John Grierson obituary

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Many past students of the Manchester School of Music will remember my friend and singing tutor John Grierson, who has died aged 92, with great affection. John ran the school with his partner Bill Taylor from the 1960s until Bill’s death in 1971, after which John kept things going for a further two decades before deciding to sell up in 1994.

John taught singing, choirs and piano and also worked as accompanist to a number of singers, including Dame Isobel Baillie, with whom he travelled widely on her lecture recital tours. He had an amazing gift of being able to get to the heart of a piece of music straight away. I once took him a copy of a little-known piece by Julius Harrison called Sea Winds and immediately John’s interpretation brought forth feelings of wind howling and a spume-driven sea as clippers battled around Cape Horn.

Born in Willesden, north-west London, John was one of the four children of John Grierson Sr, who worked for Colgate Palmolive, and his wife, Mabel (Punyer). He was educated at Beckenham county school and, on completing musical studies at the Guildhall School of Music, the young John became a professional musician.

He teamed up with Bill, a tenor who was a stalwart of the northern oratorio circuit, and they took over the Manchester School of Music in Albert Square. Bill was a breeder of Pekinese dogs, and John became his partner in this business, too, as well as in life. After Bill’s death, John taught himself computer programming and in the late 80s developed software for organisers of cat and dog shows to manage classes and results; and for breeders to manage their breeding programmes and record pedigrees.

John later set up house with Fred Denton in Barrow Bridge, Bolton, where for many years John kept bees. He sold their honey and would also sometimes be called upon to move a swarm that had descended on to some unfortunate’s property.

He was a great lover of food and wine and saw it as his duty to educate and entertain his friends and relatives in both. He was also generous with his time and after selling the Manchester school he still tutored a few old friends on a pro bono basis until his Parkinson’s disease forced him to stop playing.

John and Fred used to tour markets together and it was at one of these that, after Fred’s death in 2004, John met Bill Naylor and Aamir Kamran, the friends who cared for him as Parkinson’s took hold. He is survived by his sister, Elizabeth, and five nieces.

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