CELEBRATION of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee will give church organist and choirmaster Fred Peacock cause for personal reflection.
On Sunday, when the congregation of St George’s, Jesmond, give thanks for Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne, it will be 50 years to the day that Fred first sat down at the keyboard he has come to know so well. And in another fitting coincidence, he shares a birthday with the Queen, April 21.
“I’m always pleased when they play the national anthem for my birthday because it does make it rather special,” joked Fred, now 73, when he reflected on his years of service to the church.
“I suppose I’ve got to be pleased because the Queen is head of the church.
“But it is nice that while she’s celebrating 60 years on the throne, I’m celebrating 50 years at St George’s.”
He admitted this was not a double anniversary he could ever have foreseen.
“The strange thing is, I didn’t want to come here. I knew nothing about the church. It was a friend who said it was a wonderful church.”
Fred grew up in Bensham, Gateshead, and left school at 15 to work in an office on the Team Valley. But he had been a choirboy and had had piano lessons. The “inspirational” choirmaster at St Cuthbert’s, Bensham, encouraged him to learn to play the organ and he became assistant organist at the age of 13.
“Then I thought, if I’m going to do this properly I need to go to York Minster.
“I used to go there once a fortnight and have lessons from Francis Jackson, the organist and choirmaster.
“It was mad really because we didn’t finish work on the Team Valley until 5pm and I needed to get the 4.55pm train to York.
“They were reasonably kind and let me go at half-past-four.
“But I always had to run to Central Station from the Marlborough Crescent bus station in Newcastle.”
It proved worthwhile in the end. Music opened the door for Fred to study for a degree at Newcastle University and he went into education, becoming head of performing arts at Benfield School, Newcastle, before going on to be an inspector of schools. He is now retired but, like the Queen, has many duties to perform.
As well as running the St George’s choir – rehearsals every Friday, 7pm sharp – he plays the organ at the regular services and also at many weddings and funerals.
In addition, he is organist at Trinity House on Newcastle Quayside, joint organist for the Newcastle University degree ceremonies and organ advisor for the diocese of Newcastle.
On Sunday, when St George’s worshippers enjoy a Diamond Jubilee “Big Lunch” at 11.30am, he will be in action again.
A plaque next to the St George’s organ recalls James Moody Preston, organist and choirmaster from 1888-1931.
As Fred has already beaten him by seven years, a matching plaque would seem in order.