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PHILIP LANE


Philip Lane was born in 1950 at Cheltenham, the English Regency spa town at the foot of the Cotswolds Hills made famous through patronage by George III. It supports many annual festivals including National Hunt racing, literature, cricket and international music but was quite parochial until the latter stages of the 20th Century. The family owned a harmonium on which the small budding musician showed quite an aptitude, after which an upright piano was acquired on which he was able to indulge his fancies for almost every type of music.

At six he embarked on formal lessons and when his teacher discovered he could play by ear, remarked "Don't worry, he will grow out of it". He then spent the next few years trying to persuade his pupil that his talents lay in the library service!
At the age of 11 he moved to Pate's Grammar School for boys whose former pupils include Gustav Holst and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Here he learnt to play the organ and earned more from a half hour funeral (for which his enlightened headmaster allowed him time off) than his friends could make in a whole week delivering newspapers.

He then took to accompanying a local choral society and spending weekends and holidays working for W.H. Smith at the time when the Beatles and Bob Dylan were at their height. Selling records possibly gave him ideas and he began to compose, among his works being carols, piano pieces and a string quartet, plus an orchestral Sinfonietta since withdrawn. The symphony orchestra was to prove his favourite means of expression.

In 1969 he went to Birmingham University to read Music. His interview with Professor Ivor Keys took the form of little more than playing through his piano duet suite Badinages, later to become his first commercially recorded work. He was told he would "probably be accepted" and after he went up, two of his tutors turned out to be John Joubert and Peter Dickinson. There was little time for composition lessons, however, and he was excused orchestration when it was discovered that his orchestral works were already being played down the road at the BBC Pebble Mill studios by the BBC Midland Light Orchestra!

Despite later encouragement from Bernard Hermann, Philip considers himself virtually self-taught in both disciplines.
Whilst at University he developed a deep interest in Lord Berners (1883-1950) who, in addition to being an accomplished composer was also a painter, novelist and general eccentric. Philip's thesis on the composer, coupled with several radio talks, led to him being appointed a trustee of the Berners Estate and overseeing the completion of all Berners' music on to CD.

From 1975-1998 Philip taught at Cheltenham Ladies’ College during which time he received many commissions, especially for upper voices. In his spare time he worked freelance for London publishers and quite by chance, in 1993, was invited to look after the estate of Richard Addinsell (1904-77). He wrote a radio documentary on the subject and was then asked to embark on what became something of a passion for film music. The forthcoming Marco Polo CD of Addinsell’s music needed to include the famous film score for Goodbye Mr. Chips, the brilliant 1939 film which starred Robert Donat. Unfortunately, most of the score was lost so Philip sat down and listened to the film over and over again, eventually successfully recreating the music as it first appeared. This led naturally to him being commissioned to do the same thing for other famous films, such as The Thirty Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes. He is now an acknowledged expert on the restoration of "lost" film music and has been interviewed several times about the subject on BBC Radios 3 and 4.

It would not be unfair to say the nation owes him a great debt because so many film scores were simply destroyed during times when nobody ever considered there would be any future interest or use for them. Among the film composers "rescued" in this manner are Arnold, Auric, Alwyn, Bliss and Victor Young.

Philip Lane's commercial successes include library music, compositions for BBC plays (including The Merchant of Venice and Sir Thomas More), plus the TV animation of the immortal Captain Pugwash. Live music has included a choral commission to mark the centenary of the death of Lewis Carroll, one from the winners of the Sainsbury Choir of the Year, and a ballet Hansel and Gretel for the National Youth Ballet.

Conductor Gavin Sutherland, with whom Philip has worked on several outstanding CDs, commented on "a perfectionist with the quiet aura of a schoolmaster surveying his class, who has played a very large part in the preservation of much of the British Light Music canon that was presumed lost."
It was Cheltenham Ladies’ College’s great loss when Philip decided to devote himself full-time to composing and producing CDs but it was a great gain for the music world in general.

It is hard to underestimate how much he achieved in such a short time and we should all be profoundly grateful that he took the bold step of leaving a secure post in a top public school to enhance, recreate and restore tuneful British music.

Edmund Whitehouse

See also CD review

Reconstructing film scores by Philip Lane


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