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Organist plays all 94 organs in British cathedrals

29 July 2016


Record-breaker: John Richards with his wife, Lyn

Record-breaker: John Richards with his wife, Lyn

A CHURCH organist was due to set a record yesterday by having played every cathedral organ in England, Scotland, and Wales.

A rendition by the organist John Richards of “Auld lang syne” in St Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral, Inverness, will add the last of the ten Scottish cathedrals he needed to complete his tally of 94. “It was an interesting journey, and the nearer I got the more exciting it became, but it was something I never thought I would get involved in,” he said.

It began in 1997 when his wife, Lyn, arranged for him to play the organ at Blenheim Palace while they were holidaying nearby. Next, he managed to play at cathedrals near their home in Cardiff, and gradually the net widened.

“It only really became a reality when I got to somewhere around 60 of them, when I could possibly see the end of it,” he said. Most Sundays he plays a 15-year-old keyboard at the Bethany Baptist church near his home, but over the past 20 years he has travelled hundreds of miles, from Cornwall to the Orkneys, in his quest.

Earlier this year the retired tax inspector, who is 74, played at the last of the 84 cathedrals in England and Wales, with a performance at St George’s RC Cathedral in Southwark, south London. Almost immediately, he and his wife began plotting their itinerary to add the Scottish ones to his list.

“There were no real complications,” he said. “In each case, the directors of music have been so committed to helping me, they made me feel at home. Obviously, I am not in their category of playing, I have not had their training; but they did not make me feel I was second-class, they were very good to me. It has been wonderful.”

Each performance lasted about 90 minutes. The pieces ranged from Lloyd Webber to Handel, taking in Welsh favourites such as Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers) and Cwm Rhondda. North of the border he added the “Skye Boat Song”, and always finished with “Auld lang syne”.

“I have played some excellent organs,” he said, “but for ease of hand some of the bigger organs, in places like St Paul’s and York Minster, are wonderful; it felt as if they were they actually helping me to play. But there are some very good smaller organs. I had a particularly good time in Scotland.”

They return home this weekend, but they are already contemplating their final challenge: Ireland, next summer. “Its there for the taking” he said. “Both south and north.”

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