Well, I must say it's always nice to be remembered - Large Hat or not!
Actually, on the Willis information side of things first, to prevent any possible misconception or, perish the thought, disinformation or misinformation from the usual sources: I took over as Managing Director on the 7th October 1997 when I was 'put in' by HW4 (who had retired earlier that year but who still held the majority shareholding) and when the two Joint Managing Directors, both Family Members, were removed - the reasons for this are not important.
Following this I and a so-called friend (of eleven years), a VERY rich man, purchased the shareholding in its entirety - this involved a very long and complex legal settlement to all of the family members and Trusts which were individual share holders. The point of this was that, over the next 12-24 months, I and my partner were to buy out the full shareholding from my 'friend'.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with very rich men, he discovered the value of property and chattels in the company and rather clumsily set about trying to sell it all out from under me - asset stripping is the common terminology. So I fought him. We eventually bought him off.
Petersfield had for a long time been thought to be much too far south for the purposes of the daily running of a firm whose interests were nationwide and so the move northwards was decided upon - we first planned to go to Sheffield but then it was suggested to me that Liverpool would be a better option. We have had a Branch of one size or another in Liverpool since 1854 and our present address is less-than-100 yards from the registered address in 1860.
So that there is NO confusion: Henry Willis & Sons Ltd is the same Company as that registered under the old Lewis Reg. No. (70718) in 1901 and which transfered to HW&S following the Willis family' Partners' buying the shareholding in Lewis & Co in 1919. There is no 'New' firm, merely a change of Directors and Shareholders as takes place in all Limited Companies over a long period. The Company never ceased trading and never had the financial difficulties alluded to by some in the past.
We purchased, outright, the freehold, land, buildings and contents of the former Rushworth & Dreaper company in 2003 - the only thing we didn't get, which we had actually made sure was included in the sale, was all of the paper records of R&D - unfortunately these were all removed and shredded before we could prevent it. A great and very important loss as far as I'm concerned.
Paul is very gracious in referring to our latest minor triumph in the job at Ruthin. We actually don't feel the need for constant rounds of advertising as our workload is constant and very high - there are some contributors to this list who come here to the Works at intervals and who see what is happening here and will, I am sure, let me know if they think I overstate the case! However, there is a recent item of news which I think that we shall be making a little noise about and that is that we recently signed contracts for a new organ for a church in Florence - 24 stops, mechanical, with Willis 'Floating Lever' action.
One thing that has always amazed me is the attitude to, and received opinion of, the firm, certainly during the period before my coming in - on a pretty much daily basis we see stuff (some of it recent) which is beyond belief and so much worse than anything Willis's ever did and yet these perpetrators, who are still very much around, appear to walk away from their doings apparently unscathed and with the blessing of their local 'Experts'! Perhaps its just that HW4 presented a full-on and rather easy target?
Now, as to the Mirabilis Records side of things: I started Mirabilis in 1989 because I was completely sick and tired of listening to recordings of music which I knew, possibly all-too-well, on organs which I knew didn't sound like that! I didn't need to hear any undue amount of detail - in fact, I didn't want to hear any more detail in a recording than I would have heard had I been there in the building. So I'm sorry to Paul that his reasons for not liking what I did are my reasons for doing it!
As to microphone placement, well, where do we begin? Certainly NOT by placing microphones of any size, description or type, on the ground - where did that one come from? Head height in the building was only ever what we did - the only part to stand on the ground, was the stand.
However, I do think that I know how Paul has picked up on the 'ground' point: Bass frequencies like flat surfaces and long, smooth, flat surfaces at that, in order properly to propagate the wave and a part of my explanatory talk to various groups (who were kind enough and generally interested enough to invite me to speak to them with my views on the subject) attempted to demonstrate this point. The fact that one's microphone was placed closer to the ground at head height than it would be at, say, 25ft on a montrous stand, within 10 feet of the front of the organ case will, I am sure all will see, result in a higher (and dare I say correctly-balanced) bass response.
All of my recordings were also produced in (full) UHJ format, including height information where anyone reproducing the sound might have the correct decoding equipment properly to realise it. On normal, simple, two-channel Stereo equipment this will tend to increase middle to bass response too. I only ever listened to these on UHJ surroundsound equipment, so I make no apology - I still think that these are real performances in a real acoustic and not what I would prefer to hear.
Martin Monkman only took on the Bairstow recording and I was happy to let him have it, as my respect for what he was doing and how he was doing it allowed me to think that he wouldn't try to 'improve' it.
Other unpublished recordings of my friend Richard Marlow at Trinity College Cambridge, have since been issued on other labels (ASV and Conifer).
It wouldn't do for us all to like to same things and Paul's requirement for detail is understood while not being agreed with by me - there is plenty of stuff available which provides exactly what is required there. All I would say, possibly in my own defence (if that is required) is that in 16 titles we never had anything other than first-class reviews.
A final point: in 1990 when I approached a fairly well-known organisation to arrange distribution I was fairly giggled at for my views on single microphone technique and the 'don't fiddle with it' approach to recording. I was more-than-slightly amused to see that, within a short period they had adopted more-or-less the same technique and had even plagiarised our description of it in their own advertising materials. C'est la vie, n'est ce pas?!
Big Hat number 1 off- Biig Hat number 2 on:
If anyone would like to come to the works, just let me know;
If anyone would like a copy of a short brochure (21 pages) we produced last year (to give out to members of visiting Organists' Association's etc.) please send me address details and we'll post them out;
The out-of-date website has been mentioned - sorry for this, we have simply been too busy to deal with updating it! However, there will be changes very soon so keep looking.
Sorry, this has gone on a bit - but better to have it all out at once I suppose, to prevent any degeneration.
HENRY WILLIS & SONS LTD.