Son of a Welsh miner, Terry Johns enjoyed a distinguished career as a french horn player in symphony and chamber orchestras, chamber groups light music and jazz, and as a composer of music for the studio, television, instrumental groups and brass bands, and a long experience of conducting that began for him at age fifteen when he conducted Tower Colliery band at the area finals of the “Daily Herald” contest at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, the bandmaster having been taken ill.
In that year he composed the opening fanfare for the “Urdd”(youth) Eisteddfod at his hometown of Aberdare and two years later he gained a Glamorgan scholarship to the Royal Academy of music to study French horn with Barry Tuckwell and composition with Manuel Frankel.
London at that time was regarded as the musical capital of the world and at the Academy during those years he met and worked with Michael Nyman and John Taverner and played several performances of their early works. Before he was twenty-one he had been invited by Harry Blech, founder and conductor of the London Mozart players to join the orchestra, but this appointment was destined to be short-lived and within a matter of months he was to become a member of the Royal Philharmonic orchestra and a founder member of the Nash Ensemble.
Concerts with the London Symphony under Leopold Stokowski, Benjamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein marked the beginning of a long association with that orchestra.
As a young man and a cornet player in brass bands, he had formed a passion and a flair for jazz that was to last a lifetime and to influence many of his own compositions and in these early years he played with many of the “greats”of the day -The Tubby Hayes Freddie Logan Afro Cuban big band, the Kenny Wheeler octet and bands led by Graham Collier and John Dankworth. A job in the orchestra at New Theatre in Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’ meant evenings in St. Martin’s Lane playing for the theatre-goers and late nights and early mornings in Soho among the cognoscenti of jazz; playing at clubs and listening to the American giants of jazz that visited Ronnie Scott’s’ nearly every week.
As well as the traditional music making of the legendary English and European conductors, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Malcolm Sargent and John Barbirolli the Royal Philharmonic gave ground-breaking concerts, considered controversial at the time, with the rock band Deep Purple and played and appeared on the film 200 Motels with Frank Zappa, touring Europe and America in between. Terry, during all this heady musical activity, continued his association with the L.S.O. playing on the sound tracks for the films “Star Wars”, “The Empire strikes Back” and “Superman” and with television appearances on Andre Previn’s music night, with jazz through the B.B.C.’s “Jazz in Britain broadcasts with Kenny Wheeler and Duncan Lamont, and by special request to the Royal Ballet at Covent garden and the small group of jazz players for Richard Rodney Bennett’s “Jazz Calendar.”
His own composing continued when he wrote the theme and incidental music for Harlech TV’s The Pretenders, recruiting players from the ranks of the R.P.O. and the L.S.O. for the studio orchestra and conducting the sessions himself.
After ten years at the Philharmonic Terry was persuaded by the violinist and contractor Sidney Sax, to change his gruelling concert and touring schedule for the convenience of the London recording studio circuit.
The National Philharmonic was an orchestra “of the highest quality” put together for recording purposes by Sydney Sax for Charles Gerhardt of R.C.A. Victor and undertook the huge task of the recording of the film music of Wolfgang Korngold under the baton of Charles Gerhardt, the recording being supervised by the composer’s son George. The huge success of this project was followed very quickly by recordings of the film music of Max Steiner, Alfred Newman and Bernard Hermann.
The orchestra played for many opera recordings with Richard Bonynge, Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti and film sound tracks by Jerry Goldsmith, Jerry Fielding, Elmer Bernstein Lalo Schifrin and Henry Mancini.
London’s pop music industry was thriving also at this time and demand for a French horn player with ability to improvise and phrase along with jazz players seemed endless. Terry played on many records with Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Chicago and Gilbert O’Sullivan and toured Britain with Barry White and his “Love Unlimited” Orchestra. He was specially recruited to play the high horn solo in Jimi Helms’ hit, “Gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse” and the jazz albums “Clark after Dark” with Clark Terry, “Images” with Phil Woods and “Peggy Lee Entertains” for London Weekend T.V.
Val Doonican’s regular live Saturday night show from the B.B.C.’S Television Theatre was weekly host to dozens of international artists and performers and as the solo horn of Ronnie Hazlehurst’s television orchestra, Terry backed the singers Tony Bennet, Vic Damone, Burl Ives ,Glenn Campbell and Barbara Dickson and recorded the theme and incidental music for The rise and fall of Reginald Perrin ,To the Manor born, Last of the Summer Wine, Yes Minister, The Two Ronnies and for Eurovision 77.
Terry was invited to become a permanent member of the London Symphony Orchestra at one of the most important times in its history, that included the exciting conductor laureateship of Andre Previn, the opening of the Barbican Centre, a Russian tour with Sir Colin Davis, a major World tour with Claudio Abbado, Aaron Copland’s eightieth birthday concert at the Royal Festival Hall, and the recording of the sound tracks for Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Return of the Jedi on which he played the famous horn solo at the funeral of Darth Vader.
The actor Robert Hardy who was arranging the memorial service for Richard Burton at the church of St Martin in the fields, invited Terry to arrange the final hymn (Battle Hymn of the republic) for the Rhos Cwm Tawe male choir and to compose an obligatto solo trumpet part for Maurice Murphy.
Terry now lives with his wife Karin in Edinburgh, where she was born. His autobiographical, “Letters from lines and spaces ” was published in 2011. Vol 2 of the letters is in progress for publication in 2014.
Terry spends his time teaching, composing and giving book-readings and lectures to schools and music colleges. His piece “Inchcolm” was recently commissioned by the London based, “Superbrass” for inclusion in their new CD to be released later this year. He is artistic advisor to the “Conan Doyle Centre” in Edinburgh.