GEOFFREY SELF (1930-2008) - an appreciation
Geoffrey Robert Self was born to Robert and Gladys Self, their
only child, in Wallington, Surrey, on January 23rd 1930 but
moved with his parents to nearby Carshalton soon afterwards.
Carshalton in the nineteen-thirties had some pretty squalid
areas. His maternal grandmother’s mean terrace house was
overshadowed by the poisonous fumes of a nearby chemical factory
and the depressing LCC St. Helier estate was close at hand.
Geoffrey’s grandparents were old-fashioned East-Enders
who maintained their household to the best of their abilities
and looked after him when his mother was called to work in a
food shop once her son had reached the age of twelve. Born into
poverty, the situation was exacerbated by his father’s
diagnosis with diabetes: until the early thirties, virtually
a death-sentence. (When Geoffrey’s father visited his
wife at the nursing home after Geoffrey was born, he annoyed
her by drinking all the water in her drinking jug: an early
sign of the as-then-undiagnosed diabetes).
Fortunately, Geoffrey’s father eventually responded to
the then novel insulin treatment and was able to obtain work
with the Hackbridge Cable Company. In addition, in 1936 the
family were allocated a council house in Nightingale Road which
became my father’s home until his marriage to Beryl, my
mother, in 1951.
He was, by all accounts, a mischievous child. At ten years old
he climbed a ladder against the side of the house and, armed
with a piece of wood into which he had banged a six-inch nail,
proceeded to scratch all the rude words he could think of into
the soft white brick. In all probability, ‘bum’
and ‘arse’ are still there to this day. When doodlebug
(flying-bomb) raids developed in 1944, Geoffrey was evacuated
with the school to Caerphilly. He, together with a friend, was
kindly offered accommodation with a miner and his wife in a
quiet spot outside the village. (He was fascinated to discover
that the miner walked to the coal face each morning - quite
a distance). During this glorious summer, while both boys were
enjoying the countryside, one day Geoffrey said to his friend
“Don’t you think we should be at school?”
They made enquiries and discovered that their friends had begun
lessons a week or two beforehand.
His attitude to his school days (he attended Wallington Grammar
School) is best summed up by his reaction to its bombing during
World War 2: “Our school was bombed twice. Our joy was
boundless when we turned up in the morning to see the pile of
rubble that had been the laboratories”. An accident on
his bicycle resulted in his being put down a year at school.
However, amidst the gloom of schooldays, he took piano lessons
from the school music master, Harold Smethurst. A fearsome man,
given to volcanic outbursts of temper (and given added terror
by Smethurst’s wearing of an eye-patch) he was, nonetheless,
an inspiring teacher, sowing the seeds of a lifelong love of
music. Geoffrey proved to be an able pianist, and gained his
ARCM diploma whilst still at school and was awarded a scholarship
to Trinity College (Heather Harper would have been a fellow
student). Unfortunately, lack of money prevented him from taking
this up full-time and, on leaving school, he went to work for
the London County Council but devoting his spare time to avid
concert- going, studying scores and working with amateur orchestras
in London. He also founded and directed the LCC Choir.
Geoffrey married Beryl Williams in 1951 and, after living in
a second-floor flat for a couple of years, they moved to a bungalow
in Wallington, opposite her parents. I was born in 1952 followed
by Margaret in 1959, Ian in 1961, Ben in 1963 and Charlotte
In 1958 he was appointed County Music Organiser for Somerset
Rural Community Council. His responsibilities were wide-ranging,
involving various community choirs and adult musical education.
He met many branches of the Women’s Institute and other
associations in so doing. In addition he conducted the Somerset
County Orchestra, founded in 1945 by Sidney Hollyoak, presenting
concerts of a consistently high standard throughout the county.
One of his most notable achievements was a very early performance
of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde in Glastonbury
Parish Church, featuring a young John Shirley-Quirk. Reorganisation
meant that his position was likely to disappear, so in 1964
he took up the position of Lecturer in Music and English at
Camborne Technical College (later Cornwall College) where he
remained until retirement. Whilst in Cornwall he was for many
years conductor of Redruth Choral Society and the Cornwall Symphony
Orchestra and was also associated with the Mylor Festival.
An enthusiastic lover of English music, he wrote a number of
books on composers for whom he felt a particular affinity: E
J Moeran, Julius Harrison, Eric Coates and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
He also wrote a highly-acclaimed study of British light music
and a history of music in west Cornwall. For many years he worked
on a study of, perhaps, his favourite composer, Frederick Delius,
although, sadly, this was never completed.
Geoffrey was invariably modest where his own compositions were
concerned. Although he wrote several large-scale works, including
a piano concertino and a set of Symphonic Studies for orchestra,
he believed firmly that the composer's craft was best sublimated
to the needs of the community and wrote carols, anthems, instrumental
and chamber pieces for specific performers or occasions and
was always deeply touched when his pieces were performed. Several
were published, including two carols by Elkin, an arrangement
of Yellow Bird for school children by Novello, some arrangements
of Bach chorale-preludes by Hinrichsen and, more recently, a
selection of organ and choral pieces by animus.
Music aside, he loved steam railways and was a life member of
the West Somerset Railway. Some of his happiest times were spent
with his wife Beryl, sometimes with children or grandchildren
as well, trundling through the beautiful countryside between
Bishops Lydeard and Minehead, behind a lovingly-restored GWR
Above everything else, though, Geoffrey was a loving family
man. He adored Beryl, and devoted his life to the support and
encouragement of his family. His energy, warmth and endless
patience invariably shone through, particularly in the final
years of his life when he was plagued with illness.
Geoffrey Self died at home in Bridgwater on October 20th 2008
and his ashes are interred in the churchyard of St. Euny, Redruth.
A memorial service was held for him in the church on January
2nd, 2009 at which a number of his compositions were performed,
including his beautiful ‘Autumnal’ played by his
daughter Margaret and his anthem ‘Cantate Domino’
by a choir directed by Angeline Seymour, a former pupil. It
is to be hoped that his music will continue to be performed
and held in deep affection for many years to come. His is the
music of a consummate and warm-hearted craftsman who took pains
over everything he wrote.
My parents were notorious for moving house. The loving tribute
below by my wife, was begun when they were hoping to move back
to Cornwall from Somerset. Sadly, this was not to be, but he
now rests in his beloved Cornish earth. The poem is a perfect
summation of a lovely man:-
Geoffrey's off to Lyonesse to taste the salt-tanged air;
To smell the sea and feel the breeze blow through his soft,
And hear, upon the warm 'Droof* night, the dulcet accents there.
Geoffrey's off to Lyonesse with Beryl at his side.
To soak up strains of salted sand and trace the tousled tide
And listen to the gaudy gulls 'top Truro's Park-and-Ride.
Geoffrey's off to Lyonesse a pasty for to buy;
Saffron buns and clotted cream and starry-gazy pie:
The potential for cholesterol to soar aloft is high!
Geoffrey's off to Lyonesse, but sadly not as planned.
The blousy breakers weep for him along the storm-tossed sand,
And rain-drops fall, like liquid notes, on Arthur's ancient
Geoffrey's off to Lyonesse on clouds of tumbled mirth.
We'll lay his ashes in the womb of sacred Cornish earth,
And catch his soul, rejoicing, as a child released from birth.
In memory of my lovely father-in-law, Geoffrey Self. 18th/19th
August-20th/21st October 2008
* ‘Redruth’ is always pronounced thus!