Ian McMillan: My neighbour Holin and the Proms next door

WHEN I was a teenager, we moved from one side of Darfield to the other (my mother always said she lost her favourite Yorkshire pudding tins in the move, and she said that her Yorkshire puddings were never the same again because something precious had been lost but that's another story for another day) and I remember standing in the sunlit front room of our new home on that first afternoon when the removal men had gone and hearing gentle jazz piano music through the wall.

My mother, in the middle of arranging some knick-knacks on a shelf,

cocked her head and listened. "That's lovely," she said. "Really lovely," my dad agreed. And they stood there listening, for all the world like a pair of young lovers in a piano bar in New York City. Through 20-odd years in that house, the music carried on seeping

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through from next door, and I remember my mother towards the end of her life just sitting in the front room watching the world go by and listening to the music through the wall. Her foot would tap,

imperceptibly, and she'd smile.

And now, very sadly, the man who made that music is no longer with us: Holin Hammerton, music teacher, band leader, inspiration to many, and Darfield legend, died last week at a tragically early age and the world will be a less harmonious place without him. You may not have known Holin but don't feel excluded from this column because I bet you know somebody like him, somebody in your village or your town, your slice of Yorkshire; someone for whom music is the absolute be-all and end-all of life and somebody who thinks (although maybe they never articulate it like this) that music makes us into better human beings.

Holin (some people thought his name was a misprint for Colin but it isn't; Holin's a family name and somehow, with apologies to people called Colin, it's a more musical version of that name) taught music at the village comp, as well as playing organ at local clubs, and being musical director of endless amateur dramatic and operatic shows, and running his big band and his small ensemble and his singers and taking music lessons all over the place. My memories of living next door to him involve, as well as the music, glimpsing him late at night or in the early morning unloading or loading his creaking white van with instruments and music stands and reams and reams of sheet music

flapping in the wind and sometimes escaping and being blown across the fields towards Houghton Main pit.

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My three kids went to him and his superbly talented children Daniel and Rachel for lessons and sometimes through the wall we'd hear them all playing and Holin's wife Jackie singing in her lovely soprano voice.

It was like having the Proms next door; a kind of localised familiar

Proms that included everybody. I ended up living just across the road from my mother and dad which meant that whenever I visited them I could sit in the front room and get a concert for free.

I once made a programme for Radio 3 and I persuaded Holin to get some brass players to come down to my brother's allotment and serenade his plants. You're right: this would only work on Radio 3. Holin was highly amused and I'll always remember the site of him and the music stands and the players trooping up the path between the allotment fences, Holin laughing his head off (his laugh could be heard as far away as Lancashire) because he hadn't told the other players what they were doing. "At last I'm on Radio 3!" he chortled, and I was as proud as he was.

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He retired from teaching but like lots of busy people, retirement made him busier; the white van was replaced by red van and the garage at the bottom of his garden became a music room and often he'd be down there until the early hours arranging music and writing parts for players who might never have picked up an instrument if it wasn't for Holin. He always took time out, though, to rib me about the fortunes of Barnsley FC; he'd sit in his front room, and when he saw me walking by, he'd gesture downwards with his thumb, signifying Barnsley's imminent relegation.

And now the music is silenced and the light in the converted garage has been turned off. Generations of people in the Dearne Valley will shed a tear for a man who would stand at the front of a band or an orchestra and swing them into life with a "...three, four..." and they might have been nervous before they started but Holin made sure they weren't nervous for long.

I'm not being daft when I say that I feel like my mother did when her favourite Yorkshire pudding tins went astray during the move to Edderthorpe Lane: certain things will never be as lovely again. Thanks for the music, Holin.

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