LETTER: Pendle’s proud musical past

Where have all the singers gone?

The 1950s was a golden era for music in the Pendle area. We had Nelson Arion Glee, Excelsior Glee, Colne Orpheus Glee, Barrowford Glee and the Glee and Madrigal Society.

There were also numerous concert parties with many singers, actors and pianists. Who can forget the opening night of “The King and I”? When the curtain opened at the Palace Theatre and Harry Phillips appeared looking just like Yul Brynner in the film version, in a brilliant production with Dorothy Sharp taking the part of the school teacher. Doreen Cass also took the lead in a magnificent performance of “Annie Get Your Gun”.

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There were many musical festivals locally: Nelson, Burnley and Colne, but the big one was Blackpool because if you won at that festival, you had made it. It was often won by local talent, namely John Hargreaves and Rennie Heap, both from Colne, Jimmy Sidwell from Nelson and latterly, Ted Parr of Nelson. In 1951, there was the “Festival of Britain”, where hundreds competed and Eric Warren, who was a local tenor with a beautiful voice, was awarded second place nationally, which was a hell of an achievement.

In the 1950s, a new breed of bass/baritones arrived on the scene, one being Jack Wiseman who won in many local festivals and cornered the market singing a song called, “To the Forest”, which he sang perfectly. He was also excellent when he sang in a duet with Jean Eccles.

Eddie Collingwood had the most beautiful bass baritone voice ever. He was compared favourably with Lawrence Tibbet and Tito Gobi but he wanted to be a bass like Norman Allen or his mentor, Bill Simpson.

I wasn’t bad either. I won the Rose Bowl at Burnley, the Oratorio Class at Colne and the lead in “New Moon” with Colne Operatics. But the best by far was Peter Leeming, who was magnificent. Peter went to Manchester College of Music and later performed in a BBC radio broadcast of “Madam Butterfly” in which he took the part of the American Ambassador; later in life, he married the leading lady from that production.

Peter turned professional and sang with Glyndbourne Opera and also oratorio all over the country. I heard him sing majestically in the Messiah in Burnley but when I heard him at his best, he wasn’t singing a big aria from an opera or oratorio, but a simple song usually sung by tenors called “Annie Laurie”. When sung by a bass baritone, was the most beautiful singing I have ever heard.


Clare Avenue, Colne