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A SEVENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

The death of Robert Docker on 9th May 1992. aged 73, removed one of the few notable remaining figures in the world of British popular music who came to maturity during its Golden Age which perhaps ended around 1950. Docker was par excellence an arranger and a prolific one, especially for programmes like the BBC's "Friday Night is Music Night" and "Melodies For You", but also for other occasions and ensembles, including his own sextet and trio. He arranged the by now famous music for the film Chariots of Fire and he conducted the accompaniment when the Queen Mother unveiled a memorial plaque to Noel Coward in Westminster Abbey. Potpourris of popular melodies, folk tunes, film and musical themes poured from his busy pen. His skill in this direction was recognised in 1990 when the BBC awarded him two one-hour programmes entitled "The Musical World of Robert Docker". Recently (February 1994) I attended a Doncaster concert by the Palm Court Trio led by Martin Loveday (violin), leader of the BBC Concert Orchestra, in the course of which Martin paid great tribute to Docker's arranging skills - the Trio played a medley from The Sound of Music arranged by Docker which gave the familiar melodies a fresh twist and which took on the character of almost a new piece.

But Docker was known as a composer and improviser as well as an arranger and it is primarily for this reason that he appears in this Garland. Some of his works, like the London Rhapsody of 1974 (he was a Londoner by birth), for piano and orchestra and the "kindergarten fresco" Ourselves When Young were based on popular melodies, but there were plenty of true "originals", from miniatures like Air and Jig for violin, cello and piano, Cornet Cascade and Jolly Roger for brass band and Fairy Dance Reel, Penny Whistle Tune, Pizzicato Minuet (1949), West Indian Dance, Tabarinage ("Buffoonery") and Scène du Bal, all for orchestra. Scènes du Ballet (a different work, apparently from the last-named) was a suite in the Eric Coates mould, while Legend and Pastiche Variations, both for piano and orchestra, show his affinity for, and love of, the music of Rachmaninoff. He was commissioned to write another relatively "serious" work, Opus 40 for the 40th Anniversary tour of the BBC Concert Orchestra, formed in 1952 and with which he was associated for so long, and this was posthumously premiered in Ipswich in August 1992.

Born on 5th June 1918, the son of a Paddington gas worker, Docker studied piano, viola and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He also played organ, harpsichord and violin. The piano was his main instrument and his first job was playing it at a Working Men's Club when he was 14 years old. He did not make his first broadcast appearance as a pianist until 1946, ten years after his first arrangement had been heard "on the air". He did later form a piano duo, with Edward Rubach, which broadcast regularly. Married to the viola player Meryl Unsworth he lived latterly in Suffolk.

Another arranger whose skills could frequently be heard on BBC radio either side of the last war and who actually became Head of Light Music at the Corporation in 1946 was Fred Hartley (1905-1980). He, too, produced much original music for the light orchestra, included were pieces like Alpine Festival, The Ball at Aberfeldy, Whispering Breeze, Zaza, the Hampden Road March, A Dream of Hawaii, Summer Evening in Santa Cruz, Three Violins, The Dublin Express, The Fair Maid of Moray, Fairy Song (in the Irish Manner), From the Misty Isles, Highland Lullaby, In a Dream, Midnight Sun, A Rose in Granada and Rouge et Noir. Some of the titles almost have a feel of Ketèlbey about them. For piano there was Shivering Ivories; song titles included Life is Nothing Without You, My Song Without a Name and Sally Horner.

Not much is readily discoverable about Harold Rawlinson (1891-1978) but his work figured in the light music programmes of the first half of this century. Mainly this was orchestral though he composed a few songs like Heigho Youth, Dear Sussex and The Philosopher. Most popular among his orchestral output was the "lyric suite" for strings. The Open Road, performed successfully on the BBC and by light orchestras elsewhere including, in 1946, in Doncaster; its three movements were entitled Song of the Open Road, Song of the Hills and By The Camp Fire. Also popular was the six movement suite of Troubadour Songs, also for string orchestra, and In A Kentish Garden, for full orchestra. Rawlinson also wrote incidental music (an overture and seven movements) for the play The Maid of Orleans.

George Scott-Wood, born in Glasgow in 1923 (he died in 1978) was in his youth a classical pianist who performed concertos at home (especially in his native Scotland) and abroad. His career in popular music began in the 1920s; between 1930 and 1939 he became Director of Light Music for Parlophone and later other EMI labels. In 1934 he formed the Six Swingers for jazz related repertoire. He became an exponent of the piano-accordion; he brought out a tutor in 1940 and formed, pre war, the Grand Accordion band (which continued post-war with fewer players) and in 1958 George Scott-Wood and His Music, comprising three accordions, piano, guitar, bass and percussion. His compositions look attractive: London Caprice, Holiday for Accordions, Cuba Boogie, Penny Farthing Polka, The Laughing Seine, The Flying Scotsman, Conchita's Song, Happy Fingers, Serenade to Evening, Landler for Sandler (a tribute to violinist Albert Sandler), Song Without Words, Dainty Debutante, Ici On Parle Français, Deb-on-Air, Corn on the Cob, Clip Joint and his signature tune Shy Serenade. These were all single movements but the four movement suite Carnival of Bacchus presented variety in musical drinks, the movement titles being Amontillado (from Spain), Moselle, Tokay (a Czardas) and Champagne (a Galop).

Let us now turn to the Brass Band world and to Thomas James ("T.J.") Powell, born in Tredegar (S. Wales) in 1897, who died early in 1965. Early experience with Tredegar Town and Salvation Army Bands was followed by Great War service in the Royal Marines Band at Portsmouth. In 1920 he became conductor of the Melingriffith Band (also South Wales) and remained with them until his death, though he trained many Welsh and West Country Bands. His most ambitious composition was Snowdon Fantasy which was for brass (like most, if not, all his works) but he was best known for his many marches: Carnarvon Castle, Castell Coch (most popular of all, in my experience), The Bombardier, Cardiff Castle, Castell Caerffili, The Gay Hussar, The Spaceman and Thunderclouds. Other pieces which found approval in the brass world were the Duo for Euphoniums, The Tops (a quintet for soprano cornet and four cornets), Passing Moods and his medley Salute to Wales.

W. H. Jude (1851-1922) can also earn a mention here, on account of the one-time popularity of his ballad The Mighty Deep, though he was known in his day at least as much as an organist and academic. During the period 1883-8 he visited Doncaster six times at least to lecture, usually for the YMCA, on subjects such as The Power of Music, Musical Genius, Musical Memories and Musical Celebrities; he illustrated the talks by singing or playing solos on piano and harmonium. At that time he was described as being of the Liverpool Organ School and Liverpool College of Music. But he was a moderately prolific composer as well. Besides The Mighty Deep several of his ballads reflected an interest in the sea natural in a Liverpool man: 'Neath the Rolling Tide, Every Inch a Sailor, The Skipper and Plymouth Sound. But other titles, non-nautical but typical of the Victorian ballad, included Behold! I Stand at the Door, Consecration, Far From Hope, I Gave My Life For Thee, The Landlord's Daughter and The Young Brigade. Piano solos by him included miniatures like Festival March, The Swiss Guard (also presumably a march) and Joan of Arc, plus arrangements of hymn tunes including Lead Kindly Light and Onward Christian Soldiers. He published a hymn collection of his own hymns entitled Music and the Higher Life.

Another composer who merits a mention in these Garlands is Ernest Bucalossi (1859-1933) if only for his characteristic piece Grasshopper's Dance, a jaunty little number popular with light orchestras in my younger days (i.e. in the late 1940s and doubtless earlier), but subsequently only to be revived by those bastions of musical conservation, brass bands - though a few bars of it have recently received a new lease of life as accompaniment to the milk advertisement on ITV. The name Bucalossi is also to be found on the covers of those many arrangements of tunes from Savoy-related operettas - Ruddygore Lancers, Haddon Hall Waltz and Polka, Queen of My Heart and Other Melodies from Cellier's Dorothy, and so forth - and on the title page of the operetta Manteaux Noirs, very popular around 1880, judging by its performances at Doncaster's Theatre Royal at the time, which were doubtless just a few of many up and down the country. In 1883 the Daily Telegraph described it as "the brightest and funniest opera that has been produced in London for years." This operetta-inclined musician was however P. (for Procida) Bucalossi and was possibly the father of the Grasshopper's Dance man and from his name perhaps Italian by birth. It is by no means easy to disentangle which Bucalossi wrote what. The once popular waltz-song Ciribiribin has been attributed to Ernest, but I fancy it may originally have been by Procida, along with published songs like The Midnight Hour and Love, I Will Love You Forever and the P&O Polka, named after the shipping line and popular in ballrooms at the turn of the 19th Century. Ernest seems to have been known primarily for his dances and genre pieces for light orchestra: the waltzes Mia Cara (though as this was popular in ballrooms in the 1880s this may well be by Procida), Queen of the North, Primavera, Dear Erin, Pastorella, Gitana, Valse-Berceuse and Valse Doree, the march Pennon and Plume, the barn dance The Careless Cuckoos, the polka Midnight Chimes, the "pastorale" The Enchanted Valley, the "descriptive piece" A Hunting Scene, the "reverie" Pensees d'Amour, the "serenata" I Studenti, the Algerian Love Song and incidental music to A Kiss for Cinderella. But information on the Bucalossis is not easy to find; some light music enthusiasts I consulted on the matter did not even realise there were two of them! So the above, rather tentative, distribution of their works, or a selection of them, may not be quite correct. What I am certain of is that it would be a worthwhile exercise sometime to dust down some of Ernest's orchestral miniatures, besides The Grasshopper's Dance, that is, and to have a look at Procida's Manteaux Noirs, if only to find out why it has not survived in the repertoire when contemporary operettas by Sullivan, Offenbach, Planquette and Messager have done so.

Alec Templeton is strictly American as he died at Greenwich, Connecticut on 28th March 1963, having been a US citizen since 1941 and resident in the States for several years prior to that. But he was born, as Andrew Templeton, in Cardiff on 4th July 1909 and studied at the RCM (to 1931). His achievements are enhanced by the fact that he was blind from birth. He is certainly a candidate for a Light Music Garland on account of that humorous parody Bach Goes to Town (and the similar but much less well known Mozart Matriculates). These were originally played by Templeton on American radio and only later published and arranged for orchestra and other combinations. Templeton produced more ambitious works like the Concerto Lirico of 1942 and the Gothic Concerto for piano and orchestra, performed by the composer as soloist in New York on 19 December 1954. But it is his lyrical shorter instrumental pieces which have survived best: the Siciliana (1949) for violin and piano, the Scherzo Caprice for oboe and piano, the rustic dance, Springtime in the Village, Sonia (1935) for trumpet (or cornet) and piano and the Pocket Size Sonata for clarinet and piano, dating from 1949, an engaging piece compressing its four movements into barely five minutes. Keyboard solos in the style of Bach Goes to Town (which, incidentally, is an early piece, published in 1938), include Blue Brass, Drowsy Blues and Toccata. He is remembered primarily as an instrumental composer but there were in Templeton's earlier years a few song titles like Longing, When Whisp'ring Strains and an arrangement of the Scots tune Wi' a Hundred Pipers. Grove's dictionary has already forgotten him, but that is no reason why we should.

Finally, a briefer mention now for the ballad composer Frederick Bevan (1856-1939), who is remembered today for his stirring bass solo The Admiral's Broom, arranged for male voice choir by Henry Geehl and with the accompaniment to the solo version scored for orchestra by Howard Carr. Other ballads by Bevan - and he appears largely and perhaps wholly to have confined himself to composing these - were The Everlasting Day, The Gift Divine, The Merry Monk, The Old Soldier, The Ocean Choir, Page Away and The Flight of the Ages, this latter another solo later arranged for male voice choir, by Doris Arnold this time.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount

DONCASTER

S YORKS DN2 5PJ

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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