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There must be thousands of books about pipe organs. An Organ Builder Looks Back is in some ways unlike others of its kind. A certain amount of technical information is included. However, it also deals with day-to-day dusty and draughty organ building and its personalities, at home and abroad, as seen through the eyes of a sensitive, intelligent and highly talented organ builder, whose writing style is amusing, readable and effortless.

The title An Organ Builder Looks Back will seem familiar, being an adjustment from Alfred Hollins’s autobiography – A Blind Musician Looks Back. An ageing literary critic on first reading a few chapters of Hollins’s work declared: ‘One is captivated.’ One can truly say this too of John Budgen’s highly colourful and, at times, arresting book. Meet for a moment two celebrated voicers: first, the famed William Cyples Jones, who ‘worked with absolute certainty and assurance. His reeds always had a characteristic flair to them.’ Then there was the coarse (though very kindly) Frank Hubbard: ‘He was corpulent and profane, bombastic and conceited’. (Well, praise where praise is due, and don’t if it isn’t.) But possibly the greatest praise and respect is reserved for his teacher at Clifton College, Dr Douglas Fox: ‘Well, Budgen, you’ll never be anything special, but you might be some use to a village church somewhere.’ ‘Dead right; I have never been anything special and have been useful to the point of exploitation at village churches.’

John Budgen’s successful organ restorations are legion, the most remarkable (among very many others) being Shelland Parish Church’s barrel organ with its two ‘modern’ tunes, specially pinned by Budgen himself; the 17th-century Thomas Thamar organ in Framlingham Parish Church; St Margaret’s Lothbury, City of London (George Pike England, 1801); and the Grove organ (Michell & Thynne, 1885) in Tewkesbury Abbey.

NICHOLAS PLUMLEY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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