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A FORTIETH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

I begin this posy, as I have done several others, in the world of light music theatre. JAMES GILBERT, lyric writer, director and composer, was active particularly in 1950s and 1960s, but had only one significant success, Grab Me a Gondola, a revue of 1956 which ran for 673 performances at the Lyric and which included such numbers as the duet "Plain Love" and the burlesque ensemble "The Motor Car is Treacherous". JULIAN MORE collaborated with him on the lyrics as he did in several later Gilbert shows such as The Golden Tough (1960), which achieved a mere 12 performances in its London run, and Good Time Johnny (1971), whose plot was an updated Merry Wives of Windsor, but which had only a provincial reputation. After that he seems to have faded out. His first show, incidentally, was The World's The Limit (1955), based on Sellar and Yeatman's historical spoof 1066 and All That, this was not as successful as the REGINALD ARKELL and ALFRED REYNOLDS' adaptation of the mid-1930s.

We move back slightly in time but still stay in the theatre. KENNETH LESLIE-SMITH contributed the song "Love Doesn't Die to Noel Gay's musical Wild Oats in 1938, the songs "Drums" and "My Love is Like the River" to The Sun Never Sets (also 1938) based on Elgar Wallace's Sanders of the River to which Vivian Ellis and Cole Porter also contributed (respectively the title song and "River Girl"), songs to Full Swing (1942) and It's Time to Dance (1943). In 1945 he composed practically the whole of the music for Sweet Yesterday, a secret service musical, appropriately, but set in Napoleonic times, of which the hits were "Love Needs a Waltz", " Morning Glory" and "Tomorrow". Its run - 196 performances at the Adelphi - was reasonably successful and Bet Your Life (1952): 362 performances, Hippodrome), for which he was the joint composer with the Australian born composer/conductor Charles Zwar (who composed the 1968 musical The Station Master's Daughter, Maryold (1959) and sundry Alan Melville revues) did even better. Leslie-Smith's revues included Top of the World and Black and Blue; he also composed musicals for radio (e.g. Pivitau Lullaby) and film (e.g. Mayfair Melody). He published many "separate" songs, too, examples being Canterbury Fair, Little Gardens, My Guiding Star (1948), Ridin' Home, Salt Water and There's Magic in a Song, and even an anthem for female voices, God Guard and Keep Us, achieved publication. He may be summed up as a respectable song writer whose major stage works were capable rather than brilliant.

KENNETH ROSE achieved success in musicals even if this was basically provincial in nature, Ballet Who? (1954), School For Scandal (1961) and Trilby (1962) were all written for Kidderminster Playhouse.

GEOFFREY WRIGHT (whose floreat was roughly 1930-60), achieved success in the musical theatre with Your Numbers Up, a musical of 1936, Big Top, Confound Their Politics, Caprice (1955), and adaptation of a 1939 show, French For Love, this time with a book by Michael Pertwee and lyrics by Sandy Wilson, The Burning Boat (1956, its seaside music festival setting perhaps suggesting Aldeburgh) and among several revues The Great Revue, which yielded one "hit", Transatlantic Lullaby, as I have heard, which still achieves performances. Other songs not directly associated with the theatre were popular in their day - The Moon and You, The Man in the Street, My Heart is Marching, Take Me Back to My Home Town, With a Song, Kensington Girls and A Cradle of Cats. Wright's music was also commissioned by the BBC: incidental music, for example to Troilus and Cressida and Wings of Morning, and the radio operetta Phryne. He was involved with incidental music to films, an example being the wartime Ships With Wings (1941), though some sources attribute this to the musical director, ERNEST IRVING. Wright was a pianist, who sometimes played for his own stage shows. Not all of them were successful; the Burning Boat achieved a mere 12 performances.

TOM CHATBURN, lyricist and composer, was another who had only limited success on the musical stage, with The Gay Venitians (1955, based on The Merchant of Venice) and Oh Aphrodite, ten years later. PETER GREENWELL had more opportunities and his music was by common consent pretty and tuneful; he did best with Twenty Minutes South (1955), with its opening and closing "commuter train" chorus, which managed 101 performances at the St. Martin's Theatre, and The Crooked Mile (1959), which enjoyed 164 performances at the Cambridge in 1959-60. The House of Cards (1963) did have a piano selection of its tunes published, but for the rest Greenwell's shows had only the briefest of successes, at the Players Theatre where he was musical director and accompanied on the piano such shows as The Three Cadets (one-act 1956, revived to full length in 1961, another updating of The Merchant of Venice) and Antarctica (also one-act, 1957). Greenwell continued writing songs for musicals up to 1981 at least, when he contributed some to The Mitford Girls.

RONALD CASS was another who enjoyed only limited success with his stage shows. The revue Intimacy at 8.30 (1955), composed with JOHN PRITCHETT (who in that year wrote the music for A Girl Called Jo, a version of Little Women) had a modest success, as did Harmony Close (1956/7), composed jointly with CHARLES ROSS, but Liz (1968) had no more than a provincial airing.

Now for brief mentions of two writers of instrumental miniatures. DOUGLAS STEELE, born in 1910 and long domiciled in Lancashire, had mainly church music published but some years ago I was delighted to hear in concert three of his tuneful miniatures for piano, Prelude in D Flat, Pavane and Lyric Piece. GORDON LEVIN has composed many attractive miniatures for clarinet and other woodwind instruments, which teachers found useful. Nostalgie d'Espagne is a clarinet solo, Views of the Blues and Two of a Kind are clarinet dues and Scherzola is a trio, clarinet and bassoon.

Lastly we return to the dance composers for mid 19th century ballrooms. I was looking recently at the programme for the Doncaster Infirmary Ball in 1867. Most of the twenty odd dances were credited to Dan Godfrey (father of the Bournemouth Dan Godfrey), Charles D'Albert or (especially) Charles Coote, all of whom have figured in this series. Four names puzzle me; surely the "Hart" who composed the Original Lancers was JOSEPH HART (1794-1844) whose Alpine Quadrilles were popular. But what of "Cassidy" (Burlesque Galop), "Adams (Burlesque Quadrille) and "Clarke" (Night Bells Galop). Has anyone any ideas on who they were.

© Philip L Scowcroft

 

 

 

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

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