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 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
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

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´┐Żade” 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.