A Brief Biography of
LEON EDWARD STEPHEN YOUNG
Arranger & Conductor (1916-1991)
by his son MALCOLM HARVEY YOUNG
Leon Young was born on 21 April 1916, the son of Leon and Ethel Young. Named Leon after his father, he is especially treasured, particularly as his younger brother, Raymond, was soon to die in infancy.
Leon senior was a signalman on the railways, and a few years after his son’s birth he was transferred to the signalbox at Strood near Rochester. Leon senior was a devout Salvationist, and his family were soon embraced into the local Salvation Army corps, with father playing cornet in the band and young Leon becoming the little side-drummer boy. His musical education had begun and before long, he had graduated to cornet and later to trombone.
His schooling took place at Rochester Mathematical School where he was destined to pursue studies in electrical engineering. But one, May Baker, presciently noting his natural musical talent, referred him to Percy Whitlock, the assistant organist at the cathedral. Percy had himself been a musical prodigy as a cathedral choirboy from the age of seven and by 1930 had established a fine, if local, reputation for his musicianship.
In his appointment diary, he notes of his new pupil - 'Leon Young - Pfte - a protegee [sic] of May Baker at Technical School. Salvation Army Parents - v strict - she wants him to gather all possible musical experience'.
Accordingly, at 2.15pm on 23 January 1930, a surely nervous thirteen-year-old Leon climbed the steps of No. 9 King Edward Road, Rochester, tentatively rang the bell beside the double fronted door and presented himself for his first piano lesson with Percy Whitlock. An infinitely kindly man and, like many an organist and, unbeknown to Leon, a keen loco-spotter and railway-modeller, those few months and the time spent in the cathedral organ loft were to be a life-long inspiration.
At the time, it was assumed by everyone that PW would naturally succeed the illustrious Hylton Stewart as the cathedral organist, but when he was passed over in favour of a certain Harold Aubie Benntet he moved to Bournemouth. Pastures new and much wider recognition, not only as a church organist and concert organist with the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra but also as a composer of light (and not so light) orchestral works very much in the English tradition - a curious blend of the sacred and the secular which was also to characterise the musical life of his pupil.
Percy died of a stroke in 1946 but his music lives on. Had he lived, how much he would have enjoyed following the career of our subject, his onetime pupil.
In 1935 the Southern Railway completely remodelled the station at Tonbridge and a brand new, state-of-the-art West signal box was built. Once again Leon senior was transferred to become its first signalman and once again the Young family found themselves in a new town. His schooling now behind him, nineteen year old Leon found himself a job as a grocer's assistant, dispensing ill-informed advice on seed potatoes to men with three times his years and experience. His father was soon to become Station Foreman on the railway and Bandmaster at the SA Citadel.
Perhaps to over-compensate for perceived favouritism, young Leon found himself becoming the band's whipping-boy. All the mistakes were his! But a new town brings new opportunities. The Baptist Church in the High Street was seeking an organist and the Co-op Choir (a large body in those days) was seeking a conductor. Leon applied for and was appointed to both posts. And then there were the local semi-pro dance bands. Leon soon swapped his SA uniform for some co-respondent shoes and a place behind an art-deco music stand.
Alfred Harvey, one of the deacons at the Baptist Church who had appointed Leon to the organ stool was also the Sunday School Superintendent. He and his wife Alice had a daughter Grace who not only sang in the front row of the church choir but also sang in the front row of the Co-op choir. She also belonged to the Womens' League of Health and Beauty. In November 1939 they were married at the Baptist Church and set up home with the bride's parents in Hectorage Road. The wedding was not without incident as the bridal cars had delivered the bridesmaid and principal guests but forgotten to return for the bride and her father! The organist repeated his extremely limited repertoire over and over again. Leon must have thought that he had been stood up. The matter was happily resolved and such was the throng outside when they finally emerged that the regular bus service was delayed until the High Street could be cleared.
But Hitler had other ideas. We were at war. In the new year, the Royal Marines were seeking 'Musicians for service at sea in HM Ships'. What better way to serve King & Country than with your trombone! Leon duly presented himself as an HO (Hostilities Only) at the Royal Naval School of Music at Deal in the expectation that the war would be over by Christmas. But then came Dunkirk and the story of the little ships. So it was off to Plymouth for marching drill and gunnery practice.
The military mind associates music with gunnery. Perhaps the mathematics involved is common to both, or perhaps anyone intelligent enough to read musical notation will be equally capable of calculating the trajectory of shells. For either reason, RM bandsmen are consigned to the Gunnery Transmitting Stations in the bowels of HM ships at sea.
After a brief return to old haunts at barracks in Rochester and Chatham, it was now off to Glasgow to embark on the newly built and commissioned Light Cruiser HMS Hermione. She was immediately to see service in the Denmark Straits in pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck which was seen in a snowstorm on 30 May 1941 and subsequently sunk that very night.
Then back to Scapa Flow the next month and thence to Gibraltar to join X-Force and later the famous Force H in the Mediterranean, escorting convoys of aeroplanes to Malta. There had been little opportunity for music so far but that was to change. Leon had become firm pals with a fellow bandsman, Max Nicholls, from their first days at Deal and together with a few like-minded bandsmen they formed a small dance band which performed in Gibralta's clubs, officers' wardrooms ashore and over the local radio as well as aboard other ships and in impromptu jam sessions with other groups (even borrowing instruments) whenever the opportunity occurred. The RM band also played at official events ashore in Gibralta and Leon had the opportunity to play the organ at the cathedral and the Presbyterian Church and, at the other end of the Mediterranean, on occasion at Valetta cathedral on Malta.
Days and nights at sea were unendingly eventful - bringing down raiding aircraft, ramming and cutting in half the Italian submarine Tembien on the surface, rescuing downed airmen, shelling enemy ships and shore batteries and generally protecting the aircraft carriers, enabling them to safely deliver over 200 aircraft to Malta.
One day in 1941 Leon received news aboard Hermione that back home in an upper room at Hope Villas his wife, Grace, had given birth in the early hours of Saturday 13 September to a baby son. Leon rushed to tell the captain. As an officer and a gentleman, Captain Oliver greeted the glad tidings with all the great joy appropriate to the occasion but he must have had more pressing considerations on his mind, not least the prowling U-boats! One such U-Boat (U205) found her target on the starlit but moonless night of 16 June 1942 and sent Hermione to the bottom of the Mediterranean, some ninety miles from Tobruk, 'rearing up', as described in The Daily Mail, 'like a huge whale'. U205 was subsequently commended by Rommell for sinking Hermione, in his own words, 'the terror of the Mediterranean'.
After 45 minutes of paddling and gulping the dark, oily water, Leon and Max were rescued by the destroyer Beaufort and taken (ice cold?) to hospital in Alexandria. A week later they secretly discharged themselves and literally leapt aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth (not the liner, the battle ship) which had been in dry dock but was now departing for Cape Town, South Africa via the Suez Canal. Hermione had been to Cape Town earlier that year as part of a British Force to capture the Vichy-French island of Madagascar to prevent it falling into the hands of the Japanese. This was a splendidly successful Hornblower-style operation undertaken before returning to the all too familiar waters of the Mediterranean.
On crossing the Equator on the way down, Leon had been subjected to the 'crossing the line' ceremony for novices. No such novice this time though. Now it was crossing the line southwards, east of Africa, rounding the Horn and then sailing northwards up the Atlantic, crossing the line again this time west of Africa and after two months and several ports of call, they arrived at Chesapeake Bay and then Portsmouth, Virginia, USA.
A happy and musical couple of months was to follow. Still billeted aboard the battleship Queen Elizabeth and later at the US Marine Corps barracks, Leon and friends formed themselves into 'The Hermione Three' and played at clubs and dances to great acclaim. They presented a glamorous image and, invited daily into the homes and churches of local families, they were feted as 'England's Proud Sons'.
But it was over all too soon and before long it was an overnight train via New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia where they boarded the Queen Elizabeth (this time the liner) bound for Greenock and ultimately the RN School of Music at Scarborough. Much of Leon's time here was spent arranging the music and putting together the musical extravaganza Tokyo Express. This was one of two official Naval Shows of the war (the other was Pacific Showboat) and it opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in June 1945.
Michael Mills was the producer and Norman Whitehead was the musical director. Band Corporal L.E.S.Young also performed in item 17, 'Six Hands in Harmony'. Another pianist in the show was Signaller Trevor Stanford who after the war changed his name to Russ Conway. Although originally destined for HMS Agamemnon, the show finally toured Canada instead, but without Leon.
Max was part of the RM band's rhythm section which, with five brass and five saxes, 'lifted the roof off'. Leon was a grocer's assistant when he left civvy street in 1940 but by the time the war had ended five years later, he was a fully-fledged orchestral arranger and all-round musician.
Despite his mother-in-law's protests (get a 'proper' job), he resolved to make music his full-time career and after trudging the streets of London in his demob suit and trilby, he soon secured a position as staff arranger at Francis, Day & Hunter, the publishers, in Charing Cross Road.
Maybe as a result of contacts he made on Tokyo Express or through his new associates, within two years he was contributing arrangements for Tommy Handley's ITMA, then the most popular and prestigious show on radio. Each programme contained a musical spot featuring the BBC Variety Orchestra conducted by Rae Jenkins. Among the arrangements contributed by Leon Young in 1947 and 1948 were Auld Lang Syne, Crazy People, Gale Warning (conducted by Guy Daniels with an augmented orchestra), Knees Up Mother Brown, My Boy Willie, Three Negro Spirituals, Whit-Monday Medley and Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree - collectors' items all.
'Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree' was chosen for the Royal Command Performance attended by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret in the Autumn of 1948 because the song was a favourite of the King's from his Duke of York's Camps for boys. It is interesting to note that Leon wove into the closing bars of his arrangement the tune of 'Here's a Health unto His Majesty' but it's not known whether the royal party noticed.
The FDH shop enjoyed a double frontage at the top of Charing Cross Road on the East side, the windows of which displayed a gleaming array of musical instruments and sheet music. Customers and artists alike would use this entrance. But at the side of the building, on Denmark Street, was an anonymous faded doorway for the use of lesser mortals, behind which three flights of stone stairway with iron handrail led to a top floor landing, home to an ancient gas stove and a butler sink.
From there a dim, windowless passageway led to the offices of the arrangers and copyists overlooking Charing Cross Road. Halfway along the passage on the left was Leon's office, a small room, perhaps eight or nine feet square, which looked out over Denmark Street. It was sparsely furnished with a desk and chair, an elderly leather visitor's chair and an upright piano of doubtful parentage. It had all the ambience of an Edward Hopper scene. The aforementioned facilities on the tiny landing afforded these professional musicians complete autonomy. They could brew their own tea and coffee by setting the hob burners to p, mp, mf, f and even ff according to the intensity of heat required. Occasionally they were summoned to the sumptuous offices on the floor below, there to meet a visiting artist in need of a special arrangement.
Among the fledgling artists whose careers Leon helped to launch in this way were the schoolgirl, Petula Clark, and the young Max Bygraves.
Although still living with his in-laws, Leon now felt sufficiently well established in a secure and rewarding job to buy an Austin 10 and, ever an animal-lover, a long-haired marmalade cat called Marmaduke. One day in 1948, a member of his church choir whispered that the house next door to hers in Douglas Road, would shortly come onto the market. At that time such insider information enabled Leon to secure the property forthwith. From this modest semi-detached, within walking distance of the station, Leon commuted the thirty or so miles to and from Charing Cross daily until he retired from FDH.
One of the first items to be installed in the new home was a Bechstein baby grand piano. But it was insufficiently 'baby' and the front bay windows had to be removed to get it in, an exercise which resulted in a crack in the frame (shades of Laurel & Hardy). This was not apparent until the instrument came to be sold in later years.
Before the war, Tonbridge was home to a Society of Local Amateur Musical Players (LAMPS), dedicated to producing a show each year. Together with like-minded friends, the LAMPS was reformed in 1948 with Leon as its Hon. Musical Director. Their first show in 1949 was No, No, Nanette performed at the old Repertory Theatre in Avebury Avenue, an edifice adequate at front of house but devoid of dressing rooms backstage save for some draughty lean-to sheds which denied modesty to the female cast members, even from the road outside. Rehearsals were held at Phil's Cafe attached to the boathouse on the river. A single-storey wooden structure, it sported a large meeting room ideal for the purpose.
Postwar austerity lingered on in Britain into the 1950's but the deprivations of rationing had been somewhat alleviated in the Young family at least by the regular arrival of parcels of food and clothing from the affluent friends in America whom Leon had met in Virginia during the war. In 1951 they came over for a reunion with 'England's Proud Sons' and to see the sights. The same year saw the advent of the New Elizabethan era heralded by the optimism of the Festival of Britain.
As the decade progressed, increasing prosperity (not least for the local Ford dealer) permitted a certain self-indulgence. The Ford Prefect became a Consul which became a Zephyr which became a Zodiac.
In 1953 the Decca record label issued two 78s containing two of Leon's most famous and memorable arrangements, Charlie Chaplin's theme from Limelight and Ebb Tide. The label had recently signed up Frank Chacksfield to add to their roster of Stanley Black, Mantovani and Robert Farnon. This was to be a 40-piece orchestra with a large string section and Leon was approached to provide the arrangements. He made fine use of such resources and, in the event, conducted the recording sessions as well. Both titles won Golden Discs for sales in America, the latter being the first-ever British non-vocal to reach number one in the American charts.
Leon composed the memorable soaring counter-melody for solo violin which is now synonymous with Limelight while taking a bracing walk on the promenade at Burnham-on-Sea. The success of this recording led Charlie Chaplin to invite Leon to Switzerland to work with him on future projects, an invitation which he declined.
There was also a brief foray into film music with a score for a B-feature war film produced by the Danziger Brothers. The Danzigers were better known for their entrepreneurial abilities than for their artistry and the title is now mercifully obscured by time. However it occasioned the purchase of an intricate stopwatch so that Leon could accurately match the music to the pictures as they were screened on the wall of the recording studio. This all came to nought on the cutting-room floor and Leon's career in cinema progressed no further.
More and more Chacksfield long-playing discs were released by Decca. Conceived as 'concept albums', they were characteristic of their time and are a showcase of Leon Young's arrangements. He is credited with some of them in the sleeve notes but only industry-insiders knew the truth - that he arranged almost all of them and conducted most of the sessions as well. Frank Chacksfield was himself an arranger but of limited talent and it suited him well to maintain the popular belief that the work was all his own.
Many an arranger, Nelson Riddle included, has had their work misappropriated by another. Now in his mid-thirties, Leon had the enthusiasm, the energy and the stamina to sustain the gruelling demands of his round-the-clock career. Many were the all-night writing sessions at home and at weekends, Jock Todd, his copyist, would come down and stay overnight copying out the parts for the next session. Jock was a professional copyist and semi-pro accordian player with an entertaining turn of phrase. He christened these weekends the Crotchet Factory.
Copyists work in ink with a special splayed pen-knib which, flourished expertly, will produce crotchets, quavers etc at a stroke. The downside is that the ink took a while to dry so his parts were regularly spread out all over the music room floor. 'Get that sad cat out of here', Jock would cry whenever Marmaduke ventured to add smudged inky paw-prints to the music. Leon's full-score, on the other hand, was written entirely with a soft pencil which permitted of much rubbing out before perfection was achieved.
The tools of the arranger's trade were modest - a pencil, a pen-knife sharpener, a rubber, a ruler (for drawing full-length bar lines), some pre-printed manuscript paper and a board to provide a hard surface. Throughout his life, Leon's chosen ruler was a promotional gift from Confederation Life, wooden with a metal edge, and his chosen board was the back of a broken art deco mirror with bevelled corners that had belonged to his mother-in-law. The sound was of a constant tap-tapping in the making of small-headed crotchets with detached tails interspersed with the urgent wiping away of rubber shards with the side of the hand. The work was composed entirely within his head with only occasional visits to the piano just to try out alternative chord sequences.
Both Leon and Jock were sustained throughout these marathons by large cups of black coffee and a constant supply of Players Gold Leaf cigarettes bought from the local newsagent by an under-age junior member of the family. That same person was also despatched with equal regularity to the railway station with parcels of parts destined for the BBC broadcasting theatres or the recording studios. So familiar was the sight of a small boy and a large parcel on the platform, that registration formalities for Red Star were dispensed with and the parcels placed directly into the hands of the guard who could be trusted to safely deliver them for collection at Charing Cross.
Jock Todd bought the Zodiac second-hand, by this time bristling with extras - wing mirrors, a sun-visor and a chromium-plated exhaust deflector. It was a bit flash. Other copyists associated with the crotchet factory at that time were Albert (Bert) Elms and Edwin (Ted) Astley, both of whom went on to greater fame as the composers of many a TV theme tune.
Although a hugely successful songwriter and tunesmith, it is well-known that Lionel Bart could neither read nor write a jot of music so Leon was invited along to note down the melody lines for Oliver as Lionel sang them to him. But it seems that the experience disinclined him to make the arrangements as well. They were subsequently undertaken by Eric Rogers.
By 1958 television was well-established in the homes of Britain and this year saw the first screening of The Black and White Minstrel Show featuring the George Mitchell Singers. Leon had known George since the 'George Mitchell Showtimers', as they were called after the war, had recorded a memorable LY arrangement of Ten Green Bottles. They subsequently enjoyed a long and cordial working relationship based on mutual respect, Leon regularly contributing arrangements for the Minstrels which would exploit the particular talents of each of the star soloists as well as the ensemble. The programme was a huge favourite with the public but by 1980 it was considered to be offensive to black people and so was discontinued.
Perhaps because of the pressure of all this commercial work, Leon began to feel the need not just for recognition within the music industry but for academic recognition as well. This led him to find the time to study for the Associateship of The Royal College of Organists (ARCO), whose exams are acknowledged to be among the most demanding in musical academia, both practical and written. Of course, the theory and the practical were no problem at all but poring over weighty tomes on the history of English Church Music proved more challenging. However, he passed with flying colours and promptly went on without a break to take and pass the Fellowship (FRCO) exam as well. As if that was not enough, he also took private one-to-one lessons in classical conducting which might have seemed superfluous at this stage in his career.
At this time he was also busy composing, arranging and conducting numerous titles for the Mood Music library and at home there were two services a Sunday at the Baptist Church and choir practice on Thursdays preparing an anthem. But all this took its toll and he was laid up with a back problem, confined to bed on a hard board for several weeks. He had a television perched atop the wardrobe to keep in touch with his television broadcasts and a radio to hear his broadcasts with various BBC orchestras, not to mention programmes on topics which would otherwise have been of no interest at all - 'Gardeners' Question Time' is all new to one unable to distinguish a daffodil from a tulip.
There was no escape. Not to waste the time, Leon spent hours writing out various combinations of instruments, 'wish lists' on small sheets of paper, in pursuit of an original sound as distinctive as that of Mantovani or Bert Kaempfert. Such an overt style eluded him but his 'signature' is readily apparent in the distinctive string voicing (noted by many), the use of woodwind (two flutes a favourite), a marked fondness for the flugel-horn and certain harp colorations. His favoured lady harpist smoked a pipe throughout the recording sessions.
Enter the Swinging Sixties and the emergence of youth culture - Carnaby Street, psychedelia, Elvis, Rock & Roll, The Beatles, and above all the dominance of the electric guitar and of small groups. How much cheaper were four lads than a big band or a large orchestra.
You might think that this would prove to be the death knell for Leon's style of music but, largely thanks to Denis Preston, this was not to be. Denis was a record producer whose particular talent lay in bringing together sometimes unlikely pairings of artists at his Lansdowne Studios. He suggested the formation of an orchestra consisting of the very top session musicians of the day, brought together solely for recording purposes and to be called 'The Leon Young String Chorale'.
Leon resisted the word 'chorale' at first, perhaps because it offended his classical sensibilities, but he was persuaded that it would be a good marketing device as 'chorale' was a fashionable word at the time. Other artists recording at Lansdowne were Elaine Delmar, Bent Fabrik and Roger Whittaker, all of whom benefited from the accompaniment of The LY String Chorale with his distinctive arrangements. Perhaps the most memorable of these is the characteristic LY arrangement of Roger Whittaker's Durham Town.
There were also discs issued on various labels featuring the String Chorale alone, the finest of which being Ellington for Strings, a selection of the Duke's compositions specially arranged by Leon for the album which received enthusiastic approval from the man himself. But, of course, the most famous association of this period was with Acker Bilk, an unlikely pairing indeed. Everyone who remembers the sixties remembers Stranger on the Shore. Issued as a single on 25 November 1961 it went straight to number one and stayed in the charts for fifty-eight weeks. Acker's tune, originally entitled 'Jenny' after Bernard's daughter ('Acker' is a west-country pseudonym for 'mate') was given to Leon as a single line on a scrap of paper. From this he produced an arrangement of exemplary craftsmanship and characterised by the restraint so typical of his mature style. The change from minor to major ('How strange the change...') at the close is so very LY.
The success of this track in the UK was mirrored in the US, resulting in Acker & Leon being invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan show in New York. The indignity of Leon's strip-search by US customs officials was in sharp contrast to the subsequent luxury he enjoyed at the Algonquin Hotel. He also had to contest litigation with Acker for recognition of his contribution to the best-seller. It was ultimately settled 'out of court'.
Adrian Kerridge was 'the engineer with an ear' and Peter 'Letraset' Leslie designed the record sleeves. The contribution of the engineer cannot be readily dismissed. Over and over again we hear of the interpretation of such-and-such a conductor but the engineer can control the overall balance and bring out the pertinent instrumental emphasis far more than can the conductor. The 'interpretation' lies within his hands.
At home, Leon, now habitually described in the local press as 'that well-known local figure, Mr Young of the BBC', had been LAMPS Musical Director on fourteen shows from No, No, Nanette in 1949 to Katinka in 1962. In the intervening years the Repertory Theatre had changed its name to The Playhouse and was finally demolished in 1955 to make way for Sainsburys. The society then moved to The Royal Victoria Hall at Southborough on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells and opened in 1956 with Mr Cinders. Leon became President of the LAMPS in 1963.
The old sticker & tracker organ at the Baptist Church in Tonbridge High Street had been built by Lewis & Co in 1894 at a cost of £236.15d and was now showing its age. Leon drew up the specification for a rebuild to be undertaken by Hill, Norman & Beard. An organ fund was launched in 1961 which raised £5,500. The new organ with a detached console and casework by Herbert Norman was consecrated with an inaugural recital on Saturday, 4 December 1965.
Leon's programme included works by J.S.Bach, Louis Vierne, Paul Hindemith, Jean Langlais, Flor Peeters and Franz Liszt among others. Three years later the River Medway burst its banks and a devastating flood of swirling muddy water rushed through the church. The organ was dismantled to be dried out and when the church was demolished and relocated from the High Street to the north end of town in 1973, the organ was rebuilt to the same specification but in different casework on the new site. But, by this time, Leon was organist at the Parish Church, a change of denomination and repertoire.
During the 1970s and 1980s BBC radio broadcasts continued with various BBC orchestras hosted by presenters such as Alan Dell, John Dunn, James Alexander Gordon, Jimmy Kingsbury, Sarah Kennedy, et al. Leon diligently recorded these broadcasts on 78rpm 'acetates', open reel tapes and latterly stereo cassettes in recognotion of their undoubted worth and for private study. Much of the archive survives, as do most of the original MSS and parts. Arranging continued too, both staff and freelance, but there was less recording and more time for original composition.
Among some unusual compositions can be found a novelty brass band piece for euphonium and a violin capriccio, both as yet unperformed. Leon employed a number of pseudonyms for his original compositions including Gil Adam, Gil Adams and Malcolm Harvey. A much earlier composition performed regularly at services of remembrance is a fanfare, To Comrades Fallen, commissioned for the state trumpeters of the Royal Marines.
There also followed a long association with Sidney Thompson and his Time for Old Time programme which also resulted in a series of LPs. This might seem an unlikely association as Leon had never set foot on a dance-floor in his life and would have had two left feet. But the knowledge and craftsmanship that he brought to the arrangements was much appreciated.
His deepening commitment to church music led him to install a classically-voiced organ with full pedal board alongside the Bechstein. This enabled him to practice at home without turning out on cold, wet winter nights to practice in a draughty church. But when Songs of Praise was broadcast from Tonbridge Parish Church, Leon could be glimpsed at the console, not attired in FRCO hood and gown, but in his shirtsleeves. To him, this was just another professional recording session.
In October 1983 he was pleased to attend the founding of the Percy Whitlock Trust at the old RCO building (of fond memory with its Italianate friezes) alongside the Albert Hall. Malcolm Riley (PW Trust secretary and founder member) recalls that LY was just as modestly retiring that day as he was as a teenager at PW's door in 1930.
His in-house arranging at FDH had become increasingly demoralising. This was the time of Adam Ant and of the Sex Pistols. While the other arrangers tried to make reasonable piano copies, Leon was required to make orchestral arrangements of 'Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs' or 'Grandma, We love You'.
His disenchantment was complete. With his ironic daily mantra, 'I hate music', he was just serving out his time until retirement in 1981. But his commitment to his fellow musicians remained constant and, as a long-time member of The Performing Right Society, he joined the panel of the Members Fund and would make occasional house-calls to assess personal need.
With the daily commute to Charing Cross now a thing of the past, proximity to the station was no longer necessary and in 1985 Leon & Grace moved to a bungalow at the north end of the town. The organ moved too, but not the Bechstein as Leon now had the compact Challen upright brought with him from FDH. He also moved to the organ stool at Frant church on the further outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, perversely in quite the opposite direction.
The music of the Salvation Army and the brass band movement in general drew him back. His interest in brass bands had sustained him throughout his life and he had served as an adjudicator at occasional contests in the south of England.
In November 1989, Leon & Grace celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with a dinner attended by family and close friends, many of whom had been there fifty years before, but none from the music industry.
We have seen how the railway and the Salvation Army exerted such influence upon his early life and, fittingly, so they did at the end. On a cold Saturday evening in January 1991, Leon & Grace attended, with friends, a concert at the Royal Festival Hall given by the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army. Awaiting the train home to Tonbridge late at night, Leon collapsed and died on platform C at Waterloo East. His head appropriately full of stirring music, his sudden and unexpected destination was one not usually served by the South Eastern railway.
In fact, his head was always full of music. Even in repose, his fingers were ever active on the arm of his chair, perhaps a Bach toccata or a brass cadenza. Who could say? And not just every waking moment - the music entered his dreams as well. He would sit up in bed and triumphantly announce, 'I've got to letter M', a reference to the arranger's practice of identifying the salient structural progressions of a piece by rubric letters of the alphabet.
Music dominated his life to the virtual exclusion of all else. He had no other hobbies except, perhaps, the accumulation of facts and anecdotes but even these were for use in his regular 'Passing Notes' column in the Baptist Church Newsletter.
With self-deprecating irony he liked to refer to his achievements as those of 'a wandering minstrel', indeed his talents were appreciated by musical sophisticates and unsophisticates alike. Ever a skilled accompanist, the congregational singing at the Baptist Church could best be described as 'rousing'. His pre-service extemporisations ('busking' he called it) were legendary. He would find out the theme of the minister's sermon and weave a mix of Salvation Army choruses and favourite hymns into a reverent muse, beautifully timed without fail to quietly conclude as the minister rose to his feet. The postlude too would often be a thrilling paean of praise which stopped the departing worshippers in their pews.
Those precepts of good workmanship which so informed his youth, were apparent throughout life also in his commercial work. The youthful exuberance, perhaps a little showing-off to his peers, in the earlier work exemplified by the ITMA arrangements, gave way to a characteristic restraint in the mature years, almost a puritan self-denial and economy of form. But students and practitioners in the art of orchestral arranging will always remark the style of unexpected invention and, above all, the consummate craftsmanship.
Copyright Malcolm Harvey Young 2006: this article first appeared in the December 2005 and March 2006 issues of ‘Journal Into Melody’