6:8 Conductors, the smoke of battle.

My first concert with the CBSO in 1970 had been conducted by Hugo Rignold. It turned out that my first concert was Hugo Rignold’s last. His contract had finished the previous year and this last concert completed that contract.

Louis Fremaux had impressed the orchestra and was accordingly appointed the principal conductor. Some conductors have a special insight into the works of a particular composer and/or style of music. This was the case with Louis Fremaux: he brought an inspired feel to French music, such as Debussy and Ravel. Spanish music, for instance de Falla, was also part of his repertoire. However some in the orchestra thought that Brahms, Beethoven, etc. the meat of our repertoire were not a strong point for him.

The relationship between an orchestra and its conductor is often fraught. Some individuals just cannot get on. This was the case with Tony Moroney and Louis Fremaux. In a steeply tiered Birmingham Town hall Tony Moroney was at eye level and not too distant from the conductor. Tony Moroney had a flute stand in which he rested his flute when not playing. Tony customarily tested conductors when there was a flute solo coming up by sitting with his arms crossed staring at the conductor. At the very last minute he tossed his flute in the air, caught it and started playing the solo as always brilliantly. The fun was to watch the conductor panicking with a flute solo coming up and the flute player with no flute in sight. Would the conductor know which beat the solo started on?

Whether it was this challenging behaviour by Tony Moroney combined with built insecurity on the part of Louis Fremaux or not, the two of them just did not get on.

On one occasion Linda Coffin, another brilliant flute player, came in on trial as number two. Louis Fremaux insisted she played first flute in one piece while Tony played piccolo. This was perceived by Tony as an attempt to humiliate him. However Louis Fremaux clearly did not know Tony’s reputation as the best piccolo player around. Tony, despite hating the piccolo, rose to the occasion and played the piccolo in a way that knocked everyone’s socks off – we all shuffled our feet, the musicians sign of approval. Tony smiled. Louis Fremaux looked grim.

After a time Maurice Handford was appointed associate conductor. Maurice Handford had made the mistake of being tough on the students when he conducted the orchestra each week at the royal college of music – or was it the royal academy. Consequently in every professional orchestra that he conducted there were a significant number of ex students looking for ways of getting their own back. The CBSO was no exception. Maurice Handford did not help himself by pulling faces at the horn players if they cracked a note in a difficult passage – Maurice Sandford being an ex horn player himself knew all the difficult parts for horn. It would have been so much better for him if he had helped the players through those passages – perhaps with sympathy or encouragement, perhaps with praise when things went well.

In the slow movement of rachmaninov second symphony there is a deeply sad cello passage. We played the symphony on three successive evenings. Maurice Handford was the conductor. Each time just before this cello passage Maurice Handford turned to face the cellos and then turned a little extra so that the audience was able to see his face. As the cellos played their tune a tear rolled down his cheek. This happened every time. Cruelly, as he turned that extra bit, the bass section started to sniff loudly. Still the tears came.

The relationship between the orchestra and Maurice Handford became so bad that I noticed at one concert Maurice Handford standing at the edge of the stage just out of sight of the audience unable to walk on to start the concert.

Vilem Tauski who was known as the bouncing Czech (he was round, he bounced as he conducted and he came originally from Czechoslovakia ) conducted us at Tchaikovsky nights at the Albert hall. Sometimes for a change we did Beethoven nights or Viennese nights. Victor hochhauser was the impresario who put on these concerts. It was John Charles, the orchestral manager, who asked victor hochhauser why he employed two soloists for these concerts. Much cheaper to have one soloist John Charles suggested. I doubt however whether the soloists were paid very much if at all. Cutting out one concerto however meant there were some chance of the orchestra coaches arriving back at Birmingham Airport by midnight and thus saving the after midnight payment of five Shillings for each musician.

Vilem Tauski did almost collapse with laughter in one performance. It was a Beethoven night and victor hochhauser had decided to put on Beethoven’s battle symphony. This was a first. Instead of canons as for the 1812 overture, victor hochhauser had booked some real red coated soldiers. The first we knew of this was during the performance when, to shouted commands from an NCO, the soldiers marched in, shouldered their rifles and fired Blanks into the air. At this point in the music the orchestra was in full battle mode roaring away with Beethoven’s notes. Vilem Tauski could be seen amongst the smoke of battle shaking with laughter with tears pouring down his cheeks.

The concert finished and as usual we were being driven away on the coach within 10 minutea playing three card brag, chess or bridge. Perhaps reading inch thick books.


6:7 orchestras then

6:7 CBSO then

Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony, Etc / Frémaux, City of Birmingham SO

Release Date: 03/20/2007 Label: Emi Classics For Pleasure Catalog #: 82233 Spars Code: ADD

Sound samples of this CD can be listened to on this link.

The first sample is of Felix Kok the leader of the orchestra. Whatever was going on around him, and no matter what the circumstances, Felix sat there and played his solos magnificently and was in all ways an exemplary and dignified leader. An example to us all.

Listen to the poco adagio sample from the organ symphony. The violin section is playing with great sensitivity and a wide range of dynamics – this can be very risky. The way a symphony orchestra section worked in those days was for the section players to always follow their section leader. This personalised the sound even though the orchestra was a large ensemble. If everyone plays, ‘doing their own thing’, then a thicker sound tends to emerge with less individuality because everyone’s individual musical ideas cancel each other out – an entirely different type of orchestra.

There is a thumping performance on this CD of the massed bass section playing the elephant. We did this with no rehearsal and no notice – we just played and the sound engineers recorded.

The tortoise is one of my favourite tunes – again with the whole bass section playing.

All the characters in the orchestra are on the show – for instance Tony Moroney can be heard playing away with his customary brilliance. Tony is even mentioned by name on the CD sleave, a very rare honour for a musician.

The different sounds of the halls we were playing in is very apparent on this one CD. The carnival of the animals was recorded at the De Montfort hall in Leicester. The organ symphony was recorded at, I think, the great hall of Birmingham University. I recommend a visit to the Leicester hall. This is a genuine natural acoustic though slightly on the echoey side. In this acoustic every one is heard: it even matters what the back desk of the violas is doing . The instruments have their individual character so that the flutes not only sound like flutes, but they can explore the extreme ranges of their dynamic from the softest sounds upwards.

Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794-1846): The Career of a Double Bass Virtuoso [Hardcover]
Fiona M. Palmer

To understand bass playing in 1970 I recommend reading this book on Dragonetti. Dragonetti arrived in England from the orchestra in saint mark’s Venice. He made his life here in London and his positive influence is felt to this day. Dragonetti uniquely sat at the front of the orchestra next his great friend Lindley, the principal cellist. Dragonetti commanded a fee far greater than any other musician in the orchestra. Further he had it written into his contract that he did not do rehearsals – why waste a performance on an empty hall? Dragonetti brought a great many of the finest instruments to this country; he also encouraged English makers of instruments.

Perhaps Dragonetti’s greatest contribution is Dragonetti’s influence on Beethoven and Haydn. Haydn was a personal friend and Dragonetti’s sound can be heard in Haydn’s compositions.

With Beethoven Dragonetti’s influence is even more striking. Dragonetti had played one of Beethoven’s cello sonatas with Beethoven himself playing the piano. To hear Dragonetti’s influence on Beethoven listen to Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Later on the double bass recit in Beethoven’s ninth symphony was written for Dragonetti. Dragonetti played the recit in the first performance. Having played the solo Dragonetti wished he had asked for more money.

Bottesini settled in London after Dragonetti had died. If Dragonetti was a bass sounding bass player, Bottesini was a Tenor. Bottesini was a talented composer of operas and pieces for the double bass which he played himself. Bottesini had studied composition with of Bellini. Bottesini was also a conductor#: in the first place of his own operas. His talent as a conductor was such that Verdi had Bottesini conduct the first performance of Aida in Cairo. This performance of Aida used live animals. After the performances had finished these live animals were used to start the zoo in Cairo. So it can be said that Bottesini, as well as all his other accomplishments, founded a zoo.

The expertise of these two bass players has been passed on down the generations in London. There not being the availability of printed music, bass pupils copied out the pieces that they wished to learn from their teachers. Thanks to these two bass players there was, back in 1970, a ready supply of very good instruments in this country. Professional bass players generally had a collection of good instruments, where nowadays a professional bass player is lucky to have one good instrument. Fortunately the demand for good instruments has meant that talented modern makers are now emerging.

In my case I had been fortunate to come across good teachers, starting with Bridget Dearnley in Salisbury. Thanks to this teaching I knew how to hold a bow and as a result had a good bowing arm. At every stage, even though my technique was limited (my view), I must have showed sufficient promise#: enough to be accepted by those who knew what to look for in a player.

At guildhall Ken Heath had taught me technique along the lines of Pablo Casals. Jim Merrit, coming from the Dragonetti/Bottesini tradition, had a similar technique. As did Eugene Cruft. My next teacher, Robin Mcgee, was a pupil of Stuart Knussen, who in turn had had lessons from Torellio, Pablo Casals’s nephew to whom Pablo Casals had taught the double bass. All these different teachers where applying the same body of knowledge applied from their own viewpoint and experience.

The Point I am making is that the skills and insights required to play an instrument are passed down through the generations from master to pupil. Each pupil makes this knowledge their own. Thus I can look at Egyptian hieroglyphics and carvings showing musicians playing. Although the instruments in these carvings might be different to modern day instruments, the principles of playing those instruments are the same as those I was taught; something which can be clearly seen: for instance in the way the ancient Egyptian musicians are holding their instruments.

It does seem to me that the sounds of those ancient musicians lives on in the way we play nowadays. I have in mind not just musicians in this country, but in other parts of the world: for instance listen to, and watch, traditional eastern Mediterranean musicians and traditional Chinese musicians. These principles are put to use by a generation after generation of musicians across all continents to suit the times the musicians are living in.

6:6 Reggie

6:6 Reggie

The two years I spent with the CBSO in Birmingham starting in 1970 were a time of great change for the orchestra. The bass section was also in a great state of flux. Ken Burston, the highly respected principal of many years’ standing, had moved back to number three. Most of Ken’s section had retired. Tommy Guy and Reg Whitaker, the two remaining members of the previous section, were close to retirement age. Indeed Tommy retired soon after I arrived. If I remember correctly Les bought Tommy’s bass which enabled Tommy to buy a snooker Table.

Reg Whitaker had joined the orchestra many years before as contra bassoon doubling double bass. As a result of some unnamed ailment perhaps a linked to eating too many chocolates, Reggie had to quit playing the double bassoon and stick to the double bass. Also as a result of this unnamed ailment Reggie played the bass sitting sideways on his stool with the bass propped up on his side. A unique style of playing.

Reggie was the master diplomat always cheerful and pleased to see everyone. Reggie was the important person in any bass section, the person who knew everything that was going on. Indeed he knew what the management were thinking even before the management themselves

Reggie lived in the house he had been born in. The house was situated close to Edgebaston cricket ground and had survived all attempts at redevelopment in the area. A survivor just like Reggie himself. Reggie was a lifelong cricket follower and attended cricket matches at the Edgebaston ground on every possible occasion.

During the winter months when there was no cricket Reggie followed the women’s hockey at the nearby bournville chocolate factory. Apparently he used to acquire bags of discarded chocolates from the factory. Perhaps eating those chocolates accounted for his mysterious illness.

January was an important month for Reggie. It was only then that he started discussing the coming summer’s test match. David Monro, the co-principal bass, was knowledgeable enough to discuss the team with Reggie. Leroy being Scottish wasn’t interested in such matters as cricket.

Reggie had mastered the art of being careful with money, an important matter for all professional musicians as we needed money not only to live but to buy and look after our instruments, something which was very expensive.

Instead of going out to meals between rehearsals and concerts Reggie brought his own sandwiches and thermos. At one point Les tried to persuade Reggie to buy a sandwich box that he could use over and over again. However I seem to remember that Reggie preferred wrapping his sandwiches in paper bags: or was it newspaper?

On one of our annual visits to Bexhill for a weekend of music, it was Reggie’s turn to be off, the stage at Bexhill being too small to take us all, Reggie asked me a takeover his bed and breakfast room that he had probably booked previous year. He had negotiated ‘a special rate’ he told me

When I came to pay for the room at the end of my stay the landlady asked me for the full rate. ‘I felt sorry for the old man’ she told me rather embarrassed. Reggie had worn the same light brown Mac for so many years that the colour had been leached out of it by the weather. Reggie looked poor. However this was far from the truth for Reggie, having no car and small accommodation costs, saved almost all his salary and expenses, and had done all his working life.

This is not to say that Reggie was mean. He was in fact very generous, for example in giving money to his church and friends and colleagues who were in financial trouble. On one occasion he quietly told me that if ever I was in financial trouble to come to him to see if he to help. Of course I never did.

I heard later after I had left the orchestra that Reggie continued to work after his official retirement age. However the day came when he did retire. He then splashed out and bought a gramophone with a set of records. He arranged for the orchestra to continue to send him the orchestra schedules so that instead of playing in a concert he listened to records of the music being played at that time. Sadly, as often happens, he died soon after retiring.

Reggie was an important member of the orchestra and the bass section. Also he had his own following in the audience, some of whom sat immediately behind him in the choir seats for concert after concert.

My favourite cricket memory of Reggie is of him telling us of the old days when there were gentlemen and players. The players being professional. Apparently in those days the players received a bonus for scoring a century. It became important to the players to score exactly 100 and no more, it being considered selfish to monopolise a good pitch when others had the opportunity to earn a bonus for them selves. Accordingly once a batsman reached the nineties, the so called nervous nineties, the batsmen were not nervous at all, they were just waiting for the opportunity, the right ball, to score the exact number of runs to make 100 before getting themselves out. Giving their wicket up in this way had the added advantage of denying the Bowler the kudos for taking their wicket.

As a professional bass player this cricket memory struck a chord.

6:5 new car

6:5 new car

Back in 1970 the main Volkswagon dealer in Birmingham was situated close to Digbeth town hall. It had become obvious to me that my faded yellow 20 year old rust free beetle was clearly and sadly not up to motorway driving. Also the wiring in the car needed replacing.

One day on leaving a rehearsal at at Digbeth town hall I spotted in the VW showroom a two year old bright red 1500 beetle for sale at just over £300 pounds. The car had less than 30,000 miles on the clock. With great trepidation I visited my bank manager and asked for a loan to buy the car. Fortunately my bank manager came up with the money and I was soon the proud owner of a very fast car.

It was at this point that inflation really took off. Some five years after buying this car I was able to sell it, now with a high mileage, for more than I bought it including the interest on the bank loan.

In those days there were no breathalyser tests, no speed restrictions on motorways, no barriers on motorway central reservations and no lighting on the motorways either. There were of course not so many cars as now. I was 23 and was soon driving at between 85 and 90 miles an hour on the motorways.

Driving to a date I used to give myself 100 minutes for a 100 mile journey. It must be remembered that arriving late for a rehearsal was a definite no no and that those 100 minutes included time to find the hall in a strange town, park, unload the bass, unpack the bass and be ready to play on the conductor’s down beet at the exact time I was required.

The return journey through the night was adrenaline fuelled, not just as a result of excitement of the concert, but by driving fast in the dark. I learnt to drive on my instincts and was fortunately never involved in an accident – however if I am honest I have to say there were a number of near misses every time I drove.

There was no speed limit for lorries either. As lorries travelled at 70 miles an hour, my driving at this speed meant I was not being tangled up with lorries overtaking each other – overtaking even in the fast lane. I just wizzed past. Howevereven going flat out at 96 miles an hour I was in turn being overtaken by cars going much faster. Looking in the mirror was key to survival on the motorway.

While driving I was constantly calculating the speed I needed to go in order to arrive on time. At 90 miles an hour I was doing 1½ miles every minute. 30 miles in 20 minutes.

Travelling by the orchestra coach coach was not that safe either. I did once see the coaches bump into each other when one was overtaking the other on a dual carriageway. The drivers had spent the whole time of the rehearsal and the concert in the pub.

To get some idea of the speed that the orchestra coaches travelled we might finish a concert in London at the Albert hall at 9.30. Including a 20 minute break at a motorway service station it was a close run thing whether we arrived at Birmingham Airport at 5 minutes to midnight or 5 minutes after midnight. It must be remembered that in those days the M1 started at mill hill and we left th M1 at Coventry and the journey was just over a 100 miles.

My most frightening experience in those days on the motorways was in a nighttime fog between Manchester and Birmingham. The fog covered the cars but left the lorry cabs visible above the fog. The lorries powered on at full speed blind to, and ignoring, everything under the fog. I wondered at what level of danger did orchestral coaches stop overnight. Of course the coaches never did stop.

The old hands in the orchestra took all this travelling in their stride. Ken Burstan sat there calmly reading inch thick books or dreaming up complicated puzzles. The card players blanked everything but the cards out. Three card brag was just plain exciting.

The advantage of driving was that I saved money by not being tempted to play three card brag. Travelling by car meant no hanging around waiting for the coach and that the journey time was much shorter. Having a good car meant I had the option of driving myself and my own expense or going on the orchestral coach.

Most importantly for me travelling by car meant I had my bass with me. I was thus able to practice before I set out. Throughout my career I liked to play the bass at home for going to work. I liked to establish the sound in my head and warm up my fingers, arms etc.. Similarly when I came home at night I often used to ’warm down’ as it were by playing slowly and quietly.

The bass travelled beside me in the car. I had removed the back of the front passenger seat so that the body of the bass rested on the back seat. When the bass travelled with the orchestra it went in the orchestra van: the orchestra van being the only physical asset the orchestra actually owned owned.

The orchestra van was an upmarket removal van with good suspension. The top of the van had six slats fitted across. The basses were rested on top of the slats and tied down. This was before the days of fibreglass boxes with wheels. The two porters, humpers as we called them, who drove the van and set up the stage for us, were very careful with our basses, however accidents were inevitable. All double basses are very fragile, for instance the ribs are often very thin, repairing damage was both expensive and time consuming. To damage your own bass was bad enough to have someone else damage it was far worse.

Having negotiated the journey to the date the real negotiation started. Playing in an orchestra is all about negotiation. There is the music itself to negotiate. However the music on the stand is only the starting point the complexities involved in playing in an orchestra are endless and endlessly fascinating. For instance as a member of the section you are expected to do the same bowing as the principal. However you might have very different ideas to the principal as to the best bowing for a particular passage. More difficult still both ideas might have merit.

I learned to do the official bowings with my own feel. In my mind I was learning to do bowings upside down as it were. After a while I realized that I gained significant extra facility by being able to do bowings backwards as I thought, as well as forwards.

The more experience a musician has the more knowledge that musician brings to making those myriad of small decisions that make up great performance. After a time that multitude of decision-making becomes automatic and instinctive. So much so that, before I realized what was really going on, it used to concern me that we used the words ‘on automatic pilot’ to describe our performance of an often played piece of music.

Simon Benson once told of a performance by the LPO of a Mahler symphony in a packed festival hall . The symphony lasted well over an hour – an emotional roller-coaster. Just before the conductor walked on the stage the bass players next to Simon were having a deep conversation. When the conductor appeared their conversation stopped in mid sentence only to start again exactly where they left off as though nothing had happened an hour or so later after the symphony had finished.

Once the music starts everything else stops – even time. Similarly once on the stand, sitting on a stool with your bass and with the music in front of you, everything outside is left behind.

6:4 three months in

6:4 three months in

Back in 1970 the first three months of working in the CBSO were considered a trial period. Auditions were never enough to hand out a job that might last a lifetime.

Towards the end of that three months I did a rather nervy audition and was promoted to number four in the section. The section had a principal and a co-principal who shared a desk, then there were two sub principals who shared the second desk. The remaining four bass players were called rank and file.

As far as money was concerned the principal negotiated their salary as did the co-principal. The sub principals of which I was now one received a couple of pounds extra per week – a significant amount in those days before inflation.

Negotiations for a principal’s salary might take many forms. For instance Tony Moroney, the first flute was one of the stars of the orchestra. He had been the best piccolo player London, however in order to play first flute, he detested the piccolo, he joined the CBSO. As a condition of him leaving London he insisted on being provided with a council house. This duly happened.

All went well for a number of years as Tony went through a series of top of the range motorbikes. Thing still went well as Tony went through the range of Jaguar’s. It was probably around this time that he started my Sister Margaret on the flute – she was at school at the Alice Otley in Worcester. However he was advised to purchase his own property when he became interested in sailing – the council did not think i appropriate to see a succession of yachts drawn up in front of his council house.

As number four double bass have found myself sitting next to Ken Burston. This was a great privilege for Ken had been the principal bass for many years and knew the music inside and out. Ken was past retirement age however he had stayed on at the request of the orchestra but moved down a desk.


Ken had a fund of great stories that brightened up grey damp dank winter time rehearsals in Digbeth town hall. As well as being of venue for our rehearsals, Digbeth town hall to the east of the city centre, was a long established venue for boxing and wrestling contests. Real blood was on the floor.

Ken had been born in Malvern at the beginning of the century. Elgar country: indeed Ken had been conducted by Elgar.

As a boy he remembered an old man who in his younger days had driven Hereford cattle down to Bristol, travelled with the cattle across the Atlantic to America, then driven them down to Texas. When I say driven I mean that the cattle had walked while he rode on horseback.

As a bass player Ken had worked in London doing shows in the 1930s. Sometimes when the shows opened in New York the orchestra went to New York as well. In one of the shows a real violin was broken on stage each night. The show ran for a number of years.

At one stage Ken found himself working in clubs in Chicago. This was prohibition time, Al Capone etc.. Indeed Al Capone visited one of the club’s Ken played in.
As one rehearsal rolled on I asked Ken whether he witnessed any gangland shootings. ‘only once’ he said. He saw two gangsters rake a telephone box in which the victim was standing from adjacent sides using Tommy guns.

There was not much chance that I heard anything the conductor might say on such occasions – or even look the slightest bit interested in the conductor’s announcements. Of course we were at the back of the orchestra and thus a long way away from the conductor.

Some of the halls we went to did not have room for a full symphony orchestra. On these occasions we took it in turns in the bass section to have an extra day off. One person of those not needed was on standby in case anyone was sick. We knew that if Ken was on standby he would never appear if required. Ken had never given the orchestra his phone number. If required the only way the orchestra could contact him was with a telegram. However Ken had a carefully placed doormat just inside the front door and no letterbox. Any telegram that arrived somehow I managed to be pushed under the doormat and not found in time it came to make the concert.
It was my job turn the pages for Ken.

Ken had a wonderful double bass made by one of the sons of Vincenso Panormo. Ken and the bass made a wonderful effortless seeming sound. I was learning from a master.

6:3 somewhere to live

6:3 somewhere to live.

Finding somewhere suitable to live is never easy for musicians. We have to practice our instruments, indeed we have to learn to play our instruments in the first place. In previous chapters I have shown how fortunate I was in being able to play freely when I was growing up.

Others had very different experiences. One Scottish fiddle player friend of mine once told me that when he was growing up in the Gorbals he had to share a room with his brother. In order to practice his violin he had to fight with his brother first.

Arriving in Birmingham I soon found somewhere to live and was able to move out of Les Chapman’s flat. I rented a room in a large house opposite saint George’s church in edgebaston.


I was walking the same paving stones as my Lea ancestors, for one branch of my family were in Birmingham in the 1830,s and were, it was said, closely involved with the building of this church. It was a short walk along vicarage road to the Hagley road, a pickup point for one of the orchestra buses.

This house on the Calthorpe Estate was rented by a family. The lease was a long one and was coming to an end like many of the large houses in the area. So the rent was low.


I probably had a Belling stove in the room to cook on. However I ate out in cafes and the like. For instance for lunch: just a across the Hagley road there was a cafe run as was usual in those days by an Italian family. If you ordered spaghetti Bolognese, the waitress said ‘chips or boiled’ a she scribbled the order.

Just by the town hall there was another a cafe that we frequented before a concert. There the house speciality was ‘faggits, chips and peas’ followed as always with cherry pie and ice cream or, better still, apple pie and chocolate ice cream. Later on a vegetarian restaurant opened near the town hall.

I probably found the room to rent through talking to people after a Thursday concert in the town hall. In the basement below the concert hall there was a large bar where the orchestra and the audience congregated together in the interval of the concert and afterwards. A very friendly arrangement. As always a bass player was first in the queue for the interval coffees. Afterwards we generally had a drink downstairs at the bar before moving on for some action in the town – often a visit to the opposite lock, a Jazz club, followed by a late night curry. This was later on though.

After a month or two in the room in Edgebaston I moved into a room in a small house in Mosley. This house was rented by an out of work salesman. The other tenant was a Guinness salesman called Finbar O’Toole. Finbar spent the week on the road and only returned for weekends. We had a dartboard on the back of the sitting room door. Fortunately no one entered while we were playing darts.

I remember returning home as dawn was breaking after a Thursday concert, visit to the jazz club and curry. In occurred to me to chip a golf ball from the road into the small front garden of our house. The golf ball hit the sitting room window smack in the middle. I had not realized how flexible glass can be, for the window bent inwards and then flexed outwards by some miracle not breaking.

After a month or two in Moseley I finally settled back in Harborne road, Edgebaston just around the corner from my first room. I had the whole first floor to myself. Again, the house being at the end of a long lease from Calthorpe estate, the rent was very low. A trainee solicitor and his wife lived on the ground floor: they were regulars at Thursday concerts and kindly invited me to move in.

This was the perfect flat for me in all kinds of ways. It was close enough to the centre of Birmingham for me to walk to the town hall with my bass on my back. It was convenient for the coach pickup on Hagley Road. Practicing the bass was no problem as was practicing golf in the back garden. The back garden was just long enough for a full drive using a plastic practice ball. I had Ben Hogan’s book on the golf swing to guide me, and Birmingham’s municipal golf courses to play on.


Yes we had days off. Sometimes David Monro, the co principal bass, and myself headed off to a golf course. As I used a slice the ball and David would hook we usually drove off the tee and headed off in different directions meeting again on the green. Generally there was a volcano like slope up to the hole on the green. So it was considered quite in order to tread discreetly on your side of the hole before putting.

Growing up I had considered it quite normal for a golfer to have, as my father had had in his prime, a golf handicap of 3 or so. I discovered for myself that things were not so easy.

6:2 CBSO settling in

6:2 settling in.

The orchestra in Bristol had been a leisurely affair with plenty of time to live, practice and earn a living. Life in the CBSO in 1969 was altogether different. We had a 52 week contract which included four weeks paid holiday . This money had to be earned and it was hard work for the orchestra’s income came mainly from ticket sales at concerts. There was some funding from the Birmingham City Council and neighbouring councils. In those days there was very little, if any, arts Council funding.

Further the CBSO had just lost its education contract, which had accounted for a third of its income. The final straw came, so I was told, when the chief education officer who liked to conduct the orchestra, the feeling was not mutual, was outraged when Tony Maroney, the brilliant first flute, played the opening of Ravel’s Bolero, which is flute accompanied by only the side drum, impeccably as always but one semi-tone out. This caused much hilarity in the orchestra when the flute solo finished and others came in at the correct pitch -a great crashing of gears as it were.

Fortunately for the survival of the orchestra the opening of motorways meant all kinds of places were now within reach. As many concerts as possible were packed into the schedule. Our contract allowed 25 hours a week , which had to average out as no more than 100 hours in four weeks and no more than 36 hours in each week. This might not sound much, however these hours were performing hours and did not include travel.

As a result the management was able to be require us to travel to London for a Tchaikovsky night in the Albert Hall: as there was no rehearsal for this type of concert this counted as two hours in the contract.

To start with for the first three months it was quite exciting to wake up in the morning and realise I had to be in Derby, Leicester or wherever that afternoon and evening. As in Bristol the orchestra travelled in two coaches. As in Bristol the first coach was quieter. The second coach contained the card players, three card brag on the backseat, with bridge and chess further down the coach. A card table was made from two flat horn cases – one upright on the floor and the other across to make the table.

Frank Allen, the bass clarinet and a born and bred Birmingham person, organised the three card brag. Frank was said to have a stash of cash in the bottom of his briefcase in case he ran out. However I never saw this cash used. Les always lost. I lost too but not as much: even so it was cheaper for me to drive and pay for my own petrol. On one occasion I was still ahead as we crossed Parliament bridge on the way to the festival hall. However I lost it all between the bridge and the hall, a very short distance indeed.

I spent hours trying to work out how to count the cards, the pack was never shuffled once the game started. I studied card tricks to learn how to deal off the bottom or the top so that I was able to spot any dodgy dealing. I never did work out the game. I did however learn to play bridge and chess something that came in useful when I joined the BBC concert Orchestra a couple of years later.

Part of the settling in process was finding somewhere to live. I soon left. Les’s flat grateful for his hospitality. I moved into a room in Mosley. The landlord was an out of work salesman who also lived there. The other tenant was Finbar o’Toole , a Guinness salesman who spent the week out on the road. I remember we had a dartboard on the back of the sittingroom door. Fortunately no one walked in when we were playing darts. I still flinch at the thought.

The routine of the orchestra was built around the Thursday concert each week in Birmingham town Hall. We might typically meet for two or three hour rehearsals on Tuesday. Travel somewhere, say, Cheltenham, for a rehearsal and concert on Wednesday. Then repeat the concert in Birmingham on Thursday and perhaps somewhere else on Friday. Saturday and Sunday were then separate programs for concerts elsewhere: for instance a Tchaikovsky night at the Albert Hall in London on Sunday night.

Frank Allen, as the bass clarinettist, travelled all the way to London and back just to play in one movement of one piece. The extra cost to the orchestra of Frank doing this was a meal allowance and five shillings extra if we arrived back in Birmingham after midnight. This midnight payment was calculated noting the time that we reached Birmingham airport on the way back – a close run thing. Of course reaching home was sometime later. I seem to remember our contract stipulated 12 hours off before we could be called again.

For out of town concerts the two orchestra coaches travelled separate ways in and out of Birmingham picking us up/dropping us off at the roadside on the way. The coaches met up at a service station where we stopped for a coffee. This stop enable us to switch coaches. The coaches left 10 min after the applause finished at the end of the concert.

Playing the bass is hard physical work in itself. What people don’t realise is how tough the travelling is. There was no speed limit on the motorways in those days and the suspension on the coaches was not great, the result was just sitting in the coach was hard work as you are thrown around all over the place – maybe a couple of feet in the air.

On arrival for an afternoon rehearsal in some distant place you walked into the hall where the orchestra was already set up. All that is except for the basses. We had a pile of stools and some basses. We were exspected to sort ourselves out. Of course there was insufficient room for us so that by the time you had taken the cover off the bass, sat on the stool and opened the music, the rehearsal had already started.

At the end of the three hour rehearsal there was one and a half hours for a meal and to change. Then came the concert, the applause and 10 min to board the coach. Back to Birmingham, a few hours sleep and then the whole process began again. I felt sorry for the ladies in the orchestra, this was no life for them. For me however, aged 22, I was in my element.