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Celebrity Drawings by John Moss

Manchester Classical Music, Theatre & Performance

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies CBE

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

(Born 1934)
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, (widely known simply as 'Max'), was born in Holly Street, Salford, son of Thomas and Hilda Davies, on 8th September 1934, and would become one of Great Britain's leading modern composers at the end of the 20th century. Later his family moved home to live in Swinton. Peter attended Leigh Grammar School, and despite the school's neglect of music in the curriculum, he won a scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the Royal Northern School of Music) and was a graduate of Manchester University. While at school, Peter had fallen fowl of his headmaster (nicknamed the "Pig") and he got his revenge by performing his first concert at the RMCM entitled "Funeral March for a Pig" . His time at the so-called "Manchester School" was shared with many notable colleagues, including John Ogden, Elgar Howarth, Sandy Goehr and Harrison Birwistle.
After college, and when success and fame eventually came, he moved to live on the island of Hoy in the Orkneys, from where he regularly commuted to be the composer-conductor for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, based in Manchester, and now at its regular home at the Bridgewater Hall. His composed repertoire numbers over 200 musical pieces for a whole range of ensembles and is performed throughout the world. In 1981 he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's New Year's Honours list and in 1987 he was created a Knight Bachelor for his services to music.
In December 2004 a series of events was held at Manchester University's Department of Music in celebration of his 70th birthday, and his appointment as Master of the Queen's Music. On 29th November 2004 he was made a Freeman of the City of Salford, and a performance took place of his specially commissioned 5 pieces of music for Salford, based on his boyhood experiences in the city. Amongst many international honours, he has Honorary Doctorates of Music at the Universities of Salford, Hull, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Durham and Manchester, and an Honorary Doctor of Law at the University of Aberdeen. He is a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music, a Member of the Royal Academy of Music, and since 1993 has been a Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. He is Composer Laureate with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a Fellow of the Royal College of Music, London.

George Formby

George Formby

Born in Westminster Street in Wigan, the eldest of seven sons, George Formby was christened William Booth. His father James had been a well known music hall comedian who also used the stage name George Formby. He had made a name for himself and drew large audiences to the Wigan Hippodrome Theatre, where he was known as the "Wigan Nightingale" in the early years of the century. It had been his father who is credited with starting the Wigan Pier joke.
George Formby Junior was a top UK box office draw between 1936 and 1945, during which time he was reputed to be Britain's highest paid performer. His style was distinguished by his portrayal of a rather naive Lancashire lad, who held rather staid and prudish views and attitudes, but whose cheeky twinkle in the eye, and catchphrase "Turned out nice again an't it?" endeared him to millions. His act was invariably accompanied by his songs, and the playing of the ukulele which became popular in their time. Songs such as "When I'm Cleanin' Winders" and "With Me Little Stick of Blackpool Rock" made him a popular film comedian and a best selling gramophone record producer. As a small boy, Formby had intended to become a jockey and worked for a time as a stable boy, but after his father's death in 1921 he gave that up and turned to a career on the stage.
He later married Beryl Ingham, (then one half of a clog dancing act with her sister May), and she was to become his manager and mentor in show business. Her overbearing and dominant nature, combined with constant jealousy made her overprotective of Formby, and the marriage was far from a happy one, though she was also energetic and pushy and did much to promote and maintain Formby's career successes.
Several of his early films were made in Manchester, including "Off the Dole" and "Boots! Boots!" , the latter filmed above a garage in Manchester. Between 1937 and 1943 he had the distinction of being the most widely watched British film star. Practically all of his films were vehicles for his songs, most of which subsequently became musical hits in their own right.
Other films by Formby include "Riding at the TT Races", "Come on George", "Trouble Brewing", "Let George Do It", "Spare a Copper" and "Turned Out Nice Again". He died in retirement in 1961.
See also the website at:

Dame Gracie Fields

Gracie Fields

Born Grace Stansfield in Rochdale on the 9th of January 1898, as Gracie Fields she was to become much adored by British audiences in the 1930s and 1940s and a virtual legend in her own lifetime.
Her wartime performances were regarded as a great morale booster to besieged Britons and to British Troops fighting overseas, as well as becoming a virtual public hero in her native town. This former mill-girl achieved her first major success in the revue "Mr Tower of London" from 1918-1925, which brought her to the attention of talent scouts - thereafter she was to make many films in Britain and in Hollywood.
Her stage shows included many Royal Variety Performances between 1928 and 1964. Her style was typically Rochdalian - warm, vigorous and down-to-earth, with no time for anything pretentious or bordering on pomposity. Her songs became standard favourites on the radio, and included " Sally", "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World", and "Sing as We Go".
In 1937 she was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Rochdale. She was created a Dame of the British Empire shortly before her death in 1979 on the Island of Capri, to which she had retired and lived permanently.
In 1978, she attended and formally opened the Gracie Fields Theatre, named in her honour, in Rochdale.

Lisa Stansfield

Lisa Stansfiled

(Born 1966)
Lisa Stansfield was born on 11th April 1966 in Heywood near Rochdale. Since she first came on the music scene in 1989 with a style heavily influenced by Diana Ross & The Supremes, she has sold over ten million records world-wide and had numerous top ten singles. Her talent was evident from her earliest days and she won a Manchester Evening News Talent Contest at the age of 14, held at The Talk Of The Town club in Manchester city centre. She then went on to appear on the TV show 'Razzamatzz' at the age of 15. In 1983, she formed "Blue Zone " with former school mates, Andy Morris (later to be her husband) and Ian Devaney; subsequently she was signed up by Arista Records.
A series of record successes followed, including in 1989, "People Hold On" which reached Number 11 on the UK charts and won Lisa a contract as a solo act. Notable Stansfield record hits included ' This Is The Right Time' , which reached Number 13 in the UK charts in 1991, and "All Around The World" - a UK Number One hit (No.3 in USA). Other hits followed, including "Down in the Depths", "Real Love", "Change," "All Woman," "Time To Make You Mine", "Set Your Loving", "These Are The Days Of Our Lives", "So Natural" , and "In All The Right Places" . Currently she still works on and produces albums, though perhaps not quite so much in the limelight as she had been in the early 1990s.

Russell Watson

Russell Watson

(Born 1967)
Russell Watson born in the Salford area of Manchester in 1967. The only son of a working class family he grew up in the suburbs of Manchester and after leaving school at 16 he began work in a local engineering factory. Russell had already displayed a talent for entertainment and kept his workmates amused by mimicking his works foreman. His desire to sing and entertain soon led him to enter the annual "Search for a Star" competition run by a Manchester-based radio station, where he sang Neil Diamond songs and won the competition. He then left his job, found a manager and set out working on the sometimes harsh pub/club circuit of the Northwest of England.
The next seven years were hard for Russell, as he sang most typically to audiences more interested in their beer and bingo games than his crooning of Michael Bolton and Elvis songs. Russell's first glimpse of a possible better future came after he was famously advised to sing "nesty doormat" by "pavarooti" ( "Nessun Dorma" made famous by Luciano Pavarotti), one of Russell's idols. Russell immediately learnt the song and tried it out on his next unsuspecting audience. He had discovered a voice he never knew or dreamed existed, and the audience responded with a standing ovation. His reputation grew and he went on from the small smoky clubs of his earlier days to sing at major rugby and football matches.
A dream was realised when he was asked to sing in front of a capacity crowd at his beloved Manchester United Football Club. The Old Trafford crowd stood in awe at his performance of "Nessun Dorma" and rapturous applause followed. Russell was soon to be found in the recording studios with Shaun Ryder for Barcelona and then the England Rugby team for "Swing Low" .
In October 2000 he released his debut album, "The Voice" which broke all world records by remaining in the No.1 spot of the classical charts for over 52 weeks. A most successful professional career followed in the next 12 months - two Classical Brit awards, a performance in Hyde Park with Pavarotti, concerts in New Jersey in the USA, the Royal Albert Hall and the new Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. November 2001 saw the eagerly awaited release of his second album, appropriately named "Encore" . Russell Watson currently stands at the top of the classical music world.
In late 2007 Russell Watson underwent further intensive surgery to remove an 'aggressive' brain tumour, and seems to have survived the ordeal - we wish him good health, total recovery, and a long career giving us great music! Russell's official website is at

We are indebted to Ms Sonia Derbyshire for providing the text biography for Russell Watson.

Sir William Walton

William Walton

William Walton was born on the 29 March 1902 at 93, Werneth Hall Road, Oldham, Lancashire, into a musical family. His father Charles had been one of the first students in 1893 at the Royal Manchester College of Music, as well as being organist and choirmaster at St John's Church, Werneth for more than 20 years; his mother, Louisa Maria Turner, was a good amateur contralto. William had an obvious musical talent and he and one of his brothers sang in the St John's choir. Later, William was a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral at Oxford where he also studied.
However, he left Oxford without a degree, and from 1920 lived in London with the famous Sitwell family. Here he was introduced to important musical and literary figures of the time, including Delius, Diaghilev, and T. S. Eliot. By 1921, his "Fa�ade" soon became popular as an orchestral suite and ballet followed by "Portsmouth Point" in 1925 which brought him international acclaim. This was followed by a succession of virtual masterpieces including "Belshazzar's Feast" in 1931 first performed at the Leeds Festival, his "First Symphony" in 1935, and a "Violin Concerto" in 1939. By now he had become a celebrated composer and as a result in 1937 he was commissioned to write the march "Crown Imperial" for the coronation of King George VI.
This was the height of his career and his work was compared to to that of Sir Edward Elgar, to whom he was seen as rightful successor. However, after the Second World War, Walton's popularity declined and he was somewhat eclipsed by Benjamin Britten, and Walton considered to be a little staid and old-fashioned by comparison. He was to spend the later years of his life, Living on the island of Ischia, near Naples where he continued to write music until his death in 1983.

George Lockhart

George Lockhart

George Samuel Claude Lockhart, known as the "King of the Ring", was the most celebrated circus ringmaster in the region, having worked for 30 years at Blackpool Tower Circus before moving Manchester's Belle Vue Circus, where he spent 32 years. His father had been a ringmaster in Sweden before him, and had died by being crushed by two stampeding elephants in a circus at Walthamstow in London. George was well known and loved in the world of the circus, instantly recognisable in his red tailcoat, high top hat and smoking a big cigar, (a model for all circus masters since then), and stories of his life as a ringmaster abound. He was, apparently, involved in an unprovoked attack by an elephant called Burma in 1962, when seized by the arm, George calmly gave the elephant a chocolate treat and continued with the show, despite having suffered multiple fractures to his arm. He finally retired in 1970 at the age of 83. He died at Blackpool at the ripe old age of 94 in 1979.


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This page last updated 23 Dec 11.