I first met Charles in the mid 70s when Ronald Woan, my predecessor at Liverpool Cathedral, asked me to cover some Birkenhead Choral rehearsals at Conway Street School, as Charles had not been at all well and, on this occasion, Ron was unable to oblige personally. The two men had been mutual admirers and friends for some time and Ron had often fulfilled this role. I duly went along, did my best, and in so doing, acquired a growing respect for this ‘legend’ and his work.
Those early rehearsals resulted in Charles allowing me to direct my first Handel ‘Messiah’ in St. Saviour’s Church, Oxton, in December 1974. A number of collaborations followed: concerts in various Wirral churches, the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral, and at the Philharmonic Hall.
Charles was a dry, and at times, almost caustic character, but with a heart of gold. He was an inspirational choir-trainer, possessing that legendary mixture of ‘ humour and terror’ required by the profession. He was a truly discerning musician with quite unique insights into performance, especially of the ‘Great Italian Polyphonic Masters’, and yet he never lost the common touch, nor his loving care for each and every member of the choir he had founded and nurtured over so many years, and which still flourishes today.
It is oft said of many, that “we will never see their like again” but Charles was so unique and unconventional, that, in his case, this might even be a true epithet. Whether or not history will prove this statement true, his passing was a great loss to the many musicians in the region to whom he had become a treasured friend and colleague; and I count it an honour to be able to say that I was one.
He was an extraordinary man, an inspired choirmaster, and a consummate musician. Music on Merseyside has been much enriched by his pioneering work, and its musicians by his insights, skill and friendship. His memorial will always be this lasting legacy. On a simple plaque in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, it is said of its architect, Sir Christopher Wren, ‘si memoriam requires, circumspice – if you require a memorial, look around you’…..how very true of Charles.
Prof. Dr. Ian Tracey,
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