A FORMER Kendal organist has died at the age of 68.

Hugh Davies had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died peacefully at home.

Mr Davies was born in Pembrokeshire and attended Fishguard County Secondary School – one of the first comprehensive schools in Wales. His mother was a secretary at the school and his father worked on the railway. His first organ teacher was Peter Boorman of St David’s Cathedral, but it was as a choral scholar that he went up to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge in 1970. At Cambridge he was strongly influenced by the teaching of Peter le Huray and later continued his organ studies with Gillian Weir.

His first appointment was as assistant organist at Carlisle Cathedral where for 11 years he worked closely with Andrew Seivewright. In addition to the schedule of daily services, broadcasts and concerts, Mr Davies taught at the Friends’ School, Wigton. Highlights from this period include the Royal Maundy service (1978) and the annual Border Cathedrals Festival, which also involved the choirs of Newcastle and St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh. Mr Davies' reputation as a solo organist grew steadily, with a wide repertoire of virtuoso showpieces seemingly at his fingertips. In 1983 he broadcast a programme of organ duets with John Walker from St Stephen’s church, Edinburgh, for the BBC. His work with local choirs, such as Wigton Choral Society, was highly respected, and he was frequently invited to work for the Royal School of Church Music on its popular residential courses.

In 1985, Mr Davies moved to St Asaph Cathedral as organist and master of the choristers, where he played a major part in the musical life of the region. In addition to his cathedral work, Mr Davies directed the St Asaph Choral Society and became heavily involved in the North Wales Music Festival. He was known for his good-humoured energy and high standards – hugely respected by the numerous singers and instrumentalists he directed over the next 12 years.

Despite the challenge of working in a predominantly nonconformist environment where formalised Anglican liturgy is the exception rather than norm, Mr Davies maintained a cathedral choir in St Asaph which undertook three Sunday services and at least two evensongs each week. Links were established with a local school in order to provide trebles. Mr Davies was appointed organ adviser to the diocese and became an examiner for the ABRSM exam board. A major project was the rebuilding of the cathedral organ by Wood of Huddersfield in 1998 in which a core of nineteenth-century Hill pipework became a splendid four-manual instrument which was true to its origins. An image of Mr Davies’ cat, Sam, is beautifully carved into the casework.

The funeral of William Mathias was held in St Asaph in 1992, at which the BBC National Orchestra of Wales played under Mr Davies' direction. His orchestration of the Welsh national anthem is memorable for its soaring horn parts and scintillating fanfares.

Although his departure from St Asaph was unhappy, in 1999 Mr Davies returned to Cumbria as director of music at Kendal Parish Church. His characteristic vigour and enthusiasm again produced outstanding results: the choir sang twice at St Paul’s Cathedral and visited Trinity College, Cambridge and Geneva. Under Mr Davies' direction the Kendal South Choir flourished, but he was not above playing a good-humoured trick on them. In 2005 the choir was due to perform the Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle, for which a companion piece was needed. Mr Davies eventually came up with a Sanctus by a certain Stefano Maritozzi, whose biographical details were vague to say the least. The work, receiving its first – and only – performance, was by Mr Davies himself; a ‘Maritozzi’ turned out to be some sort of Italian cream-filled bun!

Andrew Johnstone, of Trinity College Dublin, recalls another of Mr Davies' jokes: “Hugh was examining for the ABRSM and invited me to the old-fashioned guest house where he was staying for the week. There the landlady insisted on opening a bottle of red for us, which was not only deplorable plonk but also turned out to be horribly corked. Hugh excused himself on the grounds that he had to make a telephone call, and on returning a few minutes later handed me a slip of paper which he described as ‘a telephone message’. In fact it read: ‘I have just switched your glass for another containing some decent claret I had in my suitcase. I’ll pop out in a moment to change the other glass as well’!”

In 2008 Mr Davies retired in order to continue his worldwide examining work. He had been recognised by the Archbishop of Wales’ Award for Church Music and made an honorary ARSCM.

Mr Davies' great love of life, people and music was obvious to all who knew him: he was a superb cook and a generous host, as well as being an outstanding musician.