Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Light: Meet Dr David Crilly, Artistic Director and hospice hero

Published on: 04/07/2023

David Crilly might not agree with the label hospice hero but, nevertheless, that is what he is!

As founder and Artistic Director of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, which has been running annually from mid-July until the end of August for over 36 years in the Cambridge University college gardens, David has helped to raise significant monies for his chosen charities, Wirral Hospice St John’s and Milton Childrens’ Hospice in Cambridge.

The donations to Wirral Hospice, in memory of his sister Margaret, Margie, who was with us at the hospice in 1999, are totalling over £55,000 now. We really could not be more grateful.

David recalls Margie so very fondly. She was his big sister, six years older, a childminder by profession and he recalls that, from a very young age, she would look after him while warehouseman dad, Eddie, and dinner lady mum, Nancy were out working.

The whole family, including David’s other sibling, Ken, and Margie’s son, also David, were devastated when Margie was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1998 and then when, all the treatments, care and support, had afforded her some more time with her precious family she passed away in August 1999.

(L-R) Margie, Ken and David Crilly as children

For David, there are moving memories of frequent trips back and forth from Cambridge to visit Margie in the hospice when the Festival was also in full swing.

“Margie was really stoical, determined to stay positive and always thinking of the rest of us. The hospice staff went more than the extra mile, helping Margie with her make-up to receive her visitors. They were all absolutely brilliant.”

In the months following Margie’s passing, David, by now a university lecturer in Cambridge, (D.Phil, no less, from Magdalen College, Oxford), and an accomplished, self-taught, rock (and classical) guitarist, wrote a full elegy for orchestra and voices in her memory named, In That Quiet Earth.

It has only been played twice, first in 1999, and then a reprise on 27th August, 2019, as a twenty year memorial for Margie’s passing. Although, in essence, poignant, evocative and melancholic, it is a stirring piece punctuated with some thought-provoking poems by historic /poets, each of which embrace themes on the meaning of life and death. A view/listen is highly recommended at this link www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGMUUCjQLTc

David, again he won’t sit easy with the description, might be described as one of Wirral’s hidden gems. He came from a humble background in Birkenhead, via the old St Hugh’s secondary school (The Yozzers), which he left with one ‘O’ level,’ and then worked his way up to become a doctor in philosophy from Oxford University!

After school, Leeds College of Music invited David to play a piece on his classical guitar to be admitted for its three-year performance course. The only potential downside was that he couldn’t read music! So he prepared a piece by ear, placed its sheet music in front of him and proceeded to play.

Good job they didn’t ask me to start from a random point in the middle of the piece because I would have been rumbled. Mind you, I might have ended up in a rock band making millions”, David laughs.

Well, David IS actually playing tribute rock music (well more homage – it’s all about the music), Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, through his company, Open Hand Productions. (Look out, too, for his latest project, the Classic Rock Playlist, coming to The Floral Pavilion, New Brighton on 15th September).

So, Leeds led onto the University of Southampton followed by Oxford University, to complete his D.Phil on the Philosophical Considerations of Music Analysis, where David established himself at the centre of the university’s cultural life.

What is now the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival had taken seed at Oxford. The Oxford festival became the Oxford-Cambridge Festival before becoming the massive draw it is for the city of Cambridge today, annually attracting upwards of 30,000 people – what else are you going to do with those beautiful green spaces during the Summer Months?

The festival has been praised in national newspapers, with The Sunday Times labelling it the most culturally significant event in the region, and The Independent had it listed fourth on its take on the Top 50 Arts Festivals in the UK.

As well as all the “fantastic actors and performers,” David gets all the support in the world from his family, including long-term partner Jan, who is also executive producer of the festival alongside their son, Josh, who is production manager and daughter, Lauren, who brought David and Jan’s grandchildren Theo, Sebastian and Liberty into their family fold.

So it is a full life, well-lived, and one we can all be sure that sister Margie would be very proud of for her little brother, Dr David Crilly.

Many, many, thanks from everyone at the hospice David and, to quote the opening line from Twelfth Night, ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’

Play on David, play on!