I’ve learned something unexpected about a friend who died recently.
The gawky-looking youth on the right of this photo is me. John Pryer is the other chap in a red shirt. At the time this was taken in the Royal Albert Hall in 1982, I’d already known John for a couple of years. We both sang in Coventry Cathedral Choir, and later that year I went to work for his employer, British Rail.
I knew John as a software engineer: his madcap domestic chaos was, I think, a foil to the logic he brought to bear on programming the railways’ complex freight movements. He was renowned for “pranging” his cars – including the vintage Alvis he had just inherited – and his collection of vehicles that never quite worked properly included a Routemaster bus.
John died of cancer a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t until after his funeral that I discovered that he had been a rather accomplished choirboy. He sang the (rather small) role of Fairy Peaseblossom on the 1966 Decca recording of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream“, but what really took me aback was to find that it was him singing in this recording of another of Britten’s works, ”Friday Afternoons” – John sings the solo here in verse 3 of New Year Carol. It’s a recording which I well remember my school music teacher playing in class, one other rainy Friday afternoon.