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Bantock At New Brighton
 
By Stuart Scott
 

 
 
 
In the 1890s New Brighton, at the mouth of the River Mersey, with its ‘Ham-and-Egg’ parade of side-shows, cafés and boarding houses, was an up and coming resort seeking to emulate Blackpool’s success. In 1895 it was decided to build a tower, second only in height to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Its base was a high red brick building, almost circular in plan, containing an enormous ballroom which was also used for Liverpool Orchestral Society concerts. Some of the great soloists of the day were to be heard there.
 
In his autobiography, Eugene Goossens remembered particularly a recital given by the Czech violinist, Jan Kubelik (1880-1940). “Father and I had seats on the stage for this occasion, so that I was able to gaze wide-eyed at the young, frock-coated violinist who performed with ease feats on the violin which some swore hadn’t been heard since the days of Paganini”.
 
However, dancing at the Tower Ballroom had become so popular that the authorities sought a Musical Director and in 1897, Granville Bantock (1868-1946) was appointed having been recommended by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, his old Principal at the Royal Academy. By the time Bantock reached his new post he was already a composer with a good number of successful works and performances to his credit and the previous year he had completed a world tour as theatrical conductor with George Edwardes’s famous musical, The Gaiety Girl.
 
He arrived at New Brighton to find the 612ft tower incomplete but nevertheless, he was expected to conduct in the large ballroom at its base. He had at his disposal, a 33-piece military band whose chief function was to provide dance music in the evenings and during the day play in the open air alongside a fairground, a menagerie and tight-rope exhibitions by Blondin. Music for the evening dancers included the usual waltzes, polkas, gallops and marches whilst in the open air, Sousa and Suppé provided the fare.
 
Bantock carried out his duties conscientiously, providing music for five or six hours each day but he had ambitions beyond dance music. He had ambitions for British Music and a better class of audience, so he was pleased to find that he had a band of accomplished musicians who worked with him enthusiastically. The personnel of the dance band in the evenings were identical to his open air military band.
 
He soon set about trying to convince the authorities that good music would benefit the resort and suggested improved and extended programmes. There was no immediate response to his suggestions but Bantock was already using afternoon rehearsal time to practice more serious music instead of the dances to be played in the evening.
 
According to Reginald Nettel, a young organist, at this time visiting New Brighton with his choir on an annual outing, entered a partly erected portion of the Tower building and heard the sound of the Tristan Prelude coming from behind a tarpaulin. Sure enough, it was found to be Bantock rehearsing his band.
 
Within a year of his appointment, and with the assistance of Mr.de Ybarrondo, a sympathetic member of the tower board of directors, a full orcherstra of about 60 players was assembled and Bantock was conducting regular Sunday concerts at which he presented works by all the great composers whilst still conducting the dance band every evening from 7.30-10.00, offering a wider choice of programme.
 
He went on to arrange special Friday concerts with his full orchestra, the programmes always including a full symphony. There were Beethoven and Mozart symphonies, Dvorak’s New World, Tchaikowsky’s Pathétique and Rubinstein’s huge, seven movement Ocean Symphony.
 
Bantock’s daughter, Myrrha, much later wrote of these concerts that “his instrumentalists were with him to a man and, having quickly fallen under the spell of his magnetic personality, accorded him a hero-worship which brought out the best in every player”. However, it was the ability of the musicians as much as their conductor’s personality which encouraged the music-lovers of Liverpool to attend the orchestral concerts.
 
Having had such good audiences for the symphony concerts, it seems that it was not too difficult for Bantock, supported yet again by Mr de Ybarrondo, to persuade the directors to allow a further series of concerts and by 1899 his plans to include music of living British composers started to come to fruition.
 
Sir Frederick Cowen was invited to conduct a concert of his own works on 28 May 1899 and Stanford came to New Brighton on 25 June for the same reason. They were soon to be followed by Parry (9 July), Elgar (16 July), Corder (23 July), Wallace (30 July), German (20 Aug) and Mackenzie (3 Sept). William Wallace conducted the first performance of his Symphony,‘The Creation’ and Bantock presented an all-British concert, a Tchaikowsky concert and a Liszt concert. For others, he invited various European conductors. Camille Chevillard, of the Lamoureux Concerts in Paris, gave an all-French programme and Sylvan Deuis of Liège presented a Belgian concert.
 
The size of the orchestra was increased for such events as these, and with Vasco V. Ackeroyd of the Liverpool Philharmonic leading, Bantock had somewhere near 100 players at his disposal. The wind, brass and percussion came from the permanent Tower Band and were professionals. The string section however, included some amateur players. Despite this, it was reported that the ensemble was good and the concerts had done much to enhance New Brighton’s reputation throughout the musical world and as a resort too.
 
Musical Times commented on “a splendid series of concerts” and singled out performances of Bantock’s own works including, Eugene Aram Overture, Songs of Persia and the symphonic poem Dante, for special mention along with Holbrooke’s tone poem The Skeleton in Armour. Reports rated Bantock as a very successful conductor and later, he was regarded as one of the most important twentieth century British composers.
 
Nevertheless, the tower management committee were no longer sympathetic to Bantock’s cause and after the resignation of Mr de Ybarrondo, who had been such a strong supporter of the orchestral concerts, his good work came to an end. The players, who had served Bantock so well, presented him with a silver cigar case and a silver-mounted, ivory baton on his departure at the close of the 1900-1901 season. Many of these musicians were soon to depart too, as the orchestra was reduced to the size of a small dance band once again which continued until the magnificent tower was pulled down in 1918.
 
The fact that Bantock had managed to achieve so much at New Brighton in only three years, and at a price that visitors could afford, is remarkable. A sixpenny admission ticket to the tower grounds included admission to the gallery. Those paying a further sixpence could reserve a seat and half a guinea could buy a season ticket for a series of eighteen Sunday concerts.
 
Although Bantock had, to some extent, realized his vision for British music, there was to be no lasting effect at New Brighton. His subsequent work at the Birmingham School of Music and as occupant of the Chair of Music at Birmingham University (1908, in succession to Elgar) however, was to have far-reaching effects on Musical Britain in the twentieth century.
 
Contributions to music at New Brighton continued in various forms after Bantock’s exit but none measured up to his monumental effort. However, one contribution worthy of mention is that of John Blamphin who directed a small ensemble at the Kursaal on the pier. It was here that the Goossens brothers - Adolphe (horn), Eugene (violin), and Leon (oboe) - first performed as members of the band and introduced works to the programmes which raised the tone of the pier concerts in the early 1900s.
 
John Blamphin eventually became the New York passenger agent for Cunard White Star rather than a musician but two of the Goossens brothers, Eugene and Leon were later to distinguish themselves in the world of music. Their brother Adolphe lost his life in the First World War.
 
Stuart Scott
2009


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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