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The joys of touring

The pleasure and hazards of touring with London orchestras and the pre-war BBC Symphony Orchestra.. The Wessex Philharmonic Orchestra touring in war-time – its musicians, conductors (a young Reginald Goodall), soloists and repertoire. Experience in this orchestra leads to many distinguished careers. Author leaves to join London Philharmonic Orchestra.

‘My boy, you’ve never really lived till you’ve been on tour.’ comments a character in Smetana’s lovely opera The Bartered Bride. Well, it can be enjoyable – in small doses! Whether it’s really living is another matter. I set off for that month’s tour in the summer of 1942 in high spirits. I was very young and everything was set fair for a good time; we were going to visit places which sounded interesting; there were girls in the orchestra and above all I would be playing nearly every day, and getting paid for it.

Going away on tour in wartime in the Wessex Philharmonic Orchestra under an inexperienced semi-professional management was something very special indeed. No tour I was to undertake for the rest of my life compared with this first venture into nomadic life. For one thing it lasted longer than any other tour by a British symphony orchestra that I have heard of – I left after nine months and the tour went on for quite a while after that.

None the less, going on tour is always a special experience. Over the next thirty-eight years I went on a good number of tours with the London orchestras, under a variety of conditions, sometimes very good, at other times much less so. I certainly had the opportunity to visit many places that I would never have seen if I had not been a musician. But though one can hold friends and relatives entranced with tales of travel to exotic places such as Mexico, Japan, or Uruguay, and tours of the USA, Israel, and throughout Europe, the reality of these visits is frequently less exciting.

The best tours, those that I have nearly always enjoyed, involved going to only one town or city; a visit to Vienna, Lucerne, or Tokyo, when one stays for perhaps three or four days, or even for a week or two, can often be quite delightful. Then there are tours when one goes to a large city, say New York, where one plays several concerts and then the orchestra makes a few forays to nearby towns, somewhere between seventy-five and a hundred and fifty miles away, returning to base after the concert each night. These, too, can be very pleasant, if well organised.

Least agreeable, most tiring, and sometimes unbearable, are ‘one-night stands’ – especially if they go on for more than four or five days. Such tours involve setting out each morning and travelling by train, or, more usually during my touring days, by coach. There was more often than not an early start; sometimes as early as six-thirty or seven o’clock. The worst I can remember was leaving Barcelona at four-thirty a.m. More often one left between eight and nine-thirty. However, there were a number of hitches that often had to be overcome before a successful departure was accomplished.

There was the problem of getting the suitcases of a hundred or more musicians onto the coaches. There were two methods, neither of which was wholly satisfactory. One was to leave it to the musicians to make their own way to the coach, with their cases and instruments. The large instruments – the cellos, basses, tuba, etc., were left at the hall, and were put on the orchestra’s van by the orchestral porters, along with the music stands, music, and percussion instruments. With a group of thirty-five or forty players this method can work reasonably well, but with a large orchestra it is a recipe for disaster.

In the big hotels, the bedrooms are on many floors – certainly on seven or eight, and in the USA, Japan and a good many European Hotels, possibly on as many as twenty or more. As might be expected, nearly everyone left it until the last moment to take his or her case to the coach. Sometimes one or more of the lifts would be out of order. Those whose rooms were on the upper floors got angry, because the lifts never seemed to come up to them; meanwhile those on the lower floors became increasingly indignant as they saw lifts whizzing past to the floors above. When a lift did at last stop at their landing, twenty people, all carrying large cases, tried to force their way into a lift intended for no more than fifteen – without cases. This is not conducive to goodwill, or to the harmony that will lead to a happy and contented group of musicians able to give of their best at the end of what is often a long and tiring journey. An even more serious risk was that carrying a heavy case and fighting one’s way in and out of lifts could lead to injuries to arms and hands.

For some years another system was also used; more sensible on the face of it, but not by any means foolproof. This method required everyone to put their case outside their room, as a rule about an hour before departure time. The first snag was that not everyone received their ‘wake-up’ call – some may have omitted to ask for it; others may have fallen asleep again. So their cases will not have been collected and taken to the coaches.

The next hurdle to be negotiated was breakfast. Hotels are as a rule not geared up to deal with a large number of guests all demanding service at about the same time, especially between seven and eight- thirty a.m. There will usually be one or two sleepy waiters who, when they have been goaded into action, find that their colleagues in the kitchen go berserk if more than three or four pots of coffee are ordered at once. Even five star hotels can fail when required to serve eighty or so croissants and coffees quickly. Indeed, they have sometimes been known to run out of croissants. For one reason or another some members of the orchestra still remain only partially served, or not served at all, by the time decreed for the coaches to leave. Not surprisingly they are unhappy; on occasion they let their feelings be known rather forcibly to the hotel staff who, already harassed and discontented by the demands being made of them, sometimes respond in kind. Not a good start to the day. A few minutes before the coaches are due to leave, the personnel manager goes to each coach (there were generally three with a large orchestra) to take a roll-call. It can be a disaster if on arrival at the next town some essential player is found to have been left behind. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony minus one trombone or the New World Symphony without the cor anglais can sound rather bare in places.

Not infrequently one or more of the company could have enjoyed the ‘strong waters’ after the concert the previous evening. On tours overseas the alcoholic beverages available can be strange and quite often very agreeable. Their effect can be devastating. It can and does happen that one of the previous evening’s revellers is still abed, or struggling to dress and pack, when he or she should be sitting quietly in the coach. The personnel manager goes off in search of the miscreants. When they appear, stumbling along with their suitcases and instruments, bleary and unshaven, or without make-up, or with it too hastily applied, they are greeted with mildly benevolent jeering, mixed with some obscene expletives if this is already the fifth or sixth day on the road.

I remember my father telling me about some of the incidents that occurred when the BBC Symphony Orchestra went on a grand tour of Europe in 1936. It was still a major event for a British orchestra to visit Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and Prague and the BBC had arranged everything with great care. Sir Adrian Boult and the Orchestra were received with ceremony everywhere they went. There were receptions and speeches and the players in the resident orchestra and those in the BBC Symphony would meet and exchange experiences. After the reception groups of players would go off to continue their reminiscing in the bars and taverns frequented by the local players.

In Prague, one distinguished cellist was so overcome by the hospitality offered by his companions that the following morning he had to be carried to the railway station. He arrived, still in full evening dress, laid out like a corpse on his cello case, with four of his colleagues acting as impromptu pallbearers.

On Tour in Wartime

This was a far cry from my first experience of touring with the Wessex Philharmonic Orchestra, which was a much less sophisticated affair. There were no five-star, or even one star-hotels; no reserved carriages on the trains, nor personnel managers. It was all pretty much catch-as-catch-can, relying a good deal of the time on a ‘wing and a prayer’. We travelled mostly by train, quite often requiring a number of changes, with long waits on unfriendly station platforms. When the weather was warm it was not too bad, but during the winter, with the rain, snow and cold winds, it became increasingly unpleasant.

The biggest problem was finding ‘digs’. In 1942 nearly every town still had its own theatre, or music hall, to which touring theatrical companies would come each week. Accommodation for the artists was provided by landladies, who ran ‘theatrical digs’. Pre-1939 very few actors, or music-hall artists, including the most famous and prestigious names, would stay in hotels. The theatrical landladies understood the needs of their visitors, who would want a good meal after the show, and a late breakfast, at ten or ten-thirty in the morning. In the best digs artists were well cared for, and their particular likes and dislikes remembered; younger members of the profession would be mothered, and, if necessary, offered practical advice in times of trouble. Landladies took great pride in those who had stayed with them, and evidence of their success was displayed on their sitting room walls by signed photographs from their more famous and grateful visitors.

Of course, not all were so good, by any means. The worst could be dreadful. Dirty and unkempt, with indifferently cooked food, a lack of hot water – vital on tour with washing to be done. The very best landladies would even undertake this task for their most favoured ‘gentlemen’ visitors. Worst of all were those where the rooms were cold in winter. Everyone with any experience tried to avoid these torture-chambers. The best places would always be booked well ahead and landladies who knew that they were much sought after would be selective. Artists of distinction, and those with charm, would flatter their hosts, provide them with free seats at the show they were in, bring a bunch of flowers at the end of the week, and write complimentary remarks in the visitors’ book. These guests would be assured of good, comfortable accommodation on their next visit to that town.

Our problem was that we stayed in each town for only one night, and all these places took weekly bookings. In addition, we didn’t know where accommodation was to be found. One got off the train in a strange town with a largish case and one’s instrument and just didn’t know where to begin. It was especially bad at the start of the tour because we didn’t know the ropes. As time went by and we returned to a town for a second or third time it became easier. One would write off beforehand, rather than look for somewhere on the day.

In Reading, where we stayed for a week giving concerts each evening in the theatre, I stayed with Mrs. Perry, a tiny, elderly lady, who in her small house in Zinzan Street provided the best accommodation I can remember. There were four of us; Jack Greenstone, the leader of the orchestra, and Alfie Friedlander, a violist and one of the most amusing men I have met, had one double bedroom. I shared the another room with my friend Dennis Wood, then an oboist but later principal viola in the BBC Radio Orchestra. The four of us also had a sitting room to ourselves in which Mrs. Perry served our meals. Although there was food rationing, she seemed to have a special relationship with her butcher. We had bacon and eggs each morning for breakfast, meat every day, and, on one occasion, steak – a real luxury at that time. For this she charged each of us £1.00, for the rooms, and an extra seven and sixpence each (37½p) for the food – she totalled up what it cost and would not allow us to pay her anything for preparing and cooking it. Of course, £1.37½p went a very great deal further in 1943 than it would today, but even so it was incredibly good value.

Unfortunately we never went to Reading again. We did go to Swansea, where my friend Dennis and I searched for seven hours for somewhere to rest our weary heads. In despair we were obliged to accept accommodation of a very different kind to Mrs. Perry’s. On the many occasions I have returned to Swansea to play in Brangwyn Hall, with its wonderfully exciting (though strangely undervalued) murals by Sir Frank Brangwyn, I have always found somewhere reasonable to stay. But never anywhere to match Mrs. Perry. Sadly her like have virtually disappeared.

Playing in the Wessex Philharmonic Orchestra

When we set off in July, Jimmy Brown, (the BBC Empire Orchestra clarinettist, now Bournemouth postman) was the principal clarinet, but when, because of good audiences, the management decided to continue beyond the original month’s tour, he decided not to stay on. The Post Office had already extended his holiday leave, so that he could do the month’s tour. The fees the Wessex could offer did not compare with his Post Office salary, which the BBC made up so that it equalled his previous salary in the Empire Orchestra, and so he returned to Bournemouth.

No doubt working on the principle that the evil you know is better than the one you do not, the management let me take over as principal clarinet. I write ‘let’ rather than ‘invited’ as I do not recall that this decision was taken with any enthusiasm, which is hardly surprising. What I could play I think I probably played in a musical and attractive way. There was a good deal that I found technically difficult, and, of course, my inexperience was such that I made mistakes. It is too long ago to evaluate with any accuracy what it must all have sounded like.

The standard within the orchestra was very varied. There were some excellent players, who went on to distinguished careers: Henry Datyner, a Polish violinist and an excellent musician, came to England when the Germans advanced into Poland. The only work he could get when he arrived was playing the piano in London nightclubs. After playing in the Wessex he went on to become, first, Leader of the Liverpool Philharmonic, and then of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Stuart Knussen, father of Oliver Knussen, the composer/conductor, was an outstanding double bass player and, later, principal double bass, and a feared Chairman, of the London Symphony Orchestra. For a time Alfred Barker, a former Leader of the Hallé Orchestra, led the orchestra, before going on to become leader of the BBC Theatre Orchestra. A number of others, like Jack Greenstone and Alfred Friedlander, flourished in the highly paid light music session world, playing for recordings, broadcasts, TV, and films.

For many, playing in the Wessex Philharmonic Orchestra was to be the start of what would be a long and successful career in one of the BBC Orchestras or in a London or Regional symphony orchestra. For others it led to a very successful free-lance career. But a number, for whom only wartime conditions had provided the opportunity to play in a symphony orchestra for a short time, drifted into teaching supplemented by the occasional semi-pro engagement. In many ways conditions for musicians are now much better than at the time about which I am writing – touring, in particular, is now usually much better organised. But the opportunities to learn one’s craft in relatively less stressful conditions than in a major orchestra have gone.

In the past there were a considerable number of ‘characters’: colleagues in the orchestra, conductors, and solo artists. Today everyone is so serious, concerned that they may not be engaged again if they don’t conform. Now that the ‘music business’ has replaced the music profession there is no room for the oddball who can be wonderful on Tuesday and rather less good on Friday. Recording demands consistency; neither for conductors nor members of the orchestra is there room for the improvisatory freedom of expression that can make a public performance so exciting.

The bassoonist in the Wessex, Albert Entwhistle, was a marvellous ‘character’. He was a decent player, in a quiet, undemonstrative way; what used to be called a ‘nice little player’. Some years later, when Entwhistle was second bassoon in the Hallé Orchestra, he was required to step up to play principal in place of his colleague who had been taken ill. During the rehearsal, when there was a solo that required the bassoon to take on the role of a musical clown, Sir Malcolm Sargent, who was the orchestra’s guest conductor on this occasion, said, ‘Come along Mr. Entwhistle. You really must make that passage sound much more amusing.’ So Albert roared it out in a rather raucous style that caused some laughter. ‘No. No. No. Mr. Entwhistle. That will not do at all’, said Sir Malcolm, with some asperity. ‘Well’ replies Albert, in a pronounced Lancastrian accent, ‘You asked for it fooney, so I plays it fooney.’

Our repertoire was limited by the size of the orchestra. We usually had eight, sometimes ten first violins, and the appropriate number of second violins, violas, cellos, and double-basses; two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons; four horns, though we sometimes had to manage with only two, two trumpets, three trombones, and tuba; a timpanist, and one percussionist. Very occasionally an extra percussionist would be engaged, but as a rule the one player, with a little help from the timpanist, seemed to manage what now calls for five or more players. No doubt some of the parts will have been left out, though these chaps achieved miracles with a stick in one hand and a tambourine in the other, hitting out in all directions. The percussionists of today would certainly not be willing, or be allowed by Musicians’ Union rules, to do anything like that.

This was the normal practice in the theatre, music hall and many small orchestras that played on the band stands at seaside resorts, in the parks and elsewhere, and in the large number of light orchestras and ensembles that broadcast regularly until about the 1960s. It was usual in these bands and little orchestras for there only to be one flute, two clarinets, sometimes an oboe, but very seldom a bassoon, instead of the necessary two of each. There would be one or two trumpets and a trombone when two trumpets, three trombones and tuba had been requested by the composer. The missing woodwind and brass parts would be ‘cued’ into other player’s parts. Whenever there were bars rest or a part of more importance than in that player’s part, notes from another part would be printed in smaller notation so that they could be played if required. Any other missing instrumental parts or harmonies would be played by the pianist. Nearly all the well-known orchestral repertoire – overtures, suites, symphonies, opera and ballet selections – had been ‘boiled down’ by Emile Tavan. Though his name is not to be found in the dictionaries and encyclopaedias of music, his arrangements were played world-wide and enabled ensembles of all sizes, from only 5 or 6 players to small orchestras of 30 or more, to bring a wide repertoire of music to the general public.

Even in the symphony orchestras it was quite common until the 50’s for extra woodwind, brass or percussion parts to be omitted and for the few really important notes to be put in by one of the other players. Very frequently when three flutes were called for – two flutes and piccolo – the second flute would play whichever part, second flute or piccolo, was most important.

Sir Malcolm Sargent was a dab hand at ‘boiling down’. Delius, who frequently wrote for triple wind, would appear in Sargent’s version, with only two required in each woodwind section. If essential to the harmony, the missing part was inserted into one of the other player’s part, perhaps a 3rd oboe part being played by one of the clarinettists. The amateur choral societies that engaged Sargent were naturally delighted by his reduced scoring; they could include items in their programme that would otherwise be too costly. Always a favourite with the ladies of the chorus, on these occasions the society’s treasurer and finance committees were equally pleased with him. On occasion, when he conducted the major orchestras he would also try to get away with using his own reduced parts, but as the years went by the players objected more and more vociferously, until he reluctantly gave way and used the proper printed parts.

Although Reginald Goodall was the principal conductor we had many guest conductors. Dr Malcolm Sargent, as he was then, was one of the most celebrated. An extremely efficient conductor, Anatole Fistoulari who conducted the major orchestras, also worked with us frequently. He had been principal conductor with the Monte Carlo Ballet for some years, before he settled in Britain. A charming, quiet man, he always succeeded in getting a good performance at the concert, though his rehearsals could be boring. He had little to say, and seemed content to play through the music, allowing the players to become familiar with it. If you already knew the music pretty well this could become tedious. He had good rhythm and a clear beat, and these qualities, combined with an innate musical feeling for a limited repertoire, produced very good results. Perhaps because he was amiable (he was always referred to as Fisti), spoke softly with a foreign accent, and used some rather idiosyncratic phrases, there was a tendency to laugh at him, and not take him seriously enough.

I enjoyed playing for Fisti, as I have for all conductors who gave me the space to play with some freedom of expression. He indulged my liking, especially when I was young, for making ritardandos at the end of phrases, even when the composer did not indicate one. One piece we frequently played with him was the Overture The Italian Girl in Algiers, by Rossini. In the slow introduction there is a short solo for the clarinet, at the end of which I always made a ritardando. A few months later on one of my visits home I was talking to my father about some of the conductors that I had played for and mentioned Fistoulari. ‘Oh, Yes!’, said my father, ‘He conducted us recently. He’s quite good. But, do you know, in The Italian Girl in Algiers – in the slow introduction, at the end of that little solo – he made me make the most dreadful ritardando. Goodness knows where he got that idea from.’ I felt it best to leave my father in ignorance of from whom, or where, he had picked up this bad habit.

Charles Hambourg was a very different sort of conductor. He made up for not being very good by being extremely pleasant to work with – sadly, lack of ability is not always accompanied by an agreeable personality. He was quite wealthy (the source was believed to come from manufacturing shoes) and had a passion for music, but little talent for conducting. Later, when I was in the LPO, colleagues told me that the orchestra had done a four or five day tour with him. Each concert had commenced with the Overture to The Bartered Bride, by Smetana. This is a well-known disaster area for conductors. The Overture, which is in a fast tempo, starts with a silent beat: the conductor has to bring the baton down in silence in the tempo at which the piece is to continue, the first notes sounding a moment or to two later. Poor Charles just couldn’t manage this at all, and his efforts became less successful at each succeeding concert. At the last concert of the tour he made such a determined and violent attempt to get it right that he fell off the rostrum into the viola section. In the interval, I was told, he went round to all the members of the orchestra, apologising and distributing £1 notes (a reasonable amount in those days).

Even some of the very finest conductors find the ‘silent beat’ difficult. George Alexandra, who was for many years principal bassoon in the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), told me of an experience he had had shortly after joining the LPO as second bassoon. The orchestra was giving a concert in Bristol Cathedral, a lovely building, but disadvantaged, as far as concert giving is concerned, by being extremely resonant. Sir Thomas Beecham was conducting a programme that commenced with one of these problematic works. Fairly near the beginning there were a number of loud chords interspersed with ‘silent’ bars, which are marked by the conductor bringing the baton down gently in rhythm. On this occasion Sir Thomas brought the stick down in one of the silent bars with one of his extremely vigorous downbeats. George, being young and inexperienced, followed Sir Thomas’s beat, and played the low note in his part fortissimo – and all on his own. The rest of the orchestra had realised that Tommy had made a mistake and remained silent. The loud, low bassoon note rang out and reverberated round and round the Cathedral, much to George’s consternation and distress. In the interval he went to see Beecham to apologise. ‘Don’t worry, my boy. Thank God you came in – I might have broken my arm if you hadn’t.’

The most devastating chaos resulting from an unsatisfactory silent beat that I can recall occurred in the Royal Albert Hall. The conductor, a charming and refined musician, who broadcast from time to time with a chamber orchestra he had formed, engaging some of the best players in London. The then first flute of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), Gerald Jackson, was one of them. After having undertaken a number of broadcasts under this conductor’s direction, and since he was Chairman of the RPO’s orchestral committee at the time, he recommended to the management that Mr B... might perhaps be given the opportunity to conduct the RPO.

At the first rehearsal Mr B. was introduced as ‘An Artist and a Gentleman’. No doubt this was true. What was not announced was the fact that he was also a rather poor conductor. This became evident very soon. In fact almost immediately he started to rehearse Manfred Overture, by Schumann. The overture begins with a bar requiring four quick beats in a fast tempo. The first beat is silent. Several attempts at starting the overture did not inspire confidence that the concert was likely to begin well.

At the concert Mr B. came onto the platform, took his bow, turned to the orchestra, looked round, giving everyone the benefit of his tremendously toothy smile, and swiftly brought the baton down. There was no upbeat and the movement of the baton then or subsequently gave no indication of the tempo. The sound of 85 musicians playing very loudly at 85 different speeds, even for a short time, is to be avoided. Fortunately, after the first bar there is a pause, when it was possible for the orchestra to regroup itself, before proceeding into calmer waters at a slower and more dignified pace. For some years to come the phrase ‘An Artist and a Gentleman’ was a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra euphemism for someone seriously lacking in ability.

Reginald Goodall continued to be the Wessex orchestra's most frequent conductor. He had joined Oswald Mosley’s Fascist party before the war and he and his wife had made themselves unpopular by distributing pamphlets for their chosen cause. He had intense admiration for German culture in general and German music in particular. He had studied in Germany, and been very influenced by Wilhelm Furtwängler, whose readings of Beethoven and Wagner he greatly admired. He was a very serious musician of considerable integrity, and I learned a lot from him, especially in the classical repertoire. But at that time he was not a very agreeable man. He never appeared satisfied with anything he conducted, quite often returning only once to take a bow, even when the audience showed evident approval and continued to applaud. He also seemed unable to show any pleasure or positive response however hard the orchestra tried to satisfy his wishes.

It must have been about thirty years later that I played for him again. One of the clarinettists in the Royal Opera House Orchestra had fallen ill and I had been called in at the last moment to replace him in a performance of Die Meistersinger by Wagner. Goodall had established a considerable reputation as a conductor of Wagner’s operas and was enjoying some celebrity, after many years of obscurity. As a result he had become far more benign. Die Meistersinger is a very long opera; with Goodall’s propensity for slow tempi it became a very long opera indeed.

Composers have written some of their most inspired works for solo piano, solo violin, and solo cello, with orchestral accompaniment. I soon realised that one of the pleasures of playing in an orchestra is the opportunity of performing with outstanding instrumental soloists, and comparing, and enjoying, each artist’s interpretation. In general the standard of the soloists and singers who came to play or sing with the Wessex was well above that of the conductors. This continued to be the case all through my professional life. I suppose there are many more good instrumentalists and singers than conductors.

Two fine violinists, Albert Sammons and Eda Kersey, were outstanding; I particularly remember performances of the Mendelssohn and Max Bruch Concertos. Later, in the LPO, I enjoyed playing a number of other concertos with them.

Then, as now, piano concertos were the most frequent solo items in our programmes. The Tchaikovsky No.1, the Beethoven Concertos Nos. 3, 4, and 5 – No.5 especially – Rakhmaninov 2, the Grieg Concerto, and the Warsaw Concerto were the most popular. The last of these has virtually disappeared, though during the war and for a the next few years it was immensely popular. Every orchestra included it in their programmes – it was a ‘must’ on Saturday nights – and it could also be heard in a variety of arrangements. Written by Richard Addinsell for the film Dangerous Moonlight in 1941, he expanded it later into a very short, romantic, one movement concerto, in a style sometimes called ‘film-Rakhmaninov’. It was most often played by Eileen Joyce. I wonder how many times she must have played it? I recall a great many performances, first with the Wessex, and then with the LPO and she
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will also have played it many more times elsewhere. She was a good pianist, very popular, and marketed extremely well, something practically unheard of then. She usually played one piece in the first half of the programme, the Grieg, or Rach. 2 (the musicians’ abbreviation), and the Warsaw Concerto in the second half. She always wore a different coloured dress in each half. They were usually frilly and had an inviting décolletage. They gave her a film-starry glamour and that somehow spurious sexiness that seemed to be the style of the ‘forties’.

Cyril Smith dazzled us with his virtuosity – our own British Horowitz, we thought then – though it was rather brittle and lacking in warmth. Moura Lympany delighted us with her brilliance and charm, and Moiseiwitsch, though no longer in his prime technically, brought musical insight and beauty of tone to everything he played. Here was an artist one never tired of hearing.

Music and playing the clarinet remained my over riding preoccupation though I was not unaware of members of the opposite sex. During the nine months I was on tour with the Wessex I had formed an attachment with the young lady who was the principal oboist. She had also been at the Royal College of Music, but as she was several years older than I was, and in her final year when I arrived at College, we had only met once or twice at College orchestra rehearsals. Amongst many other attractive qualities she had red hair, and wore a vivid green fake-fur coat, a combination that I found both dramatic and irresistible. Later she became my wife, and together we produced two splendid daughters.

She was far more worldly-wise and informed than I was. Indeed, I hardly knew what day of the week it was, being preoccupied with playing the clarinet. I knew nothing of the Musicians’ Union; indeed, I had only a vague idea of its existence. I certainly did not know that if I wanted to be a professional musician I needed to join, because members of the Union – and all professional musicians were members – were not allowed to play with non-members. She took me up to the London Branch Office, nominated me, and saw to it that I paid my first year’s subscription.

Having made sure that I was now persona grata as far as the profession was concerned, she suggested that I should try for another, better job. After nearly nine months ‘on the road’ I had become rather dissatisfied with the continual touring, and some of the less satisfactory performances we gave. But I had no idea of what else might be available, and I didn’t think I was really good enough for anything much better. On my own initiative I would not have considered taking the step she now initiated. She said I must write to the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She dictated what I should write, and she saw that I sent it off. In due course I received a reply asking me to arrange an appointment to meet Mr Haines, the Assistant Secretary, at the LPO offices in Welbeck Street. When I met him, to my great surprise, he asked if I would be free to play with the LPO for three weeks as second clarinet, starting on the 9th of May. Of course, I did make myself available, and thereby took another step forward; a step that was to shape the rest of my life.

Chapter 6


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