Accompanist – Colin Baines

Colin Baines

Christopher Morley meets Birmingham music’s Mr Versatile, Colin Baines.

If Colin Baines ever ceased to be active, a massive hole would be left in Birmingham’s musical life.

He is one of those people who seem to involved in a bewildering number of activities which contribute towards the city’s cultural well-being, and for more than 25 years his major position has been as conductor of the Birmingham Choral Union.

Born in Moseley, he went to school there, playing Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto at his leaving concert. After studying for a music degree at Liverpool University between 1971 and 1974, he immediately returned to his home city, taking up a number of teaching posts, leaving his last one, at Harborne’s Queen Alexandra College for the Blind, to launch himself on a fully freelance career since 1993.

“I joined the City of Birmingham Choir as a very young bass in 1969, thanks to the encouragement of my music teacher David Sadler, who maintained a strong choral tradition at Moseley School, and who was the choir’s accompanist,” Baines recalls. “I enjoyed the musicianship of the CBC’s conductor, Christopher Robinson, greatly, and learnt the mystical joyousness of choral singing.”

Rejoining the choir on his return to Birmingham in 1975, he soon began playing for the odd rehearsal when Sadler or Robinson were away.

“By 1983 or thereabouts I played regularly, and eventually took rehearsals on a regular basis. I conducted the unaccompanied choir for radio broadcasts, and other small-scale occasions when Christopher was unavailable.

“For a number of years I conducted a chamber offshoot called City Voices, performing smaller pieces like Poulenc’s Mass in G in Coventry Cathedral and the Durufle Requiem with Wayne Marshall.

“When David Sadler left for New Zealand, I became the full-time accompanist under Christopher, and have remained so under Adrian Lucas, playing every week and taking rehearsals and workshops when Adrian is unavailable. When not playing I still have the unalloyed pleasure of singing in the concerts.”

As though all this weren’t enough, Baines became accompanist to another long-established city choir, the Birmingham Choral Union around 1977 (he can’t remember exactly when), conducting their Christmas concerts in 1979 and 1980, and took over as full-time conductor in 1981.

But, as well as all this, Baines still find times to compose, having written music for BBC schools programmes like Let’s Move and Time to Move.

“I still compose for choirs, and also for Festival Arts, a youth theatre company of which I was a founder member in 1969. I have been its musical director, composing, arranging and performing music for this since the 1970s.

“We take about 40 teenagers down to St Davids in Pembrokeshire every summer, live in tents, cook meals, sell tickets, rehearse and perform an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play in the medieval Bishop’s Palace, and a musical children’s show in a local indoor venue.

“This involves rousing the company in the morning, rehearsing all day, and performing every evening for three-and-a-half weeks every August. Composing is often for strange instrumental combinations, depending on what instrumentalists are going down in any particular year, and different styles, depending on the setting of the play. Last year, I had to teach myself to play the concertina – a real brainteaser – for a show called The Man whose Mother was a Pirate.

A third local choir with which Baines is involved is the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, for whom he is first call as a substitute pianist, and he also accompanies instrumental and vocal examinations, diplomas and recitals from Grade I to conservatoire and university finals.

“For a number of years, I played double bass or piano in various jazz bands, doing functions all over the country. I don’t do so much of this today, contenting myself with playing the organ at Sutton Coldfield Crematorium, St Mary and St Margaret, Castle Bromwich, and Selly Oak Methodist Church.”

And then comes a real surprise: “I’ve been heard on The Archers, both as Eddie Grundy’s fingers playing the guitar, and also Jolene’s Midnight Walkers.”

More soberly, Colin Baines is also amanuensis for the blind composer and recorder virtuoso Alan Davis.

“I prepare materials for him to learn new music to perform, and also take down his compositions and set them on the computer for publication.”

As well as all this, Baines, still living in Moseley, adds: “I have a considerable private teaching practice.

“Occasionally I go to bed.”