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News > Alumni Interview > Guy Cowley

Guy Cowley

Our Lent Term 2022 OP Interview was with Guy Cowley.

Bit of background, where you live, what you do for a living:

When I left Princethorpe I went on to study clarinet at the Royal College of Music in London for four years and then worked as a professional clarinetist for about 18 years. I then re-trained at Newark College in woodwind instrument making and repair.

I now live in Nottingham with my wife Debby and our two sons: Jacob age 7 and Toby age 4. I make and repair clarinets. I make copies of historical clarinets for professional clarinetists and I repair all styles of clarinets.

If you’re interested you can see pictures of what I make on my website:  My wife is a teacher of the Deaf in Nottinghamshire.

When were you at Princethorpe - years from and to?

I left in July 1989 and was there from age 11 so I guess I started in September 1982

What was the school like in your day?

I remember the beautiful building and grounds and it had a nice atmosphere.

I liked the mix of both priests and secular teachers.

There was a lot of hustle and bustle especially in the mornings, dumping our bags in the corridors on the way to the Chapel for assembly. I once left mine poking out a bit and a teacher got his foot stuck in the handle and fell over!

There were lots of characters, it was an eclectic mix of both students and teachers and it certainly wasn’t boring!  

I had previously been to three schools before I started at Princethorpe and I can honestly say it was the only school I felt comfortable at. I found school life complicated: my son has ADHD and ASD and school can be a little difficult for him and I wonder if I have some similar traits. I was diagnosed with dyslexia while at school.

Princethorpe was a very special school that I have fond memories of. I was able to follow my passion of playing the clarinet. They even let me drop two subjects early so I would have time to practice for my lessons at the Royal College of Music junior department on Saturdays.

How did Princethorpe affect the person you are today?

I think my journey of faith really started at Princethorpe which has since always been an important part of my life. I even considered becoming a monk, but I met Debby so that wasn’t to be! I think there was a caring and understanding ethos at the school and a flexibility to let pupils grow and explore talents.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

I would say read the book ‘The ruthless elimination of Hurry’ By John Mark Comer, but it hadn’t been written then!

So I would say there is no rush! Be the person God created you to be and not someone else. This may mean accepting limitations as well as exploring talents and this doesn’t mean you can be who you want to be - sorry I don’t go along with this modern idea. I think Thomas Merton may have said something like ‘as you grow closer to God you become the person he created you to be and as you become the person you were created to be you grow closer to God’. I have spent many years tying to emulate other people and at 50 I am only now just learning to accept how I have been wired and trying to embrace this!

Who or what has been the greatest influence on your life?

Not sure? I would want to say Jesus, but I am still walking along this path and it’s a zig zag path!

30 years ago I would have said one of the great clarinetists

15 years ago I would have said one of the clarinet makers

You see the pattern of emulation!

The Church we go to would be very high on the list, it’s called Trent Vineyard in Nottingham check out their website to get a feel for it and visit if you’re in Nottingham…it's something special but as the pastor would say ‘To God be the Glory!’

Maybe John Lacey my dear friend who died of cancer eight years ago. He showed me how to engage with people who are homeless or vulnerable….before I met him it seemed a scary thing to do…but it’s really quite simple…say hello…how has your day been?…do you need any food or would you like a coffee and listen…don’t get me wrong it can still be scary…but God loves them as much as me and you! John had a gift for this but maybe it was that he saw them as sons and daughters of God before anything else.

What keeps you awake at night?

Worry, anxiety! I try to pray to God at these times: it doesn’t necessarily change the situation or make things go away but I try to trust he will walk with me.

And sometimes if I am working on a tricky repair or in the middle of making an instrument I will be thinking about the best way to do things…but this can happen at any time of the day! which can be frustrating for others, Debby sometimes drops in a question about clarinets or lathes if we are having a conversation to see if I am listening!

What has been your proudest moment/greatest achievement so far?

This is a difficult one, I am not so much the glass is half full as the milk is all off so it doesn’t matter anyway!

I should say one of the many concerts I have been privileged to take part in or one of the clarinets I have made, or pupils I have taught (but the students have really done all the work!). I am very critical of my work. It's very nice to have good feedback when I have done a good job and I like to get this from good players that I respect…I find it hard to separate my playing experience when making an instrument, I am always thinking ‘this better work well when they use it in a concert'. I know what it feels like under pressure in a concert and it's no fun if an instrument malfunctions!  

So I think I will go for giving up alcohol. This was by far the hardest thing I have done, but I have now been dry for two years.  

What’s your biggest indulgence?

It used to be alcohol! I love that!! But now I don’t drink at all so it’s probably watching crime dramas, or buying tools for my workshop…I am always looking to do things better in the workshop. My most indulgent purchase for the workshop is a beautiful German treadle lathe from around 1900…not very economic but the idea behind this was to see how it feels to make stuff on a treadle lathe, makers would have used these in 1800. The first thing I made on it was a clarinet mouthpiece - it was exhausting! I of course have an electric lathe, well two!

If you had to have one last meal, what would it be?

Easy: Cooked breakfast with a pint of lager or two with my family!

If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be and who would be with you?

With my wife and our boys, but where? I would love to live somewhere remote in Scotland or in Germany.

Lasting memories of Princethorpe:

So many….Alex Darkes, Peter Jewel, Sue Francis, Mr and Mrs Skiffington, Fr O’Connor,  Fr Whelan, the list goes on!

I had written some memories down which I have deleted as my wife thought they would be edited out!

School concerts, plays and reviews….

Magic dust (iron filings) in Physics with Alex Darkes.

Wearing my tiny squash kit that was probably from my first year into the Sixth Form common room and asking if anyone wanted to play squash…big mistake!

Playing at one of the house music competitions and thinking ‘What am I doing up here?’….strange I decided to make a career out of that!

Sitting in the Chapel at break time when things got too complicated in my head. It was so peaceful. I think this is where my journey with God really started.

I have one sad memory of a fellow pupil Mathew Jacoby. He so very sadly died, I often think of him.

Are you in touch with any other Old Princethorpians, if so whom?

Remotely I am still in touch with Graham Budd, my mum went to school with his mum and they are still good friends So I hear his news every once in a while. Graham is a lovely man.

Is there anyone you would like to track down?

Not really, Sorry! I am not a big one for reunions or social media But sending love to anyone who reads this that I have crossed paths with!

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