Dear Pat,


When I see Belfast on the television news, plagued by disputes about the flying of flags or the sporadic violence that erupts in the streets, while Dublin grapples with problems of the Euro and the unimaginable numbers that represent the nation’s debt, I think of you in old Ireland, and smile to myself, knowing how unaffected you are by the antics of politicians and financiers, and that you are always at ease in the certain knowledge that with the help of music we can save every day, and fend off every disaster.


I have envied your calm and resolve in the face of these matters for years. This morning, therefore, I resolved to ignore the coalition’s minister of culture and the depressing and disingenuous content of her recent speech on the relationship of the funding of the arts to the economy, and to give my full attention and adoration to this glorious day!


The world is born again, and as I watch the wind whipping the white horses across to Fife in the sunshine, the seabirds fill the skies with their cries of joy, and the Firth of Forth stretches open mouthed and amazed across to the open sea.


The grandeur of nature astounds me, and this bright spring weather after a long wet summer and a cold winter is such a joy, but try as I might, thoughts of the asinine artlessness of the minister for culture drag me away from this beautiful morning and back to the past. How many such experiences have we known?


Politicians, concerned continually for their media image and anxious to avoid exposure to real truths that are superfluous to statistics, become lost in their obfuscations, chicanery and feasibility studies, and are simply baffled when they come across serious matters that concern the role of music, or art of any kind in the community of the normal and everyday. And they clutch desperately at the term, “market forces” like a disturbed child cowering in the corner with a broken toy.


We, who REALLY answer to the public and make our living providing the arts to the people, know that they are precious gifts to the senses that are indivisible from life itself. A brass band or a youth orchestra could be a gift to a young boy that could save him from the misery of the dole, and the evident and ancient power of music has relieved the immense pain and personal loss that has been caused by politicians in the darkest days the world has ever seen.


Our monumental “Pathetique” symphony with Kempe in 1972 at the Festival Hall was a performance that those who were present have never forgotten. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on that day, acclaimed as it was throughout Europe and America, stood destitute and ostracized in its own land, at the edge of oblivion, the politicians and critics baying for its blood and the press loitering at the stage door before searching the pubs and gutters for our casualties. There was no post performance conversation or bonhomie that night, only sighs of relief, zips and breathlessness but with that concert and the intensity of the performance, the orchestra had asked a poignant question.


“Our tormentors demanded songs of joy. – How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”


Perhaps you will remember those words that you spoke that brought us all back to reality and the masculine malodour of that dressing room.


I have never forgotten them.


Our land and the behaviour of its representatives seems as strange as ever it was to those of us that just want to make music and enough money with which to do it.


I know you will remember the tone the critics took on the day after that concert, when even the nastiest of them was forced to relent with a condescending nod to our “virtuosity”, and to put aside the instruments of torture for a day, before normal malice was resumed, and we were once more thrown at the familiar mercy of the Arts council and the Treasury.


We were, of course, exactly where we were meant to be, where we always had been, and where we are today.


I shall now follow your example while the day is still rejoicing, and the television screen stares blankly at the wall!


“O men it must ever be


That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,


A little apart from ye.”




Yours Ever





DSC_0029On the 26th of March 2013 “Superbrass” started the recording of their CD “Brass Taps” at the Henry Wood Hall in London.

The country was struggling to get free from the grip of winter, and our train traveled south from Edinburgh, through mile after mile of snow covered fields.








Dear Roger,


I’m in Edinburgh again. At last the late March freeze has given way to sunshine and there are Spring flowers on the meadows.

How good it was to see you, and to be in London again, although I had quite forgotten how to navigate its vastness.

On Monday I gave a little interview to Michael Doran at Trinity College in the grand maritime environs of Greenwich, just a few yards from the naval college and the Cutty Sark.


It was intended to entertain and prepare the students in part for a life in music, but had extended itself to people who had read “Letters from Lines and Spaces” some of whom are now part of Trinity’s distinguished teaching staff, and were old friends and colleagues that I hadn’t seen since my Royal Philharmonic days. The event seemed to be filled with such pleasant surprises that continued into the next day when we took the train to the city from Greenwich.

As we walked south to Henry Wood hall from London bridge, we were startled by the Shard, leaping suddenly into the brilliant blue sky in the unfamiliar sunshine, and the thrilling sight of it reminded me of days gone by, when discovering new towns and cities was a weekly event for a young man breathless at the beginning of musical life, and green as the Welsh hills.Then in the peaceful symmetry of Trinity Square the rush hour rumblings of Borough high street softened and gave way to the sound of brass that came striding across from the church to meet us, and I could feel the first vibrations of the exhilarating day that was to come.

I believe that the technique and versatility of British brass players is something unique in music in the World.

The power and energy in what they do transforms everything in its path like a revolution, and insurgence can make strong medicine for composers and players alike.

In this familiar company, I always feel safe from my self-protecting inhibitions and the music can breathe easily, free from the authority of conductors, managers and musical moralizing.

Thank you and Superbrass and for making it all happen with such care and professionalism. The CD is certain to sound very special. The fabulous sounds rang in my ears for hours afterwards, and my ribs were aching from laughing about old times with old pals.


Yours ever


















John Green, author of ‘The Stone Frigate” and “ Reunion” is my old friend and customer from our days at the “Bull’s Head”.


Waterfront Ave


February 2013






Dear John,


Although I have heard you complain albeit gently and occasionally about the steepness of Mount Street, and its effects on your now historic and war torn body, having watched the television news and the dismal pictures of the streets in the towns of mid Wales running like rivers under the relentless rain, I know you will be thankful today to have your house on the hillside.

I wasn’t able to come and see you in November. I’m sorry for that, and although I considered it, I eventually decided against inviting you to the British Horn Society’s annual festival in Cardiff, in order to save you from spending the day with a hundred and fifty french horn players.

Your time was evidently more pleasantly spent in writing to me about your Christmas in Brecon, and your letter took me right back to the old town and our Christmases past in the “Bull’s Head.”

 Our family was all together here in Edinburgh for the festivities last year, with the exception of Dylan who spent his Christmas day in a diving bell at a depth of 150 metres under the North Sea off Shetland. However, the telephone and computer in the bell enabled him to call us after lunch, and the first words that emerged from the telephone as a consequence of his breathing helium gas, sounded like a disembodied Donald duck from the deep.

The words “Merry Christmas” squeezing through the speakerphone, direct from Davy Jones’ locker, to a dinner table in Edinburgh is a situation comedy beyond description.

As the laughter resounded, I remembered a similar combination of Christmas festivities and Pentecostal babbling that took place on a tour of China with the BBC Scottish in the year 2000.

I remembered as well, that I wrote to you later from Shanghai but this event was something I had forgotten.

I was in a “duck” restaurant in Beijing with some people from the BBC Scottish orchestra including my Welsh friend Elin Edwards.


One of the ways in which the Chinese cook duck, is to poach it in water and rice wine, the resultant liquid forming a disgusting, off white viscid soup, the drinking of which, we were told was to be the most nourishing and desirable part of the experience, second only to the eating of the brains of the unfortunate animal which are exposed by the waiters, who split the head lengthwise with a cleaver, thereby enabling the contents to be picked easily from the skull with chopsticks.

The seasonal accompaniment to this grisly gastronomic theatre was a sort of Sino Elizabethan musak version of “God rest ye Merry Gentlemen” which was being played at high speed, in adenoidal audio by what sounded like an ensemble of Zhonghus, Sanxians and some western digital contrivances.

A dozen or so Chinese were seated around a large circular banqueting table next to us, the men shouting simultaneously in a kind of quarrelsome Mandarin across a forest of wine bottles, empty rice bowls, and duck carcasses, whilst the women were giving their attention to their babies’ crying.

And to add a colorful commentary to all this, Elin was speaking in Welsh, on a mobile telephone to her sister, who was at a pre- Christmas party in Pontllanfraith, the volume of her voice having been adjusted so as to be heard above the party- goers in Wales, our Mandarin neighbours at the next table, and with a little additional volume which I presumed was to allow for the great distance between Beijing and Monmouthshire.

Donald duck quacking a Christmas greeting from the depths of the North Sea could not have sounded in any way inappropriate to all this.

Dozens of ducks, having been prepared in various ways, were being transported around the huge restaurant on trolleys, and our waiter, having been encouraged through the various phases of drunkenness by the cordiality of the people who occupied our adjoining table, had by now reached the final phase of the process, marking his achievement by dropping one of the birds, which bounced like a rugby ball leaving trails of grease on the vinyl floor that the trolley wheels could not avoid. The resulting drunken climax to this Chinese theatre of the absurd was provided by our waiter who, resolving to attempt the head splitting ceremony at our table, and with his cleaver perilously poised, was knocked off his feet by a wayward trolley.


This madness was ongoing and an hour or so later we were instrumental in the fraud and deception of a huge audience in the ”Great Hall of the People” by means of a very approximate performance of Beethoven’s fifth symphony which was “conducted” by an enormous Russian bear with a sore head, aggravated by over a week of touring in a country, the ancient and delicate cuisine of which was completely unsuited to his huge appetite and greediness.

 The final accelerando of the symphony was as hazardous and slippery as our “duck” experience, and our drunken waiter and his cleaver could not have made a worse job of conducting than did our malnourished Muscovite.

His arms appeared to be tiny and irrelevant in comparison to his enormity and fatness, and they assumed the awkward atrophic proportions of flippers on a walrus. Consequently, his attempts to provide rhythmic direction when things started to fall apart, only served to destabilize the younger and less worldly among the players in the orchestra, while the rest of us, by means of a disdainful indifference, remained true to our ancient traditions of orchestral playing.

The ‘maestro’ was seen in the hotel restaurant later that night, oblivious to the damage he had caused, piling a great number of carefully presented Chinese delicacies onto a heap of rice in the middle of his plate, prior to shoveling the whole sticky mixture into his mouth with a spoon, his chopsticks having been discarded in gleeful anticipation.


The sight of all this and the lingering memory of our shoddy concert only intensified my longing for home, and eventually after several equally threadbare performances in other Chinese and Taiwanese cities, we ended the tour in a confrontation with the customs at Taipei airport, whose officials, working on the assumption that all itinerant musicians are drug addicts, rifled all our luggage and having found nothing incriminating, instituted a special ‘musical instrument’ tax that delayed us for a few more hours, before we finally embarked on the twenty hour journey to Glasgow.

I don’t miss touring now and I have enjoyed relative sanity since I started to play the horn solely for the pleasure of it, and there was certainly no madness or drunkenness at our Christmas dinner of seafood and venison: just the gentility of Edinburgh, interrupted only by Donald Duck from the deep.

The weather is softening at last, and the floodwater is subsiding all over the country. Soon you’ll be walking along the riverbank in the afternoons again. I’ll join you in the spring and we can lean on the bar in the “Market Tavern” with the farmers.


Yours Ever

























































School orchestras were not responsible for the international banking crisis !

lines_spaces_coverIn February 2013, the Cardiff City Council cut funding to the arts by 100%. Councils all over Britain are cutting arts funding and music tuition and youth orchestra provision was to be severely damaged. The financial difficulties in American intensified. The orchestra in Minnesota had been “locked out” for more than three months





Dear Dave,

I get news every day via the Internet of cuts to arts funding. The great benefits of Facebook, such as news of events and renewed contact with old friends bring bad news too and in these difficult times it seems as if there is no end to it. The American orchestras are falling into serious financial problems with great frequency now. Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minnesota, the list lengthens. I wonder if we are witnessing the end of the profession, as we know it. Can we recommend it to our children?

I feel a greater discomfort within, that I am partly responsible for this impending catastrophe or at least guilty in some way. Maybe this is why I find it difficult to answer a child that asks my advice or approval for a career as an instrumentalist, and while common decency compels me to be frank about the fragile condition of it all.

God! This is depressing!

I don’t want to be a politician or a “disgruntled correspondent. Apathy is what ails me if I’m not careful: along with a lot of other people it seems.

But it wasn’t always like this. We did fight like hell for the RPO all those years ago, and it was worth all the press vitriol and all those “end of the month” financial meetings and negative balance sheets.

That’s it of course – It’s always been the same.

The establishment and the press criticized us for performing with “Deep Purple” and Frank Zappa. One paper called our concerts “humiliating” at one stage.


Playing music, or doing anything for small amounts of money is often considered demeaning nowadays, while the receipt of enormous fees for concerts is some sort of qualification of excellence for the conductors that have kept us close to bankruptcy for decades.

We did far more humiliating things in fact which were done as “media” damage limitation, such as an invitation that was made to the critic of the “Gramophone” magazine to accompany us on an American tour, which was to be for him, an all expenses paid holiday, touring California and the west coast of America and staying at the best hotels.

In return of course, we did expect favorable reviews to be sent home that would perhaps influence public opinion and help in some way to stabilize our perilous domestic position with the Arts council. The man in question had no real experience or understanding of music, beyond the academic. He was much more interested in his own self-aggrandisement, and reserved his professional obsequiousness for the maestro and the great and good of California. He hardly ever spoke to the players nor took any interest in their lives or their perpetual problems and it soon became obvious to us that we could gain nothing whatever from his presence on the tour beyond an increase in our financial deficit.


At the halfway point of the tour, or thereabouts, he became very obviously bored with the concerts, which were by and large repeat performances in different towns and cities, which is of course the normal and necessary practice of touring orchestras.

Anyway the result was that he stopped attending performances altogether outside the major cities, and one night he was standing in the wings of a theatre in Sacramento as we came off the stage, and I heard him make a derisory remark, to those within earshot, about the evening’s performance, which he could only have heard in part and from the wings of the stage at which point, my friend Pat O’Brian lifted him off his feet by the lapels of his jacket and informed him, through clenched, teeth that “like it or not,” our shoddy performances were paying for his California holiday and after a derisory reference to the “Gramophone” magazine and its unsuitability for certain lavatory usage, he let him go.


The act summed up the communal contempt that had grown for this unwelcome guest among the players since our departure from London, and Pat’s reprimand from the board of directors was delivered later in the bar of the hotel, accompanied by gentle cocktail piano music and stifled laughter, with a mutual realization that we had all (even the unfortunate critic, who was still trembling and drinking by himself in a dark corner of the room) made a serious mistake with this experiment. It was suggested that Pat apologized to him as a vain attempt to salvage something from it all. A grudging apology was given, and after receiving an equally reticent acceptance, we paid up resolutely for all his bills and expenses, increasing our deficit accordingly!

Yes! It has always been the same.

Young people entering the profession have no idea that they are at the beginning of a lifelong battle. I certainly didn’t. It’s as well for me that I didn’t mind a good fight, I always maintained a good sense of humour, and deep down, I felt that the joy of it all was worth much more than the problems it presented, but I was fortunate to have grown up in better times!


I can’t come to the protest day in Cardiff, but I have written to the relevant councillors etc. I’m certain that public opinion will prevail in all this. Wales has always shown the way in musical education.


Shortly before British forces invaded Iraq, I saw a man interviewed in the street by the BBC in Baghdad. The man was going to the mosque with his two sons.


Asked why he didn’t want the Americans in his country, he said,

“I don’t want my children to grow up with hamburgers and drugs!”


I don’t want my grandchildren to grow up in a country where musical education is only for the privileged and better off.


Our children are everything. They are the future. There is no future without them and they are our responsibility!

We have burdened them with the debt of disgraceful and illegal wars. We poison their food and then we blame them for the disorder in society. We refuse to pay for their education and berate them for their ignorance and naivety. We complain when they take no interest in politics while the politicians entrusted with their future and security are prosecuted for dishonesty and duplicity.


Maybe this acrimony and unrest is all for the best in some mysterious way, but we can’t accept this. Something must be done.

I’ll write to you soon about more pleasant matters

Yours ever



In October 2012, The Conan Doyle Institute in Edinburgh presented a concert to celebrate its first Anniversary. It was given by the Alastair Savage string quartet who were playing on instruments crafted from a tree that grew in the garden of Conan Doyle’s family house in Edinburgh. The programme included a piece that I wrote especially for the occasion, based on the novel, “The Sign of the Four.”




Dear Pat,

I write to you, while imagining that Dublin courtyard, filled with the aroma of cedarwood, warm walnut oil, and the sound of violins, and to tell you that, at last I can claim a violin experience of my own!

I composed my first string quartet for Alastair Savage’s group at the request of the Conan Doyle Centre in Edinburgh for their first anniversary. When I hear people perform my music like this, it always brings such a rich mixture of feelings. I feel a great and unfamiliar humility when players take such pains to achieve a genuine reproduction, which is strange terminology but may be as near the truth as it is possible to get with regard to written music.

The two violins, viola and cello that Alastair and the quartet played on Tuesday were made here in Edinburgh by Steve Burnett, from an old sycamore that stood in the garden of Conan Doyle’s childhood home on the outskirts of the city.

Searching through the Sherlock Holmes stories I thought the “ Sign of the Four” would be an appropriate one for a quartet and I set to work. Finally, the piece arranged itself into a reading of a synopsis of the story with incidental music.

I read from the book, as the audience enjoyed the brilliant playing and the atmospheric language of Conan Doyle, on a dark, late autumn evening in an elegant Georgian drawing room overlooking the cathedral grounds.

Thirty-five people make a perfect audience for Chamber music, and Steve’s  instruments, having lain asleep in the workshop for more than a year, filled the room with their song: a glorious gratitude to their craftsman and the quartet, and for the joy of having an audience. Afterwards I felt a warm satisfaction inside, redolent of my early days performing. No critics were there, no conductor or agent. No fee or potential recording contract. Only applause and smiling faces.

“As it was in the beginning”

After the concert, as I walked to the car, a fox loped across the broad elegant expanse of Melville Street with a grace and urbanity that matched her surroundings, as if she had been born in the city. I stood watching her, surveying the silent Georgian streetscape, and felt suddenly harassed by a memory of the summer from that very spot, when an open topped car, growling impatiently in the festival traffic spewed out noxious petrol fumes and the voltage and vitriol of electric guitars, carrying the insult of their “sound” around the city, like a violent mental patient on day-release.

“These planks of wood impaled with their diabolical devices and variations of torture and torment, contemn patience, dedication, craftsmanship and fineness of feeling, and glorify vulgarity, deadly voltage and sexual distortion. The hellish sound of this ‘instrument’ disturbs the Almighty Himself, and the evidence of His discomfort surrounds us!”

That is what you wrote in your letter to me after one of your reluctant Dublin rock and roll ‘experiences’, and I agree entirely, though I could never summon such faith or effective language to use as a vehicle for my own feelings.

The concert and the relief and sanity that it brought, having rearranged and restored my molecules, follicles and corpuscles to “factory settings”, I sat down to write this morning, reflecting on our forty years of friendship, our many exchanges about music, and of you, across the sea in Dublin among melomanic Irishmen and  centuries of craftsmanship.

“The flames of hell give forth no light” it has been said! Nor does an electric shock generate music any more than it gave relief from their torments to the mental patients of old.

To call this painful noise  “music”, and the as the media now does, is an obfuscation that will be penetrated in time.

I fear that in our urban lives, we are being steered by increasingly excessive and almost inescapable noise towards some sort of collective neurological malfunction, the early stages of which is at present masquerading as euphoria.

Did Mary Shelley herself not describe her chimera as “handsome” and ‘beautiful” and did not the creators of the gleaming war machine swell with pride in 1914.

Please forgive my self-indulgence. I seem to have found a little revolutionary spirit under some old delusions and complacency. Only thoughts of you and old Ireland bring me comfort and peace.

After Christmas we’ll come visiting and shopping and we shall buy some Donegal tweed, against the winter blast, and Waterford crystal, to bring gentle music to the dinner table.

When midnight mass is over and the children are asleep there will be silence in Melville street so we can listen to the trees grow and the fox’s velvet footfall.

Yours Ever



In November 2012, I was invited to the annual festival of the British Horn Society that took place, this year at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. Now that I have a claim to being an elder statesman of the horn fraternity, I was asked to take part in an interview with Tony Catterick, the Society’s historian and archivist, in front of an audience of mostly younger players.


Dear Roger,

I awoke on this lovely morning, enjoying an unusual calm and composure that allowed me to lie for a while in the warm bed, and to summon gratitude for not being in a hotel or guesthouse with the breakfast prospect of budget sausages and instant coffee. These memories come less frequently to me now, and are not nearly as troubling, as they used to be. Though it has taken a long time, for the spectre of the eternal solo to leave me in peace.

We have all trudged the streets of an unfamiliar town, aware and weary of this ominous presence, like some distant relative you had come across unexpectedly and were not too sure about. Frightened to take him anywhere lest he embarrass you, but anxious to keep him entertained in case he were to spoil the party in the evening. He doesn’t follow me any more. I’m almost sorry for that. I feel as if we would perhaps be on better terms now. I feel a certain pity for him too, when I think of his habitual loitering at stage doors or lurking in a hotel lobby as you arrive after a long journey, but I feel at the same time, a huge gratitude that his dubious attentions have been directed elsewhere.

My old friend Pat Vermont, a West Indian violist, who enriched the lives of all who knew him, and was blessed with a glorious, glamorous, androgyny, would often entertain the LSO on its world travels with his pre-concert monologues, referring theatrically to our labours and peregrinations as — “all this”.

“When ‘all this’ is over”, he would declare to the little band-room theatre,”I’m going back to Jamaica to live with my auntie!”


It is ‘all over’ for me now, that is to say my days of playing the horn for money and touring are behind me, and the chicanery of management, mendacity of critics and the shameless public and pecuniary auto- eroticism of conductors are all but distant memories.

Tony’s thoughtful interview was a world away from any of those irritations, and was an unique experience, conducted in such a calm and collected way, enabled I suspect, by years of practice, and bolstered by the comforting fact of our more than forty years of friendship

The memories of past events returned with ease, but although of course familiar, they seemed in these circumstances, to assume a mysterious separation from reality.

I thought later, that the interview had resembled one of those “out of body” experiences one reads about, that is to say, it seemed to be completely detached from any worldly feelings of anxiety or sense of time, seen from a neutral place of safety, and bathed in ethereal white light, rather than stumbling over electric cables in a dingy theatre pit.

My only moment of discomfort in an otherwise perfect day, came from the sudden thought that “The Catterick Interview,” is of course reserved only for the few, and it was that unfamiliar and disquieting circumstance that provoked a strong and unfamiliar feeling of seriousness inside me, that seemed quite inappropriate when in the company of a room full of horn players!

When I released my honorary membership of the British Horn Society from its purple ribbon, not in Cardiff where it was ‘conferred,’ but here beside the waters of the Forth, I saw that it made reference to “The world of horn playing”, to which I felt my own contribution had been made the more insignificant and humbling by the profusion and greatness of its distinguished population. Have there been so many unsung heroes in other ‘worlds?’

Where would Beethoven, Strauss, Wagner, Mahler and John Williams have been without the likes of us? Would Siegfried, Robin Hood, Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker have lived so vividly in the human imagination without such noble accompaniment to their exploits? And where would our British orchestral life be today without the real life heroes from our ranks such as Barry Tuckwell, Keith Whitmore, Jim Brown, Nick Busch and John Bimson who chaired the boards, and steered the London orchestras through their never ending difficulties, while peering at times into the abyss of bankruptcy and annihilation, but always leading the cavalry charge on the concert platform against the critics, who at that time almost to a man, supported the Arts Council view that there were too many orchestras in London.

“The world of horn playing” has given a great many gifts to a lot of people and for my own part it has given me a rich and meaningful life that has been endowed with countless good companions and many lifelong friends, the labours and achievements of whom, amplify this honour beyond measure to me.

Thank you all

Yours Ever


Scientists say that there will be a serious power shortage in the future. Music and power are linked in more ways than one!

At the Edinburgh festival in August 2012, the London Philharmonic’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s ‘The Bells” was cancelled due to a power cut at the Usher Hall. Before the concert, I went to meet my old friend Tony Chidell who was in the orchestra. We had not seen one another for more than twenty years

Dear Tony

Do you know it has been more than twenty years since the Maastricht treaty was signed, Bill Clinton was elected, and we were last together in London? The cancellation of the concert meant very little to me of course, except to say that had the announcement been made sooner we could have spent some more time together.
“Power failure at the Usher Hall”, the Scottish news said last night. It’s difficult to get to the truth through such imprecise language. There is a forest of nebulous, platitudinous, multi-purpose vocabulary that is used by critics, radio presenters and third rate conductors everywhere, to bewilder and amuse their audience and fuel their own self delusion.
Surely there must be some who suffer a nightmarish dread of an era to come, where it will, be required of “experts in the field” to provide some proof that they have some real knowledge of their subject or even some practical experience of it, beyond the operation of a CD player in a radio studio, or dramatic corporeal gesticulation on a rostrum, which activities are at best incidental to the genius of the great composers, and the sounds of the finest orchestral players in the world.
We will never know, unless we turn to the critics, who seem to know everything, and I half expected to see a review of the concert the next day. It certainly would not have been the first time that a review had been published, of a concert that never took place nor is it the first time a concert has been interrupted by darkness.
Years ago the lights went out towards the end of a concert during one of our RPO Welsh tours during the finale of the seventh symphony of Beethoven which was steered calmly to its conclusion by the composure and silver haired experience of the then ostracized and destitute Royal Philharmonic, (though my own youth and meagre ability produced little or no contribution to the proceedings). The conductor was still faintly visible, by moon and street light to those who were interested but he had appeared to have lost his place in the score long before the power cut had intervened to sharpen our concentration.
His consequent histrionic and desperate attempts to simulate control and acuity had been made the more frantic by the sudden darkness, and when the heroic rescue of the symphony was acknowledged at the end with thunderous applause, he very obviously thought it was all for him, and having spotted a little pool of light that had fallen onto the stage from a streetlamp, he jumped into it to take his triumphal bow!
It was a joy to see you again, still laughing and performing in such distinguished Philharmonic company, though that sticky sandwich bar and the malodorous dressing room revived the anxiety and dyspepsia of touring days for me, and I freely admit to feeling a glorious feeling of relief when I took to the street at last and headed for home.

In Wales all those years ago the maestro narrowly escaped the horror of anonymity that they all seem to fear so much, by drawing on the power of people who knew their trade, and I can still remember the look of relief on his face, though for myself, having been restored to sanity by a couple of years of normal, non orchestral life I cannot imagine any greater anonymity for any musician than to appear in an orchestral concert without an instrument!
The real power of music lies in the hands of those who compose or perform it and last night the electrical ineptitude of the Edinburgh city council deprived the maestro of a platform for his conjuring trick, but it is the power of money and the media that perpetuates the maestro’s deception and protects his five figure fee and it is that power that in these times is failing us all who want simply to perform and to afford regular meals.
I’ll be in London in January for a recording, assuming all is well with the National Grid.
Yours ever,


The Manchester Pullman was a main line luxury train with first class coaches and a steward service. It was withdrawn from service in 1985.

Only hours before the 1969 Aldeburgh festival was due to begin, the old brewery ‘Maltings’ at Snape caught fire and the building was almost completely destroyed, but the scheduled concerts were re-located and went ahead as planned. The morning broadcast concert was my first appearance with the “Barry Tuckwell Quartet”.

My old friend Ben Thomas was a viola player from Morriston in Wales. Ben died in London in 1978.

Manchester Pullman

September 1969

Dear Ben

This train is full of muttering businessmen going north. It’s an odd feeling to be travelling with the general public and all this grumbling reluctance!! I was captured by fog with the RPO at Dublin airport yesterday for five hours. The brass just had a party in the bar!!

You’ll be wondering what happened to me at Aldeburgh!  I arrived at the ‘Plough & Sail’ about a half hour after you’d left and spent some time talking to some English Chamber Orchestra Players, mainly about the fire of course, which by then had been all over the news. It had, they said, almost completely destroyed the Maltings, Ben Britten’s piano and a great deal of music.

The Tuckwell horn quartet was forced to give its morning broadcast recital from the old church at Snape, which despite it being mid summer, was as cold as the grave.

My trembling, which I managed to bring under control in time for the broadcast, was a combination of anxiety, excitement and hypothermia, the journey from London to Snape in Barry’s car having done nothing to help my condition. This was my first experience of his driving, and after a few terrifying encounters with tractors and farm animals, I felt sure it would be my last!

When we arrived finally at the church with fifteen minutes to spare before our ‘live’ broadcast at eleven o’clock, the beleaguered BBC producer who had been working since dawn to set up the equipment for the broadcast, (the fire having destroyed everything at the Maltings), was desperate for a few minutes to check the sound of the horns, so we did what we could and Barry played a few bars of the Beethoven Sonata with the piano.

The end of the concert was an immense relief to all of us, and we were driven to Ben Britten’s house for a reception, where Peter Pears greeted us at the door, along with a very likeable lady, whom I later discovered to have been Imogen Holst, was serving sherry and canapés to everyone. She seemed to be fascinated, which was a surprise to me, by my valleys accent, and I think the sight of me swallowing those absurd canapés three at a time, alarmed her somewhat. So she took me to the kitchen and gave me a proper sandwich with a good slice of strong, salty cheese and a bottle of Guinness to wash it down.

Barry’s promise of “breakfast on the way” had of course never materialized, so even before the concert started, I had been delirious with hunger.

Fortified by my sandwich and beer, I managed to mingle a bit and spoke to Britten for a while.  He seemed fatalistic about the fire, hardly mentioning it at all. He was far more interested in the broadcast, saying how much he’d enjoyed the Tippet, and the sound of the horns in the church. Barry had insisted on a lot of rehearsal, and his own playing of course, is inspirational to everyone, so it was all a great success finally.  Although as we left, I spotted the BBC producer sitting alone in the corner next to a table covered with empty plates and chicken bones, looking as if he’d seen the gates of hell!

When I got to the Plough & Sail, the landlord gave me your note saying you would be at Television Centre on the 25th.  I’ll be there too!  I’m told it’s going to be large orchestra for an hour-long show with Jack Jones, who’s a really great singer so I’m looking forward to that. This is all to be conducted by Harry Betts who’s very able and sociable, having been a trombone player in the Stan Kenton band. So we can all go to the Irish pub at Shepherd’s bush green, for boiled bacon and cabbage and Guinness.

The train is on the move now.   Breakfast is served and the rain has started. I have a few pals in the Hallé to steer me around Manchester after the concert

Good luck


P.S. No one ever asked me to play with the English Chamber Orchestra.   You must tell me all about it when we meet. The strings always sound superb to me on the broadcasts I’ve heard, and I imagine it must be marvellous to play in those Britten premiers.


27 Watermill Close




18th September 1969

Robert Jones

34 Park Terrace



Dear Bob

I’m writing to your Aberdare address as you can see.   I was in Paris in the summer and an entirely impromptu visit to the address that I had for you there was unsuccessful.   A shrugging Frenchman weighed down with groceries told me that if you were the person he thought I was enquiring after that you wouldn’t be back in Paris until September.   I could hear the sound of a piano coming from the top of the building but I was certain it wasn’t you playing it because it wasn’t very good at all and it wasn’t jazz either.   I was really disappointed to have missed you, hoping that we could have visited a club or two.   I can tell you that no one in the London Mozart Players has the slightest interest in jazz or would consider going out after midnight and although the music was terrific, at the end of the tour I found myself in various states of depression, delusion, psychosis and eventually despair.   I was greatly relieved to get back to London.

I had no right to feel such hostility towards a whole group of people in this way; my feelings were simply a result of class difference I’m sure, so I told myself that the people from musical families and the “middle class” had no more influence on the circumstances of their birth than did I, and as soon as I got to London I headed for the West End to find somewhere to play.   I’m almost always welcome with a French horn.   It adds something unique to a group and I seem to be the only person in London who wants to play jazz on it.   Before I left for the tour I played with Tubby Hayes and Freddie Logan’s Afro Cuban Big Band at the Marquee Club; and I’ll be doing some BBC “Jazz in Britain” broadcasts with Kenny Wheeler and Graham Collier.   If I thought I could make any kind of living playing jazz I’d do it like a flash.   Jazz musicians are the very best of people and anything and everything in their lives is fuel for humour. I was in the Marquee the other day, with Harry Becket, Joe Harriot, and a few white guys, all laughing and joking about Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. Bob there was no trace of anything in that room, but the ridiculous. No high horses or resentments. These guys just love one another; music and life are synonymous to them and there seems to be almost no rivalry but a great deal of warmth and companionship.   I’m sure that you will be playing a lot in Paris; the jazz scene there is vigorous isn’t it?   I hope you will write and tell me all about it. [Read More…]


Bob Jones

Churchill’s Club Cardiff

1st Sept 1984

Dear Bob,

How’s life underground? I have that picture of you behind the bar at Churchill’s in my mind’s eye- and the beguiling sound of the jazz spinning in my brain—that ride cymbal and bass, bumping along like an underground train. I’m sorry; I am a rotten bastard for not having written to you for so long.

Our tour seemed to last six months but it lasted, in fact only six weeks and, despite visits to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, I heard no jazz at all for the whole time we were away—only Mahler, Mozart and Bartok who’s sounds I could not evict from my head in between concerts and countries and who, joined forces, (mostly in the mornings) with unintelligible airport tannoys, muzak, and screaming jet engines to assault my senses, intensifying my homesickness, self pity, gratuitous racism, and xenophobia.

Homecoming was sweet but, there was very little respite before leaving again, and the two or three days I had set aside for writing were tied up in loose ends and repacked before you could say Edinburgh, with the consequence that my music for Burton’s memorial service on the 30th of august was nowhere near finished. So having written some of it on the train journey to Edinburgh, we gave a concert in the Usher hall on the previous night with Rafael Kubelik, after which Maurice Murphy and I took the midnight sleeper back to London, with only the six-hour journey within which to finish the job. Maurice took the top bunk, whilst my manuscript, and I occupied the lower one, and we got on with it.

I had been asked to make a choir and organ arrangement for the Rhos Cwmtawe choir and to compose a solo obbligato trumpet part for the last verse of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, that was to be the final hymn of the service as the actor had himself requested.

The arrangement was finished and the choral and organ parts copied and checked and only the trumpet solo remained to be done. Clattering through the night on the train, the piece began to take shape, and I passed the manuscript to Maurice in the bunk above for approval from time to time. [Read More…]

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