6:12 Grenada

In August of 1971 a west Indian friend of mine invited me to accompany her to Grenada to stay in her families home. I jumped at the chance. We were to fly there on a charter flight organized by west Indian travel company. The plane went from Gatwick to Barbados. At Barbados we were to travel to Grenada in a smaller aeroplane as the Airport had a very short runway with of volcano at one end and the sea at the other end. The beach was known for its Colonies of crabs.

Arriving at Gatwick we found the departure lounge cram packed with west Indians. For each person flying home there were at least six or seven people saying goodbye. The travel agency had sold tickets for two aeroplanes and only booked one. There was an air of panic as people competed to be put on the one aeroplane. Two large west Indian ladies had to be weighed on the luggage scales. One lady was stuck after being weighed and trying to get off the scales. The other lady was trying to push herself on to the scales at the same time. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best.

We managed to travel on the first aeroplane. Our luggage was to follow when a second aeroplane became available.

When we landed at Barbados we were taken to a hotel. The hotel was clean and comfortable however the walls to the rooms did not reach the ceiling enabling not just air to circulate, but also any noise.

The following day the luggage arrived, we caught our propeller driven small aeroplane, and headed off to Grenada. In those days hot pants had just been invented and were being worn by the glamorous west Indian air stewardesses with very long legs.

Sure enough the landing strip at grenville in grenada was very short. The aeroplane approached the landing strip flying close to the side of the volcano with one wing tip pointing to the ground. The aeroplane straightened up just in time for the start of the landing strip with the propellers in reverse even before the wheels touched the ground. The sea came up alarmingly quickly with the aeroplane engines screaming in distress. We stopped and taxied to the small Airport building. Tintin would have felt at home.


My friend’s father met us and drove us in a stately fashion across the island to their home at Victoria. I had been shocked to see the shacks that people lived in in Barbados. It was the same in grenada only there were more shacks and less houses. After a while I began to think that shacks weren’t so bad after all in that climate.

The house we were travelling to was on the beach side of the road that travelled round the island next to the sea. The living quarters were on the first floor and the whole house was surrounded by a high concrete wall, necessary but only for security but also to keep out to sea when the waves were running high.

The routine of the village started early when everyone walked into the sea for a morning wash. In the evening people’s sat on the veranda outside their houses or walked up and down the road chatting to their neighbours and friends. I was staying across the road in a neighbour’s house. The neighbour was away most of the time however she did turn up for a while. It turned out that she was the wife of a west Indian judge. A wise and much travelled lady with houses throughout the Caribbean. I very much enjoyed our chats as we sat on the veranda in the evening watching the world go by.

My friend’s sister was also visiting at that time. Her husband, a tall Jamaican sergeant in the U.S. Army, was on his last leave before going to Viet Nam. He carried a pistol an all times even though population had been disarmed. Carrying a pistol was wise as although the grenadans were extremely friendly, the premier, Eric Gairy, had released the prisoners from jail and armed them with the confiscated weapons. Each community had an armed gang amongst them.

One day this Jamaican sergeant offered to show me around. ‘what would you like to see’ he asked. ‘how about picking a coconut from a tree’, I replied. Harmless fun I thought. Accordingly we set off down the street and stopped outside the school. After a few whistles the Jamaican sergeant caught the attention of one of the school kids who was in class. There followed negotiations to persuade the kid to climb up a tree and knock down a coconut. Just as a negotiations were reaching a successful conclusion an outraged determined schoolteacher appeared at the door or of the school with her arms on her substantial hips. We were bawled out and beat a retreat.

Nothing daunting Jamaican sergeant marched through the office of the nutmeg factory which was just across the road. The manager jumped up from his desk and ran after us as we entered the room full of ladies sorting and separating mace from nutmeg. Mace being a red covering to the nut. The Jamaican sergeant told the manager in an important voice that he was showing his friend, me, around. The Jamaican sergeant then walked up the aisle giving the ladies a pep talk to boost their morale as they worked sitting on the floor in front of large baskets.
On leaving the factory who should pull up by the local gang. They were clinging on to a mini moke, the open jeep version of a mini. The Jamaican sergeant explained that he wished to show me coconuts being picked from a tree. The gang made way for me to sit in the front passenger seat. A Jamaican sergeant sat on the back seat and everyone else held on to the outside. We drove up into the ‘ lands’ as the fields on the side of the volcano were called.

We soon arrived at a suitable location. Even though it was someone’s property permission was not asked for or granted. We were surrounded by all sorts of wonderful vegetation which included banana trees, cinnamon trees and coconut palms. Hummingbirds were plentiful hovering as they fed on flowers. I scratch the bark of a cinnamon tree and the sap almost spat out of me – the dried cinnamon sticks that we buy here are indeed stale desiccated versions of the real thing. I was handed a cutlass, a machete, and had the fun of chopping down a banana tree with one swipe. A banana tree is not really a tree at all, rather the whole thing is a plant that has to be cut down each time it produces a bunch of bananas.
Eventually one of the gang shined up Danish end up a coconut palm and threw down a coconut which was duly opened the one end with the cutlass so that we can drink the milk inside. Honour satisfied we drove back to the village.

Something I enjoyed was going for a swim. As the house was on the beach there was no need for shoes. To protect oneself from the sun you kept on your shirt and shorts. All that was necessary was to dive in. Afterwards on the ground floor of the house there w as a cold shower with the water coming straight off the mountain. This was the only time in my life I have enjoyed a cold shower. There was no need to dry oneself after the shower for in that climate you were soon dry.

I was the only white person in the area. When I walked on the beach I would be followed by a short line of young children all agog with big round eyes.

The second week in Grenada the whole family rented a villa at Grand Anse Beach, St. George, which I was told was the largest beach in the Caribbean. Just brilliant it was too: miles of white sand and bright blue sea. Where the small waves turned over there was a ledge. On one side of the ledge it was beach on the other side it was wavy sea bottom with Fishes swimming around in the clear water. When you were too hot you ran down the beach and belly flopped into the water.

While staying at the beach I must have caught some bug. For the third week I was ill with diarrhea. I decided to return to England early. This was not so easy as all the aeroplanes were full up. I spent three days at the Airport begging for a place on an aeroplane. On the third day, much to my surprise by then, i was successful and found myself had Barbados Airport repeating the process. Eventually the Airport staff saw my Canadian passport and said ‘oh I see you are Canadian – I thought you were British’. They found me a seat immediately.

On returning to Birmingham i was invited to go and play with the Scottish National in Glasgow where Paul Marion was at that time the principal bass. Even though days before I had tried to swim in the Caribbean and found my arms were too thin to make any progress, I set off for Glasgow with my double bass and tails.

Driving to Glasgow I have averaged 60 mph including stops and the ordinary roads close to the border. The motorway did not then go the whole distance. I stayed there with Barbara and Robert my flat mates from guildhall days. On my return a few days later my journey was not so smooth. An IRA bomb had just gone off so the police were watching the motorways. Seeing my car with a double bass beside me a police car drove up a long side. As they passed me by started to put on their hats a prelude to stopping me. I accelerated into a service station hitting the exit road Anse over 70 miles an hour. A police had no choice but to drive on. I stopped for a coffee and to calm down. I was racing to arrive on time for a CBSO rehearsal in Birmingham.


6:11 more union

Back in 1970, CBSO days for me, the union was still a closed shop. Everyone earning money from playing music had to belong to the union. This might seem restrictive however paradoxically having a closed shop union meant that all kinds of people from all walks of life were members including those who made the bulk of their income doing other things: thus the union had a wide view on all matters and a wide range of expertise amongst the members. Further often the employers, such as bandleaders, were, as musicians themselves, also members of the union.

I had been warned in Bristol about the activists who were seeking to move in on the union for their own political reasons and advancement. I do not remember that much progress had been made by these people in Birmingham at that time.

No one in the CBSO could not be aware of what was happening in Eastern Europe as we played away happily in Birmingham. Musicians had been jumping over the wire to work in the west. One such was Janos our timpanist who had come over from Hungary. He had first worked in Dublin before moving to CBSO. He then moved on to the BBC symphony orchestra under Boulez. Janos told me one time that his father had a owned his own barbershop. One day the communists came in and told him to leave there and then. The communists were fellow Hungarians.

In the bass section Tommy guy had retired. His replacement was ‘George’ who had escaped from what was then Czechoslovakia. We were unable to pronounce George’s real name, it was just easier to call him George and he was happy with that.

George was a very good bass player who played with the German bow. He had been a member of an opera orchestra back in Czechoslovakia which he said was very boring as they only did 12 operas a year. I think George was always slightly puzzled by our way of doing things, at any rate he bought a large Alsatian dog to look after his home.

When Janos moved to the BBC symphony he was replaced by an American timpanist who was a draft dodger. The war in Vietnam was in full flow at that time. He had a brown passport, a British passport, which enabled him to travel everywhere except America.

The orchestra was full of people who could play. There was no room for passengers. After a while it became apparent to me that despite the size of an orchestra every person makes significant contribution.

Most of our travelling was in England. We did though on one occasion go to Rotterdam to give a concert at the de Doelen hall. This was an excellent knew hall and after the concert a well stocked reception was put on for us. I say well stocked because we drank the barrel of beer dry and they kindly rolled in another one.

Once the reception was well underway it was time for speeches and the exchange of presents. The Dutch, in addition to this fine reception, gave us a good present. Our management had come prepared and in their turn handed over a flimsy booklet of photographs of Birmingham. In time I ceased to be embarrassed by the often spectacularly inappropriate presents handed over on such occasions by our managements. In defence we were there to earn money not spend.

After the reception the night still seemed young, so Les, myself, and a couple of others ventured out still wearing our tails to see what the town had to offer. We found ourselves in a nightclub rather overawed by our surroundings. Fortunately for our wallets a well oiled businessman paid for our drinks.

So it was that we emerged into the early morning light to find Rotterdam covered in a thin layer of snow and looking quite beautiful. We walked back to the hotel, changed, and after breakfast it was the flight home to Birmingham.

6:10 business

Back in 1970 the CBSO was surviving. Income was mainly from ticket sales and the costs were mainly the orchestral salaries. The management rented a small office near to Birmingham Town hall. There was the orchestra van, a removal van with CBSO painted on the side: the van was the only asset of the orchestra. The musicians bought their own instruments and were responsible for the upkeep. The orchestra did have a library of music of its own however the music was often hired.

The contract we worked to was negotiated between the musicians union and the 5 provincial orchestras acting together. By 1970, with the advent of motorways and rapidly increasing inflation, this contract was increasingly unworkable. However the contract was still in place. With the management looking to exploit every possible loophole in the out dated contract there was considerable room for conflict.

I had been involved with the union in Bristol and on moving to Birmingham I continued with this interest. I attended branch meetings and was elected on to the branch committee.

Birmingham in those days had two full time professional orchestras: the BBC Midland light orchestra and the CBSO. As well as the BBC in Birmingham the was also ATV which also had a substantial presence and employed musicians.

The union committee was chaired by Johnny Patrick. For many years I thought there was a clear conflict of interest as Johnny Patrick was also the music director for ATV. At meetings Johnny Patrick had to decide whether an issue was a union issue or best dealt with wearing his ATV hat. Actually Johnny Patrick proved himself over the years to have been very good – as he said himself he was often the only person at a meeting who knew both sides from the inside. I credit John with having made a significant contribution to keeping us in work through difficult times when many industries collapsed.

The next most important person on the committee was Ken Cordingly. Ken was the fourth horn in the CBSO and our union steward. He was probably also chairman of the orchestral committee. In addition he was a committed labour party person with a strong interest in and involvement with mainstream Birmingham labour party politics. It was said that he was constantly offered the opportunity to stand for parliament as a labour MP.

The other CBSO person on the committee other than myself was Elspeth, a member of the cello section.
I did my time on the committee without making much of a mark. I had already been rather disillusioned in Bristol by seeing how members wishes and votes could be reversed and thwarted, though at that time the Birmingham branch was still run along traditional lines.

What did surprise me on coming out of one meeting was that the general manager of the CBSO knew word for word what had been discussed at that meeting. How did he know? The general manager was similarly well informed after orchestral meetings.

At that time there was considerable turnover in the orchestra. The older players were retiring a new players coming in. Some of the new players, such as myself, considered the CBSO as a stepping stone. Two years work in the orchestra was considered useful experience, which indeed it was .

There were players who the management were determined to remove. One such was Leroy Cowie, the principal bass. The management was thus looking for a complaint from the section to give them an excuse to fire Leroy. However am pleased to say we never gave them that opportunity. Leroy was thus under extraordinary pressure in doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances. Of course in the section we privately had our grouses. For instance we might well have very different ideas about the best bowing for particular passage, a very different bowing from Leroy’s bowing, the one that we had to follow whenever we thought.

There I also had a wife and two children who made demands on him. Life must have been very difficult for him as we travelled around hecticly.

After a while I began to dislike ‘hitting the motorway’ as I came to think of all that driving. I started to have lessons from John Gray in London. John Gray was the bass player with the academy to the of saint Martin’s. I had many of their early records which I listened to a great deal with admiration. Ken Heath, my cello teacher from guildhall days, was the principal cello.

After one lesson with John Gray I attended a session at Abbey road where I sat quietly on a chair next to him. John was positioned someway away from the orchestra and to one side. I thought this rather eccentric at the time however I now realise that this seating arrangement limits the bass sound leaking into the other microphones.

I was very surprised one day when I was in the changing room of the hall in Newcastle changing into my tails, when I heard someone asking for Michael Lea. It turned out it was someone from the northern sinfonia inviting me to do a week’s trial with the northern sinfonia as principal bass. Apparently John gray had given them my name.

Accordingly I turned up in Newcastle with my bass. We were to rehearse in Newcastle and then go on a short tour of the Scottish Lowlands. Rudolf Schwarz was the conductor.


I already knew Rudolph shwarz for he had conducted me in large orchestral settings. He had a unique conducting style. It was said that he had had his shoulder blades broken by the Nazis during the war to stop him conducting ever again.

Although I felt rather out of my depth faced with this experienced orchestra and conductor, I gained a passion for the works of Hadyn from Rudolph Schwarz evident enthusiasm that I retain to this day.

When I returned to the CBSO, David Monro our Co principal bass was very relieved for he fancied the job himself. Accordingly he applied and was appointed as principal bass – a position he held from that time on great distinction. A happy ending.

6:9 RAH

Back in 1970 when I was regularly playing in the royal Albert hall with the CBSO I already had many associations with the hall.

Living in shepherd’s bush as a music student I was regularly taking Timmy for walks in nearby Hyde Park. Timmy was the black mongrel dog that shared the Flat. I had attended the proms with a season ticket as a prommer for four weeks when I first took up the double bass in 1967. That summer I had practiced in the day and studied the bass players in the prom concerts each evening.

I had seen Stuart Knussen silence the hall with one look when the audience started to Clap in the silence before the end of a Richard Strauss piece – four last songs? Earlier in the concert the LSO had performed Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony. A magical rendering that sounded like fine lace and fiery too. On another evening with Boulez conducting, Tristan Fry dazzled us all with a virtuoso percussion performance. Tris was partially hidden behind a huge array of percussion instruments of many different sizes. Such was the excellence of the acoustic that even the quietest sound came pinging through.

I had grown up with stories of the Albert hall; for my mother’s father, his sisters and friends used to sing in performances of Hiawatha in the thirties. Albert Coates was the conductor. The chorus used to congregate in the corridor below the central arena. A light would flash, as though they were about to parachute out of a plane, to signal that the time had come for them to run into the arena dressed as Indians – and singing as they did so.

One of my mother’s Cousins, a Hobbins I think, lived for a time in a flat overlooking the back of the Albert hall. Seeing the music students trooping over to the royal college of music each day, not to be outdone he bought a pianola. With a piano roll of say Padereski installed, he would open the window and peddle away. On the day the stock market crashed when he lost all his money, his wife and friends were in the flat when they heard knocking on the window. Looking outside they saw a tramp throwing stones up at the window. It was him#: he had bought the clothes off a tramp in the city and dressed up to amuse them. After the crash they retired to a bungalow on the coast on the furthest part of Anglesey.

My mother’s cousin had been wounded at the world war one Battle of Passchendaele.


Before being wounded, seeing all the dead horses at the front, he organized a large pit to be dug into which were put the horse carcasses. Covering the pit with canvas he collected the resulting methane from the decomposing carcasses which he then fed into the Gas Supply of a nearby town. After the war he lived the high life in the best hotels in London paid for by the stock market – until he went bust.

In 1970 the Albert hall was still as it had been. The stage was a magnificent instrument in itself, with the acoustic saucers above to compress the sound and send it outwards around the auditorium. The front row of the basses were on the floor of the main stage: the vibrations of their sound travelled along the floorboards of the stage. The chairs of the violins quivered on the other side of the stage. The whole stage was alive.

Backstage across the corridor that went all around the hall, where some stairs that went down to the gents. At the bottom of the stairs on the right was a door that was usually left open, for it was very hot in the room on the other side. This room was the boiler room. The Albert hall was still steam powered. Inside the room there were, I think, four large coal fired boilers with a small army of stoker’s shovelling coal into the raging fires. This system must have worked well for I do not remember the Albert hall feeling cold despite its large size.

The second row of double basses were on the first tier up from the stage. This was a wooden tier which in those days was so narrow that there was no room for a music stand on the tier. Instead there were magnificent custom built Brass music stand which had wheels on the legs that fitted into a track on the edge of the tier. A third wheeled leg was on the main floor of the stage, also in a track. It was just possible to fit oneself plus bass on to the tier and be able to see the music, the principal bass – and also the conductor.

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.