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Yorkshire Post, March 2021

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The text of this article first appeared in the Yorkshire Post in March 2021. It is reproduced here by kind permission.

John Dunford

John Dunford

What is your first Yorkshire memory?

When I was about 10 or 11, I came to visit some relatives who'd moved to Leeds and they took us to York. I remember walking around the Roman walls and going to York Minster. This was when the floor was up during extensive work to prevent the tower falling down. There was a real smell of damp and you were walking across floorboards in the minster.

What is your favourite part of Yorkshire and why?

I'd say probably the Dales because the countryside is so rugged and expansive and because of all the walking you can do. There’s so much that is easily accessible. I'm now living closer to the North York Moors and it’s become an area of discovery.

What is your idea of a perfect day or perfect weekend out in Yorkshire?

My idea would be listening to choral music in one of the great venues we have here and sung by one of the many fine choirs in Yorkshire. I have many favourite places, like York and Ripon cathedrals, but I love Leeds Town Hall. I've conducted there, it's a privilege to do so and I enjoy going to concerts there.


Do you have a favourite walk or view?

Yes, I do and it’s climbing Pen-y-ghent and I say this from a very personal point of view. I had cancer 13 years ago and five weeks after I came out of hospital, one afternoon I took myself up to Pen-y-ghent and phoned my wife and said: “Guess where I am?” The views from the top are great.

Which Yorkshire sportsman or woman, past or present, would you like to take out for lunch?

Fred Trueman who was one of the greats. Fred was blunt, bluff and had a good sense of humour. There are so many stories attached to him and I'd love to hear them from the man himself.

Simon Lindley

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take out to dinner?

Dr Simon Lindley who has been involved with Leeds music since the mid-1970s. Simon's a huge character and for many years he was organist at Leeds Parish Church and gave recitals at Leeds Town Hall. He has been president of the Royal College of Organists and now conducts the Sheffield and Doncaster Bach Choir. He has a big reputation.

If you had to name your hidden Yorkshire gem, what would it be?

Byland Abbey, near Coxwold in North Yorkshire. I love the journey from Coxwold to Wass and as you approach a hill before you go into Wass, you see the top of one of the abbey's turrets above a rose window. You then go over the hill and there’s Byland Abbey in all its glory. It's a wonderful place and it’s always quiet and peaceful.

If you could choose somewhere or some object from or in Yorkshire to own for the day, what would it be?

The organ at York Minster. It's just been rebuilt and I've played it just once. As one of the largest cathedrals in the country, it needs a powerful instrument and this one has four keyboards.

What do you think it is which gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

The people, because they have such pride in their Yorkshire heritage. I remember some years ago taking part in a census. One of the questions was: “Do you consider yourself to be English or British?” My wife's answer was: “I consider myself to be Yorkshire” That sums up the people very well. They love their county, are fiercely proud of it and it’s that character which comes through.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?

Valentino’s in Ripon. It’s a small Italian restaurant and run by very friendly people.

How do you think Yorkshire has changed for better or worse, since you have known it?

I find that a difficult question to answer. I certainly don't think Yorkshire has changed for the worse and I think it's in a very good place.

If you had to change one thing about Yorkshire, what would it be?

I'd get even more people singing in choirs, but there is no easy answer to that because modern life pulls us in all sorts of directions. The choices and opportunities for youngsters are far greater now. Some schools will have rock choirs, others will push people towards a more classical style. But what we have to do is to enthuse and encourage people to be involved.

Who is the Yorkshire person you admire the most?

I'm not going to pick one person, but choose the fantastic people from Wetherby and Ripon choral societies who turn up every week to rehearse with me. They perform to a very high standard. They give up their time and they love it.

How has Yorkshire influenced your work?

By giving me the opportunities to do what I love for the past 35 years. I've met the most wonderful musicians and shared many excellent performances.

Do you have a favourite Yorkshire author, entertainer, singer or band?

You won't be surprised to hear that I've chosen a musician, and the classical composer associated most with Yorkshire is Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). His connection with Yorkshire is that for several years he lived on Duchy Road in Harrogate. During the First World War, Finzi studied music at Christ Church in Harrogate and then studied at York Minster where he was taught by the organist and choirmaster Edward Bairstow.

If a stranger came to Yorkshire and you had time to take that person to one place only, where would it be?

Almost certainly to York and the minster. The history of York is astonishing. You walk down the Shambles and you see buildings which have been there for hundreds of years, you go to the cathedral and it's been there for a thousand years. How on earth did people build something so magnificent a thousand years ago? York is a bustling city and yet you can still find peace, tranquillity and beauty.