JOHN Holmes, 84, is the founder of Holmes Music, one of Swindon’s oldest and best-known businesses. He is in the midst of chronicling its history in a series of books, mainly for future generations of the family, although copies are being lodged at the Central Library. The latest volume covers decades of charity work. John lives in Swindon and is married to Jean. Their three sons are all involved with the business, and the couple have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren

MUSIC shops are founded in a variety of ways, but Holmes Music is almost certainly the only one to begin with two instruments displayed in a driving school window as a favour to a friend.

The origins of the business date back much further.

“Romford in Essex is where I was born,” said John Holmes.

“My father was a haulage contractor during the war days, and he came to this part of the country because they were building airfields and so forth.

“We moved to Wroughton when they were doing the Wroughton airfield and the Marine Mountings factory. That’s what brought us to Swindon and we’ve been here ever since. I still like the place!”

A love of and aptitude for music surfaced early.

“Back when I was eight years of age my mother bought me a little piano accordion. She was musical but never played anything, but she taught me a tune – When I Grow too Old to Dream. She played with one finger.”

The young John soon became skilled enough to perform in public, both solo and in groups such as The New Era Swingtett and the Johnnie Holmes Band.

He later began playing the electronic organ, and performs for local community groups and good causes to this day.

John credits his mother with helping to instil the charitable impulse which has seen the business support countless good causes down the years.

“My mother was very interested in community activities. She was a member of some of the older folks’ clubs in the town – Age Concern and all that sort of thing.

“I used to go and play in these clubs for my mother, really, she was more or less my manager. I used to get involved in those activities and it’s been like that ever since.

“This is the nice thing with music. Most people like music. It’s a lot of fun.”

After leaving Jennings Street Boys’ School, John began training as an electrician – and continued that training during a four-year stint in the RAF which included a posting to Egypt during the early stirrings of rebellion over the Suez Canal.

Afterwards, civilian life saw him working at a Commercial Road radio business. “I was fitting car radios for this company and a gentleman that also worked there was talking about opening a driving school. We got talking and we decided we’d do this venture together.

“At the last moment, through his personal reasons – I think his wife was a bit concerned that he was leaving a job to take a chance on opening up his own business – he was put off, so I decided to go it alone. That was in 1958.”

The Safedrive School of Motoring in Morse Street grew to have a fleet of seven cars, but then came the chain of events which saw the young man fulfil his true ambition.

“I always wanted to have a music shop, but funds weren’t there at the time. It was the driving school that helped me put the funds together to afford to go into the music business.

“A friend came to my driving school and asked if I would sell a couple of instruments he had – a clarinet and a trombone, I think it was – and would I mind putting them in the driving school window?

“I put them in the window and they went within a short space of time. The idea was then put in my mind; why not go that way?

“I went to London and visited a music business, Selmer in Charing Cross Road, which was probably the largest musical instrument retailer in the country.

“I got to know the manager and to cut a long story short he took me down to his basement where they had all their second hand trade-in instruments. He kindly allowed me to go up there every Monday morning and buy some of these instruments, which gave me a head start over any local competitors because they couldn’t get their hands on the sort of equipment that I could get.

“The boom years were the 1960s with the Beatles. That was really what pushed it off.

“It started the year I came in, 1963. You had a job to buy stock because every boy – and girl for that matter - wanted to buy a guitar.

“When the Beatles came along it changed the whole scene.”

Later came a more adult-oriented boom. Improvements in technology meant electronic organs with similar features to theatre instruments could easily fit into a domestic living room.

“I got involved and liked it, so I decided I’d join the few music shops that were pushing the idea of the electronic organ in the home.

“I used to tell my staff that if they watched the window from inside they would see a couple walking past, looking in the window at these electronic organs, saying ‘Aren’t they lovely – if only we could play one,’ and then walk on by.

“I used to look for this sort of thing and then I’d go out, have a word with these people and say, ‘You seem interested – wouldn’t you like to play?’

“I’d coax them into the shop. We’d take them into a little room with an organ and sit them down, and within a short time teach them how to play a very simple melody using both their hands on the keyboard and their feet on the pedals.

“It worked well.”

There have been many other trends since - ukuleles and didgeridoos are among the current crop of big sellers.

Times may change, but John says much of his motivation remains the same.

“It’s wonderful. To be able to give the gift of music is wonderful.”

John welcomes inquiries from people wishing to book performances. He can be contacted via the shop at 21-23 Faringdon Road, and on 07836 245741.