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Neil was a very passionate musician and deeply loved the organ. For many, he was simply the most emotionally communicative church organist by a country mile. Perhaps Mr Edwin Jones, organist at Salem in Canton, can be attributed with early inspiration, showing Neil the ropes, and foot pedals! Later, in the 70's, the old harmonium in Ebenezer Miskin came to life with his playing and the village church of St David was a regular haunt for practice. As a musician he was born, not made. He dreaded 'the conversation' about wedding tunes since his technique was tested by the more challenging pieces. His lack of formal training was more than compensated for by his instinct for the musical colour of a big church organ, and by his powerfully emotional response to each individual hymn. His playing always maintained a moment-by-moment spontaneity which reflected, and in turn intensified, the response of the congregation. His eccentricities, such as playing in socks, appalled or amused the purists! However, his rare gift was being able to complement the worship, not just accompany it. He was just as inspired choosing hymns and tunes as when playing them.
He specialised in capturing the grand Welsh style, full of majesty and hwyl - so easy to over-bake or iron out. His playing was never stuffy or flippant. In a period when lighter, trivial music steadily replaced a properly reverent style, he felt a keen responsibility for holding the line. Anyone who presumed that traditional organ-led congregational singing was a lifeless anachronism more than met their match in him. As stated on our Website, 'the form of worship aims to give reverence to God, whilst at the same time giving expression to profound Christian joy' - Neil sustained that note for 40 years.
When we bought Pen-y-Wain Road, the excitement was dampened for Neil by the state of the organ, from which air leaked horribly. He's trying to make it work in this video https://youtu.be/eZ_9MbMIWUo - taken on the day we aquired the building early in 2009. Shortly afterwards, Neil got to hear about a merger between two churches in Clydach. They only needed one organ and generously agreed to donate their spare to Tabernacle Cardiff! This seemingly brought the project within reach. An amateur army set about dismantling and rebuilding, like something only St Fagans Museum would take on. It was actually too much for us. A recent estimate states that professional removal, refurbishing and installation would require a budget of around £100,000. Even the organ itself, an impressive 1909 'Norman and Beard', was too big to fit into our narrower chamber. Would this 'gutsy girl' sing again? Hear her take her last breaths at Hebron, Clydach under the hands of Mr. Gary Owens https://youtu.be/YlEDAgRRnKE
The cost of undertaking the restoration and re-fit of the Hebron organ had to take its place alongside other essential projects at Tabernacle Cardiff, as we push on with our mission and tackle the critical repairs of two large listed buildings. However, strenuous efforts and significant funds have been allocated over the years to move the organ project forwards. Even though this was accelerated in 2016, phase II could not be completed before Neil's passing - he never got to play it.
The currently used computer-based organ installed by Neil was only ever intended as a temporary patch. However, the recordings he made for the purpose using it will make it possible for him to accompany the singing at his own funeral.
With a view to the future, there are three stages to completing the Norman and Beard organ. The third phase would incorporate 'The Choir' division, but we were only aiming for the second phase, making the organ suitable for use in a service. With sufficient funds, this marvellous instrument could be fully restored and help to inspire Neil's vision for generations to come.
Apart from 'Neil the organist', my family, and many others are indebted to Neil for his Christian witness. He became a Christian in 1976 (Christians are also born (again), not made) and testified to the grace of God all his days. I can still recall him urging me to take Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour back in the early 80's. Something none of us should put off. This is a photo of the bible he lent me back then: https://flic.kr/p/c89QqA I looked on, as, one after another in the family were saved, including my nigh-senile grandmother and our father on his deathbed. It was my turn in 1985, after Neil had kindly taken me to countless meetings, camps and outings. In spite of significant health challenges, he still kept on keeping on. Success with his Utility Warehouse business was not at the cost of Sabbaths spent tasting the 'angels food' of precious times under God's Word at Tabernacle Cardiff.
The funeral was held at 2pm on Wednesday 31st August at Tabernacle Cardiff, Pen-y-Wain Road, Roath, Cardiff. It was broadcast live on YouTube and you can view it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=627DPiTjF-A
Neil was buried in Pantmawr Cemetery, just behind his nephew Padi, who passed away in 2013. Entrance to the cemetery is gained just opposite the entrance to Whitchurch Golf Club.
[with thanks to Daniel Lewis for help with some of the musical commentary]