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Dear Reader: New Harrogate Fest history + praising town's heroes

Harogate historian Malcolm Neesam, centre, launches his epic new book Music Over The Waters ar the Royal Hall in Harrogate.
Harogate historian Malcolm Neesam, centre, launches his epic new book Music Over The Waters ar the Royal Hall in Harrogate.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

I’d arrived at the Royal Hall for the launch of epic new book Music Over The Waters in a chipper mood.

Commissioned by Harrogate International Festivals’ chief executive Sharon Canavar and the chairman of its trustees Dr Jill Adam to write the history of Harrogate’s premier arts events organisation to mark its golden jubilee in 2016, local historian Malcolm Neesam had produced a stunning work of research.

In front of the packed crowd in the pomp and circumstance, and heat, of the Heritage Room in the Royal Hall last Thursday night, the seasoned writer didn’t have time to mention all but a small handful the key players in his fascinating new book.

Unsurprising.

Not content with telling one important story, his new book also tells a second, that of the musical heritage of Harrogate all the way from its earliest days in the 15th century to the modern era

Malcolm did pause to pay tribute to the late Lady Bomanji who was one of the town’s most important patrons of the arts for decades.
And he also acknowledged the huge contribution of a former Harrogate Advertiser editor, the late Harold ‘Lal’ Walker who did so much to support Clive Wilson in establishing the first-eve Harrogate International Festival in 1966.


Having researched and written 500 fact-filled pages. Malcolm obviously couldn’t go too far down this road, however.
Until this point I’d felt happy with myself after finding out my various activities in rock music and the arts in the town over the last 20 years were mentioned in five pages of Music Over The Waters.


Five pages? Good grief. In that company, five suddenly seemed a lot.
Rather than feeling pleased I felt something different. I felt embarrassed.


The curator who transformed the reputation of Harrogate’s only public art gallery was typically to-the-point in her farewell speech about the good things about the town, as well as the not-so-good.


Having pursued a singular vision with huge success since she first arrived in Harrogate to take charge of Mercer Gallery in 2003, I suppose the fiercely intelligent and impressively determined Jane Sellars had more than earnt the right to do so.


Still, in this civilised town candour can still cause an intake of breath.


But every town and city needs its stubborn forces, those rare people whose ambitions are lofty and who don’t get put off easily by the naysayers.


While individuals can and do make mistakes, greatness rarely comes by committee or by harbouring a desire to do nothing more than fit in.
“Bumcum” I can hear some people say, which is fair enough.


In reply I’d point to Harrogate’s own past.
Harrogate is justifiably proud of Samson Fox, perhaps the town’s greatest-ever mayor, even 115 years after his death.
No one would argue that this industrial engineer, scientific inventor and significant philanthropist achieved what he did in the late Victorian era by initiating a series of compromises.

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