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Bob Briggs - Musicweb reviewer
1954 - 2011

A tribute



I was born in Bradford, England, in 1954 into an unmusicial family, was almost immediately adopted into an equally unmusical family and was raised in Keighley, a town of 60,000 inhabitants on the side of the Pennines. My earliest musical memories are of the BBC Light Programme playing at home as my mother worked – Gilbert and Sullivan, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and the many and various light pieces which filled the station schedule – Robert Farnon, Frederic Curzon, Eric Coates and so many more. When I was 11 years of age I went to the local grammar school and had my musical epiphany. One music lesson (together with 29 unruly boys who couldn't have cared less about classical music) our teacher didn’t want to teach us so he simply turned on the radio and told us to listen to the Eroica Symphony which was about to be played. It is certain that those 29 unruly boys were grateful to leave the room afterwards, but I wanted more and, here’s one which needs further examination, the following weekend I went to the local music shop in town, bought a 12-stave manuscript book and filled all 64 pages with a Violin Concerto. I don’t know how I did it but I did, and I followed this with Symphonies, Concertos, Suites, piano works, choral works. Hats off, gentlemen, a Prodigy!! Not so, I’m afraid. What I did know was that I could read a score and I knew what I was writing but it was rubbish, of course – I wrote chords for a single clarinet for, at that time, I knew nothing about the capabilities of instruments. However, with help and encouragement from Brian Payne, my music teacher, I started reading scores and learning about orchestration and instrumentation and finding out what was and wasn’t possible. I also started taking cello lessons, which was wasted on me as I have never had sufficient patience to sit down, alone, and practice – but I always had time to sit alone and write music.

In 1967 I started attending the Hallé Orchestra subscription concerts at Bradford’s St George’s Hall and was lucky enough to hear John Barbirolli’s last four seasons with the orchestra. I have always felt myself to have been privileged to have met Barbirolli a few times and he was very kind to this eager schoolboy.

When I was 17 I went to Huddersfield Technical College, and, subsequently, Huddersfield Polytechnic (as it then was) where I had the great good fortune to study composition (and so much else) with the great Harold Truscott, to whom I owe almost everything musical in my life. He opened my ears to so many musical things and was the catalyst for my continuing interest in literature.

After studies I gave many concerts as a singer, specialising in English music of the 20th century, and continued writing, gaining performances in this country and the USA and Australia and being commissioned from the Bromsgrove Festival (my proper 6th Symphony), the USA and Iceland! At a concert of my music in London in about 1982 Roger Wright played a piano piece of mine.

At 25 I gave up writing music – I realized that my work simply wasn’t good enough and I was never going to set the Thames on fire with my genius – and started writing about music – for Records and Recording, the very short lived Classical Sounds, sleeve notes for LPs and the odd programme book for concerts.

It now seems incredible that I have been listening to music, and been involved with it in one way and another, for over forty years. And I am still a very young man! For the past twenty years I have been selling books on the Southbank Book Market, which is situated under Waterloo Bridge, outside the National Film Theatre (or, as it is now known, the BFI on the Southbank) on the south bank of the Thames, and because of this I have done various BBC TV and Radio spots talking about books. In 2002/2003 I wrote and presented 52 two-hour radio programmes concerned with the byways of music in the first 50 years of the 20th century. The byways were such that if there wasn’t a recording of a certain work in my own collection then it simply didn’t exist! Talk about a personal view.

I don’t have favourite composers or writers, but there are certain artists whose work I couldn’t live without – Haydn, Carl Nielsen, Korngold, Weill, Peter Sculthorpe, Debussy, Grainger, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, English composers of the Elgar/Delius/Bax/Tippett generation, Harry Warren, Billy Mayerl, The Who, The Rolling Stones (up to and including the Sticky Fingers album and their latest CD), much 60s pop, Christopher Isherwood, Ed McBain, Philip K Dick. My Desert Island pieces of music are Korngold’s magnificent Symphony, Debussy’s inimitable Des pas sur la niege (one of the most perfect works of music I know), Delius Brigg Fair, Haydn Symphony No.48 in the Max Goberman recording (just thrill to those high horns!), Weill Dreigroschenoper (in the Frankfurt Opera recording on Fontana, where the soloists scream the songs at you in a very Brechtian way), Schubert String Quartet in A minor, D804, Frank Bridge Enter Spring and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony for the counterpoint at the end.

I was given the part of bookseller in the 2006 film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but Warner Brothers scrapped the scene two days before filming on the grounds that it was too expensive! I have been a committed lifelong Marxist as I consider Groucho, Harpo and Chico to be three of the funniest men who ever lived. Since 1972 I have shaved seven times and "enjoyed" six haircuts. I lived in St Tropez in 1984, where I worked as a chef in a bistro. I now live alone in east London as my daughter has gone to university. My son recently had his first book of short stories published by Sixties Press.

I love cooking and hate gardening. My two most secret secrets are that I have a desire to be a stand-up comedian and I fear baldness. Now they’re no longer secrets so I shall have to find some more.

As a wise old man once said, "ahbudee...ahbudee, ahbudeeuh…that's all folks!"


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