April 2012 saw the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier who achieved an international reputation as a stage, concert and recording artist, with a repertoire extending from folksong and popular ballads to the classical works of Bach, Brahms and Elgar
Ferrier who died tragically young of cancer aged 41 was well known and loved in North Staffordshire through her friendship with Harry Vincent.
Harry Vincent, a shoemaker, organised wartime CEMA (Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts) concerts in wartime became a friend of the singer and gave her a number of opportunities to sing in the Potteries from early in her short career. Ferrier supported Vincent and the Etruscan Choral Society in concerts in Newcastle Guildhall, Victoria Hall and a small concert hall in Etruria seating 130 which was renamed the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Hall two years after her death in 1955. The hall was demolished in 1973 as it stood in the path of a road development.
Vincent described as a “ remarkable man with a great enthusiasm for music” by Tom Harrison the Regional Director of CEMA named his daughter Kathleen after the singer and Ferrier became godmother to her namesake.
I came across a 1976 article by long standing music critic of the Sentinel Jack Oliver who describes Ferrier’s rather mischievous sense of humour when she appeared with the conductor John Barbirolli at a concert shortly before Ferrier’s death. They were performing Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied Von der Erde”.
“ Ferrier came onto the stage first at the rehearsal. The conductor did not appear. Ferrier sat that there looking around then with an impish grin and taking the baton in her hand essayed a few tentative strokes. The way she held the baton and the crook of the fingers of her left hand caught JB’s manner to life. The orchestra loved it”.