I was born at Gateshead on Tyneside. My father was a well-known local amateur singer who had studied with the prominent Newcastle singing teacher, George Dodds, whose publications are still available. My early memories include being taken to concerts given by the Felling Male Voice Choir. We moved to Glasgow when I was eight years old, and I sang as a treble in the local church. For secondary schooling I went to Barnard Castle School in the north of England. It had an excellent chapel choir. Here too, I gained valuable stage experience. While my subsequent career has been short on Gilbert and Sullivan and there has been no opportunity to repeat my interpretation of Mabel in Pirates of Penzance, school opera provided an introduction to grand opera in the form of Mozart’s Magic Flute in the role of Papageno. I also appeared as Ithamore in The Jew of Malta alongside a younger boy by the name of Kevin Whately in what was possibly his first experience of being on-stage.
From school, I won a choral Exhibition to Caius College, Cambridge where I read economics. Alongside my duties in the college chapel, I regularly took part in concerts. I was also a member of a ‘group’, the Gentle Power of Song, which recorded for Polydor Records, and appeared several times on television. One of our songs, Constant Penelope, by Richard Hill, can be heard on Youtube. That’s me singing the bass part. I hoped to proceed to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but was disappointed to learn that having already gained a degree, I had made myself ineligible for further grants to study at a music college.
There followed a career in banking, which began in September of 1968, but ended that December after I was persuaded to apply for a bass lay-clerkship which had become vacant at Worcester Cathedral. This was the start of more than a decade in which I sang in Worcester Cathedral Choir, while teaching economics locally, and I’ve lived in Worcestershire ever since.
Offers of oratorio engagements began to come my way. The very first was for a performance of Stainer’s Crucifixion at a fee of four guineas! My oratorio work grew steadily and I found myself travelling ever further afield for concerts. I also auditioned successfully to sing with the wonderful BBC Singers and with other professional choirs, mainly in London, until in 1980 I left teaching, having already resigned my cathedral lay-clerkship in order to be more available for oratorio. I enrolled as a part-time student at the Birmingham School of Music (now the Conservatoire). Also in 1980 I entered the Incorporated Society of Musicians NatWest Festival Days Competition with my wife Heather as accompanist and we emerged as joint winners.
1982 brought my first venture into the world of professional opera when I auditioned successfully for the Glyndebourne Chorus, and this brought tremendous opportunities both as an understudy and in performing several small roles. Only a few weeks before the start of my first Glyndebourne season I had appeared as bass soloist in Haydn’s Creation alongside the late Elizabeth Harwood. My first appearance at Glyndebourne was in Der Rosenkavalier in which Elizabeth Harwood was the Marschallin, and she was extremely helpful and supportive during my first very nervous experiences as a chorister on the Glyndebourne stage.
At Glyndebourne a kind colleague suggested I ought to have more singing lessons and provided a valuable introduction to the world-renowned teacher, Audrey Langford. I studied with Audrey until she died some ten years later. I continued my studies with Andrew Field, and subsequently with Robert Dean and Graeme Broadbent; this over a period of more than twenty years.
Having left Glyndebourne’s chorus in 1985 I spent two summers in the chorus at the Bayreuth Festival. There were other chorus and extra-chorus engagements at Covent Garden, at Amsterdam and Enschede in Holland, and at the Wexford Festival.
After 1989 I sang three seasons as a principal with Pavilion Opera, and gave many performances in several roles. My three years with this company provided extremely valuable experience that would have been hard to find elsewhere. It was followed by several roles with Travelling Opera, Crystal Clear Opera, the Craig y Nos Opera Festival, London Opera Players, European Chamber Opera, Mid-Wales Opera, Nurnberg Pocket Opera, Castleward Opera and Holland Park Opera among many other companies and festivals. I’ve performed as Alberich in Wagner’s Der Rheingold at the Longborough Festival, receiving excellent press reviews, and I have appeared as Osmin, Don Pasquale and Don Alfonso (Cosi fan tutte) with the excellent Diva Opera.
My first engagement with Welsh National Opera came in 1995, understudying Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte. Since then at WNO I’ve sung Sacristan (Tosca), Bonzo (Madama Butterfly) – both for several seasons, Monterone (Rigoletto), Dikoj (Katya) in two seasons, Foreman (Jenufa), Basilio (Barbiere di Seviglia), Swallow (Peter Grimes), Dulcamara (L’Elisir), Talpa (Il Tabarro), Magnifico (Cenerentola) and Bartolo (Figaro) in two seasons. I’ve understudied Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier twice for English National Opera and in German at Scottish Opera and for Covent Garden. I appeared as the Attorney in Der Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden. With English Touring Opera, there was Pistola (Falstaff) and Melisso (Alcine).
Roles at Glyndebourne were Antonio (Figaro) and Starveling (Midsummer Night’s Dream) in early years, but more recently I’ve appeared there as Micah and Kezal (Bartered Bride). I also understudied excellent Italian artists in Rossini buffo roles as Don Magnifico (Cenerentola) and Bartolo (Barbiere di Seviglia) while at Glyndebourne.
My first engagements at Scottish Opera were to understudy Alberich (Das Rheingold) and Dulcamara (L’Elisir). There followed engagements to perform as Bonzo (Madama Butterfly) and Kommissar (Der Rosenkavalier). An engagement to understudy Raimondo in a season of Lucia di Lamermoor became an opportunity to perform the role in all performances when the casting was unexpectedly revised, and I was delighted to read some of the most pleasing national press reviews of my career. Since then I have also appeared as Dr Grenvil in La Traviata, and most recently as Le Comte des Grieux in Manon, where once again, my contributions won plaudits in the press. Scottish Opera also engaged me in a ‘gala’ opera concert, as well as for a concert performance of I Puritani. I’m especially pleased to feel I’ve achieved two of my greatest successes in what was once my home city.
There have been many engagements abroad, including a long tour as Sarastro on the eastern side of the USA from Florida to Maine, a tour of Switzerland and Germany with Opera Factory Zurich in their production of Marschner’s Vampyr and at Geneva in Berio’s Un Re in Ascolto.
Alongside my progress as an operatic principal, I’ve been very pleased to continue accepting regular engagements as an oratorio soloist. After emerging successfully from the competitive auditions, one of my earliest engagements was to appear in ‘Messiah from Scratch’ at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Sir David Willcocks, and I’ve continued singing Messiah throughout my career. I wish I’d kept count! It was gratifying recently to be asked back by the Leeds Festival Choral Society for a Dream of Gerontius immediately after singing in one of their Christmas Messiah’s at the splendid Leeds Town Hall! My most recent engagements include four favourite works – Verdi’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, Bach’s St Matthew Passion (as Christus) and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
After the ISM/NatWest Festival Days Competition, Heather and I enjoyed many song-recital engagements. I gave lieder recitals on BBC Radio 3, appeared on Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, and also on Independent Television singing songs by Ivor Gurney. Heather and I have continued appearing from time to time with Gabriel Woolf to perform his excellent Far from Home, a delightful collection of songs, poetry and other readings, light-hearted as well as tragic, from the First World War. This was first performed at Worcester’s Three Choirs Festival, then at London’s Wigmore Hall, and for many music societies and festivals.
Programme biographies often include a section listing ‘Awards’. Apart from the ISM/NatWest Festival Days Competition success, there has been one other award, which I received at the Holland Park Opera Festival in 1997 for my appearance in Tosca. At that time, awards were normally given for the best male and female principal, which of course tended to go to those performing the biggest roles. However, the judging panel decided to create an ‘Extraordinary Special Judges’ Award’ just for me! Quoting from their press release, the award was, “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the…production in the role of Sacristan. It was felt that his ability to engage the audience so completely in such a small role was a great achievement.”
I’m happy to say I’m in excellent vocal health. After a ‘slow-burn’ career of gradual improvement and development, I feel I’m singing better than ever.