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Composer’s Biography

My career as a writer of music for the mass began during a weekend devoted to creative approaches to the new English liturgy under the direction of Monsignor Michael Buckley at Wood Hall near Wetherby in Yorkshire. At the time (around 1968) I was teaching music at Pilgrim School, Bedford and my wife Marie-Thérèse, also a teacher, was involved in the folk group at our local church. The priest in charge, Father Ken Payne, wanted to extend their range beyond folk hymns and he suggested that she might attend this weekend. When she asked me if she could go, I said yes if I could come too.

This was not out of any religious fervour. My own attitude to the Catholic Church, indeed to any religion was, to put it mildly, detached (though I had written a setting of the well-known passage on love in Corinthians 1:13 for our wedding in 1952). I was just there for the ride. The main thrust of the weekend was to split into groups and prepare a celebratory mass for the Sunday. I hadn’t a clue what was going on but I did (reluctantly) join my wife in the group dealing with the Gloria.

My interest was suddenly stirred. What’s liturgy? I said. Where are the words? By the end of lunch on the Saturday I had turned the Gloria into verse and written the tune. Kevin Mayhew was there. Would I write the rest of the mass? he said. The Pilgrim's Mass was published by Mayhew - McCrimmon (as they then were) in 1971. It went viral (to use a modern expression). Folk weekends followed at which Marie would promote ideas for hymns while I dealt with the mass itself. Many of our followers were nuns some of whom were all agog to meet Father Gordon Rock. I hadn’t the heart to tell them I wasn’t even a Catholic.

I was received into the Church in 1972 having meanwhile written Missa de Saeculis (Mass of the Ages). This began life in a hotel in Tenerife during the performance of a sensational folk song from the Andes rendered by a group called Los Paraguayos. The result was another Gloria. The rest soon followed, including a Pater Noster which I find quite moving. Unfortunately the very idea of a Latin folk mass was a non-starter (though I did learn that the folk group at Westminster Cathedral would play the Credo through occasionally just for their own amusement).

Having succeeded in setting the Latin text exactly as it stood I felt it was time to do the same with the English avoiding all repetition, hesitation or deviation, eschewing the twin temptations of syncopation and sentimentality and bridging the gap between folk and mainstream. There followed a series of masses with slightly exotic titles- The Sinner’s Mass, A Mass for All Ages and finally A Mass for All Seasons written for my present church of St Thomas More, Towcester. The best out of these, suitably updated, have now found their way into the Mass for All Seasons, as have the Gloria and Our Father into The New Pilgrim’s Mass.

My career in brief- Born 1930; 1949-1953 read Classics at Oxford; 1953-56 trainee Inspector of Taxes; 1956-72 taught music in various schools; 1972-1986 Headmaster of Duston Upper School, Northampton.