HOW DID IT ALL START- A LOOK BACK
As Sceptre Promotions Keyboard Cavalcade Festivals celebrate their 28th year, we take a brief look back to the roots of these special events and how it all started. Founded by Roy Neal, Sceptre Promotions first `Keyboard Entertainment ' festival was launched in May 1985 - but you don't just decide to start an organ festival, so how did it all start?
Roy Neal followed in his parent’s footsteps by opening his own retail shop initially selling jewellery and watches, while his passion for music (jazz) was fulfilled by forming his own band called “Roy Neal and His Rhythm”. The years passed and his business interests developed well although they changed to better meet his personal interest in music and reading/writing. The jeweler's shop became a bookshop, and then the books shared space with records, followed by various musical instruments, as the shop became known as Reading, Records & Rhythm! The big change came about because of a chance visit by a keyboard salesman in the early 70's, the salesman unveiled a single keyboard "Tiger Organ", resplendent on its own stand and featuring chunky plastic `pull-out' switches to operate the voices. It was quickly snapped up, found its way home and a new personal passion for the wonderful hobby of making your own keyboard music was born. Self taught, Roy's passion for the organ grew by the day and gradually he managed to earn a living from his hobby by developing his retail business into a company called Treasure Music. The chain of keyboard shops grew to become one of the UK's largest organ retailers and Roy’s son Grant eventually joined the business, starting as tea boy and ending up managing one of the locations which included all musical instruments (not just keyboards), this was probably a good thing for a long haired youngster with a passion for heavy metal music and Martial Arts, a sport Grant still enjoys today, it was Taekwondo at that time and he claimed a podium spot at a UK national competition!
Do you remember these names from the 70’s: Thomas, (remember Harold Smart), Gulbranson, Riha, Eminent, Wurlitzer, Elka, Selina, Panasonic/Technics, Kawai, Farfisa, Crumar, Bentley - all sadly no longer around - the `note glow' system that Thomas introduced, the first multi-voices from Riha and that terrible third keyboard synthesiser on the bigger home Wurlitzers? One of the favourites of the day was the Lowrey Symphony Holiday with real Leslie speakers and Symphonic Strings, many featured a built-in cassette recorder, in fact I bet some of you still have a tape recording somewhere, from the days before sequencers & burning CD’s! Of course Lowrey are still going strong today over a quarter of a century later, along with others who have been at the top since those early days in the 70’s - Hammond, Yamaha, Orla, Wersi, Casio, Roland, Korg, Bohm and others! How technology has moved on, to bring us sampled sounds, Midi, disk drives, USB and much more, today the organ is certainly the complete home orchestra/instrument. Treasure Music saw over eleven years of success spreading the word on all things organ, there was even a mobile demonstration van that appeared at local markets around the region, sadly the early 80's recession saw the closure of the chain, but the passion lived on. All those years of `keyboard experience' were put to good use elsewhere!
Grant ended up driving a left hand drive van across Europe from Italy, with four instruments bolted on board. UK customs didn't know what to make of it and tried to send them back. Much explaining later he was allowed in! So if you saw somebody demonstrating Lira keyboards and organs on the back of a left hand drive van with a petrol generator for power, it was Grant Neal sole UK LIRA salesman, some claim to fame!!!! Grant remembers: “Years later I bumped into top organist Mark Whale at one of our shows and he remembered me parking in the street outside the Coventry music shop where he worked at the time, I was struggling to start the petrol generator before sitting in the back of the huge battered LHD van to demonstrate the organs bolted inside, a strange sight for passers by to be sure”! He then moved away from the keyboard world and enjoyed a successful career in the corporate world.
Roy in the meantime, was capturing his years of experience on paper and this saw the publication of `The Magic of the Organ', one of the best selling organ books ever! This grew into a series of Play Organ Professionally tutorial books which were produced at the same time as he was hosting an organ show on Hereward Radio and editing a popular organ magazine of the day! As a means of exposing his books Roy would visit various early festivals and give free master classes in return for a `pitch'. This was where the idea of the Cavalcade festival was born, talking to hundreds of enthusiasts and asking what they wanted from a festival. Using enthusiast’s ideas, his passion and a favourite location in Norfolk (near the Broads) the festivals were born, aiming to offer seven nights of musical magic, run as a family business with wife Betty taking the bookings. From the start Sceptre Promotions festivals have been events shaped by ideas, input and requests from enthusiastic guests, or Cavalcadian’s as they are fondly know. Two years after the launch of Caister it was Cavalcadian input that saw the birth of the Keyboard Cavalcade magazine in 1987, now the country's leading monthly keyboard publication. Keyboard and organ sales, demonstrations, lessons, repairs, imports, books, tutorials, radio shows, festivals, magazines and more.... a wealth of experience has gone into the development of Sceptre Promotions. More than this, it is and has always been a family business with family values.
Although they sadly lost their founding `Father' Roy Neal in 1991, the magic has lived on, son Grant returned to the fold leaving a senior corporate role to return to the family business ensuring it continued with the help of Betty and his partner Sue. The festival team also worked closely with the family to ensure the festivals and magazine continued to go from strength to strength, Peter and Kathy Hayward, Chris Jones, Lewis, Sheila and Richard Bower, plus Ian Griffin and Penny Weedon have all been with the shows from the start. While slightly more recent but no less able full time team additions include Daniel Watt, Darrel and Jean Lomas, David Thomas and John Jackaman. With additional magazine contributions from experts like Janet Dowsett (FLCM, LLCM), Len Rawle (MBE), Trevor Brown, Bill Irwin, Lillian Boucher, Ian King, Michael Wooldridge and many others too numerous to mention. Not forgetting the friendly all-star cast of top artists and loyal hardworking retailers involved with the shows and magazine. Since that very major hiccup nineteen years ago things have continued to go from strength to strength and the events have grown to attract enthusiasts from all around the globe, becoming the world’s largest week-long organ festivals and the magazine has gone from strength to strength.
There have been a few moves and changes along the way. The specialist direct-mail magazine has evolved from its original A3 broadsheet newspaper format (yes really!!), to a quarter-fold design and it now combines a coated outer section for best storage, with white wove non-coated paper inside so it doesn’t reflect and is the ideal size to best fit on the music rest. The content has remained true to its roots with lots of top quality tutorial to help improve your playing skills and special arrangements of good quality music to play each month. You will also find the latest news, views and reviews, along with a monthly concerts diary for the keyboard/organ scene. You can even sell your musical items via the free classifieds section.
The festivals have also evolved - the two original events at Caister-on Sea proved so successful that a new “towering” event was launched “up north” on the west coast at Blackpool, in 1991, this proved just as popular. In 2002 Sceptre started working with Glyn and Cathy Madden (owners of the Yamaha Club www.yamaha-club.co.uk), hiring the venue and dealing with all the bookings for their specialist Yamaha owner's hobby holiday event at Alvaston Hall in Cheshire. After many successful years at Caister (the East Coast festival venue), the centre was taken over by Bourne Leisure and changed from a friendly, comfortable holiday centre to an owner based caravan park, so after 20 great years the event moved just down the coast to Pakefield (near Lowestoft) in 2006. In 2008 Sceptre’s portfolio expanded again and they started to work with Heather Smith of Accordion Profile, helping organize the venues and bookings for two popular accordion events. In 2009 the Yamaha Club event moved up-market to the 4 star Q-hotel – the Oxford Belfry. Meanwhile on the west coast Keyboard Cavalcade also moved from their regular home (at Pontin’s Blackpool) to a better venue down the road in a quieter more gentile area of Blackpool, the Norbreck Castle hotel – which has proved to be a very popular change, with everything under one roof, ideal whatever the weather. During 2012 the Yamaha Club chose another 4-star Q-hotel, just for a change, the lovely Hellidon Lakes Leisure and Spa hotel. In late 2011 Britannia Leisure had purchased the Pakefield centre and new changes they applied didn’t suit the festival set-up, which requires every corner of any venue to accommodate all the many musical activities, exhibitions, concerts and seminars. So for 2013 another chapter begins at an exciting new venue, with the East Coast festival returning next door to Caister at Hembsy-on Sea - using the comfortable, cosy Richardsons holiday village called Seacroft. Sceptre Promotions have already worked with the Seacroft team, presenting an accordion festival at the centre, and their friendly helpful team and great centre venues were given the big thumbs up, the first event was another complete sell out 28 years after the first event was launched. This brings us up to date, as Sceptre Promotions Ltd look forward, with a total of six top hobby holidays for enthusiasts to enjoy, and the ever-popular Organ and Keyboard Cavalcade magazine providing all that is best in the wonderful world of organs and keyboards.
We asked Grant to round off the piece by asking him why the shows and magazine have endured the test of time?: "I think the festival and magazine’s success has been about running the company for Cavalcadians rather than ourselves, listening to what they want and trying to deliver each new show and magazine tweaked, fine tuned and hopefully slightly better each time. We are still a small family firm with those same family values and this combined with our long-term expert festival and magazine team has ensured we are still faithful to those principles today. We also try hard to offer good value keeping prices as low as we can while trying to cram the festival days full with as much entertainment as possible and the magazines pages with good quality content. Of course we mustn’t forget the superb and consistent performances given by the keyboard world’s superb playing talent in concert and in imparting their knowledge. Then there is also the input that all the manufacturers and dealers have into the show, they all work hard to try and add a little extra something. Most of all may I say a huge thank you to all the thousands of Cavalcadian’s out there, your support has helped to create the friendly atmosphere that makes the festivals unique, long may the magic live on".