taking our culture forward

John Bethell MBE has played an enormous role in the arts in the Isle of Man over a number of decades. After growing up in Manchester and working as a musician, conductor and the music librarian for BBC North, he moved to the Isle of Man – the place of many a family holidays in his youth – when the Methodist chapel that was to become the Erin Arts Centre was put up for sale. With John’s dedication and hard work, along with the help of friends and local trustees, the Erin Arts Centre came into being in May 1971, immediately aetting off on its path of hosting an impressive array of artists. The Erin Arts Centre, in Port Erin, is still going strong.

In this interview, John discusses how he came to organise a number of international festivals and competitions, which have been held regularly at the Erin Arts Centre over the past five decades. These include the annual Mananan International Festival; Mananan Opera Festival; Lionel Tertis International Viola Festival and Competition; Evelyn Barbirolli International Oboe Festival and Competition; Young Singer of Mann and Young Musician of Mann. John also discusses the incredible time that 48 double bassists came with their instruments to the Isle of Man in 1978 for the International Double Bass Competition and Workshop. This event was captured in the BBC documentary, ‘The Great Double Bass Race,' where the first couple of minutes includes the iconic scene of 48 double bassists playing Saint-Saëns' ‘The Elephant’ on the Port Erin seafront, conducted by John Bethell on a giant, inflatable elephant!

John also discusses the Festival Chorus, where music has taken him across the world, and more.

This oral history interview with John Bethell MBE was recorded by Ruth Keggin Gell on 27 May 2022.


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  • John Bethell interviewed by Ruth Keggin Gell (27 May 2022.)