Beating the drum for musical talent

This Is Wiltshire: Geoff Walters Geoff Walters

THE syllabus for the 104th Swindon Music Festival, a 10-day competition set to run next March, was recently issued. The festival’s chairman is Geoff Walters, 69, a retired teacher
who lives in Stratton St Margaret. He is married to Hilary, and the couple have two daughters and four grandchildren.

 

“I REALLY beat the drum for the amount of talent we have in Swindon.

“Some people don’t call us a cultural place but the variety of musical talent we see, whether in singing or instrumental music, is quite remarkable.

“Every year it’s the same story – those who come to the festival marvel at the talent.”

Geoff Walters should know, as he’s an accomplished musician himself.

His current group is a touring close harmony outfit called Encore, but his previous bands include one with future Moody Blue Justin Hayward.

The first Swindon Music Festival was in 1909, and in the way of such events back then, the commemorative brochure had a page devoted to thumbnail photographs of the organisers.

Among them, gazing proudly into a lens behind which the photographer probably worked under a black cloth, is one Reginald Choules, whose son, Arthur, was Geoff’s dad.

“That’s in a sense why I got involved,” Geoff said. “My grandfather and then my father were.

“My father sang tenor and also organised choirs. He was choirmaster at Bath Road Methodist Church. I was very proud that he conducted two editions of Songs of Praise from Swindon, one from Christ Church and one from the church in Faringdon Road.

“My mum, Betty, was a pianist and played in various groups in Swindon, so I was born into a musical family.

“Bath Road Methodist Church was where I grew up singing in the choir and playing the organ there. I was brought up very closely with church music.

“I went to a piano teacher called Madge Williams who was very well known in the town.

“I went to Commonweal School. At school we did all sorts of music, and that was where I got into skiffle and rock and roll bands.

“At school we had a certain Justin Hayward. He was a few years older than me but we played in a little group called The Sapphires.”

Geoff’s college years saw him play guitar and piano with various bands on and near the south coast, and he returned to Swindon as a music teacher, first at Ferndale School in the 1960s, then Churchfields in the following decade and finally for a 20-year stint at Commonweal.

As well as being heavily involved in the Swindon music scene and the festival, which he has chaired since 2004, he headed Swindon Schools Football Association for many years.

The music festival, which began after founder and Swindon mayor Raymond Cripps visited an Eisteddfod in Wales, has 157 classes covering music ranging from pop to classical, and from solo song to church organ recitals and pieces involving just about every instrument of the orchestra. If recent years’ rosters are anything to go by, there will be about 650 competitors.

“It’s an opportunity for musicians from ages, I suppose, four or five right up to people in their nineties,” Geoff said. “It’s also an opportunity for these people to perform at a lovely venue because almost all of the festival takes place at the Arts Centre.

“The first evening is also lovely, with choirs and organists at Christ Church.”

Some of the competitors will be so young that their feet won’t reach the pedals of the pianos they play, while others will be people who never picked up an instrument, let alone imagined they could play fine music with one, until well into their maturity.

“It’s never too late to learn to play,” Geoff said. “It’s harder to learn when you’re older but I would encourage people to have a go whatever their age.”

Further information about the festival can be found at www.swindonmusicfestival.co.uk

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