Will Shaftesbury Host The World’s Oldest Fringe Performer?

The Australian press made a fuss about Adelaide’s Fringe, featuring a 92-year-old performer. Scottish newspapers marvelled when a 90-year-old woman took to the stage at Edinburgh’s event. But once again, Shaftesbury is going one better!

People attending this year’s Shaftesbury Fringe will enjoy performances from a 93-year-old Shaftesbury resident. Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred met Tony Hawkins to hear about his plans.

Tony Hawkins will be 93¾ when he performs his own, hour-long show at 7.30pm on Friday, 5th July. But Tony, who lives in Bimport, won’t acknowledge that he is the oldest performer booked in for the festival. He says he can’t accept the ‘Father of the Fringe’ title until performer registration closes in mid-April. “There may be some other old person who will say ‘I’m older than you are’,” said Tony.

Tony Hawkins

The former Head of Music and Drama at Shaftesbury School spotted Tony’s talent and suggested that Tony should book a Fringe performance. “David Grierson, whom everybody knows, said to me ‘Why don’t you do Tony Hawkins and Friends?’” said Tony.

Tony is thankful to the Shaftesbury’s Church of England team for accommodating his show at St Peter’s Church. He’s put together a programme that’s perfect for the setting. “It’s partly sacred and partly secular. It is a miscellany of both, by miscellaneous local musicians,” he said. “Maria Marton is a wonderful Hungarian soprano. She used to teach me singing before I had lessons from Samantha, who teaches me now. I’m going to have a go at the tenor piece in Gregorio Allegri’s ‘Miserere Mei, Deus’,” said Tony.

He’s undertaken some research into the composer. “Allegri was a choirmaster in the Sistine Chapel. The Pope was so enamoured of his piece, he said that anybody who tried to play it outside the Sistine Chapel would be ex-communicated. Mozart, at the age of 14, managed to creep in, then went home and copied it out. Once it was out, the Pope couldn’t do anything,” Tony explained.

Tony has arranged for a singer blessed with an excellent vocal range to bring out the best of the piece. “Maria Marton is going to sing the very high note – and it goes right up. I’m going to have a bash at the tenor solo. There’s a bass member of our community choir, Richard Clarke. He’s prepared to have a go at the bass.” Members of Shaftesbury’s Palida choir will provide the vocals for the chorus.

As well as receiving singing lessons, Tony has been learning the saxophone. He says that his teacher, Karen Wimhurst, thinks he may be ready to perform in public. “Karen is a very, very good teacher. And she is trying to train me and she says that I might be good enough for Fringe,” said Tony.

So never say that you’re too old to try new skills! Tony only decided to take up the saxophone after a recent birthday. “I had just turned 93. I love it!” he enthused. “I make all sorts of weird noises and that makes both Karen and me laugh.”

Tony also intends to play the violin during his show. He learned the instrument as a boy and he’s just rediscovered it after 70 years! “I had other things to do. I had a wife and then a family and all the other distractions, like all my various hobbies. I really did put my violin down and I returned to it about two years ago,” said Tony.

So is playing the violin after such a long time similar to riding a bike again? Do you always retain the skill? “Well, you can fall off a bike. And I dare say I will fall off a few times with my violin too,” Tony laughed.

Tony is hoping to perform a piece from the film ‘Ladies in Lavender’ which starred Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Tony’s grandmother once owned his violin. An inscription says that it was made in 1704 in Milan. Tony took it to Bonhams for valuation but he was told that it was made of multiple kinds of wood and was only worth around £60. He laughs as he recounts the story.

Still, playing a Hawkins heirloom brings a family connection to Tony’s show, which perhaps should be called ‘Tony Hawkins and Friends… and Family’. “I will perform with my son Richard, too. He is a very good guitarist. He plays in gigs in London. We’re going to sing a thing by John Denver called ‘Perhaps Love’,” Tony said.

Tony’s show will feature performances by David Grierson on the sax and also with Caroline Collins on the piano. Fans of the clarinet will enjoy Karen Wimhurst’s solo. Barbara Jones will perform a piece on the cello.

It’s the most ambitious project yet for Tony. He began hosting bi-monthly tea dances last year. And he’s doing it simply because he enjoys it. “I love life. I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Tony said.

Last year, Shaftesbury Fringe was England’s third largest open performance festival and it looks like the 2019 event will be even bigger. With Tony’s registration, 76 performances are confirmed so far for the three-day event. 52 performances had booked at this point last year.

There are three weeks to go before the closing date for entries on 14th April. If you, a friend or relative would like to perform at Fringe, between 5th and 7th of July, you’re advised to register at ShaftesburyFringe.co.uk today. Some venues are filling up fast. There are only three slots left at the Shaston Club, which is one of the Fringe’s comedy, variety and cabaret venues.