Portadown’s ‘Mr Music’ Gordon Speers has struck a positive chord in the community with his New Year British Empire Medal (BEM).
His association with three choirs adds up to an unsurpassed 130 years - 60 years with his ‘first love’ at St Mark’s Church of Ireland, 50 with Portadown Male Voice Choir and 20 with the town’s Ladies’ Choir.
The ‘gong’ coincides with his gold award from the male choir. “That one means just as much to me,” said Gordon, who joined the MVC bass section when he was 18, and graduated to conductor 35 years ago, succeeding Jack Braid.
He started as a cherubic boy soprano at St Mark’s under the tutelage of the legendary John Donnan, organist at the church and conductor of the male choir. “John encouraged boy sopranos to join St Mark’s, and others included Bobby Hanna, now a Canon in Donegal, and Arthur Scarlett,” he recalled.
When Gordon’s voice dropped an octave and more to deep bass, John continued to coach him, “inveigling” him into the male choir, with men like Harold McAfee, Billy Robinson, Jack Menaul and Mervyn White. Mervyn happily is still a member and Gordon’s deputy conductor.
Gordon’s solo career blossomed at that time, with his vocal coaches including William Boyd and Frank Capper. He won a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of trophies at various festivals, especially Portadown (The Borough Trophy twice). And his all-Ireland haul included the best male singer at Waterford International Festival as a member of Lurgan Operatic Society.
But Portadown Male Voice Choir gave him his favourite moments - tours in Germany, Canada and the United States, festival victories all over Ireland (from Coleraine to Cork, Sligo to Arklow). And they starred in a Welsh Eisteddfod, with their greatest moment being in Morecambe when the choir gained first place, Gordon was best conductor and he won the Rosebowl and the best male solo voice.
Then, 20 years ago, he took over the ladies choir, and elevated them to one of the best in Ireland, even eclipsing the men at one or two festivals. His wife Margaret is a soprano in the ladies ensemble and helped persuade him to take on the baton there! They have three daughters and three grandchildren.
In his working life. Gordon is best known in the carpet trade, having run ‘Gordon Speers Carpets’ for 30 years - 10 years at Meadow Lane which was fire-bombed, and 20 at Edenderry whence he retired in October 2013. “It has given me a new lease of life to enjoy my music more,” he said.
He’s “humbled and delighted” to receive the BEM and appreciates the messages of goodwill from all sections of the community, including the choirs and the Rotary Club where he has been President on two occasions.
“I’m particularly proud to have spent my entire life in Portadown,” he said. “The award is also for the choirs, and for the community.”