About Ian Wolstenholme
My earliest recollection of putting hands on keys was as a six year old urchin actually daring to lift the lid on Great Aunt May’s prized German upright overstrung piano! Fortunately (and just before the rap on the knuckles could take effect) I had launched into a few notes which, I was later informed, sounded remarkebly like that well-known piece “Honey Spread on Brown Bread”….what d’ya mean you’ve never heard of it! A couple of years later my father remarried and we moved away from familiar surroundings – four miles down the road actually! Obviously this meant that I had to leave friends behind and in an effort to start a new social life, my parents thought it would be a good idea for their lad to have piano lessons and like many other students did the various Associated Board examinations and found it all very mundane – not at all how the instrument is taught today. I recall mum and dad receiving a Christmas present of an LP called “James Last Hammond-a-Go-Go” and that was the sound which must have stuck firmly in the mind of young Wolstenholme, along with early examples of Klaus Wunderlich peppered with the odd Reginald Dixon recording. During one piano lesson, the local Methodist Church Minister knocked at the door. A broad, beaming Scotsman, he enquired of my teacher if she had any willing pupil who could play the organ for a few weeks whilst the regular organist was ill. It was really a case of wrong place, wrong time, because guess who drew the short straw! Following a quick phone call to home, the Rev. Horace F Barker and I drove round to the nearby chapel. I expected to see a thundering great pipe organ…but no…a tiny Lowrey Star electronic sat in the corner which looked as if it would collapse if you hit the “on” switch too hard! I sat down on the bench and tinkered for a moment at which point Mr. Barker suggested that he lock me in the building for half an hour and leave me in peace. Thinking back, if the News of the World had got hold of that story, the front page would have read: “Music student held captive by vicar in small organ substitution scandal”! Ah well, the poor old regular organist passed on and I stayed at St Andrews Methodist Church for fifteen years!
In 1980 myself and a colleague raised some money for the (then) World Wildlife Fund and were invited to promote the event at the local hospital radio station. O.K. so I was fairly impressed by all the knobs and switches, since by now I was working for a retail television and radio company. Little did I realise that a year later, Radio Cavell, Oldham’s Hospital Broadcasting Service, would mount a recruitment campaign and I would be joining the station as a ward visitor and radio bingo helper! By 1981 I was trotting around the wards with a portable reel to reel recorder interviewing patients and staff and compiling such things into a programme. The broadcast training bit came next which I was eager to learn and passed my driving test and the studio equipment test on the same day! Anyone involved in radio at such a grass roots level will tell you of a certain memory or experience and mine was particularly life-changing. One Sunday afternoon whilst planning my “Wardround” programme, I was taken to one side by the senior sister who asked would I like to try and strike up a conversation with one lady who, to put it mildly, was seriously ill, had no visitors and was fast losing the will to live. I felt quite inadequate at the time but agreed to chat to her. Whether it was the shock of a six-foot bloke lumbering towards her armed with a rather large microphone I never discovered, but I will never forget the look of horror on her face, followed by an equally unforgettable smile. I couldn’t stop her talking and when I asked about her choice of music to accompany our “interview” she replied: “My husband and I used to go dancing in Blackpool Tower to Reg Dixon”. Back at the studio and with about an hour to plan and edit the tape ready for broadcast, I looked through the extensive record library. No Reginald Dixon recordings. There was only one thing to do. I jumped in my battered Fiat 127, shot home, “borrowed” dad’s LP, dashed back to the hospital just in time to go on-air. At the end of the show (and this was and still is the uniqueness of hospital radio) I re-visited Emily Bolton on Ward D2 at the Oldham & District General Hospital, only to find her with tears of joy rolling down her face. Boy did I feel good on that day.
Over time there clearly was a demand for organ music from various patients and I put it to the station’s Programme Controller that there were grounds for considering a separate programme and in March 1980 with the signature tune that my dad suggested – “This Could Be the Start of Something Big”, the first 30-minute edition of what was then called “Sounds Organised” was transmitted – live! You have to remember that this was a time when the (particularly electronic) organ world was at its most buoyant with manufacturers and dealerships by the score. Organ festivals were just taking off and major celebrities literally played to packed houses. Organ societies were thriving and an enthusiast could stand bewildered in WH Smith’s at the array of magazines reflecting their interests. On Saturday 3rd November 1982 I had planned to attend a special concert held at the BBC Playhouse Theatre in Hulme, a district of Manchester. Unfortunately I was involved in a road traffic accident caused by a drunk driver and involving six vehicles. Thankfully I escaped uninjured but had to spend the rest of that day in the local police station giving statements; I never did go to the concert. Some months later I did visit that venue without problems. It was a concert hosted by Alan Ashton who was already a well-known local BBC broadcaster with his weekly “Pedal, Percussion and Pipes” series on Radio Manchester. The concert starred the late Brian Sharp, Peter Hayward, Craig Ray and the late Eric Lord. I had planned to try and chat to some of these organ stars for my humble programme and indeed did meet Eric Lord, himself presenting “Organ Showcase” on BBC Radio Lancashire at the time. I will never forget Eric’s generousity when, after he found out what I was doing up in Oldham’s Hospital Radio, invited me over to his home and literally demanded that I select as many LP records, duplicates from his own collection, and take them to use with his compliments. That was ostensibly the start of my own organ world recording catalogue. Alan Ashton too was incredibly helpful, having started as a local hospital broadcaster himself.
In June 1985 I was asked by “Organist Today” magazine to write a piece about my experiences with “Sounds Organised” and acquired a taste for this type of journalism. In 1985 I suggested to the editor (of both the radio station and the magazine) that a change of feature title might help to reflect the ever-changing organ music scene. I decided on “KEYView” and my articles appeared under that banner in the various incarnations of that magazine, “Keyboard Review” and ultimately “Home Keyboard Review” until its demise in 1992. The series was revived for “Organ Times” magazine until it too ceased in 2000. Latterly, KEYView interview transcriptions have been published in the quarterly “Organ1st” magazine published by MSS Studios.
The start of January 1996 saw an invitation to yours truly to go along and play his Technics organ on BBC Radio Lancashire in Blackburn for an afternoon chat and magazine show. I didn’t realise it at the time, but ironically it was the very same studio from where Eric Lord used to broadcast from. Perhaps things do come full circle in life? This contribution turned out to be quite fortuotous and invaluable for, on the same evening following my spot, the local BBC Public Forum was being held in nearby Preston. I decided to go along, just to be nosey! The meeting, which was well attended, became somewhat rowdy when one Lancashire chap stood up and commented that he had been listening earlier today to “some bloke playing his organ” and why couldn’t the BBC put more of that on the radio! The poor panel, comprising BBC Northwest managers and other more senior luminaries had quite a struggle on their hands as shouts of “here here” and “well said” came from all quarters. I could feel myself shrinking into my seat when (and I’ve never known quite why) I jumped up and said “I was that man”!! The result was a return visit on the station’s Arts programme. The presenter was a lovely lass who taught me to use the “desk” and equipment and I spent a very happy three years until 1999 producing and hosting KEYView on BBC Radio Lancashire.
By now, hospital radio nationally had gone really upmarket and my old Radio Cavell station had been given a permanent medium wave licence by the Radio Authority. It had become a limited company and was transmitting to a much wider audience for 24 hours a day. I was asked by the Directors if I would be willing to produce a monthly hour long organ and keyboard programme entirely under my own terms and editorial control and was happy to oblige as this now fitted into my wife-and-three kids lifestyle! KEYView was part of the station schedules once again for almost four years.
In 2005, a change of career into the veterinary practice management world meant that there was little time available to devote to the organ and keyboard world and, with reluctance, I “parked” my interest for a short time…almost a decade! A further opportunity arose when I was invited by a new practice to take up a new post as manager in 2015 on a part-time basis. Once again this allowed me to re-kindle my interest on Oldham Community Radio 99.7FM and in March 2017, a brand new series “Community Keyboards” took to the airwaves as well as being available to a global audience online.
I feel proud and honoured to have been given the chance to produce and present programmes that really do reflect all of the many facets of the organ and keyboard music scene over the past 40 years. This position has allowed me to meet many local, national and international names, some no longer around. I hope we can keep it up for another decade or two – there’s plenty of musical talent as yet undiscovered!