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By Stuart Scott

Arthur Payne and the Llandudno Pier Orchestra c.1907
Until about 1860, Llandudno was no more than a small fishing village but rapidly grew into a health resort and holiday town during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The pier, opening in 1878 at a cost of £24,000, was built for both pleasure and commercial purposes being a main landing stage for the Isle of Man steamers and those bringing holiday-makers from Liverpool.
In 1887, many of the town’s visitors would certainly have made their way to the pier pavilion in the evenings to hear a concert given by Jules Riviere’s orchestra of thirty-six players. One of the largest resort orchestras, it could not be fitted into the pier-head open air bandstand so evening concerts were always held in the pavilion. The orchestra flourished and its conductor settled into ‘Bodalaw’ (the abode of melody), a handsome, newly-built villa. Riviere (1819-1900) was appreciated in the town and was honoured by a banquet in 1899 at which Lord Mostyn made a presentation.
A difference of opinion between Riviere and the pier company resulted in a move for the orchestra. A hall named Riviere’s Concert Hall was built in the town and concerts continued there until 1900, when Jules Riviere finally left for Colwyn Bay and its new Victoria Pier.
In his autobiography, Henry Wood tells of a visit he made to one of Riviere’s concerts just prior to 1895 - “As I took my seat I saw an elderly gentleman seated in a gilded armchair, facing the audience. He was elegantly dressed in a velvet jacket on the lapel of which reposed a huge spray of orchids more fitted for a woman’s corsage. He held a bejewelled ivory baton in his hand from which dangled a massive blue tassel. This he wound round his wrist. He bowed ceremoniously to the audience and tapped loudly on his golden music stand. Still seated, he began the Overture …”. Although Wood was shocked on seeing the conductor seated and facing the audience, it was not an uncommon sight in those early days.
Nevertheless, Riviere’s concerts remained successful over a long period but there must have been room for two orchestras in Llandudno in the mid-1890s as Wood also mentions a visit to the pier where there was a small orchestra of British musicians performing under the direction of A. E. Bartle with Edgar Haddock (viola) as his deputy. Bartle’s reign however, was almost as brief as his successor’s, Gwilym Crowe, whose See-Saw Waltz gained much popularity. By 1900 Arthur W. Payne (FRAM), leader of the orchestra, had been appointed conductor, remaining for 25 years with a good sized orchestra. Henry Wood had noted Payne’s beautiful violin tone and before long was offering the leadership of his Promenade Orchestra in which Payne served from 1896 to 1902. Payne later became leader of the London Symphony Orchestra (1904-1912) too.
In Llandudno, Payne had an orchestra of about 40 players and a deputy conductor, Walter Haigh who also played viola in the orchestra. At the height of the summer season there were sometimes as many as forty-four players which Payne directed from a very high chair facing the band. There were evening performances in the pavilion and if the weather was fine, morning concerts took place in the open air at the pier head.
The band at this time had a good number of Hallé players in its ranks. For the 1902 season at least a third of the orchestra were also members of the Hallé Orchestra. John Bridge, who much later would become leader and deputy conductor, T. Southworth, G. E. Stuteley, Walter Haigh, J. Hoffmann and the young John Foulds who appeared many times during the season as soloist in works such as Bruch’s Kol Nidrei (May 4 1902) and Popper’s Gavotte (April 21 1902), were all Hallé string players. Key positions in the wind section of the Pier Orchestra were also occupied by Hallé players L. Brough (clarinet), H. Marshall (horn), J. Branston (trombone), J. Valk (trumpet) and Fred Foulds (bassoon), father of the young cellist, John H. Foulds.
Other players of note included Hallé percussionist, H. A. Dunn and flautists Alfred Halstead (1864-1932) and Arthur Wood (1863-1948). Halstead, pupil of Edward de Jong, remained principal flute until the late 1920s and was also principal with the Scottish Orchestra. In Llandudno, Halstead appeared as soloist fairly frequently and 1902 seems to have been a particularly busy season for him. There were performances of German’s Tarantelle (24 April), Edward de Jong’s Rondo a la Tarantelle (9 Oct), Titl’s Serenade for flute and horn with H. Marshall (21 April/11 May) and on 13 June two pieces by P. E. Halstead, presumably his father. He also played the obbligato to an aria from Lucia di Lammermoor sung by Lillie Wormald on 11 April.
The versatile Arthur Wood, who had previously played at Bournemouth and in the Harrogate Orchestra, was engaged as second flute and piccolo player but he also appeared as solo pianist and accompanist. In April 1902 he was to be found performing piano solos by Chaminade and Paderewski (18 April). There were also piccolo duets with Halstead including Roe’s Les Deux Rissignols (14, 18 April and 1 July) and on 27 September Walter Haigh conducted Wood’s own composition, Graceful Dance. Arthur Wood was later to make a name for himself as composer and conductor in London theatres and in 1950 the last movement from his My Native Heath became the signature tune for the BBC radio serial, The Archers.
At least two other members of the orchestra became known as composers. The principal cellist, John Foulds (1880-1939) and the viola player, John Ansell (1874-1948) both wrote a good amount of light music but Foulds also composed a number of serious large-scale works which until more recently were forgotten or remained unperformed. Ansell, now only remembered perhaps for his nautical overture, Plymouth Hoe, composed much incidental music, orchestral works and a number of operettas. He had studied at the Guildhall School of Music with Hamish MacCunn and then played and conducted in London theatres. Later he worked for the BBC (1926-1930) conducting the QLO Orchestra, eventually ending up as assistant conductor of the newly formed BBC Symphony Orchestra for a short time in 1930.
The orchestra at the beginning of the century then, was a large and able ensemble of professionals capable of delivering mixed programmes of light and classical pieces. At first Payne’s programmes were very much on the lines of his predecessor, Jules Riviere, but at weekends and on special nights, symphony concerts were produced which often included well known soloists. Moiseiwitsch, Wilhelm Backhaus, Beatrice Harrison, Marie Hall and Jelly D’Aranyi all appeared at the Pier Pavilion.
The programme for the morning concert of Monday 25 August 1902 was typical, opening with Beethoven’s Fifth symphony and including a selection from Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, Auber’s La Sirène Overture and Massenet’s Suite, Scènes Alsaciennes. The printed programme for the concert announced a forthcoming piano recital to be given by none other than the great Paderewski on the afternoon of 16 September. There was certainly plenty of music in Llandudno at this time catering for all tastes.
The decade leading up to the First World War was a prosperous and settled time for the orchestra and concerts continued at 11.00am and 7.45pm daily, with Sacred Concerts on Sundays at 8.15pm, throughout a long summer season. The orchestral personnel remained fairly stable during this period with only one or two notable newcomers. Principal flute, Alfred Halstead brought in Jack Rollo from the Scottish Orchestra to play second and piccolo, Hallé player Ted Stansfield joined the bass section, Jesse Stamp, trombones, Jack Massey, percussion and H. Jarvis had the distinction of being the only player with three roles - harpist, horn player and librarian. George Atkinson (b.1879) came too as solo pianist and accompanist, beginning a long association with the orchestra. He was an exceptional player and became a major shareholder in the Pier Company. From about 1903 until the mid-1940s he remained active with various musical ensembles on the pier and as conductor of the North Wales Orchestral Society.
Members of the orchestra continued to appear as soloists. Principal cellist, Maurice Taylor gave a performance of Tchaikowski’s Rococo Variations (24 July 1911), flautist George F. Lee played a piccolo solo, Green’s Picaroon (14 October 1911) and George Atkinson gave Sibelius’s Romance and other piano pieces on the same day. The principal bassoonist, Archie Camden was soon offering solos too.
Visitors to Llandudno in 1914 could take a coastal trip or a day trip to Liverpool from the pier on one of the steamers, La Marguerite, St. Elvies or Snowdon and be back in good time to buy a 6d. ticket for the evening concert in the pavilion, which had recently been fitted with an electrical ventilating and heating system. The programmes for the season proudly announced that through this system “the atmosphere is changed every twenty minutes with hot or cold air according to the requirements of the season”.
The resort continued to attract visitors and good orchestral players, many of which were still being drawn from the ranks of the Hallé Orchestra. Symphony orchestras like the Hallé did not have a summer season at that time and musicians were only contracted for the winter concerts. This left many players looking for work during the summer months and to be contracted into the Llandudno Orchestra was certainly most acceptable to any musician. The popularity of the resort prompted the Pier Company directors to extend the season of orchestral concerts. This was accomplished but not without some difficulty as all the musicians who played in symphony orchestras were eager to return to their cities once the summer season was at an end. However, from 27 September to 1 November the pier concerts were continued by a smaller number of players under the management of an Autumn Concerts’ Committee.
Llandudno’s formula for success continued uninterrupted for another decade or so, before change was in the air, heralding a period of uncertainty. In 1925 the Pier Company decided that a new direction was required in order to attract larger audiences. Apparently, it had been decided that Payne’s contract would not be renewed. Arthur Payne’s resignation was announced in The Times, on Thursday, 16 April 1925 but didn’t take effect until the end of the season when the young Malcolm Sargent took over the orchestra. Once Payne’s resignation was known to the public, there were protests in the town and a collection of £1200 was raised as a testimonial.
Sargent’s appointment was not accepted very well in the town or the orchestra but after some of the older players stepped down and new, younger players arrived increasing the size of the orchestra to forty four, he was all set to prove himself. However, further protests, including a torch-light procession up and down the Great Orme followed when Sargent scrapped the sacred concerts in order to play symphonies, but he was eventually to win over his players and at least some of his audiences. Under Sargent’s baton the quality of the music and the playing in the orchestra improved. The morning concerts were left in the capable hands of John Bridge and with increased rehearsal time, Sargent’s programmes were far more ambitious than any heard in Llandudno previously.
The concert on Sunday 5 September 1926 included Elgar’s Enigma Variations, one of Sargent’s own works, Nocturne & Scherzo, and a song by Bantock sung by Constance Willis. That same week, on Thursday 9 September, Sargent conducted the Woodland Murmurs from Siegfried and Siegfried’s Funeral March along with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and works of his own - Valsette and part of a seven movement setting of Shelley’s Ode to a Skylark. The season also included a Special Wagner Concert and Halstead was no longer playing entertaining piccolo duets but appeared instead with Mozart’s Flute Concerto in D on 26 April 1926.
With so much achieved under difficult circumstances, Sargent resigned after two seasons moving on to symphony orchestras and the BBC. His subsequent career is well documented and remembered by many and in Llandudno today there is a commemorative plaque to him fixed to the wall by the pier entrance.
John Bridge, previously Sargent’s leader and deputy, took over the orchestra for the next few seasons. He was a respected violinist in Manchester, where he taught at the RMCM and played as a member of the Hallé Orchestra and the Brodsky Quartet. In 1930 he too went to the BBC where he was director of a nonet that replaced the North Regional Station Orchestra during the economic crisis.
The Pier Company soon found a successor in the 52 year old George Cathie who had been leader and deputy conductor of the Devonshire Park Orchestra in Eastbourne from 1914. He had also been conductor at Buxton Pavilion Gardens and of the North Pier, Blackpool Orchestra in the 1920s. Both he and his brother, Philip, had spent time in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra and at Covent Garden as violinists. At the same time, George had formed his own chamber music quartet.
George Cathie had a wide experience of conducting and playing in orchestras before reaching Llandudno. He could successfully present anything from the standard symphonic repertoire and extracts from The Ring to the Skater’s Waltz and was often willing to give new works by British composers a hearing. Cathie’s work with the orchestra was noticed by Adrian Boult, then BBC Director of Music, who arranged broadcasts from the pier and music in the resort went from strength to strength.
In 1935, Cathie was approached by the Directors of the North Pier, Blackpool where he had already spent some time conducting. They were so impressed with what was happening in Llandudno that they offered him a better pavilion, a larger orchestra and a salary to match if he would return. Cathie was happy with things at Llandudno and refused the offer from Blackpool after seeking assurance from the Llandudno directors that they were satisfied with his work and had no plans to change things.
However, the very next year he was informed by the Pier Company directors that they had decided that there was no future for the orchestra at the pavilion and were changing to variety and dancing. As Cathie’s contract was seasonal and he had refused Blackpool’s offer, there was nowhere for him to go. Four or five years later, the war put an end to music on Llandudno’s pier for a while and during those years Cathie became music supervisor for Poplar and Bromley Town Council’s park entertainments, retiring soon after to Ewell in Surrey. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, music on Llandudno pier was no longer provided by a large orchestra. There were no longer grand orchestral concerts in the Pavilion every evening. Now a handful of musicians, usually a piano quartet, played the morning concerts from 11.00am - 12.45pm and orchestral concerts eventually became the duty of about 15 musicians under the direction of John Morava.
Violinist, Ben Horsfall briefly reported life on the pier in his autobiography. He played there from 1936 to 1939 giving morning concerts from Easter to Whit as a member of the piano quartet. “The combination of piano, violin, viola and cello was small but the reason for its existence was dictated by the tenants of numerous souvenir kiosks, tobacco shops (and a café at the end of the pier) insisting on some attraction being provided to tempt off-season promenaders to walk along the pier”.
The pianist and musical director of the small ensemble was non other than George Atkinson. Horsfall went on to write, “George, who was the musical director (without ever exerting any authority) brought with him every morning a very carefully chosen programme of easy pieces: we were never really extended and there was an aura of pleasant relaxation in playing for a handful of people who were obviously resting from their walk along the pier. Applause was rare, partly because so many hands were preoccupied doing more useful things and partly because the audience always appeared to be in and out of the café. If we were required to play solos in any programme, the meticulous George would ask almost apologetically at least two days in advance”.
Apart from George Atkinson’s reminiscing, names from the past cropped up in other ways at this time too. Horsfall relates how one morning, George brought along a set of parts from the library and the cellist, Leonard Baker, found it impossible to read the notes. He went on to explain, “The reason was that the notes had been obliterated by corrections to the value of the rests, each of which had been initialled, ‘E. S.’ in ink. The initials, belonged to Hallé double-bass player, Edward Stansfield, who had been a member of the pier orchestra from the early 1900s to the 1930s. During that time he had played from, corrected and annotated, nearly every double-bass part in the library, making certain his initials were there for posterity. Ben Horsfall was a Hallé player himself in the 1930s and well remembered how the bass was entirely suited to this huge man who was such a good teller of stories relating to himself. His five string double-bass was his pride and joy. He eventually bequeathed it to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society.
After 1936 variety shows were the order of the day and the small orchestra continued giving morning concerts. The Pavilion at that time was visited by many major variety artists including George Formby, Ted Ray, Arthur Askey and Semprini, and with the return of holidaymakers after the war, performances in the Pavilion were once again popular.
In 1938 John Morava became Musical Director at the pier. He was a violinist who studied with Thibaud and Enesco, and a composer of much light music, a few pieces of which appeared in his programmes from time to time. He had played as soloist at orchestral concerts and with the BBC before serving in the RAF during the war years and later formed his own quintet giving concerts at Bath. Morava had honed his conducting skills at Bridlington, Weston-Super-Mare and Blackpool before taking charge at Llandudno where he managed to maintain the pier’s orchestral tradition until 1974.
In 1946, the Pier Head Pavilion was opened as a venue for Morava’s small orchestra of fifteen players. Obviously the band could not manage full symphonic programmes such as those presented in the Pavilion theatre in the early 1900s but they did join with local choral societies from time to time for an evening of Gilbert and Sullivan or music from the shows.
The opening season of concerts at the Pier Head Pavilion included music from Eric Coates and Walford Davies along with Morava’s own Peacock’s Parade, all of which were entirely suited to the small orchestra. However, other items on the programme represented a quick look back over the shoulder in so much as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1, German’s Merrie England and A Mendelssohn Fantasia arranged by cellist John Foulds were all features of the programmes of larger orchestras of the past.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s audiences for the Pavilion theatre began to fall away and the summer seasons got shorter. Morava’s small orchestra was disbanded in 1974 and ninety-eight years after it first opened, the Pavilion Theatre closed its doors for the last time in 1984. The building was left to deteriorate and was finally destroyed by fire in 1994. All that remains of a once very grand building are a few relics of iron work and a site badly in need of clearance and regeneration.
Stuart Scott












































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