2024 news

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.