OPINION: We will miss Malcolm Neesam greatly - Sharon Canavar, Harrogate International Festivals

I’m sure the paper will be full of tributes to the late, great Malcolm Neesam this week, but I wanted to write something from the Harrogate International Festivals as he was a supporter of our work, a critical friend and we will miss him greatly.

I’d always known about Malcolm from his series in the Harrogate Advertiser, and growing up in the town I loved to pick up his books and relished the pictures and his historical anecdotes of bygone times.

We got to know him more through his attendance at concerts as part of the Festivals and when I was on maternity leave with my daughter we’d go for a regular coffee at Betty’s to put the world to rights whilst a man who wrote the strongest, vociferous and carefully researched letters to the council, the paper and about my festival programming, held a two month old baby and told her all about the history of Betty’s.

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He gifted me a book pre-publication on the merits of English composers in 2010 and for the longest times championed great English music, finding ways to try and persuade me to include them in the Festival programming, unsurprisingly those with a Harrogate association including Farrar and Finzi featured heavily. I pulled out this book yesterday The Dazzling Unknown Shore – the everyman’s guide to the best of the English musical renaissance, 1887-1946, and inside was a letter from him which I’d tucked inside.

He wrote ‘it is opinionated, enthusiastic, vehement and colourful and ends with a rather bad-tempered consideration of post-war trends. Nevertheless, it gives voice to sincerely held views, and those who dislike them are free to write their own book!’.

I had a wry smile and a tear in my eye as I rather think that sentence summed him up with his passion, his deeply held views and talent for writing. He cared deeply about the Festivals and as part of our 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2016 donated his time to write a book detailing how music in the Harrogate spa hey day led to the creation of the Festivals.

It is a fabulous insight into music and the arts in the town, although we did have to edit some of the writings based on minutes of the more bad-tempered meetings that took place, as they would certainly have created a headline or two, which is what I rather suspect he might have been after...

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I suspect everyone in Harrogate and beyond will have stories like this and I hope his funeral and celebration of his life, whilst full of sadness will also be full of people whose Malcolm’s kindness, work and care for the town touched.

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