Lowestoft teacher and musician Ian Prettyman was an East Anglian through and through

Ian Prettyman sets feet tapping and hands clapping with a rousing melodeon medley at St Mary’s Churc

Ian Prettyman sets feet tapping and hands clapping with a rousing melodeon medley at St Mary’s Church in Beeston – scene of the final Mardling and Music Evening alongside Skip on Saturday, October 1, 2016 - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper pays tribute to close friend Ian Prettyman who was well known in the Lowestoft area as a teacher and had a real love of music

For someone so richly blessed in musical talents, Ian Prettyman was notably reluctant to blow his own trumpet.

A good friend and loyal backer of my entertaining adventures for over 30 years, he relished deep Lowestoft family roots as popular teacher, Methodist preacher and unstinting ambassador for local traditions.

Ian died recently at 79. “A full and varied life at the heart of a community he loved to serve” does scant justice to a modest, thoughtful, respected and dependable character who regarded his own achievements as of far less significance than the people and causes they helped.

With Suffolk family links stretching back centuries, and immediate ancestors living in Lowestoft since 1830, he found much to admire and share in local history. Other passions included church archaeology, theology, walking and painting and sketching.

Music, however, ran through so much of his busy agenda. Ian was performer with and chairman of Lowestoft Choral Society for 20 years as well as musical director of the Trinity Singers attached to Trinity Methodist Church in the town.

He taught in Lowestoft schools for 36 years, mainly religious education, but also occasionally took lessons in geography and history – as well as giving guitar tuition on the side. He also enjoyed the role of musical director of Elm Tree Middle School handbell team until his retirement from the classroom in 2002.

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Determined to preserve vital strands of our music and language heritage, he became an active member of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust. Their administrator, Alex Bartholomew, said Ian had been “a valued performer, volunteer and supporter .. a familiar and friendly face at our events”.

I echo such sentiments about Ian’s long-running stints with my Press Gang troubadours around theatres, village halls and other temples of homely culture for 25 years, as resident musician and singer in productions of All Preachers Great and Small and in the guise of perfect sidekick for a series of fundraising Mardling and Music Evenings in local churches.

Selections of stirring local farming, fishing and chuckle-loaded folk songs along with catchy medleys on his trusty melodeon paid full testament to a consummate performer in all kind of shows. He could fill gaps at a second’s notice or, as often arose when comedians forgot there was an interval, trim his output to help the tea ladies!

His heartfelt unaccompanied rendition of Farmer’s Boy crowned many a memorable evening after fellow melody man Danny Platton had set up a grand finale with a rousing version of the unofficial Norfolk Anthem, Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy? Their contrasting contents and styles sat perfectly among generous dollops of home-made culture and squit.

We learnt something about Mr Prettyman the long-term Lowestoft schoolmaster as he punctuated stage outings with questions to the audience before musical treats. Like how many notes in an octave and name of the instrument he was nursing.

A useful lesson on where and when to push or pull on his melodeon and scene-setting for tunes coming up, some his own compositions, relaxed gatherings for bouts of jiffling, stretching and foot-tapping. Ideal exercise to stir the blood in big churches with little heat. We sampled several of those on our rounds.

Ian’s daughters, Carol and Susan, remind me he would often say: “I’m East Anglian first, English second. And as far as I’m concerned, East Anglia is only Norfolk and Suffolk”. Our good-natured rivalry on and off stage crystallised into a need to glory in our differences and celebrate what we had in common.

Ironically, Ian was the only genuine preacher on parade as All Preacher Great and Small embarked on a tour of local churches and chapels – and he interspersed with suitable musical items.

While I knitted shows together, colleagues Brian Patrick, David Woodward and latterly Jason Bell, dressed up and performed as their diary-keeping “altar egos” Rev. Benjamin Armstrong, Victorian Vicar of East Dereham, and Parson James Woodforde, who cared for his flock at Weston Longville in Georgian times.

A fully-accredited local preacher, Ian served as Methodist Church representative on the Suffolk Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education from 1988 until 2019.

A family funeral service is being held at end of this month. When lockdown regulations are sufficiently eased there’ll be an opportunity to pay wider tribute at a celebration for an outstanding life.

Norfolk and Suffolk – that’s East Anglia – will lead a triumphant chorus of Farmer’s Boy.

SKIP’S ASIDE: It’s uncanny where the mind can go when you’re cooped up in the same place with the same people for what seems like an eternity...

Still, that’s enough about treble geometry or double algebra at school in the 1950s. Let’s push the clock forward to a lockdown marathon starting in earnest for many this year on Monday, March 16.

Cromer had a bit of previous when it came to getting used to what is fast becoming strong favourite for most-used word of 2020. Fears over public safety led to parts of the town and coastal neighbour Sheringham being “put in lockdown” after disturbances in August three years ago.

These were said to coincide with arrival of a group of travellers who set up camp on the Runton Road car park. The national press gave this episode lurid headlines and it’s clear some local businesses were badly affected. A lively public debate over police resources followed.

Our current lockdown is lasting a lot longer and now appears to be playing strange tricks with my customary ability to treat our glorious language with relish and respect. A certain theme has taken over all my attempts to use so much spare time on potentially lucrative projects of a creative nature.

I thought of writing a family historical drama set in a big old country house with social distancing a traditional way of life. Lockdownton Abbey seemed like a good working title and it fired hopes of a film version put together by that popular culture icon Quentin Quarantino.

He declined my offer because of “too few non-linear storylines and blatant lack of aestheticisation of violence”. Fair enough ... he highlights inherent weaknesses in my work since the runaway success of Sap Rise to Cringleford, Waiting For Godwick and Cley Noon.

I didn’t fare much better when Dixon of Dockdown Green vainly tried to make a tv comeback and a likely song for Europe called The Final Lockdown went directly to Graham Norton – and came straight back again.

Must be safe with a cricket volume, History of English Spin Bowling. No, I got no-balled before getting into my delivery stride just for writing: “What a Surrey and England partnership … Jim Laker with Tony Lock down the other end!”