Songs in the key of Les

Chris Wintle organist
Chris Wintle organist
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CHRIS Wintle looks disappointed.

He’s just finished a marathon 16 hour busking session in which he entertained hundreds of passing Sheffielders and added to the thousands of pounds he has raised for charity.

So, why the unhappy face?

“The aim,” explains the 56-year-old organist, “was to do 24 hours.”

Unfortunately, it seems, as a long-term ME sufferer and with temperatures outside the Town Hall plummeting to freezing, he hit what marathon runners call the wall.

“It was midnight anyway,” he tells The Diary the next day. “There weren’t many people to play to – and those that were about were... in drink. I was fine at 11pm but soon after I felt like my energy had been switched off. I was shattered.”

He brightens for a minute.

“It’s fitting really,” he says. “I was raising money for ME, and it was the fact I suffer which meant I didn’t achieve what I’d set out to do. Plus we still raised £300 for Sheffield ME Group.”

Trust the man they call the Demon Organist to look on the bright side.

That’s what he did, after all, when bemused onlookers – generally younger people – questioned why he was playing his Christmas carols out of tune.

He wasn’t, he explained. He was playing them Les Dawson style – that is playing the right thing but in the wrong key. It’s entertaining. And it takes a lot of practice to be that bad.

“I’ve been playing since I was 10 and Les Dawson is my favourite comedian – so this is combining those passions,” says Chris, of Mitchell Road, Woodseats. “I can play properly – and if someone asks I do – but people seem to really enjoy this. It makes them smile.”

It’s not the first time he’s busked in Sheffield, of course.

He’s been doing each Christmas since 2007 – although he’d never attempted the 24-hour endurance test before.

“I just thought it would be good to try and reach that goal,” he explains. “I knew it was going to be cold so I wrapped up in seven layers – I looked like the Michelin Man – but as long as your fingers are free you’re fine. And Sheffield Council had set up a little gazebo which I could drag my organ into when it rained. The only problem was I think some people thought I was a renegade wing of the Occupy protesters – even though we did have a banner advertising the ME Group.”

It is a cause close to Chris’s heart having suffered with the illness since 1993.

“For four years I could hardly move from the sofa,” he says. “One minute I was an active bloke playing football and organising theatre shows; the next I had no energy. It was a nightmare.

“But I’ve got better over the years. I still only work part time – as an information officer for the Sheffield ME Group, actually – but I have improved.”

And now he’s still determined to, one day, crack that 24 hour barrier.

“I’ll be back,” he says. “No matter how many bemused looks, I’m determined to do the full day.”