Royal wedding organist returns to his roots at King Charles Martyr Church

Royal wedding organist returns to his roots at King Charles Martyr Church

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James McVinnie
James McVinnie - Playing at the Royal Festival Hall

Having played the organ for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, as well as for Pope Benedict’s UK state visit, James McVinnie is well used to performing at the highest level.

The 33 year-old, who grew up in Tunbridge Wells, has enjoyed a remarkable rise working with leading international composers, and is making a welcome return to his roots this month.

He will be at King Charles the Martyr Church to take part in the celebration of a £30,000 restoration of its 19th century organ, which has just been completed by specialists following a fundraising appeal.

James, who was organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge, went on to play in the hallowed environment of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and also became assistant organist at Westminster Abbey.

After years of performing within the classical world, he has ventured into a range of collaborations with pop and rock artists from leading bands including Arcade Fire and The National.

He released a debut album in 2013 called Cycles, and has expanded his musical experience through joining an eclectic Icelandic music collective called The Bedroom Community, which saw him venture to Reykjavik for a series of recording sessions.

Now firmly back in the UK, he is looking forward to catching up with friends and family for his Kent performance. He said: “It’s going to be nice to be back in Tunbridge Wells to play in what is a beautiful space.

“I have known the church well as the organist Michael Bacon used to let me use the organ there, so it will be good to play it in its fully restored state. My other link to the church is in having sung in a choir there,” explained the musician, who now lives in London.

Church Organ
The new church organ

As he conceded, becoming a professional organ player isn’t something that might have been an obvious career path to most. But from a young age, he was hooked on playing, and his family supported his ambitions. With some determination he has pursued his dream, but of all his experiences, what has he enjoyed most about his chosen instrument?

“That’s almost impossible to answer. Being an organist, you have access to some amazing spaces, and I’ve worked in places like St. Paul’s Cathedral which just have such great history and heritage. It really makes you feel a part of the fabric of it all when you are there. Getting to play places like the Royal Festival Hall is also really special.”

Among his many highlights was a project with Turner arts prize winner Martin Creed last year. His time at Westminster Abbey also proved exceptionally memorable in performing to a global TV audience for the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

He recalled: “That was very special, and a once in a lifetime experience. It was my role to perform before the service began for all the guests arriving. We had two or three days of cameras around us beforehand, so we felt very prepared for it all. The ceremony itself was amazing. I didn’t get to meet William and Kate, but they did spend time with guests.”

While there may not be quite the same level of pressure attached to his Kent performance, he is very much anticipating playing one of the instruments that helped him on his way to forging a remarkable career.

The concert at King Charles the Martyr Church is at 3pm on Sunday, 28th February, featuring music from the 16th to the 21st centuries. Admission is free.