Organist Howard Beaumont’s sobriquet – King of the Keyboards – is well earned. He has played pipes and electronic instruments all over the world.
His work as performer and demonstrator has taken him from a shop in Halifax to a residency on cruise ships operating from New York to the Caribbean.
Throw in Iceland, Tahiti, Australia, Europe and four corners of Britain and you start to touch the sides of his travels.
Howard was born in the Calder Valley village of Luddendenfoot in June 1948. He went to the local primary and later to secondary schools in Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd.
It was at the Methodist chapel in Luddendenfoot, where his mother Mona was a Sunday School teacher, that his love affair with the organ was born. “It was the vibrations of the bass through the floor which I liked,” said Howard, who has written an account of his life and work under the title The Very Best of Times. Aged 14, he became the chapel’s youngest organist.
He had piano lessons from the age of seven and attended art school at Percival Whitley College in Halifax.
In the mid-1960s, he started work as a window dresser at Harrison Gibson in the town but the call of the organ proved too loud. He “haunted” the two music shops Hinds Pianos and
Bradley’s Music in the town and was offered a Saturday job, demonstrating the instruments at Bradley’s.
Lured by lucre – £8 a week – he quit his job as a window dresser and went to work for Bradley’s full time.
One of his biggest influences was Jerry Allen but no one has inspired Howard more than rock ’n’ roll great Jerry Lee Lewis. His stock-in-trade may be show tunes and light music but said
Howard: “I was influenced by ‘his raking down’ the piano keys and I would finish everything I played that way.”
One of his most famous customers was Percy Shaw – the inventor of cat’s eyes – who paid £370 in fivers for an organ.
It was a time when home organs were de rigueur and Reginald Dixon was in residence at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. By 1969 The Organist Entertains had hit the airwaves of BBC radio, a show Howard would feature on. He has also played the Tower including for The Organist Entertains 25th anniversary show.
After he had worked at Bradleys, the Maple Leaf Four’s Bob Willson suggested he and Howard teamed up and the two men hit the road as the Maple Leaves and did a summer season in Cornwall.
Answering an advert in Melody Maker led to a summer season on the Isle of Man followed by a stint on the cruise ships. “I went to Southampton for an audition, played Tico Tico and was hired,” said Howard.
Time off from the Rendezvous Bar would find Howard in New York’s Radio City Music Hall watching Dick Leibert and Ray Bohr.
Returning to terra firma he worked as a demonstrator for the likes of Yamaha and Baldwin while setting up home with his first wife Maralyne with whom he has four children. He also has six grandchildren.
They lived in the North East and Allerton, near Bradford, before taking up a job at Gough and Davey’s organ shop in Scarborough in 1988.
The family moved to nearby Hunmanby and later Scarborough, where Howard had enjoyed many a childhood holiday. He was then offered a job by Scarborough Spa’s general manager
Keith Norton as organist in residence, playing first in Peasholm Park and later at the South Bay complex.
His 34th season in the town, starts in July. He has been based for many years in the Sun Court and also plays for coffee dances in the Grand Hall.
The list of artists he has played for reads like a who’s who of light entertainment of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s – Norman Wisdom, Russ Abbot, Roy Chubby Brown, Jimmy Cricket, Norman Collier and Jim Bowen.
He played I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside as Ulrika Jonsson did a weather forecast for TV-am from the beach and Summer Holiday to accompany Brian Conley, also for a beach TV broadcast.
Howard now lives in Scarborough with his second wife Eileen, who he met over a cup of tea at a cafe near Peasholm Park.
The title of his book reflects the times in the organ business, a take on his signature tune The Best of Times from the Jerry Herman musical La Cage Aux Folles. The book is published by Farthings Publishing.