My musical life - Steve Richards

Thanks to a proactive teaching culture, I was introduced to music at Tannery Drift School in in Royston in 1964 where many pupils took up the recorder. For me, this soon progressed to clarinet and piano. The award of a ‘junior exhibition’ led to free lessons and placements with various Hertfordshire ensembles, including the County Youth Orchestra.

In 1973 my Mum told me about a new ‘evening class’ that was starting up, a Choral Society for Royston, and as a boy Alto I went along each Thursday. The work was Handel’s Messiah, to be performed at St John’s, Royston, at Christmas, under the musical director Andrew Nurse.

I was patently expendable as a singer, because, at the afternoon rehearsal on the day of the performance, Mr. Nurse informed me that the timpanist had not turned up and I would be playing instead of singing. I had never played percussion in my life.

I continued with the Choral Society, dropping to tenor at some point, until I had completed my A-levels at Meridian (including Music with our very own Richard Prince of course). I then had to make a decision; music or science? In the end, I chose an engineering degree in Electronic Communications while pursuing music for fun in my spare time.

After graduating, I was incredibly lucky to be appointed as a studio sound engineer at the BBC - technical and artistic appreciation seemed to be a combination they sought. Starting work at the BBC External Services at Bush House, the instant immersion in the world’s music in 36 languages was incredible and London musical life was very rich.

I soon moved to Sport and News at Broadcasting House, still trying to keep up with music by singing and playing alongside colleagues. But the random working hours soon put paid to any chance of committing to regular activities.

I was at the BBC for 40 years, mainly in the Outside Broadcast department which involved continuous travel around the UK and the world. BBC sound engineers are required to cover the full range of programmes, but I managed to stay mainly based in music. The greatest privilege was working at so many fine cathedrals and colleges, mixing the sound of our glorious choral tradition for Radio 3 and 4.

Having recently retired, I have loved being able to return to singing with my old Choral Society after a brief pause of 43 years. More than just my voice has slipped downwards, so I’m quite content to hide at the back of the basses.