|Founder: Len Mullenger|
A TWENTY-SIXTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS
I start this 26th bouquet with three composers from widely divergent periods of the British musical stage's last hundred years or so. Frank Osmond Carr (1858-1916), born in Yorkshire, composed primarily operetta and musical comedy, his greatest successes coming in the years prior to 1900, so he may be reckoned one of the contemporaries of Sullivan and like them - I am thinking of people like Fred Clay, a great friend of Sullivan. Edward Solomon, the Celliers and Procida Bucalossi - inferior (if still worth remembering) to the great man himself in both the memorability and the character of their musical invention. Carr's most important 19th Century successes were perhaps Blue-Eyed Susan, Morocco Bound, His Excellency, whose libretto was by W.S. Gilbert, and My Girl. His post-1900 pieces - The Southern Belle (1901), The Rose of the Riviera (1903, Miss Mischief (1904) and The Scottish Bluebells (1906) had at least a provincial reputation, By then however Carr was overshadowed by such figures as Edward German, Lionel Monckton, Paul Rubens and Ivan Caryll.
Leslie Bricusse, born in 1931, has been multi-talented, achieving success as composer, librettist, lyricist and writer of screenplays. Effectively his career began at Cambridge University where he composed, with Robin Beaumont and for the Footlights, Lady at the Wheel (1953), whose background is that of the Monte Carlo Rally and specifically Pat Moss's participation therein. The 1960s brought successes for him both in films and on the musical comedy stage. To take the latter first, his contribution to Pickwick appears to have been primarily, indeed entirely, the lyrics, Cyril Ornadel being credited with the music but two shows he wrote (words and music) in conjunction with Antony Newley did particularly well: Stop the World - I want to get off (1961) and The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd (1964). His collaboration with Newley continued over the next decade or more with titles like Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), The Good Old Bad Old Days (1972) and The Travelling Music Show (1978) all of which did reasonably well (Bricusse does have a gift for composing memorable songs), without quite recapturing the brilliant successes of the early 1960s. Bricusse's other later shows, like Three Hats For Lisa (1965), Kings and Clowns (1978), Good-bye Mr. Chips (1982) and Sherlock Holmes (1989), have earned a similar "beta plus" rating. Goodbye Mr. Chips was a subject first visited by him in a film in 1969; Bricusse's other notable film successes included Doctor Doolittle (1967), Scrooge(1970) and, for TV in the US, Peter Pan. Roughly equidistant between Carr and Bricusse come the two names of James Waller and Joseph A. Tunbridge, names seemingly as inseparable as Mutt and Jeff or Laurel and Hardy, and it is true that virtually all their successes, and certainly all their major successes (and also some of their failures) were joint affairs. Both men were composers, though their backgrounds and skills were different. Waller (1885-1957) started out in minstrel shows, concert parties and variety as an actor and progressed to becoming a lyricist and producer, eventually moving into theatre management. Tunbridge (1886-1954) was not exclusively a musician and indeed was often the musical director of joint Waller and Tunbridge shows. He began as a pianist for Star Music Publishers and B. Feldman Ltd., the latter of which published revue tunes composed by him in the early 1920s. The Waller and Tunbridge partnership began in 1928 with Virginia, a musical comedy which became popular with amateur societies up and down the country; several of its numbers, particularly "Roll Away Clouds", achieved wide currency. Before Virginia Waller had earned some success with Suzanne (1923), Archie (1924) and Tilly (1924) which he co-composed with Haydn Wood of Roses of Picardy fame; Tunbridge had previously written Tuned Up (1927) and Tipperary Tim (1928). Dear Love (1929), incidentally, was a collaboration, musically speaking, between Waller, Tunbridge and Haydn Wood.
The Waller and Tunbridge titles of their vintage period after Virginia were Merry Merry (1929) Silver Wings (1930), For the Love of Mike (1931), Tell Her the Truth (1932), Command Performance (1933), Mr. Whittington (1933-34), a update of the Dick Whittington pantomime story, Yes Madam (1934), Please Teacher! (1935), Certainly Sir! (1936), Big Business (1937), Bobby Get Your Gun (1938) and Hearts are Trumps (1943). All of these, bar Command Performance and Certainly Sir! achieved success. Few of their songs were as memorable as "Roll Away the Clouds", but there were enough good ones for Stanford Robinson to string together a selection of Waller and Tunbridge Melodies. In the early thirties several of their shows were stage at the Saville Theatre; later in that decade the Hippodrome was favoured.
After the Second War Waller and Tunbridge, whether together or separately were pretty well "played out", but both continued to work in the theatre for another decade or so. For example Waller was manager for the show The Kid from Stratford (which was about Shakespeare, of course) which had "additional music" by Tunbridge. Both wrote songs for Caprice (1950), which Tunbridge conducted. And the two had a final collaboration in 1956 in Wild Grows the Heather, a show based on a story by J.M. Barrie; but this collaboration was a ghostly one as Tunbridge was already dead and the piece was based on used or little-used past material from the collaborators' great age. Soon Waller himself, too, was dead. Few now remember him or Tunbridge, as Noel Coward, Vivian Ellis and Ivor Novello, who probably outshone them even in their day, have certainly survived better. But perhaps the pair should not entirely be forgotten.
Our three (or four) blooms so far were all well known primarily as writers of songs primarily for the stage. The next one is mostly, though not entirely, an instrumental composer. Gareth Walters (1928-), Welsh-born, is credited with Divertimento (1960) and Elegy, both for strings, also A Gwent Suite and the overture Primavera, both for full orchestra, plus music for brass band - for example Processional, Flourish, etc., a suite for harmonicas entitled Holmer Green and a considerable amount of instructional music. He lives in Surrey.
Now for an organist, long dead indeed. John Arthur Meale (1880-1932) who was, like Haydn Wood, born in Slaithwaite (Yorkshire). He was Musical Director at the Central Hall, Westminster from 1912 until his death, though he toured widely in the manner of fellow Yorkshiremen Alfred Hollins and Edwin Lemare (he visited Doncaster during the `1920s). Apart from anthems and songs his work included many solos for organ in the "orchestral" style so familiar in that early 20th Century period; many of them are light in character with titles like Fountain Melody, In Peril on the Sea, The Magic Harp, At Sunrise, A Storm at Sea, A Night at Sea, Twilight and A Summer Idyll. Some of the titles at least are almost interchangeable with those of Hollins.
Finally we turn to Laurie Johnson (1927-), whose music has been heard in a variety of different media - military band, film, TV and the stage. The works of his which are best known in the concert hall are those for military band. Apart from a suite, Three Paintings By Lautrec, these seem mainly to have a patriotic flavour and include an account of The Battle of Waterloo, complete with narrator, and the suites Vivat Regina, Royal Tour and Castles of Britain, the latter diplomatically divided between Great Britain's three countries with movements representing Caernarvon, Dover and Edinburgh. Johnson's stage works include the musicals Lock up Your Daughters (1959), to Lionel Bart's lyrics and based on Henry Fielding, and The Four Musketeers (1967), which was much less successful. His film music includes scores for the musical film The Good Companions (1957), after J.B. Priestley, and for It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1976), after James Herriot. But best known of all Johnson's tunes are surely those which have been adopted as title music for TV programmes like This is Your Life (this was originally entitled Gala Performance). The New Avengers and - at first called Las Vegas and sounding very Latin American in mood - Animal Magic.
© Philip L. Scowcroft.
Enquiries to Philip at
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Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.
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