SOCA visit to East Devon Organs & Michael Farley’s workshop

Michael Farley organised an excellent visit for members of SOCA on Wednesday 1st May 2019.

The day started at St Peter’s Parish Church, Budleigh Salterton, where we tried the organ and enjoyed its wide range of sounds and comfortable Harrison-style console. The instrument was rebuilt by Michael Farley in the early 1990s incorporating the existing Hele Organ of 1898. The Vicar at the time, Canon Kenneth Parry, a former Canon of Worcester and later Precentor at Exeter Cathedral, acquired the Harrison Nave Organ from Worcester Cathedral (originally built by Harrison for St. Basil, Deritend, Birmingham). The scheme was drawn up by Roger Fisher and Michael Farley. The organ loft was cleared and a fresh start made, rebuilding the instrument using the best of the two organs and new additions.   The Nave section was on wheels and remains with Harrison’s 1970s classical style open tipped voicing as it was in Worcester.

We then moved to Michael Farley’s workshop in Colaton Raleigh where we were warmly greeted by members of his friendly and dedicated staff. We were able to see several instruments in various stages of construction, and various interesting pipework and processes.

Some members of the party then adjourned to hear David Davies’s recital (In memoriam Peter Hurford) at Withcombe Raleigh Parish Church, Exmouth on the 3-manual Walker there. Music included works by Mendelssohn, Alain, Howells, Bach, Reger and Peter Hurford. This was a most enjoyable interlude.

In the afternoon first we visited Sidmouth Parish Church for a demonstration of the organ there by the resident Director of Music & Organist, Bob Millington (also a member of Michael Farley’s staff). Bob has worked with Michael as a tuner and tonal finisher for many years and this organ was rebuilt to his specification in 1993. This is now a resourceful 4-manual instrument. The basis of it was by William Hill and it still contains much Hill pipework though it had received several rebuilds throughout the last century.   In recent years the 4th Manual was added and also a new transmission system. Two bellows have recently been re-leathered and more work on the winding is pending. Everyone who wished was given the opportunity to play the organ and admire the much-improved layout of the church following refurbishment and removal of the Victorian pews.

The final visit of the afternoon was to the magnificent Ottery St Mary Parish Church – a smaller-scale version of Exeter Cathedral. The organ here is split on either side of the choir stalls and is again a most effective and resourceful instrument for the church’s needs in the C21st. It is comfortable to play, with a wide tonal range and a thrilling trumpet stop which works well as a solo reed and carries well down the nave when a rousing effect is needed for the congregation. This organ was also rebuilt by Michael Farley and his team. All the organists still standing by the end of the day enjoyed playing this instrument and also the excellent tea and doughnuts provided.

SOCA is most grateful to Michael Farley for organising a most successful day for us, and to his team for their help also. His firm has clearly made a great contribution over many years to the organs and practical church music in the Southwest of England and increasingly on a wider plain – from Wolverhampton to Malta! It was a most instructive and enjoyable day.

Miles Quick,  May 2019

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