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A NINTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

These Garlands could go on for ever! My recent book for Thames includes mention of around 300 British composers active after 1900 who can, in one way or another, be reckoned as protagonists of light music. It is sometimes asserted that light music is dead. One can only retort that such reports are, like those of Mark Twain's death sometime before it happened, somewhat exaggerated. Many composers of it are still very much alive and active, especially for the large and small screen and even the theatre.

One such is Patrick Doyle born in 1953, trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, who has composed a considerable number of scores for the theatre, especially for Kenneth Branagh, but is best known for his film music, for example to Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, A Little Princess and most notably and among the most recent, Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen), a graceful, wistful score including two song settings of 17th Century lyrics. Another is Christopher Gunning born in 1944, who has published some instructional instrumental solos, but is better known for his most attractive music for TV and film documentaries among which we can instance the TV film Yorkshire Glory, is presenting the beauties of that country through the seasons. Nigel Hess is a composer of attractive and distinctive TV theme music; that for the crime series Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, starring Patricia Routledge, has been taken up by brass bands (for which medium it was written) as a concert item. Other TV scores include those for Maigret, Wycliffe and the irresistible theme music, redolent of Thirties dance music, for Just William. Hess's concert band music includes Stephenson's Rocket, an addition to the still growing corpus of "train music"; he has also written the score for the musical Rats!

The Australian-born conductor and composer Barrington Pheloung born in 1954 has earned accolades for his attractive music for TV, especially that for the long-running Inspector Morse crime features. Howard Blake, born in 1938, has achieved fame as pianist, conductor and composer. He studied at the Royal Academy with Harold Craxton and Howard Ferguson. He has written concertos for clarinet, piano and violin, a Piano Quartet and two trios, one for flute, clarinet and piano, the other for piano, violin and cello; but all these, indeed of his output, is so fluently lyrical that he may properly be regarded as an heir to English light music tradition. In any event much of Blake's music is categorisable as "light" on any terms: the instrumental items Burlesca for violin and piano, the Eight Character Pieces and the suite, Party Pieces, both for piano, the orchestral Concert Dances and some very attractive film music, e.g. for The Riddle of the Sands, Agatha (about Agatha Christie's disappearance, though incredibly Blake's score was not used) and , of course, The Snowman.

Laurie Johnson (1927- ) is best remembered for his attractive music for military band. Often this is patriotic in flavour: examples are Castles of Britain, a three movement suite characterising Caernavon, Dover, and Edinburgh, The Battle of Waterloo, which has a part for narrator, Vivat Regina and the Royal Tour Suite. He also composed for the stage, including the musicals Lock Up Your Daughters (1959) and The Four Musketeers (1967), and for films, another musical, The Good Companions (1957), after J.B. Priestley's "showbiz" novel of 1929.

Now for a sheaf of vocal composers or people, who at various times during the past century were generally known for writing songs in a popular, lighter style. Geoffrey Henman, born in 1896 and active until well after the 1939-45 war, published Un Jour Sous Soi (1946), The First Rose of Summer (1948), Coming At the End of the Day (1954), The Ploughman's Song (1954), One Love, Nobody Else, The Sweetest Time of the Year, What Might Have Been and When Hearts are Young. His stage shows included The Boy Who Lost His Temper, the revue Howd'You Do? and the radio musical Mr. Barley's Abroad. For orchestra he wrote, or had arranged by other hands, an overture, Mr. Pickwick, the single genre movements Dancing Mad, The Charm Waltz (1947), Old Wayes and Moon Flower. Three suites show, in their titles and those of their individual movements, a pleasing freshness of ideas: High Street (High Street, Lavender Girl, Little Show Shop, Spring Models); My Ladies Dress (Gingham Gown, for morning , Charmeuse, for afternnon, Taffeta for evening); and Open Windows (Country Air, Butterflies, Song of the Sinhalese, Dancing Sunlight).

David Heneker, M.B.E., born in Southsea on 31 March 1906, is remembered for his songs and lyrics for Half A Sixpence (1963), after H.G. Wells' 'Kipps' but this was by no means his only stage show. For some of them like Jorrocks (1966) and Popkiss (1972) he wrote all the lyrics and music; for others like Expresso Bongo (1958), Make Me an Offer (1959), The Art of Living (1960), Charlie Girl (1965) and Phil the Fluter (1969) he had assistance though usually with lyrics rather than the music. He composed many "separate" songs as well: Girls in Khaki, Only Fools, There Goes My Dream and The Thing-ummy-Bob. In this field he was known to collaborate, One Exciting Night being written with John Turner and Walter Ridley, She's in Love with a Soldier with Noel Gay. Heneker came late to the musical world as he served as a regular army officer between 1925 and 1948.

Noel Gay himself (1898-1954) is worth a paragraph to himself. Yorkshire born, he was educated at the Royal College of Music and Christ's College Cambridge. He soon went into the lighter end of musical theatre, being responsible for the music to many revues or musical comedies: The Charlot Show of 1926, Hold My Hand, Me and My Girl (1937, which of course included The Lambeth Walk, long popular and the subject of amusing variations by Franz Reizenstein), The Little Dog Laughed (Run, Rabbit, Run from this, was a hit and is still heard as its popularity extended into the early part of the Second War) and wartime shows like Lights Up, Present Arms, The Love Racket and Meet Mr Victoria are only a few of these. Gay also wrote many very popular songs (Round the Marble Arch, My Thanks to You and so on) independent of the stage; others were incorporated into films.

Jack Strachey (1894-1972) is roughly contemporary with Gay, being at his peak in the 1940s and 1950s. He, too, composed for musicals - Belinda Fair (1949), Dear Little Billie and Lady Luck - and revues like New Faces, The Punch Bowl, Shake Your Feet and Spread it Abroad, from which came his biggest hit, the song These Foolish Things. Other popular songs from his pen included Tramway Queen, The Old Bells of Bow, A Boy, a Girl and the Moon and Good Queen Bess. Orchestral numbers by him were In Party Mood, Ascot Parade, Mayfair Parade, the waltz Pink Champayne, The Beguine, Starlight Cruise, the marches Knights of Malta (1942: clearly inspired by the George Cross island's gallant wartime resistance) and, reflecting his long preoccupation with the theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, Overture and Beginners and Theatreland.

Going further back in time, Gerard F. Cobb (1838-1904) set around twenty of Kipling's far from conventionally jingoistic Barrack Room Ballads during the early 1890s and made attractive songs of many of them. It was not really his fault that later composers set one or two of them more famously. Several have been revived recently. Cobb was a Cambridge man, a fellow of Trinity College, and his musical talents did not stop Kipling's other solo songs include Cavaliers and Roundheads and The Scent of the Lilies. He had a Romanze for orchestra premiered Henry Wood at the Proms in 1901.

Sullivan bestrides the Victorian light musical theatre world like a colossus, but he had his contemporaries in that field. Curiously, none of them survived him, even though some were younger. Some we remember as names, either because one or two of their songs survive (like She Wandered Down the Mountainside and I'll Sing the Songs of Araby by Frederic Clay and O Vision Entrancing by Arthur Goring Thomas) or because, like Alfred Cellier, he conducted for G. & S, and even arranged some of the overtures to their operettas; Cellier's Dorothy had a longer initial run then any G. & S. One who is less well known than any is Edward Solomon (1855-95), a member of a family of theatre musicians and a musical director in various London and even New York theatres. He was one of Sullivan's most accomplished English contemporaries on the light musical stage and, predictably, his music is not dissimilar. He wrote ballads like I Should Like To and Over the Way, and numerous salon piano solos (he arranged Grossmith's See Me Dance the Polka for piano), but it was his stage shows which made his name during his lifetime: Billee Taylor, or The Reward of Virtue: "a nautical comedy opera" (1880), Claude Duval (1881, celebrating a well known 18th Century highwayman), Polly (1882), Pocahontas (1884), The Red Hussar (1889), The Nautch Girl, with an Indian Setting, (1891, produced at the Savoy with G. & S. stalwarts Rutland Barrington and Jessie Bond in major roles), The Vicar of Bray (1892, also a Savoy production starring Barrington and another Seiveyard, Rosua Brandrian), Domestic Economy, Pickwick and the burlesque Ruy Blas and the Blase Roue (a splendid title; its best known song was Don't Know). Of these shows perhaps Billee Taylor was the most popular as it had many productions, both in London and in the United States. Had he lived. Solomon might have been entrusted with completing Sullivan's The Emerald Isle, rather than German.

Everybody knows J.P. McCall, otherwise the great Australian baritone singer Peter Dawson (1882-1961) composed the ballad Boots, said to have been inspired by the rhythm of a railway train. Few however could quote any other song titles by him, so here are a few: Deep-Sea Marina, The Jolly Roger, The Pirate Goes West, Route Marchin', Song of the Dawn and The Lord is King. The very titles conjure up the characteristic Dawson Sound.

James W. Tate (1875-1922) is best remembered for two songs A Bachelor Gay (nobody would now give a song this title!) and Paradise for Two, which were interpolated into The Maid of the Mountain for its London run. They proved to be two of the three hits of that long-running show and largely upstaged the work of the show's "lead" composer, Hugh Fraser-Simson. Tate penned musicals and revues of his own (Round in Fifty, The Beauty Sport and The Peep Show) and other separate songs, like A Broken Doll, Ev'ry Little While and Come Over the Garden Wall. He should not be confused with Arthur Frank Tate (1880-1950), composer of popular songs like Love's Devotion and Somewhere a Voice is Calling.

Ernest Longstaffe is best remembered for that foot-tapping ballad When the Sergeant-Major's Parade. He must have had a thing about men in uniform as his other songs include The Captain of the Fire Brigade, Here Come the Guards, The Leader of the Town Brass Band, The Recruit, Home Guards (This also appeared in purely instrumental guise), Where's the Sergeant and What's the Matter with P.C. Brown? There were, of course, other song titles, plus musical monologues, stage works like the musical comedy His Girl and the revue Up With the Lark, even a march, Palace of Varieties. It would be interesting to know if Margaret Longstaff, credited with composing the N.F.S. March (1944), was a relation of Ernest.

We should not forget that Richard Tauber (originally Ernst Seiffert: 1892-1948), the charismatic tenor singer and also a conductor, became a British subject in 1940 and celebrated the fact by composing the score for the musical comedy Old Chelsea (1943), whose big hit was My Heart and I. At that time Llanelli-born Donald Swann, who died in 1994, was only 20. He composed much chord music, carol, art songs - using words by Tolkien, Betjeman and C. Day Lewis - and an opera Perelandra (words, C.S. Lewis) as well as lighter compositions: several for the stage, like Lyric Revue (1951), Penny Plain, At the Drop of a Hat (1956) and At the Drop of Another Hat and of course, the brilliantly memorable lighter songs he composed to the lyrics of Michael Flanders - The Slow Train, The Rhinoceros Song, The Elephant Song, Warthog Song, I'm a Gnu, The Gas Man Cometh and, much the most popular of all, The Hippopotamus Song, particularly associated with baritone Ian Wallace who entitled his autobiography Promise Me You'll Sing "Mud".

Finally let as look briefly at three basically instrumental composers. J.H. Squire (1880-1956), not to be confused with W.H. Squire, through he, too, was a cellist, had an early life full of incident. He ran away to sea as a boy and later killed a man in self-defence. He then entered the world of the light orchestra and was written a whisker of joining that on the ill-fated Titanic. Instead, and in the year next year (1913), he formed the J.H. Squire Celeste Octet (piano, celeste, strings) which was to give many concerts and over 500 broadcasts 1923 and the mid 1950s (the Octet was in abeyance between 1939 and around 1949) and made many records notably for Columbia. His own compositions, single movement genre pieces, were feature by the Octet - An Irish Love Song, The Picaninies' Picnic, An Ant's Antics and Moonbeams and Shadows were among their titles and naturally enough some of then feature solos for the cellos.

Roger Barsotti, born in 1901 in London of Italian extraction, was brought up musically in military bands and eventually became Director of Music of the Metropolitan Police Band between 1946 and 1968. He was a prolific composer for brass band (the "Met" was however a military band in its instrumental formation, or it was in 1976 when I saw it at Bournemouth) and to a lessor extent for orchestra. His compositions included many marches - Metropolitan, Banners of Victory, The King's Colour, The Commissioner, Motor Sport, Tenacity and State Trumpeter - waltzes, polkas, dances in Latin American rhythm, instrumental solos, popular pot-pourris and the attractive suites Three Women, Carnaval du Bal and - a particular favourite - the Neapolitan Suite.

Before we leave this twenty piece garland and its varied blooms, let us finish with one more still-living composer resident in Doncaster. Before his retirement John Noble was a lecturer in music at Doncaster College. His works, all delightfully tuneful with just a whiff of jazz - which their composer enjoyed playing - include sonatas for recorder (originally a clarinet sextet) and clarinet, a saxophone quartet and a Sonatina for alto saxophone. Compositions in light vein include a suite, Fiesta for piano duet, a Suite for two clarinets and piano, another suite, of delicious Fairy Dances for recorder and piano - based on a 13 note "motto" and written in 13 bar phrases, as it was originally written for a concert put on by a local society on a certain Friday the 13th - and, Noble's only work to achieve publication to date, a charming Cats Suite. This, and some of his other work, had its origin in incidental music he wrote for Children's Theatre presentations put on around Christmas time by Doncaster's College Repertory Players, an amateur drama group having affiliations with the College. Most of Noble's music was composed in the 1970s and beyond one or two brief instrumental movements he has written little since.

© 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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