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26 May

A Lifetime of a Light Music Enthusiast

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by Philip L Scowcroft

My interest in music, not just light music but across the board, dates from around 1948 when I was about 15. Before then I had had (ineffective) piano lessons, had sung in my school choir and had cultivated interests in particular musical areas; for example I saw my first G & S ("The Mikado") in 1942, followed by "The Gondoliers" in 1945.

But in 1948 and for years after the BBC's airwaves were choc-a-bloc with light music and I absorbed plenty of it, finding it a stepping-stone to an appreciation of more "serious" music. "Morning Music", which featured many different orchestras, among them Louis Voss' Kursaal Orchestra and several BBC staff orchestras, livened my breakfast preparatory to setting off by tramcar to school on the other side of Sheffield. Other fondly remembered programmes came on Sunday evenings, "Grand Hotel" and a regular concert by the BBC Theatre Orchestra.

The winter of 1948-49 brought riches indeed. I sampled the fare of the BBC's Light Music Festival of a week astride the opening of April and a fortnight's worth of concerts at Torquay Pavilion by the town's Municipal Orchestra whilst in that Devon resort during the Easter holiday, thereby catching some of the latter days of the Torquay Orchestra; it disbanded in 1952 as did so many of its kind about that time. Its programme included a Sunday evening Celebrity Concert and, every Tuesday afternoon a concert by a two-thirds size "light music section". Repertoire during that well-remembered fortnight mixed light music with popular classics as was then quite common. It even happened in the concerts of the Sheffield Philharmonic Society at the City Hall with growing frequency from December 1948 up to perhaps the early sixties - a 1953 concert was entitled "Masterpieces of British Light Music", part conducted by Eric Coates in his own music and conducted by George Weldon also including Di Ballo by Sullivan, some Edward German dances, two Percy Grainger miniatures and Haydn Wood's Variations on a Once Popular Humorous Song. Few "serious" concert organisations would risk that kind of programme now!

In the fifties I still caught light music on the radio like the Festival Hall light music festivals (the 1949 LMF mentioned above was purely a studio event). During the 1960s my preferred holiday destination was Scarborough, whose Spa Orchestra was very much alive (as it is still in 2013, now over 100 years old) with, then, Max Jaffa, assisted by Jack Byfield, at the helm.

Light music was by then in decline on the BBC, but I found light music outlets, joining Stuart Upton's Vintage Light Music Society, the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, which concentrated both on G & S and Sullivan's "other" music, and the British Music Society, many of my writings for which have had a light music flavour. Many of the latter arose directly from my discovery, about six years after joining the Dorothy L Sayers Society in 1980, that its Chairman, Barbara Reynolds, was the daughter of theatre composer/conductor Alfred Reynolds. Barbara had luckily kept much of her father's music and memorabilia about his life. She made these available to me so I could write about him and persuade musicians to revive his work in concerts including those I organise here in Doncaster. After a visit to hear one of these revivals, Barbara said to me, "You have done wonders for my father's music. Why not do the same for his light music contemporaries?"

I eagerly took up a congenial, if laborious, task and articles, mainly for the BMS, were churned out, on individual composers and - as I did not know much about most of them! - groups of them linked in "Garlands". As I write this, in August 2013, there are 1,273 Garlands (and counting), a few of them for the BMS Newsletter, but mostly for the Musicweb site. The Garlands led in turn to a commission from Thames Publishing to write British Light Music: A Personal Gallery of 20th Century Composers, published eventually in 1997 and sold out within a year or so. The discovery of literally thousands of light music composers since has made a second edition (as against a reprint) impracticable, but in 2013 a reprint, with (a very few) updates and corrections, has appeared from Dance Books of Binsted, Hampshire.

The book led to further contacts. Actually in 1997 I joined both the Robert Farnon Society and - at least partly in gratitude to Ernest Tomlinson's fine Foreword to the book - the Light Music Society. I have enjoyed attending gatherings of both Societies and writing for their respective publications: 420 articles and reviews for the LMS, 138 for JIM. Soon after joining these Societies I was invited to write fifteen articles on light music "greats" for The New Grove (2001 edition) something of which I am particularly proud, plus others for its German counterpart, MGG.

I am also glad to have written articles on many almost forgotten light music figures. Alfred Reynolds was followed by Horace Dann, Helen Perkin, Wilhelm Meyer Lutz, Sidney Jones, Désirée MacEwen and Raie da Costa to name a few. My own lunchtime concerts at Doncaster Museum (1286 to September 2013 with dozens more scheduled already) have flown the flag for music, often light music, among them there have been three by LMS Chairman Gavin Sutherland and one by the distinguished pianist Benjamin Frith, who a few years ago I asked to give a recital of "Masterpieces of Briitsh Light Music for Piano" and he came up with John Field, Malcolm Arnold, Arthur Bliss, Reginald King and Eric Coates. The Coates was a piano version of The Three Bears. Shortly before the recital was given Frith met John Wilson at a concert and told him he was doing that; John said, "The Three Bears is orchestral music, not piano music, you can't do that". Soon afterwards I myself saw John and said that, piano music or not, The Three Bears had gone so well it could have been written for piano. John, unperturbed, replied, "Ben Frith is such a fine pianist that he would make anything sound right!"

I could go on but this is already a self indulgence. I will only say that I am grateful to a host of light music composers, executants and enthusiasts for the pleasure they have given me. If my own enthusiasm has assisted, however little, in the present revival of light music, I am well content.

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Journal Into Melody

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