In Memory: Simon Birkett

Posted by Martin Cordner on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 Under: life news

I just wanted to add my own words of tribute to Simon, who passed away on Friday.

Simon and I first met in the 1990s when he began working at 101 Queen Victoria Street for the Salvation Army’s UK Music Editorial department, which at that time was under the headship of Richard Phillips. At that time, I also worked on ‘the building’ as it was known. I worked in the Public Relations Department in the basement, whilst I recall Music Editorial was situated on the top floor, just along from the ISB rehearsal room. 

The Coca-Cola factory in Atlanta, 1999
L-R Alan Losh, Nigel Hills, Simon, Darrell Scholes, Paul Sharman, Andrew Blyth, myself

As a developing composer, I often took time away from the dull work of data input in the dungeons of the building to visit the Music Ed team on what always seemed to me the bright and happy fourth floor. At that time, I would often find in the Editorial office Gillian Pomering (Graham), Andrew Blyth, Kevin Norbury, Lisa Hooper (Ambrose), Paul Sharman and of course, Simon. At that time, I remember Simon was a tall, slim and thickly-haired young man. Okay, recently he looked slightly different, but at least he kept the height! My visits were occasionally music-related, but most of all I visited because I liked the laugh and banter that the Editorial guys seemed to enjoy almost daily, in which I know Simon played a key part. 

ISB Baritone Section 1999: Howard Bowes, Stevan Allock and Simon

A few years later I joined the ISB where Simon was part of a talented Baritone section alongside Stevan Allcock and Howard Bowes. There were a few of us in the band in our twenties so we got on well and hung around together on ISB weekend trips and tours. I would marvel at Simon’s Baritone warm-ups which basically consisted of playing a high note and then lipping it up an octave – well out of the standard range of the instrument. After doing this he would say, “that’ll do it”, or similar. Simon had a keen sense of humour and often made us laugh. I will never forget his absolute lack of embarrassment at strutting poolside in Speedos during an ISB tour to the USA, and the demonstration of what was perhaps his other main gift – eating – at several ‘all you can eat’ buffets in the USA where I am certain the staff marvelled at Simon’s capacity to consume more than most.

Simon enjoying food whilst with the ISB in Florida, 1999

From time to time Simon was required to cover for Stevan in those high-pressure solo spots such as the opening to Isaiah 40, or the high and lyrical solo in The Holy War, and of course he did this flawlessly. At a Territorial Headquarters worship meeting I remember a small group of us having to graft through Les Condon’s Eternal God, at the end of which Simon, covering for Bass on Euphonium that day, in front of all staff and employees planted the most rich, fortissimo pedal E - bravo! You see he was a talented brass player, more talented than most will realise. And not just a brass player, but an able pianist and above all, an excellent all-round musician. 

In the early days of Sibelius software, Simon often gave his time and skills to help me find my way around the program, for which I am grateful. He gave his time to play in an ensemble at our wedding as well as bring his instrument to help Leanne and me with events where we were Corps Officers. He turned his hand to the occasional composition and arrangement too, and I remember seeing him once as guest Baritone soloist at the Northern Brass Arts Festival at the Bridgewater Hall where he presented an impeccable rendering of Variants on St Francis on Baritone in front of a capacity crowd that included top contesting bands. In fact, Steve Cobb featured Simon as Baritone soloist on ISB programmes, quite an unusual thing in the Brass Band world at that time. And even after his departure from the ISB he was still utilised by Steve on ISB recordings to be his dependable set of ‘ears’ in the studio, and as an important part of the support team on the ISB’s recent tour to Australia.

Thank you, Simon, for all those memories, for your help to me, your sense of humour and musicianship, and for your service to God through The Salvation Army. I will keep your family in my prayers.

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