23rd May 1944 – 6th June 2015
David Francis Cowlishaw was born in Hertfordshire on the 23rd May 1944, the only child of John Hiram and Vera Annie Cowlishaw; the family moved to North Wingfield in Derbyshire when he was two years old. His mother played the piano at home and David took an interest in learning to play at an early age.
Later David sang in the village church choir (St Lawrence Church, North Wingfield) and developed a love for organ music, taking lessons from the local organist and then later from Graham Matthews, Organist at Sheffield Cathedral. Even as a young teenager he was playing Sunday Services at Pilsley Church, a neighbouring village, and serving as a relief organist at North Wingfield. David was an Associate of the London College of Music. His certificate, having been signed by William Lloyd Webber (father of Andrew and Julian), was framed and much prized.
Derbyshire was a big mining area in the 1960s and, after leaving Tupton Hall Grammar School, David went to work in the Science Laboratory attached to Clay Cross Colliery. His obvious interest in analytical science prompted one of the Senior Technicians to suggest he leave the Colliery and apply for a position in the Medical Laboratory at Chesterfield Royal Hospital. By now he had been appointed Organist at St Thomas’ Church, Brampton in Chesterfield.
David joined the hospital as a Junior Technician and studied hard for his accreditation exams externally. He eventually gained his Fellowship in Clinical Chemistry with the Institute of Medical Laboratory Sciences (FIMLS – equivalent to a degree status). Safety regulations were somewhat lax in those days and David, along with two other members of the Biochemistry Lab, contracted tuberculosis which left him with weakened lungs and in later years he developed a chronic cough.
David was a keen member of the Royal School of Church Music and used to enjoy attending various Choir Festivals round the country as well as the annual Summer School at Addington Palace, the headquarters of the RSCM, near Croydon.
In 1970 David met Gillian Mary Caroline Rowden, a chorister but otherwise a non-musician, at one of these Summer Schools and in June 1972 they were married by her father, the Revd Gilbert Martin Rowden, at St. Lawrence Church, Bradfield in Essex. The Organist was Dr. Gerald Knight, then Director of the Royal School of Church Music. Unfortunately, owing to a power cut and thunderstorm overhead, Dr. Knight had to content himself with playing the service on the piano only managing to perform Bach’s ‘Gigue’ Fugue on the organ in the final few minutes.
David and Gilly lived first in Chesterfield where David was at that time a very active member of the North East Derbyshire Organ Society. With the NEDOS the young couple participated in a number of enjoyable Organ Crawls during their first two years of marriage.
In 1974 David successfully applied for the post of Senior Medical Laboratory Technician in the Biochemistry Department at Leighton Hospital, near Crewe and the couple moved to Winsford in Cheshire. Elizabeth Mary Cowlishaw was born in this same hospital in August 1975. Beside his hospital work, David was Organist and Choirmaster at St John’s Church, Over in Winsford.
In September 1977 David was appointed Chief Medical Laboratory Technician at Mansfield General Hospital and for some months commuted between his parents’ home in North Wingfield and his own in Winsford. Eventually the house sale enabled the family to move to Mansfield six weeks before Gilbert Francis Cowlishaw was born in February 1978.
Owing to hospital on-call commitments, David was unable to take on a regular Organist post but he sang in the choir of St. Mark’s Church, Mansfield and served as a relief organist as often as possible. He continued to be an active member of both the RSCM and the Nottingham & District Society of Organists. At this time David also had an allotment, which took up much of his time and gave him great satisfaction putting his own father’s expertise to good use.
A number of RSCM activities at Southwell Minster and the quality of the Minster School Music Department were sufficient encouragement for the entire Cowlishaw family, including David’s mother, to move to Southwell in September 1986. David commuted to Mansfield daily; Elizabeth joined the first year of the Minster School; and Gilbert joined the Junior Department and became a Chorister at the Minster, initially under Rector Chori Kenneth Beard and then, from April 1989 under Paul Hale. Through Gilbert being a chorister Paul came to know David and Gill well, working with David on the Southwell & Notts RSCM Area Committee from 1989 until David’s death twenty-six years later. Paul found in David a passionate commitment to the cause of Anglican Church Music and utter dedication to his role as the Area Treasurer. David was intensely proud of his children’s musical interest and prowess. Elizabeth was immediately drawn to the ‘cello, so piano quickly took second place; Gilbert learned violin as well as piano and saxophone. David spent hours practising the accompaniments for their various Associated Board exams in order not to “let them down” and was always thrilled by their many achievements.
Between his garden, his own musical interests and supporting the children’s activities in the Minster, the RSCM, Newark Music School, Nottingham Youth Orchestra, Trent College Choir and Orchestra, Birmingham Conservatoire and Royal Holloway College London University, David was kept very busy: that was what he most liked. David was an active member of the Nottingham & District Society of Organists, serving as its President from 1996-97. He was well-known around the county for being an always willing stand-in organist, spending in some instances months acting as organist at various churches, notably Epperstone.
David and Gilly separated and were eventually divorced but remained close friends. He met his second wife, Gill, through a mutual admiration for Katherine Jenkins; they were married in 2009 and their happy marriage gave David additional energy and commitment to all his interests— particularly gardening and promoting the work of the RSCM—during their eight years together.
When David was diagnosed with prostate cancer it was a great shock to all the family but he approached it and overcame it with typical stoicism and bravery. He never let health issues curtail his activities and musical interests, which he was pursuing with vigour right up to the time of his fatal, and unexpected, heart attacks.
Gilbert Cowlishaw, edited with additions by Paul Hale
David’s funeral was held at St Mary’s, Newark on Wednesday 24th June.