PUBLISHED: 13:02 11 July 2014
Nearly 40 years ago, Colchester man Patrick McCarthy made a famous appearance at the Royal Albert Hall to rescue a recital conducted by André Previn. Here he shares some memories of that incredible moment and his plans to mark the occasion in Harwich
On August 7, 1974, Patrick McCarthy, a young baritone fresh out of music college, was enjoying a pre-Prom drink in the bar at the Royal Albert Hall and spotted a singer he admired, Thomas Allen, doing the same. Patrick remarked on Allen’s presence to his companion as he was particularly looking forward to hearing his interpretation of the exciting cantata Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, a piece that Patrick had sung several times as a student. Little did he realise that a couple of hours later he would be applauded by a packed Albert Hall for rescuing the live broadcast of the Prom performance.
Patrick, now 67, has enjoyed a very satisfying career in music since, being catapulted to fame following his act of heroics. He has worked in opera and given concerts all over the British Isles and abroad, as well as appearing in musicals, with one of his favourite memories being the chance to cuddle Eartha Kitt on stage in the West End production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Patrick was a performer in Music Hall at the famous Player’s Theatre, has taught students of music in Colchester for close to 30 years and still performs today, including an upcoming appearance at the Harwich Festival of the Arts.
Even now, 40 years on, Partick remembers clearly the moment when Allen collapsed halfway through his performance at the Royal Albert Hall. When the singer faltered, turned green and slumped in his chair, the performance by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus halted while Allen received medical attention and left the stage.
Patrick, near the front of the arena, was encouraged by his fellow Prommers to go backstage to check whether the BBC had a replacement baritone lined up. He was welcomed with open arms and a dinner jacket, before being thrust out onto the Albert Hall stage where the piece was continuing in Allen’s absence. Allen’s official understudy from the chorus was also a doctor, and was having to assist with the sick Allen. The conductor, André Previn, confided later that he wondered whether Patrick might have been the bringer of bad news, but was relieved to see him clutching a vocal score. The concert was also being telerecorded for broadcast a few days later, by which time the story had hit the newspaper headlines and Patrick became a television celebrity interviewee for a while. His mother down in Brighton was listening to the live radio broadcast and was overcome on recognising her son’s voice over the air.
The famous event
At the time of this impromptu Prom debut, Patrick had actually just started rehearsals for a small-scale opera tour which kept him occupied for the next ten months (although he was able to fit in a few guest performances of Carmina Burana).
2014 is the 40th anniversary of what is known in Patrick’s family circle as, ‘the famous event’ and he still often meets people who remember being there, though he suspects some of them may have actually seen it on television. His performance attracted accolades from the critics and Patrick thinks that this exposure helped to bring Carmina Burana to a wider public’s attention.
Patrick married his first wife in 1976 and has two grown-up daughters — one working in Sydney and the other is a senior lecturer in history at Queen Mary College, London — as well as two delightful granddaughters. In 1980, Patrick and his family decided to move out of London and plumped for Colchester, which he has never regretted. He was able to pursue his musical career and taught part-time at what was then the School of Music, now the Colchester Institute, for nearly 30 years.
In the early 90s Patrick was asked to conduct a local choir, something he had never done before. He had been trained to sing and act at the Guildhall School of Music and the London Opera Centre, but had always been fascinated and somewhat over-awed by the art of the conductor, having worked under some of the finest, including Sir Georg Solti and Sir Colin Davis.
However, the success of his first concert led him to form the Colchester Bach Choir, which still thrives, and assemble the Colchester Bach Orchestra, which later became the Colchester Philharmonic, to accompany. It was not long before he was being sought by other choirs in need of a director and Patrick’s repertoire, which had started with Bach cantatas and Handel oratorios, broadened to include classical, romantic and 20th century works.
Patrick has been delighted to give premiere performances of works by local composers such as Bryan Barnes and Christopher Wright, while his wife, Mary, sings in all his four current choirs: Colchester and Ipswich Bach choirs and the Witham and Dovercourt choral societies and occasionally two or more have combined for larger-scale works at Colchester’s Charter Hall and Snape Maltings.
On Sunday, July 6, Patrick will conduct Dovercourt and Witham in Carmina Burana in St Nicholas’ Church as the final concert of the Harwich Festival of the Arts. For Patrick, and many others, old memories will be evoked of that warm summer evening at the Royal Albert Hall 40 years ago.