People of my generation
think of the harmonica in terms of John
Lennon. We remember his playing in such
songs as Love Me Do and Please,
Please Me. Or perhaps we recall
the Hohner adverts in the Meccano Magazine:
the personality clutching the ‘harp’
was Stevie Wonder! Or maybe, more disturbingly
there is a mental image of the Somme
or Passchendaele: desolation and death
and destruction. Then suddenly from
a trench came the sound of ‘It’s
a Long Way to Tipperary’ played
by an exhausted Tommy on his battered
mouth organ. Or possibly it was the
old gentleman playing the Gaumont Cinema
queues in Sauchiehall Street: to a Scotsman
it would always be a ‘moothie.’
Classically the only
excursions were those great but novel
concertos by Messrs Jacob, Arnold and
Vaughan Williams. And of course, the
latter’s clever instrumental simulation
in the scherzo of the London Symphony.
And lately those enthusiasts of that
‘twilight’ programme – 'Last of the
Summer Wine' will know that the reminiscent
theme music is played on the harmonica.
And it is perhaps this
last intimation that is the philosophy
underlying much of the music on this
disc – ‘A Land of Lost Content’. Of
course it is not all ‘looking back at
life flown’ type of reflection but perhaps
it makes a good psychological starting
Two comments. Do not
put this CD into the player, start at
track one and play to the end. At the
finish of the 74 minutes you will be
punch drunk with the sound of the harmonica.
And secondly, note well that the title
of the CD suggests that it is a compilation
of the romantic harmonica of Paul
Lewis – which it is, but often as
arrangements from other media. For example
the lovely Two Miniatures were
originally conceived for oboe and chamber
ensemble and the Pavane was formerly
an organ prelude. But of course Lewis
is in good company when he chooses to
‘dish up’ earlier works in new guises
– think about Percy Grainger, for example.
Paul Lewis has excellent
credentials for writing for the harmonica.
He worked with the great Tommy Reilly
for more than twelve years: Reilly was
the soloist in the incidental music
for ‘Woof’ a TV series mentioned below.
When he was too ill to continue the
session work the present harmonica-ist,
James Hughes, took over. Hughes also
plays that memorable theme on Summer
Wine ... so it is a long-standing connection
with the instrument that led to this
But let’s look at the
music. I do not propose to comment on
every track in great detail – as a few
of these pieces are quite light if not
flippant. Nor will I look at them in
track order, for there is no apparent
rhyme or reason behind the batting order.
Consider the last track.
Now I am not P.C. in any way – but I
know a lot of people who are. Benny
Hill was not to everyone’s taste – but
I confess to enjoying his humour ...
Paul Lewis composed
a waltz entitled ‘Ballroom’ for
a compilation LP project in the late
’sixties. Now as a waltz it is not bad,
but when the producers of The Benny
Hill Show took up the piece and played
it a bit faster and used it to highlight
the comedian’s chases and romps it became
better known as the Benny Hill Waltz.
I cannot now recall if the TV version
used the harmonica – but the composer
notes that this is one of the few times
that the listener can hear the work
at its intended speed!
The eponymous track
was composed as a test piece for the
1997 World Harmonica Championships.
It is a cute little work that tests
the skill of the player to a great extent.
I do not know all the tricks of the
mouth organ trade – but I do recognise
a bit of good playing when I hear it.
Lots of double stops and great long
runs! The Serenade and Dance
would make a fine encore!
The Norfolk Rhapsody
is an arrangement. Of course all of
us will hark back to the similar title
by Vaughan Williams – not necessarily
to compare – but as a point of reference.
The present work in its original form
was composed for flute and harp for
a BBC TV documentary called ‘The Vanishing
Hedgerows’. As music it is lovely –
full of suggestive echoes of a lost
generation and landscape. But Oh boy!
do I look forward to hearing the fine
flautist Rachel Smith play this on a
forthcoming release – but in a different
incarnation. I should point out that
the Rhapsody turns out to be
the first movement of Lewis’s Norfolk
Concerto for Flute Harp and Strings.
I guess that will be a great pleasure
to listen to. Lewis is never a man to
waste a good idea! I wonder if he has
considered arranging the Rhapsody
for Oboe and Piano?
The Somerset Garland
is an arrangement of five folk tunes
collected by the great Cecil Sharpe
back in the early 1900s. In many ways
this is one of the loveliest works on
this CD. I am not sure that the harmonica
is necessarily better than any other
instrument at pointing up these tunes.
But there is a timelessness and introspection
about them that seems to fit in with
the ‘trench bottom’ mood I noted above.
And the piano part is well stated.
is an interesting piece. It was composed
for Tommy Reilly and the harpist Skaila
Kanga. It is an ultra-romantic work,
displaying the harmonica in its most
beguiling aspect. And it has the distinction
of being the longest piece here. This
is the one work that I cannot imagine
being re-arranged for any other combination
– it just seems to suit both instrumentalists
so well. The faster central section
which is signed ‘allegro alla zingara’
(in gypsy style) is charming - although
I fear a little padded in places. The
‘romantic’ tune recurs and the work
closes with a satisfying reminiscence
of earlier musings.
The Pavane is
an evocative piece – and everything
tells me that this is probably preferable
to its organ loft original! Quite lovely
from end to end.
The TV scores are a
little less essential than the concert
works although I do know that the composer
is very keen on writing for this particular
medium. He told me that he is always
suspicious of composers that adopt one
voice for the film/TV world and another
for concert works. Lewis has only ever
committed to writing for the medium
when the music has allowed him to express
something of his own personality.
is a transcription from a flute original
written for a television serial which
I am glad I did not watch. It all sounds
a bit sentimental – the story of how
a girl found and raised a seal. But
the music is quite captivating – with
the composer on the numinous sounding
These percussive instruments
are used in the arrangement of the theme
music to The Secret World of Polly
Flint. This was TV serial about
a lost village in Nottinghamshire in
which the bells of the church could
be heard on Christmas Day – a kind of
Sherwoodian ‘Brigadoon’ if you like.
The music is full of magic and certainly
well transcends any stereotypes we may
have about the sound of the harmonica.
This is not Howlin’ Wolf or Bob Dylan!
is just one of those pieces that are
fun – without any pretensions to deeper
meaning. It is from a TV programme that
followed the exploits of a boy who spends
some of his life as a dog! Interesting
to hear soloist and string quartet sounding
Tea for Three
was originally written for a ‘mood music
library’. This is the weakest piece
on this CD – unless as an example of
pastiche of the most amateur type of
‘end of the pier’ orchestra! It was
used for Kit-e-Kat commercials in the
Netherlands for several years – so perhaps
it sounds like a cats' chorus. Once
again this work is an arrangement; the
original being scored for palm court
The Impromptu for
Harmonica and Harp was originally
a piano piece that took its current
form after a visit to the composer by
the harpist Elizabeth Jane Baldry. Not
my favourite piece on this CD but it
certainly deserves a hearing. It retains
too many of the formal ambiguities of
the original improvisation on which
it was based?
Now to the best two
works on this CD! The Spring Suite
and the Two Miniatures are far
and away the most enjoyable and effective
numbers. Every note counts – every tune
sounds like an old friend. It is music
that we seem to half remember from a
simpler and more innocent age.
The Spring Suite
has three delightfully contrasting
movements – Jaunt, Romance
and Jig. There is not a note
too many here. The Jaunt is just
that – a kind of ramble through the
English landscape on a warm April day.
Only Somersetshire and not Yorkshire
is the countryside behind this music.
The Romance reflects on some
half-recalled days with a beloved. Walking
down a country lane, perhaps or lying
on a hillside watching the sunset or
visiting an old church... The imagination
can run riot – and with impunity. This
is sentimental music after all! And
the Jig sums up the ‘happy days’
mood of this fine music; British light
music at its very best.
And last but not least
the sheer perfection of the Two Miniatures.
Once again my sentimental mind allows
the delightful music of ‘Lovers’
to wash over me. As I sit here I can
truly feel a tear creeping into the
corner of my eye. It is that beautiful!
Perhaps I am back many years dreaming
of what ‘might-have-beens’ with ...
And Lark – well this is music
culled from ‘Boyhood’s End’. I am not
sure whether it refers to the bird or
not – but for my money it is two friends
‘Larking’ about or thinking
up some adventure or innocent mischief.
We have come the full circle – this
is definite ‘Last of the Summer Wine’
music – and none the worse for it. If
these Two Miniatures were the
only works that Paul Lewis had ever
written he should be a proud man. It
is not often a composer writes such
effective and evocative music. I can
safely say that Two Miniatures will
be on my Desert Island Discs list for
a long time.
see also review
by William Trotter