Queensland Pops Orchestra: the early days

TO quote from the introductory program notes of the Lord Mayor's 19th Command Performance from October 10, 1985: "It is considered by experts that Colin Harper's choice of music will fill a void in Brisbane's cultural life and - as is evident already - will make his new orchestra a popular institution".

This 1985 concert - the fourth ever of Brisbane's newest professional orchestra, The Queensland Pops - took place at the recently opened Concert Hall of the Queensland Performing Arts Complex.

It continued a year of history in the making, following the QPO's inaugural performance in the QPAC Lyric Theatre on New Year's Eve, 1984 (which was effectively the "christening" concert of the new theatre complex, taking place several months before QPAC's official opening in April 1985).

The Queensland Pops Orchestra is justifiably proud to be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so it's timely to pause and reflect on the fledgling days of our beloved orchestra - and perhaps the elements that have contributed to its longevity.

Founder conductor/music director Colin Harper believed there was a need in Queensland (and particularly in Brisbane) for an orchestra able to cater for the vast middle-of-the-road public who liked a potpourri of well-known opera arias, popular classics, sentimental old melodies, modern musicals and - as Colin once said - a little not-too-loud "pop".

Colin guided and nurtured the orchestra to great national acclaim before his untimely passing in early 2004.

He took the Pops' hugely successful Scotland The Brave concert series to the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Concert Hall in 1999, and the fact that both were sellout performances by an orchestra unknown to interstate audiences remains the stuff of legend.

In the early concerts, Colin Harper's bent for production was palpable. His eye for visual effects, expert lighting and a constant stage turnaround of singers, dancers and scene-stealers of all colours, shapes and sizes ensured the orchestra lived up to its premise: to entertain and enthral, in a light-hearted yet highly polished and professional way.

During the orchestra's first full year of concerts in 1985, the Queensland Pops Orchestra fielded an average of 60 players per concert. For a time, the orchestra was badged "The 4BH Queensland Pops Orchestra" in recognition of that radio station's support.

This enabled Colin Harper to headline popular local stars of the time, including Brisbane comedy cabaret band Wickety Wak and singer (and future G & S musical entrepreneur) Simon Gallaher among others.

Right from the start the Pops gave young, talented singers and instrumental artists their first big break - to perform live on stage with a full symphony orchestra.

Artists from these very early concerts that have gone on to achieve both national and international acclaim include opera singer sisters Miriam and Clare Gormley and ABC TV's Choir Of Hard Knocks director Jonathan Welch.

By 1988, the Queensland Pops Orchestra had established itself as one of Australia's foremost light entertainment orchestras, and that legacy continues ever strong under the enterprising and dynamic stewardship of conductor/music director Patrick Pickett CSM.

As cellist with the Pops since 1985, I have watched with pride how the orchestra has continued to evolve and prosper. Long may this great orchestra continue!

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