Michael Drake: Broadland singer and critic wrote 1500 reviews for the EDP

PUBLISHED: 16:26 15 February 2013

EDP reviewer Mike Drake.
Photo: Paul Hewitt
Copy: Rachel Banham
For: EDP Sunday
EDP pics © 2005
(01603) 772434

EDP reviewer Mike Drake. Photo: Paul Hewitt Copy: Rachel Banham For: EDP Sunday EDP pics © 2005 (01603) 772434

In almost four decades of reviewing music and stage performances, Michael Drake, who has died aged 78, wrote around 1,500 reviews for the Eastern Daily Press.

He was respected by fellow performers and theatre professionals across Norfolk and further afield for his informed, balanced and fair appreciation in a reviewing career, which started, by chance, on May 6, 1976.

After a performance by the Norfolk School Symphonic Wind Band at Princes Street Church, Norwich, he submitted an on-spec piece to the Evening News, the EDP’s sister paper. The EDP’s late arts editor Charles Roberts then asked him to do more.

The former BBC radio continuity announcer wrote a dozen reviews that year. But by June 2005, he had filed his 1,000th review. As he recalled, when interviewed by the EDP, “it took me 20 years to do the first 500. And it has taken me 10 years to do the next 500.”

Born in Sprowston into a musical family, he went to Paston Grammar School, North Walsham. He had started singing by his grandmother’s piano and then at Sprowston Church alongside his father.

He sang in the choir at Norwich Cathedral, then tenor at St Andrew’s Church. For more than 30 years he sang with Broadland Singers, with his wife – whom he met when she was just 16 – and also the UEA choir.

After two years’ National Service in the RAF, he took his insurance exams at Norwich Union, where he won the Bignold Prize for highest marks. A qualified accident underwriter, he later edited Norwich Union’s house newspaper.

In June 1971, he joined the BBC’s team of radio newsreaders, mainly broadcasting early in the morning before heading across the road to Surrey Street.

Highlights of his first 500 reviews included the Vienna Boys’ Choir, Evelyn Glennie, Marti Webb and Petula Clarke.

After a horrific car accident in May 1993, his life was saved by the medical team at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn. But after some months, he was able to resume his reviewing career. A year later, he wrote moving in the EDP abut his “head-on” meeting with death.

An avid Norwich City supporter, he was a season ticket holder and always travelled by train from Brundall to Carrow Road with his daughter and grandson. And with his health failing, he even bought a season ticket for next season.

He also broadcast for Chatterbox, the talking newspaper for the blind, and just days before his death he spent hours recording and editing.

Among the many tributes, the EDP’s editor Nigel Pickover, said: “We will miss one of the longest serving reviewers who was hugely respected by thousands of music lovers and had a great following.”

Alison Croose, chairman of the King’s Lynn Festival added: “He had a genuine interest and enthusiasm for Lynn Festival and used his vast knowledge of the classical repertoire to write candid and balanced concert reviews for the EDP.”

John Bultitude, of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “His knowledge and passion for performance always shone through during his visits here over many years, together with a ready wit, gentle humour, and a strong interest in the theatrical world.”

Married for 52 years to Margaret, he leaves a daughter, Rachel, and a grandson and granddaughter.

A memorial service will be held at Blofield Church in early March.

Michael Pollitt

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