PRESTEIGNE could be forgiven for feeling a little vexed at a major music festival’s claim to be presenting a world first performance of a particularly challenging piece.

But the town is taking on the chin widespread reports that Cheltenham Music Festival led the way last Friday with Erik Satie’s famously tricky Vexations, 16 bars of music repeated, very slowly, no fewer than 840 times.

Way back in 1983, the then music teacher at Lucton School, Adrian Vernon Fish and his 15-year-old pupil, Dawn Pye, took 17 hours to perform the piece, often described as the most boring piece of music ever written, on an old organ in one of Presteigne’s High Street shop windows.

Thus ‘Fish Pye’ and its fabled achievement 33 years ago became part of local legend.

More than that, the feat made headlines across the world from the Sydney Morning Herald to the New York Times, the Jamaican Gleaner and all stops inbetween.

The performance by teacher and pupil was aimed at highlighting the coming of Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts.

Thanks to Fish Pye, reports of their dizzying achievement reached across the globe and Presteigne was firmly on the map.

Classical guitarist Gareth Rees-Roberts, who lives near Presteigne, recalls looking “aghast” when Adrian Fish put forward his plan for this music marathon.

“We had to fund-raise in order to run an arts festival in Presteigne which, at the time, was considered the biggest joke out!” says Gareth.

But a portable organ was hauled to the front parlour of retired London barber Archie Dobson’s house in the High Street.

With a keyboard as back-up, Fish and Pye struck the first note at 7am and played continuously until midnight.

To add even more drama to the event, both organists were attired in Victorian apparel and a bell was rung in the street upon completion of each 10 repetitions.

“The whole town thought we were completely nuts,” says Gareth. His wife, Lynden came up with the idea of sponsorships. “The idea was to see how many times people could bear to listen to the repetitions!” he explains.

The story was reported locally but was eventually to reach fascinated readers and listeners all over the world.

“The story made Newsnight and a late night programme did a whole feature on eccentric music, much of it on Fish Pye. You just couldn’t make it up!” says Gareth.

, who received a phone call from a South African TV channel the following morning.

Meanwhile, a Press Association scribe cheerfully reported having his “biggest scoop ever”.

Most importantly, Presteigne Festival was born, and every August since has continued to delight and enthral audiences.

But back at the start, enthusiasts had an uphill battle on their hands. Gareth said: “We had to form the Mid Border Community Arts Association in order to run a festival and fund-raise to put us on the map.The suggestion of an arts festival in Presteigne was laughed at!”

But as dawn broke after the decidedly odd performance of Vexations, in Gareth’s words, “All hell broke loose”. He recalls: “Adrian didn’t have a telephone, so I ran up and down the road with messages.”

Dawn’s father, local historian Roger Pye steadily built up a weighty scrapbook of cuttings, stories gathered from Athens, Reyjavik and Hong Kong and many more.

“There were some complaints that Satie was not being taken seriously enough,” says Roger. “Last year there were plans for Vexations to be played underwater.”

Over the years, ‘Fish Pye’ has featured in many radio quizzes. “Presteigne comes up at least once a year with the question!” he says.

Roger believes that Adrian Fish, who moved to Cornwall, went on to perform a first piano concert in Greenland.

Dawn, now the mother of two children and living in London, studied at the Royal College of Music and now teaches music.

However, though Fish Pye is no longer on the menu at Presteigne Festival, echoes of the legend will sound forever in the town’s history.

*The 34th Presteigne Festival runs August 25 – 30. The box office opens on July 18 telephone 01544 267800 or book at