The Lincoln Concert Orchestra has been running for over seventy years, having been founded in the 1940s by John Bonner, a lay vicar in the Cathedral Choir. John Bonner was born in Manchester on 31st May 1912 to working-class parents. From an early age, he possessed an outstanding singing voice and at the age of ten became a member of the Manchester Cathedral choir. Following recordings of the choir made by the BBC, he was described as having the best treble voice in England and went on to make several recordings as a boy soprano for Columbia Records before his voice finally broke at the age of 17.
In 1935 John took up the position of the bass lay vicar, (adult chorister), at Salisbury Cathedral, moving two years later to a similar position at Lincoln Cathedral. During the pre-war years at Lincoln, he became musical director of the Gainsborough Amateur Operatic Society, Lincoln Thespians, and Clayton-Babcock Operatic Society. Around this time musical arrangements of two of his earlier recordings, Somewhere a Voice is Calling and Angels Guard Thee, were composed for John to dub his baritone voice onto his original soprano soundtrack, becoming the first singer to do so.
Following the outbreak of war, John organised many charity concerts, notably at the Savoy Cinema in March and November 1941 and at the Theatre Royal in January 1942. In 1943 John joined the RAF seeing service in Egypt, India, and Burma where he estimates he travelled about 100,000 miles entertaining the troops for ENSA and became a member of Ralph Reader's gang show. After finishing touring John was stationed in Delhi in charge of the music section for South East Asia Command supplying the whole command with musical instruments, music and gramophone records. Whilst there he conducted the Command Light Orchestra as well as forming his septet and broadcasting on All-India-Radio. He also conducted a 20-piece orchestra when John Gielgud paid a visit to Delhi with his company performing 'Hamlet' and 'Blithe Spirit, with the orchestra providing the incidental music.
On being demobilised in November 1946 John returned to Lincoln and added to his musical activities by taking charge of the Lincoln Orpheus Male Voice Choir. In October 1947 he was appointed conductor of the Lincoln Co-operative Choir and in November, at his suggestion, added a light orchestra to form the Lincoln Co-operative Choral Association and Orchestral Society. Following their first public performances of the operetta 'Tom Jones' in April 1948, John and the orchestra resigned following disagreements with the Lincoln Co-operative Society Education Committee. One month later on 16th May 1948, the newly formed John Bonner Concert Orchestra gave their first concert in Boultham Park, Lincoln, with proceeds in aid of the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families Association. (S.S.A.F.A). The John Bonner Concert Orchestra went on over the next couple of years to become well known, performing many concerts for good causes throughout Lincolnshire.
John married and moved to Sheffield in 1950 where he and his wife, Mabel, ran a newsagents shop, first in Tinsley and then Totley Rise, until his retirement around 1972. John became a leading light in the Totley Operatic and Dramatic Society and later became a member of the Croft House Operatic Society and was appointed musical director of the Sheffield Teachers Operatic Society from 1954 to 1978. John died in February 1979, aged sixty-six. After his death, the chairman of the Sheffield Teachers Operatic Society wrote, “Infectious exuberance, ebullience and enthusiasm were three of the outward facets of John's character. Beneath these facets, and combined with them, lay a deep and wide understanding and practical appreciation of music and drama, which he applied to the furtherance of the Amateur Operatic and Dramatic world. His training as a boy and adult chorister in Manchester and Lincoln together with his wartime direction of an orchestra in India could well have fitted John for a successful, professional, career but he concentrated on the amateurs of this world for whom he had the greatest devotion”.
Following John’s departure to Sheffield, the John Bonner Concert Orchestra was renamed the Lincoln Concert Orchestra and continues to play, as John intended, for the benefit of deserving causes.
History of the Orchestra
Martin Kerridge, a current member of the orchestra, has spent many hours researching John Bonner (our founder) with assistance from John Bonner’s nephew, Peter Ward and Stephen Beet, author of “The Better Land – In Search of the Lost Boy Sopranos”. He has found out about the Orchestra’s history by talking to past members and their families and by researching the archives of the Lincolnshire Echo. What follows is a summary of his research and then an appendix showing images of the actual articles in the newspapers.
Formation of the Orchestra
On 2nd October 1947, the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper reported that “at the suggestion Mr John Bonner, the Education Committee of the Lincoln Co-operative Society is considering the formation of a light orchestra” Then on Friday, November 21 1947 “The Gossiper” column in the Lincolnshire Echo announced the formation of the Lincoln Co-operative Orchestra “to perform in conjunction with the Choral Association of the Society. In addition to giving independent orchestral concerts, it will meet the need for performances of choral works of a lighter variety in the city. The orchestra will be directed by John Bonner, Lincoln Cathedral lay vicar …Rehearsals for the first concert performance of "Tom Jones" by Edward German, which it is hoped will be given in February or March, will begin next week.”
The first performance of the Cooperative Orchestral Society was announced on 20th March 1948 in the public announcements section of the Echo and the review on the 7th of April said “… Mr John Bonner who conducted, must have felt well rewarded by the obvious delight of the audience for the hard work he had put into the preparations and it is only to be regretted that the hall was not better filled. The performance which was arranged by the Lincoln Cooperative Society Education Committee will be repeated tonight.”
However, the Lincoln Co-operative Orchestra lasted for only 4 months as the front-page headlines in the paper on the 13th of April announced the resignation of Mr. Bonner and the orchestra: “Refusal by Lincoln co-operative Society education committee to permit the national anthem to be played at last week's performances of "tom jones", following other differences, has led to the resignation of Mr John Bonner, the society's conductor, and his orchestra of twenty instrumentalists. “
The orchestra was reborn soon after, as on the 14th May 1948 in the “Public Announcements” section of The Echo, the Orchestra advertises a concert under the new name of John Bonner and His Concert Orchestra and by July 1949 it became The John Bonner Concert Orchestra. From then until July 1950 adverts and reviews of their concerts appear in the Lincolnshire Echo. By this time John has moved away to Sheffield but must have returned for concerts.
We can find no further mention of either the John Bonner Concert Orchestra or The Lincoln Concert Orchestra beyond July 1950 as there are no online newspaper archives for us to search. We believe the orchestra changed its name to the Lincoln Concert Orchestra in 1951.
John Bonner (1912-1979)
Robert (Bob) Allburn (Flute) the 1950s - 1976 (the first programme founded 1959)
John Hudson (Clarinet) 1977 -1980. He arranged concerts and conducted at least one in this period. He was also Secretary.
Alec Wood 1981 -1986
Paul Peyton 1987/8 - ~1991 Before Paul was the conductor, the orchestra had got very run down and only had about 14 members. Paul did a very good job in getting the orchestra back on its feet again and was with us for about three years, while he studied for his MA, before moving on to become a lecturer at Leeds University and conductor of the Bolton Youth Orchestra.
Roy Adrian 1994 – 2008 (Joint with Roy Hammond) (the last programme with his name on is 2008
Roy Hammond 1992 – 2008
Nick Perry 2008 Nick was an interim conductor for a few weeks.
Jonathan Rider 2008 – 2018
James Fox 2018 - present