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AN ELEVENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

These "Garlands" go on and on; one is always coming across fresh names, Not long ago BMS member Bill Marsh fired a salvo of unknowns at me. Some remain unknown, but others have yielded a few, hopefully representative titles. Thomas J. Hewitt appears to have been primarily a composer of songs, ballads even: Alone in Love's Garden, Out Where the Big Ships Go, How Do I Know I Love You?, Sanctuary, and the cycles Once Upon A Time and the contrasting Songs From the Pavement and Songs of the Countryside. His dates are unknown to me, although I suspect his floreat was in the later Victorian period. From a roughly similar period was Ernest Newton whose light-hearted output included ballads, certainly (Ailsa Mine, dated 1896, Irish Slumber Song, 1903, In Springtime, The Kiss of Dawn, The Beat of the Drum, Anna, Lorna, Where the Chestnuts Bloom, Pan and the Fairies, Sweet Isle of Mona, and, much the most popular, The Keys of Heaven, beloved of Clara Butt and Kennerley Rumford), but also the humorous choral song (SATB) The Frog, many instrumental arrangements of 18th Century dances and a march The Spirit of the Guards.

Still on Bill's list and also apparently primarily vocal composers were: Daniel Wood, brother of Haydn, though his ballads - I Heard You Go by, Just a Little Waiting and most popular, Garden of Happiness, from 1907 - did not quite achieve the currency of his brother's best known songs; Milton Wellings, composer of Hush-a-Bye, At the Ferry, Some Day, Golden Love, The Old Lock and Dreaming; Harry Fragson, whose output was notable especially for Hello, Hello, Where's Your Lady Friend, from 1913 - other titles were The Band-Box Girl and All the Girls are Lovely by the Seaside and he also composed instrumental trifles like the waltz Souvenir Tendre; Felix Corbett, of Butterflies and In the Time of Roses fame (Corbett was a concert accompanist around 1900); Lawrence Kellie, whose ballads included Apple Blossoms, An Autumn Story, Had I the Magic Pow'rs, I Had a Flower, The Fairy of Springtime and A Winter Love Song; and finally, Newell Chase, composer of On the Isle of Kitchymboko, Weather Man, If I Were King and the instrumental miniature Midnight in Mayfair.

Leaving Bill's unknowns for the time being, we may note briefly that Wally Stott (b.1923) was the name under which Angela Morley composed many of her earlier pieces usually for radio shows: Angel Cake (Soundstage), Miss Universe and Hancock's Half Hour. Frank Newman (1894-1960) was a cinema organist in Birmingham and Rugby. His compositions include the foxtrot Who Am I? and the genre piece Cinderella's Shoe, both for orchestra, and, for two pianos, a "frolic" on The Lincolnshire Poacher.

Philip George Wilkinson (b. 1929) is another composer for these Garlands. He has produced a large number of vocal (primarily choral) compositions and arrangements of folk music, mostly English. Some of his choral output is for children, like The Ferryman and The Spanish Armado, for unison voices but some of it is for mixed voices. (The Birds SATB) or women's voices (e.g. an arrangement of O Can Ye Sew Cushions?). But he has also published a considerable amount of approachable instrumental music, again suitable for young amateurs; Rural Scenes for piano duet and Out and About for piano solo, a Suite for oboe and piano, a Suite for woodwind quartet and the Berceuse for violin and piano. Perhaps his most important work however is his 15 minute long Shakespearean Suite (1960: a six movement suite for small orchestra).

These Garlands usually include one or two figures from the brass band world. Some of its most famous composer-figures, like Philip Sparke (b. 1951) and Gordon Langford (b. 1930), really need wider treatment than is possible here (I hope the opportunity will arise to do this; and, as will be seen, I end this piece with a comment on Eric Ball). Ball had a Salvation Army background; and here we may perhaps mention two other significant figures with a Salvation Army background. Geoffrey Brand (b. 1926) has had wider horizons than that in the event. He studied at the RAM, then played trumpet in the RPO and at Covent Garden and worked for the BBC as radio and TV music producer (1955-67); he edited 'The British Bandsman' for a time, taking over from Ball in fact, and he has occupied a variety of positions in the musical world and has several publications to his credit, though he is best remembered as a conductor, usually of wind and brass bands, notably Black Dyke with which he achieved remarkable success between 1967 and 1975. He is better known as an arranger, again usually for brass, than as a composer. The tuba solo Tuba Tapestry has been attributed to him but on checking further I found this is actually by his son Michael Brand who has also been responsible for the trombone solo Rag 'n Bone and a number of other compositions and arrangements, again primarily for brass. Albert Jakeway gave perhaps more of himself to the Salvation Army, as conductor, arranger and composer. For many years he was closely associated with the publication of Salvation Army music; his works included many selections and marches, among them Astronauts and, named after a famous Salvation Army band, Rose Hill.

One of the most prolific of post-Edwardian British ballad writers was Horatio Nicholls, whose real name was Lawrence Wright (1888-1964) and who also wrote songs under the pseudonyms of Gene Williams (Do I Love You, Irish Peasant Love Song and Wyoming Lullaby) and Betsy O'Hogan, which pseudonym is particularly associated with the very popular ballad Old Father Thames which I remember being taught at school. I have recently heard a negro spiritual set by him. Songs under the Nicholls by-line included Amy, celebrating aviator Amy Johnson's historic England-Australia solo flight in 1930, Sahara, Babette and several with a military flavour like The Tin Can Fusiliers, The Toy Drum Major, The Toy Town Parade and When Guards are on Parade; "Nicholls" also published several instrumental pieces like the waltzes Delilah, Fate, Omaha and Diamonds and Pearls, the Clodhoppers' Dance and the march Golden Mile. Some of these were orchestrated, though mostly not by Wright himself.

Next a word about David Cox (1916-97), trained at the RCM and sometime Organ Scholar at Worcester College, Oxford and author of 'The Henry Wood Proms' (BBC, 1980), a study of Peter Warlock and many articles for musical periodicals. His compositions included songs, including settings of Milton, cantatas (e.g. Of Beasts, A Greek Cantata, Songs of Earth and Air and the Christmas piece This Child of Life) and instrumental music, some of it with exotic titles like the Brazilian Song, Indian Ritual Dance and Tangano and Zimbomba, all for piano, and the Shalemy Dance for clarinet and piano. He is worth mention here for his overture London Calling (1982), which incorporated the Big Ben chimes, Lilliburlero (for long the signature tune - arranged by Cox originally - for BBC World Service newscasts) and Oranges and Lemons and which marked the Golden Jubilee of the BBC's external services, another Overture, for strings, and music for BBC radio productions on The Plague, The Opium Eaters and Sir Walter Raleigh. Cox was in the RAF's musical service during the last war and was for twenty years (1956-76) a music producer for the BBC.

Colin Bayliss (b.1948), Mansfield born and involved in music publishing in Salford, is a quite prolific composer, several of whose works may be reckoned as light. He has made two contributions to the genre of the bright lively English overture (Love's Labour's Lost and Polytechnic Overture); also "light" are the Baltic Dances, one of a number of items inspired by former Iron Curtain areas, this one based on traditional melodies, a few pieces for band, including an arrangement of Wilfred Basford's Home Guard March and some of his instrumental compositions. Even his twelve note music is accessible and attractive.

We end, as promised earlier, with a tribute to Bristol-born Eric Ball O.B.E. (1903-89), who came, as we have said, from a Salvation Army family and who in pre-Second World War days became associated with that institution, especially its publishing arm. For a year or two during the war he conducted its International Staff Band before, temporarily in the event, severing his connections with the Army. Perhaps he felt it to be too restrictive musically and certainly the breach drew him into the brass band mainstream and widened the knowledge and appreciation of his music generally. After a period with ENSA towards the end of the war, he took up conducting brass bands, first Brighouse and Rastrick, then other bands like CWS Manchester and City of Coventry. Adjudicating band contests, lecturing, writing, especially for 'The British Bandsman', which he edited for a time, touring world-wide and encouraging young musicians: all these formed part of an exceptionally full and active life. Most importantly he composed. Much of what he wrote cannot really be regarded as light music. The music he wrote for the Salvation Army primarily has, as usual, a devotional purpose and usually incorporated hymn (or "song") tunes familiar in Army worship. Much of this part of Ball's output is still played today; the most striking item is the Elgarian tone poem for brass Exodus, but many other titles - instrumental solos, marches, vocal settings - show Ball's sure touch. Altogether Ball produced 110 brass compositions and arrangement and 120 vocal arrangements for the Army.

It is often said, and rightly so, that when Ball left the Salvation Army for the more general brass band world there was little change in his musical language and spiritual outlook and no composition bears this out more than Resurgam, a test piece for the Open Championships in 1950 and much played since then, which was indeed published by the Salvation Army also (it in fact quotes Exodus). We cannot regard Resurgam as light music; nor for that matter Ball's later "test pieces", most of then originally adopted for major championships: The Conquerors (Open, 1951), Festival Music (National, 1956), A Sunset Rhapsody (Open, 1958), The Undaunted (Open, 1959), Mau Street (Open, 1961), Journey Into Freedom (National, 1967), High Peak (National, 1969), A Kensington Concerto (National, 1972), Sinfonietta, The Wayfarer (National, 1976), etc., plus Akhnaton, inspired by ancient Egypt, Tournament for Brass and so on. It is worth making the point that whereas a non-specialist brass band audience listens to most test-pieces with respect rather than pleasure, Eric Ball's major works are, generally speaking, loved and respected, This is I feel sure, due to their melodic distinction (and distinctiveness) and their expansiveness, again reminiscent of Elgar whom Ball once met and always admired. Ball arranged for brass band several of Elgar's compositions, notably the Enigma Variations, Froissart and the Prelude to the Dream of Gerontius. Another noteworthy Ball arrangement was of dances from Bliss' ballet Checkmate.

At least fifty of Ball's brass scores were published abroad. His "English" ones for the general (i.e. non S.A.) brass band repertoire total more than 120, 47 of which are arrangements; of the rest seven are ensembles for brass, five are solos with band. In addition there are three works for choir and band, including A Christchurch Cantata, written for the opening of a new town hall in New Zealand. Only one Ball score was for orchestra - A Carol Fantasy - and even that was later re-scored for brass.

A large proportion of Ball's compositions may however be categorised as light music: marches, seven of them, the most frequently played being Rosslyn, Royal Salute, Torch of Freedom and October Festival, "rhapsodies" (really potpourris), including one on American Gospel Songs and no fewer than three on Negro Spirituals; many overtures, several of them recalling the characteristic English light, bright overture - Galantia, Holiday Overture, The Undaunted, Prelude to a Comedy, Prelude to Pageantry, Homeward, Scottish Festival, Welsh Festival and Cornish Festival; The Princess and the Poet, a fairy tale, a brass band equivalent perhaps of Eric Coates' orchestral Three Bears; and several suites which between them make Ball virtually a brass band equivalent of Coates or Haydn Wood - English Country Scenes, Fowey River, The Young in Heart, Petite Suite de Ballet, American Sketches and Oasis (was the latter inspired by Albert Ketèlbey?). The West Country clearly attracted him as, apart from the "Cornish" compositions noted above, his titles included Devon Fantasy and St Michael's Mount. In this he was not by any means alone among British light music composers. With the gradual decline of the light orchestra after around 1960 brass bands, and to a lesser extent, military or symphonic bands became bastions of light music (which they still are) and much of Ball's output reflects this, even though posterity may remember him more for the major test pieces. Much loved and admired, he remained active practically to the end of his long life (at least one score was published in the year of his death.). He died in Dorset on 1 October 1989.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

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Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.

E-mail enquiries (but NOT orders) can be directed to Rob Barnett at rob.barnett1@btinternet.com


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