I was born and raised in Manchester, studied in Liverpool, and trained in journalism in London. Over several decades I worked in London for a variety of national newspapers and magazines, as a writer and subeditor, including at The Guardian (News, Business, Features, Arts); The Observer (News, Business); The Times (as a classical music critic, and in Arts, Features, News, Opinion, Obituaries); The Sunday Times (News, Business); The Times Online (night editor); The London Evening Standard (Londoner's Diary); and Classic FM Magazine (deputy editor). I also freelanced for Time Warner Books, the UN University, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, and BBC School Radio. I now live and work from home in the Lake District. I'm also a fiction writer and music composer, and love running up hills, cycling down dales and swimming in lakes, tarns, rivers and the sea. Look forward to meeting you, on or offline!

A selection of articles for The Times

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Images © Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / John Rennie
Images © Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / John Rennie
Images © Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / John Rennie


What a night to unbatten the hatches after a week skidding along Cumbria’s post-snow icy roads … but music-lovers headed fearlessly for Barrow-in-Furness on the west coast of the county, on the trail of a world-class orchestra, no less, as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was coming to town for the first time in more than 40 years.


The weather was surprisingly calm and mild – for Cumbria, for January, for climate change – but storms were brewing, both musically (with Beethoven’s tempestuous Fifth Symphony) and meteorologically (with Storms Isha and Jocelyn, whose lashing rains and gales in the days following the gig knocked out power to thousands of homes across both county and country).


The first hint of dramas to come came in the foyer of Barrow’s Forum Theatre, as the audience gathered for a sell-out concert heralding a three-year partnership between the Liverpool Phil and Barrow, mainly thanks to Arts Council England cultural ‘levelling up’ funding.


As concert-goers mingled and milled around the foyer, music (percussion, cello, bassoon) struck up from a corner of the room, followed by trumpet from another corner, and then a tall, swarthy, Latin-American man wearing a Barrow Football Club scarf, grinned his way into our midst.


We’d been flash-mobbed by the Liverpool Philharmonic, playing a stripped-down, jazzed-up snippet of Beethoven’s Fifth, conducted by their Venezuelan maestro Domingo Hindoyan. Within minutes we were herded into the auditorium, where Hindoyan and team reappeared and raced into the overture to French composer Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen. Formula One buffs know it as the ‘F1 podium theme’. The hall has a dry acoustic, but soon the effervescence of the piece, its performance and the whole occasion popped any reluctant auditory corks.


Hindoyan informed us Beethoven had expanded the orchestra to fit his Symphony No 5, but the Liverpool Phil had been shrunk in numbers to fit on the Forum stage. They felt, looked and sounded more like a chamber orchestra as they performed the great first movement with its immortal ‘da-da-da-dah’ motif. All the power, passion and projection of the full-size version, but more personalised. In fact, in Hindoyan’s skilful hands this RLPO chamber orchestra delivered about as intimate a Beethoven’s Fifth as you could get without everyone snuggling under a duvet together.


The onstage dramas were accompanied by a film, by Barrovian photographer-filmmaker Colin Aldred, featuring slow stills and moody moving pictures of Barrow townscape and seascape, juxtaposing old urban façades with oystercatcher seashores.


Beethoven, Hindoyan declared, was “no longer only German but for all the world”, and as you witnessed this great music lovingly performed, while glancing across at fine images of this great town and coastline, you couldn’t help hoping Barrow is no longer destined to suffer its recent history of deprivation and unemployment, always in the shadow of its 18-million-visitors-a-year neighbour the Lake District, but to be a re-energised ‘town for all the world’.


Hindoyan and his merry band left the audience serene and replenished after a beautifully subtle second movement, and then steered us expertly through the bipolar dynamics and major-minor mood swings of the third and fourth movements, stretching increasingly elastically between earlobe-caressing pianissimos and rafter-troubling fortissimos.


Gradually the film moved from mono to colour, ending with a 360-degree slowly turning Barrow in the sky, maybe having swapped its old black-and-white, two-dimensional image for a more vibrant and more rounded 21st Century one. After all, things are looking up jobwise: Barrow is now a global centre for sustainable energy creation thanks to its offshore wind farm industry, not to mention its thriving nuclear submarine industry.  


With more music and investment on the menu, what better magic ingredient to sprinkle on this budding Liverpool Phil-Barromance than the concert’s encore – All You Need Is Love.


Follow the RLPO in Barrow via liverpoolphil.com