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James Galway inspires Drew to 2,000 concerts

Thursday, 15 December 2016

James Galway inspires Drew to 2,000 concerts thumbnailDrew Rowan

And Richhill flautist also named world champion

MASTER flautist Drew Rowan was inspired by none other than the great James Galway at the start of his music career - through the great man's friendship with Drew's Richhill neighbours Ted and Nan Mason.

They convinced him to move forward into a career that later combined his brilliant expertise on the flute and full-time music tuition.

Said Drew, "It was back in 1971 when wife Linda (from Hamiltonsbawn) and I lived in Richhill near the Masons. We all met up in the home of the BBC music legend Havelock Nelson. I was an up-and coming young flautist at the time, and the prospect of meeting James (now Sir James) was so exciting.

“Nan, a superb soprano, is from Belfast and was a former schoolmate of James, and they had a terrific rapport. He heard me play and told me to practise, practise, practise, gave me loads of professional advice and I'll never forget that meeting.

“He was great chat and I've met him a few times since then. I practise every day, even though I'll be 70 next month and seem to be busier than ever."

Drew hit the 2,000th appearance mark, concert-wise, last week when he was guest flautist at the annual 'Carols from St Mark's' event in Portadown, which has raised about 120,000 for various charities over the years. Portadown Voice and Ladies Choirs (under conductor Gordon Speers) combine for the night. Many of the choristers hail from the Armagh-Markethill-Tandragee-Richhill areas.

"The concert was a real landmark," said Drew, who has kept an immaculate diary of the musical dates over the decades. "It's a real coincidence that my first public performance was in the St Mark's Parochial Hall, accompanied by Jim Girvan, in 1973."

The variety of his music is wide and eclectic. His first solo 'gig' was in Belfast, a classical concert accompanied by Havelock Nelson. And there followed classical concerts for Radio Ulster (then the Northern Ireland Home Service), radio shows with the BBC Northern Ireland Light Orchestra, the Ulster Orchestra and solo events.

But the bulk of his diary dates cover the folk group 'Bakerloo Junction' which he formed with singer and guitarist Noel McMaster, with Aubrey Campbell (accordion) later joining them. They were in great demand all over Northern Ireland and had a successful tour of Ontario, Canada, in 1981. "Our specialities included 'My Lagan Softly Flowing', which Noel wrote, plus the likes of 'Wild Mountain Thyme' and 'The Lovely Rose of Clare'." They stayed together for more than 30 years and often combined classical and folk music.

That's only half of the Drew Rowan story. Originally from Portadown, he has spent 60 years in the town's superb Corcrain Flute Band, where the instruments - from piccolo to contrabass - have 13 harmony parts written for them. (Drew plays concert flute, piccolo and is a 'wow' on the tin whistle).

He joined Corcrain in 1956, his inspiration being his dad David. He was a natural "and a fanatic" from the start and was indispensable to the band. His best early memory is appearing as part of an ensemble on Hughie Green's 'Opportunity Knocks' (ITV) - "we came in a commendable third, playing the William Tell Overture".

Drew took over the conductor's baton for 13 years (1978-91) and led them to the Northern Ireland Championship title and then to the World title. He also went with Corcrain to places like Norway for Constitution Day in Bergen, to Jersey for the Battle of the Flowers, and to London for the Lord Mayor's Show.

In 1980, he went full-time into music. Having been a telephone engineer, he joined the South-Eastern Education and Library Board as a tutor, and was made Head of Department the following year. He has three Diplomas in Music, and is an adjudicator at various band and music festivals.

He is as busy as ever, mainly through charity events, is the father-of-five, with the first grandchild having arrived recently.

He was re-appointed conductor of Corcrain last year, and aims to get them back on the championship trail as his next project.

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