There has been a Branch of the Society of Recorder Players in Newcastle since 1949. The local Schools’ Organizer of Music, Mr. George Brownlow had become interested in the recorder after attending a Course in Cambridge during the war. He was also a member of Newcastle’s Bach Choir, the director of which was Dr. Chalmers Burns, the Dean of Music at Kings College, the Newcastle section of Durham University. His home however was in Haslemere, where he had many musical contacts including, of course, the Dolmetsch family. A lecture-demonstration by Carl Dolmetsch and Joseph Saxby for teachers was arranged in 1949 and classes were subsequently organized by Mr. Brownlow.
In September of that year the inaugural meeting of the Newcastle Branch took place in the Youth Employment Bureau at 2 Ellison Place with Mr. Brownlow being the obvious choice as Musical Director. Players, many of whom were teachers, arrived with mostly plastic descant and treble recorders and only a smattering of tenors. Shortly afterwards a Dolmetsch wooden bass recorder was purchased and the repertoire was extended to four part playing. Mr. Dolmetsch was the first Pastoral Visitor in May 1956 and shortly afterwards Dr Burns agreed to be President, a post he held until his retirement in 1971. The North of England Music Festival was held annually in Newcastle until the early 1960’s and the adjudicator of the Recorder Classes usually combined this duty with a Pastoral Visit.
In 1955, the Annual Concert of the Society of Recorder Players was held in Newcastle, many of the arrangements being made by Anthony Rowland-Jones, who was Deputy Musical Director at the time.
After George Brownlow retired in 1962 (and was made Vice-President) he was succeeded by Mabel Wilson, Music Lecturer in the Institute of Education. Keith Moodie took over after she retired and was himself followed by Sheila Robson. The twenty-first birthday of the branch was celebrated in style in 1970 in the University. George Brownlow provided a magnificant cake, there was a meal and Dr Burns conducted ‘Those We Had Loved’ – a collection of favourite pieces over the years.
In 1978 when College commitments became too great for Sheila to continue as Musical Director, there was no obvious successor. But at this point, Jim Joseph, well-known locally as a clarinetist, conductor, lecturer and teacher, who had become interested in early music decided to join the branch and very soon agreed to take on the task of MD. Shortly afterwards the branch meetings were moved from Newcastle University to Newcastle College of Art and Technology which had a flourishing Early Music Department and where Mr Joseph was a lecturer (later head of department).
But meanwhile the Rings had come. At first Layton was harpsichordist with the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra and this did not allow him to have much contact with the branch.
After a few years he gave this up and he and Christine had exhausting schedules giving recitals etc., throughout the country and abroad, and again contact was difficult. They did however accept the invitation to become Vice-Presidents and became well-known to many of us by teaching at Recorder Playing weekends at Lambton Castle and later at Beamish Hall; Adult Colleges run by Durham County Council. Those who went to the first courses at Lambton were not amused to read a notice which said ‘No playing of Musical Instruments after 10.00 pm. No Recorders after 9.00 pm.’ Once he had been made head of department Mr Joseph found himself too busy to continue as MD and Layton Ring agreed to take over.
Meetings continued under Layton’s leadership on a fortnightly basis on Wednesday evenings at Newcastle College for nearly 20 years. In 1996 the branch hosted a very successful SRP Annual Festival and in 1999 celebrated its 50th anniversary. Special pieces were commissioned on both occasions from John Hawkes (then a branch member and currently branch chairman).
Towards the end of this era, however, attendance gradually dwindled and a decision was taken in the Autumn of 2001 to change both the time and place of meetings. Almost at once attendance improved. However yet another major change was on the way as Layton Ring decided it was time to hand over his baton (metaphorically speaking, he never used one!). Fortunately Joan Reeve was at hand and willing to take over the burden.