. The day also included a delicious lunch – and cream tea – with members of the Somerset Organists’ Association, who came to the recital and then attended my lecture in the afternoon, describing recent interesting organ projects. I shall give another version of the talk to the York Organists’ Association this coming Saturday afternoon.
A busy week last week, with visits to the wonderful and nearly complete new Nicholson at Radley College, a recital given at St Swithun’s Retford (Notts) on a rather good Cousans, and a recital given at St Mary’s, Platt (Kent) on an organ rebuilt by HNB to my design back in 1983 which has recently been renovated. Notable at both places was a large and enthusiastic audience – so pleased to be back for a live recital – and warm churches! Long may both continue – for instance at St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, where this coming Saturday I am giving an 11.00am recital and then a 2.30pm illustrated lecture (with more than 100 projected images) on some recent significant organ projects for which I have been the consultant. Hosted by the Somerset Organists’ Association and by the church, the events are open to all. Do come along if you’re in the area: a fine Father Willis organ with a new Tuba is always worth travelling to hear!
Tewkesbury Abbey has seen some wonderful events over the centuries, and is known for its fine liturgy and music, but it has never before hosted the live-streamed launch of a cathedral organist’s memoirs. Such an event took place in the evening of Tuesday 12th October, when Dr Roy Massey MBE was interviewed by Brian Kay (the perfect interviewer!) to launch “An Organist Remembers”, his autobiography, published by the RSCM this week. It has been my privilege to put this book together, taking various articles Roy has written over the years, augmented by much writing specially for the book, designing and laying it out and adding some 140 photos, most in colour and many from Roy’s comprehensive personal archive. It was an enjoyable task and I am pleased to say that Dr Massey is as delighted as I am by the outcome. Copies may be bought on line from the RSCM: I can promise you a good read!
It has been such a delight getting back into the swing of giving organ recitals. I love inaugural recitals on rebuilt organs – particularly if they have been projects on which I have advised – for one can demonstrate all the colours of the refreshed organ and send everyone away happy, convinced that their money has been well spent as the organ sounds so fine. The most recent took place last week – the first at St Margaret’s, Olton (Solihull) and the second at St John the Evangelist, Ranmoor (Sheffield). I’ve written booklets about both organs, which you’ll find here: https://paulhale.org/publications/books-booklets/. Talking to a smiling audience again has been a great joy. Two rehearsal photos accompany this news item. Two more recitals coming up in the last week of October, and then two in early November. Can’t wait to get stuck in.
It was a real privilege to take no fewer than sixty members of The Organ Club to Canterbury on 25th September – my first outing with the Club since being elected President. In St Paul’s Church David Rees-Williams improvised most imaginatively on the fine Forster & Andrews organ, and we were treated to a thorough demonstration of all the delightful new stops on the Cathedral organ by the new Director of Music, Dr David Newsholme, who happens to be my godson. Being locked in all evening with the cathedral’s Willis / Harrison & Harrison brought out the best in Club members, many of whom played excellently and enabled us to hear the entire range of this wonderful organ.
Yesterday evening we drove back to Bingham from Birmingham’s Symphony Hall having enjoyed a truly wonderful time with the CBSO and Kazuki Yamada, playing their first concert back in the Hall. Their principal guest conductor for the past three years, Kazuki Yamada, was announced at the start of the concert as their new chief conductor from April 2023. From the expressions on the faces of the orchestra this was a very popular choice – rarely have I seen such wall-to-wall smiles on the faces of an orchestra, combined with corporate foot stamping to demonstrate their enthusiasm. This, naturally, spilled over into their performances in a glorious programme of the Tchaikovsky 1812 (augmented by choral elements sung beautifully by the CBSO chorus), the Poulenc Gloria, the Fauré Messe Basse (CBSO Youth Chorus conducted by the multi-talented Julian Wilkins), and the Saint-Saëns ‘organ’ symphony, in which Anna Lapwood reprised her high-octane RAH Prom with aplomb. Judging from what Kazuki Yamada extracted from the CBSO last night, his era at their helm is keenly to be anticipated.
Today I signed off as complete a major rebuild of the first parish church organ I played – back in 1965. Norman & Beard built a small 3-manual organ for St Margaret’s church, Olton (Solihull) in 1900. Electrified and enlarged by a dreadful organ ‘bodger’ in 1966, this organ has been revisited by four other firms over the past 40+ years in attempts to ‘get it right’ but had to wait until 2020-21 for a complete root and branch rebuild, which included turning most of it round to speak better down the nave. Several new soundboards, a new action, new wind system, enhanced and rationalised tonal scheme and rebuilt console – all these have been achieved by Henry Groves & Son (Nottingham). On October 2nd I shall have the great pleasure of giving the inaugural recital on this now splendidly impressive and colourful 44-speaking-stop organ.
In September 1963 I started at Solihull School, aged eleven, having taken a piano grade each year since the age of seven, taught by Mrs Sheasby at Cedarhurst School, Solihull. At Solihull School (then boys only) my piano teacher was the vivacious young Jill Godsall, to whom the most handsome 6th Form music scholars seemed to pay court – sometimes in my lessons. I owe Jill so much and have been delighted to be in regular contact with her over the years. No less vivacious now, 58 years later (after teaching at the school for an astonishing sixty years), she and her partner Arthur Brooker (a Master at the school from 1968) came to visit us on August 9th. It was a joy to show them Bingham and Southwell Minster and to record the happy day with this photograph.
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.