In the early 60’s I worked in an office at 37 Peter St Manchester, directly opposite the Free Trade Hall, the home of the Halle Orchestra.
The Free Trade Hall was an inspiring building. It was a venue for public meetings and political speeches and a concert hall. Charles Dickens performed there in the summer of 1857. In 1872 Benjamin Disraeli gave his One Nation speech. In 1904, Winston Churchill delivered a speech at the hall defending Britain’s policy of free trade. In 1905 the Women’s Social and Political Union activists, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were ejected from a meeting addressed by the Liberal politician Sir Edward Grey, who repeatedly refused to answer their question on Votes for Women.
In the 60’s the Halle Orchestra used to have a programme of free lunchtime concerts, which they continue to this very day but now in the Bridgewater Hall.
I used to walk immediately across Peter Street from our office and into the front door of the Hall, armed with my cheese sandwich and green apple, and enjoy the free recitals.
The resident conductor was Sir John Barbirolli, following in the footsteps of Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Imagine, at lunchtime, this charismatic individual with his flowing locks and emphatic style, whose repertoire was not as wide as that of many of his colleagues because he insisted on exhaustive preparation for any work he conducted, launching into Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” just as you bit into your apple.
It was my introduction to classical music. I became an ardent Beethoven fan, and still have a tape recording of Beethovens Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor Concerto” played by Daniel Barenboim,
which I recorded on my Grundig TK25 reel to reel tape recorder round about the same time (despite the fact that I now have no machine I can play it on.
At the time all this was happening Maureen and I were in our early twenty’s and we frequently got the steam train from Earlestown to Manchester to attend concerts at the Free Trade Hall. – However, I was also playing guitar in a skiffle group and rock band and went on, some years later, to accept a diminution of my musical horizons by playing banjo in a Trad Jazz Band. This is the Gateway Jazz Band a couple of years after we left Carlisle.