2024 news

27th June 2024

[The standing ovation following Mahler V]

A wonderful concert this evening – Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.1 and the Fifth Symphony of Mahler. It was Sir Mark Elder’s final appearance in Nottingham with the Hallé, rapturously received by a full house, with a lengthy standing ovation before the Symphony Hall management made a presentation to Sir Mark, who gave a delightful speech of thanks.

Mark Elder on the podium

I’ve never met Sir Mark, but his mother was at boarding school in Hastings with my mother in the late 1930s, and as both families lived in Crouch End in the early 1950s, my mother would occasionally visit, baby Hale in tow.  I so admire what he has achieved with the Hallé – especially their Elgar performances – and their Mahler V tonight was quite sublime.

12th June 2024

[The Glapthorne Yates – chancel view]

Anne and I visited the delightful village church at Glapthorn, Northants.  It was a social visit to friends, but for me something of a pilgrimage too, as the little 1937 Roger Yates organ there has long been one I had hoped to visit.  Its 1-manual stop-list is given in Sumner’s seminal book ‘The Organ’, which I won as a Solihull School Music prize aged 15 in June 1967, so I’ve known about it for many years, and as my enthusiasm has grown for the excellent work carried out by Roger Yates, this little gem is one I have very much wished to play.  It did not disappoint!

The Glapthorne Yates – console and swell box

Wonderful voicing and an extraordinary dynamic range for such a small instrument – look it up on the NPOR. A superbly effective swell box encloses all except the basses of the Bourdon and Open Diapason.  From delicate and silvery Aeoline to powerful Plein Jeu (with 17th) it sounds like a cathedral organ in miniature.

1st June 2024

[Paul trying the Astoria Centre Compton IV/18]

Today I had great fun playing the large and splendid Compton in the Astoria Centre, Barnsley.  Kevin Grunill has, over the years, made a first class job of its installation and enlargement.  It’s a much travelled instrument, made for the Astoria, Purley in 1934 (the same year as the Compton which found partial use in Solihull School chapel, to my youthful joy), it’s been rehoused in East Kilbride, Carluke, Spalding and Sheffield before finding its final (?) and finest home at the Astoria Centre.

Astoria Compton ranks – seen through LH glass viewing window

It now boasts 18 ranks (5 down to 16ft) — large for a cinema/theatre organ — and is exceptionally well balanced when heard from the auditorium.

Astoria French Horn rank

14th May 2024

[Liverpool Cathedral Echo organ being installed – soundboard, roof shutters, flue pipes and basses]

The Echo Organ at Liverpool Cathedral has been ‘prepared-for’ since 1926!  Owing to suitable pipework (and sufficient funds) becoming available, organ-builder David Wells and his team are busily installing it.  Situated at the far south-east corner of the Sanctuary, right up in the triforium, its effect in the building will be exquisite.  I was visiting it yesterday, in order to write it up for Organists’ Review, so this photograph is a sneak preview.

12th May 2024

[St Mary’s church, Totnes – the Father Willis organ with casework by William Drake]

Just back from a enjoyable Organ Club Tour, based in delightful guest quarters at Buckfast Abbey.  Leaving aside the rather curate’s eggish new organs in the Abbey, for me the stand-out instruments were the two we played in Totnes.  In St Mary’s church is a fine Father Willis, moved to the west end and beautifully restored by William Drake in 1988.  Its 12-stop Great Organ could give a few cathedral instruments a run for their money.

[St John’s church, Totnes – the William Drake organ]

Across the river is the church of St John the Evangelist, which suffered a terrible fire in 1976 and was rebuilt in modern style.  In 1983 William Drake installed an uncompromising 2/24 werkprinzip instrument, which is one of the best-voiced such instruments in the country and should be better known.

5th May 2024

New College cloisters and Chapel west windows

Yesterday was a special day for the musicians of New College Oxford; many of us attended a wonderful Memorial Evensong for Sir David Lumsden. The choir was on superb form, singing two works written for it – Harris’s ‘Faire is the Heaven’ and (for an introit) ‘Drop, drop, slow tears’ by Kenneth Leighton – the profoundly moving final movement of his ‘Crucifixus pro nobis’, commissioned by David Lumsden for N.C. choir in 1961.

New College chapel  before Sir David Lumsden Memorial Evensong

Earlier in the day David and Sheila’s ashes had been interred in the Cloisters, on the north side near the bell-tower.  A finely incised memorial stone marks the spot, close to where N.C. alumnus James Bowman is also remembered.

David & Sheila Lumsden memorial tablet

21st April 2024

Olivier Latry at Merton, 20 April 2024

Yesterday Olivier Latry gave a wonderful performance on the superb Dobson organ in Merton College Chapel, to celebrate its 10th anniversary.  I can’t think where that decade has gone, as memories of working on the project (a real highlight for me) are as fresh as ever.  The large Dobson factory was completely destroyed by fire eight years later; it is good to be able to report that the new factory is now built and being fitted out with machinery.  Exciting times ahead for Dobson after their dreadful bad luck.

15th April 2024

John-Paul Buzard with his Ford Model A

I’ve just returned from an interesting and enjoyable week in the USA, visiting organs by the J.P. Buzard firm, in advance of writing an article for Choir & Organ.  I arrived in Chicago just in time to see everyone out in the streets looking up at the eclipse – good timing!

The Buzard organ in Episcopal Chapel of St. John the Divine, University of Illinois

Visited organs in Chicago, Nashville and the company’s home town, Champaign.  Wonderful instruments and lovely hospitable hosts.

Swell soundboard for St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral, Jefferson City, MO

Good Friday 29th March 2024

Symphony Hall Birmingham, St John Passion, Bach, performed by Ex Cathedra

As a teenager in the late 1960s / early 1970s I would attend Birmingham Town Hall every Good Friday, where the City Choir and the Choral Union, together with the CBSO, with Roy Massey at the mighty Willis organ, would alternate the St John and the St Matthew Passions.  These were performances on a massive scale, leavened by also attending the more stylish interpretations offered in St Philip’s Cathedral by the lithe Birmingham Bach Choir under Richard Butt, with Orchestra da Camera and Roy Massey at the organ.  Jeffrey Skidmore, a Birmingham lad one year older than me, also attended such performances and in 1969 founded Ex Cathedra to offer even more stylish interpretations than the Bach Choir.  An astonishing  fifty-five years later, the choir has long been a much-loved West Midlands institution, renowned for its imaginative programmes, outreach work, and the researches still being carried out by Jeffrey. Their St John on Good Friday celebrated the 300th anniversary of the work’s first performance, augmenting it with motets, readings and clever organ improvisations (by Rupert Jeffcoat).  All I have to say is that if J.S. Bach had heard this concert, he would have been utterly delighted, as was a large audience, by its beauty, drama and loving attention to detail.  A moving and truly memorable experience.

13th March 2024

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

Anne and I attended a matinée performance of Ben and Imo, a play by Mark Ravenhill.  A tour de force for the two actors (Victoria Yeates and Samuel Barnett), the play tells of a turbulent year (1952-3) in which Imogen Holst arrives at Aldeburgh to ‘help’ Benjamin Britten write Gloriana, a full-scale opera commissioned for the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  Their developing relationship is complex, intense, turbulent and creative.  There is not a dull moment in this captivating and thought-provoking play, which I recommend most warmly to anyone reading this.

2nd March 2024

The console of the Holywood organ

St Philip & St James, Holywood, Northern Ireland

This was a happy day when Jonathan Scott gave a brilliant recital to a packed church on the fine Henry Groves & Son complete rebuilding of the well-known large 3-manual 1963 J.W. Walker organ. See the Scott Brothers YouTube channel for some concert items – notably the first movement of the Elgar Sonata. I have enjoyed being consultant for the project (see my history of the Holywood organ) and gave a demonstration recital the next day to a most appreciative audience.  The first photograph at the console (Walker, restored by Renatus) shows Edwin Gray (long-serving organist of the church), Jonathan Wallace (of Henry Groves), Jonathan Scott and yours truly. 

The second photograph is a good view from the console to the organ’s twin west end cases, with me rehearsing.

21st February 2024

Rochdale Town Hall – Binns console

I’ve been looking after the project for a partial restorarion of this stupendous Binns for a few years.  Nothing could be done in the Hall until the multi-million pound restoration of the building and its environs was complete, at which point David Wells Organ-builders returned the Great soundboard and pipes, along with the Trombone and its chests, following complete renovation after water penetration from a formerly leaky roof.  A second stage, for which funds will need to be raised, will see the rest of the organ restored in due course.  It has to be my favourite Binns, despite having been a Trustee of its bigger brother in Nottingham’s Albert Hall. It’s much more fiery than the Nottingham organ, yet still has the extraordinarily powerful and resonant 32ft Double Open Wood which is such a hall-shaking feature of both instruments.

16th February 2024

Holywood parish church – Swell pipework

I spent a happy day in Holywood (Belfast) today, checking over the all but complete Henry Groves & Son rebuild of the large 1963 J.W. Walker in the parish church.  Known for its splendid choir and many concerts, this large Victorian church has benefitted from a fine organ since 1872, its 1963 rebuild in twin cases at the west end being something of a landmark in organ-building in Northern Ireland.  Now remade with new chests, a new wind system, tonal rebalancing, new electrics and a refurbished console (both by Renatus), it’s all but ready for its opening recitals next month by the fabulous Jonathan Scott, followed the next day by yours truly.

12th February 2024

St Mary, Willingdon – organ from beneath

Today I surveyed an unusual organ with an elegant case.  St Mary’s Willingdon had a small organ by Hill (dated 1893) which was rebuilt with electric action and a detached console in the 1950s, the slender base of the case then, over the decades, being completely filled with additional Pedal and Great ranks.  I have never seen so many pipes – plus electro-pneumatic relays – in such a small space!  What to do with it – ah, that is the question.  Curiously, it all sounds rather fine down in the church, so some serious thought is required. All too easy and glib to say ‘scrap all the additions’: organ consultants are paid to be more imaginative than that.  There was a smile on my face as I left, recalling the wonderful mis-spelling on one of the stop keys: “Faggotta”!

27th January 2024

Paul talking at the Bloomsbury Organ Day, 27th January 2024

January has been a mercifully quiet month, ending with a most enjoyable Bloomsbury Organ Day at the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, during which I gave an illustrated talk about The Organ Club and its well-supported September 2023 tour of the organs of Greater Birmingham.

Music room library

I’ve been able to catch up with jobs such as ‘remaindering’ some of the least-used academic music books in my library to the attic (there are Billy bookcases up there!), to make room for currently homeless and more useful replacement organ tomes.  My life-long passion for collecting books and booklets on the organ has resulted in some 1,400 of them on my shelves, plus many hundreds of specification leaflets and smaller booklets in folders in cupboards beneath the shelves.  The photograph herewith gives a good idea of the library side of my music room. The drawers contain organ CDs.  The unit was designed and made for me by Renatus of Bideford; I’ve been thrilled with it ever since it arrived seven years ago. There’s a library ladder, too, not in shot.