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
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
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
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.