Tag Archives: DOUBLE BASS


It is never too late to learn, and I am still learning things about my schooldays. Yes, as long ago as that! I have known for a long time that it was a pretty rigorous education that I got at the school that I attended, but what I am now realising is how relatively unengaged with their pupils’ development most schools are. This not because they are bad schools, or that they employ bad teachers, but their involvement with the day’s activities ends mid-afternoon; then the young rascals are free to engage in every kind of mischief, or else do nothing at all. This leaves the parents with a heavy responsibility, and one that they cannot even begin to undertake if they are themselves working.  I have been hearing people’s tales of adolescence, and how they wasted countless opportunities through natural teenage ennui. The difficulty for most young people is not committing vandalism or general devilry, it is merely getting them to get off their backsides.

My life was not like that. There is no doubt that the extra mile that my school went with its scholars was because it was a boarding school. Virtually every second of my waking day, from rising in the morning to going to sleep at night, was organised for me. As a result I had no chance whatever of vegetating. I was immersed in all kinds of activities from making my bed and polishing my shoes in the morning to cleaning my teeth at night. I wonder how I fitted it all in. I played games on most days, read novels, went sailing, target shooting, played in the school orchestra, painted pictures, took part in the debating society and acted in numerous plays. I wasn’t particularly good at many of these things (especially games) – although I was literary editor of the school magazine – but that was not the point. Doing things – anything- was. When I went home I was equally showered with great choices by my dear father – working an Adana printing press, railway modelling, dance lessons, canoeing, photography and gardening, to name but a few. Growing up was an endless round of opportunities.  I could decide whatever I wanted to do, but doing nothing was not an option; doing things was expected of me. In this I was so lucky compared to most adolescents, as I am only now realising.

Aged twelve I am sitting one from the left; Summer 1961 .


From the age of ten it was boarding school for me. Terror is not too strong a word to describe the feeling of dread that descended on me as the fateful hour approached when I was to be abandoned; to what disasters I knew not. The prospect of leaving home at such a tender age was appalling, but the reality was positively wonderful. After my initial misgivings I soon settled into school life. Of course I looked forward to the holidays, but the journey back at the end of the break was no longer at time of apprehension. The school was single sex during my time, although it is now fully coeducational. There are virtually no boys’ schools left – Eton and Harrow, and maybe a few others – but I have no regrets about my education having no feminine influence. I may have had a few problems relating to the female sex once I left school, but these soon passed. As an adult I have in fact had more female friends than male ones. However the male friends that I made all those years ago have remained friends ever since. I may not see them very often, but even those who live far away in distant lands can now contact me easily by email.

I know that the possibility of attending such an excellent boarding school is not an option for most people, but if they did not exist the life of the nation would be the poorer. County Scholarships were a great leveler in this respect. These enabled those from poorer backgrounds to go to a really good school. The abolition of this excellent system of State Scholarships by the Labour Government in the 1970s, along with the closure of most grammar schools, has only increased social segregation massively. This has been a terrible and regressive thing. The  importance of going to a boarding school was the key; the local day-boys, who attended on scholarships that were provided from the school’s own financial resources, didn’t do anything like so well. The day-boys went home mid afternoon, when they were free to engage in every kind of mischief, or else do nothing at all.






St Andrews Hall

St Andrew’s Hall has occupied a central role in the civic life of the City for nearly 500 years, and before it became a secular meeting place it was part of a Dominican friary. Every kind of public event has taken place there; I myself have sung from the choir benches as child (though in what circumstances I forget), and as a thirty year old I played there in the orchestra for the opera The Merry Wives of Windsor. In less refined company I have been there with my friends to the Norwich Beer Festival; St Andrew’s Hall, together with the adjacent Blackfriars Hall, constitute the largest non-religious gathering place in the City. There have been calls for a modern hall to be built for the citizens, and maybe this will one day come to pass, but there is no immediate prospect of St Andrew’s Hall giving up its time-honoured rôle. Even if such a modern concert hall were to be built it would not occupy so central a location in the City; there could not be a better place for the citizens of Norwich to meet than St Andrew’s Hall. I should think there is hardly a citizen of Norwich who has not attended some function at St Andrew’s Hall the last half millennium.

The Dominican friars (also called the Blackfriars from their austere form of dress) moved onto the site in 1307, having first set up a friary in Colegate eighty years earlier. The chancel of the friary was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist. and it was named St Andrew’s Hall from St Andrew’s Church that stands across the road after the Reformation. In medieval times it became a popular place for the rich an influential members of local society to bequeath large sums of money for the erection of memorials within its walls. These included the Paston family, and Sir Thomas Erpingham; the arms of both are preserved around the building.

With the closure of all religious houses by Henry VIII the City Corporation petition the king to buy the former friary in 1538. The hall with its adjacent conventual buildings has preserved the most intact medieval friary left in the country. The buildings cost the Corporation £81, with an unexpected extra £152 for the lead on the roof; as anyone who inspects the exterior of the hall today will recognise, the roof is nowadays made of copper. A print was made in the seventeenth century which shows St Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars Hall with a central tower. This fine structure was demolished at some time, but when is unclear.

This Hall has provided the backdrop for civic occasions ever since the 16th century; the first recorded event to take place there was in 1544, with the Mayor’s inaugural feast. The Earl of Warwick stabled his horses in the Hall when he came to crush Kett’s rebellion five years later. When Charles II visited the city in 1671 he was entertained to a lavish feast in St Andrew’s Hall. In 1695 it was used as a mint during the great recoinage of that year. The building was used as the City’s Corn Exchange before a purpose-built Corn Hall was erected in Exchange Street. It was also at one time used as the local Assize Court. In 1824 the first concert of the Norwich Triennial Festival took place in St Andrew’s Hall. A quarter of a century later the opening of the Railway to London was the occasion for a great feast and many speeches. The holding of feasts there seems to have fallen off in recent times, but concert are as popular as ever. When Question Time visits the City the team of broadcasters set up their equipment in the ancient meeting place. There simply is nowhere else in Norwich where such an event could happen.

CLICK HERE to read more about the friars of Norwich.



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What records would you take to the BBC’s fabled Desert Island? The show was invented by Roy Plomley in 1942 and has been going ever since. Roy himself continued to present the show for over forty years, until his death in 1985. The format is well-known; the guest lists the eight records he would like if he was marooned on a desert island. He or she says a bit about each one, a section of which is then played.

In 1964 one of the first 45s I bought was Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones, so it was obviously a favourite of mine at one time. That was a long time ago though, and it certainly is not a favourite of mine any longer. My musical tastes soon developed, which makes it puzzling to me that so many 70 year olds still like the music they bought when they were teenagers. None of my 8 Desert Island discs would be pop music now; this fact alone shows why, even if I were a celebrity, I would never get invited on the show. I am afraid my choice of music would be rather indigestible for the anodyne tastes of the general public. If I had to choose a pop record it would be one by Abba or the Carpenters; these are attractive and tuneful songs that are despised by many (as they were by me back then), although they would be perfect for the listeners to Desert Island Discs. Karen Carpenter in particular had such a good voice. I have always maintained that a good song is just that, and its format (whether popular, jazz, classical or art song) is irrelevant; it is the tune that really matters.

It is the almost incessant drumbeat that accompanies nearly every pop song that puts me off them personally, so pop music is definitely out of my list of discs. (How old-fashioned that word is!) Light music however is certainly in. There is such a lot of light music that it is hard to pick just one piece. Nearly everything that Leroy Anderson wrote could make it to my desert island, but there is such a lot of marvellous British music in this genre it would have to be one of our composers.  The Dam Busters march is too well-known, so I would go for another march by Eric Coates, Knightsbridge.

Joe Mason plays the double bass

Joe Mason plays the double bass

One down, seven to go; there is some jazz I like, but not enough to make it onto the list, so it is to the music of Schubert that I go next. Some people say Beethoven is the best ever composer, and some say Mozart, but for me it is J.S.Bach, followed closely by Schubert. There was a lot of music written by Schubert, considering that he died so young, but I am going for The Trout quintet. The ensemble includes a double bass after all, and that was my instrument. The string quintet  in C major is a more serious piece, and I really prefer that, but it has two cellos and no bass.

After I had passed through my Rolling Stones phase, my friend Bill did much to educate my musical tastes. Nowadays he listens to lot of Shostakovich and Borodin but these composers, although I can listen to them with pleasure, could make it into my top eight. Elgar comes fairly high up in  my list. The Pomp and Circumstance Marches are so well known, and so are the Enigma Variations; Salut d’Amour is also pretty well known, but I will go for that. Chopin cannot be omitted either, and both Elgar and Chopin have been favourites for as long as I can remember. I would select Chopin’s 24 Preludesthough if I must restrict myself to only one piece I will go for number one.

Hayden is an underrated composer, and his string quartet are among his best compositions, so my next piece will be his Opus 77, No. 1. Mozart must have a place, and for something a little different I will choose his Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K 330. It is not as powerful as his Requiem Mass, but you do not want to hear a succession of heavy music. If Mozart, then Beethoven too must put in an appearance, although contrary to my opinion of Haydn, I think he is slightly overrated. Like his older German contemporary however, I regard his string quartets as some of his best music; cue the string quartet No. 15 in A minor, Opus 132.

We now come to the last piece, and this must be by that towering genius Johann Sebastian Bach. I have avoided the most serious of compositions until now, but I will end with his B Minor Mass. I avoided listening to this for many years, perhaps being a bit overawed by its reputation, but when eventually I settled down to hearing it I found it tuneful and delightful, and no at all sombre as I had feared it would be.

Bach will always come out on top, but on another day I might opt for an even older set of composers including Monteverdi, Thomas Tallis and John Dowland. I’m afraid I am really that high brow.




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APRIL 2 – JUNE 14 1982

This is the story of how the war developed. These extracts from my diary will, I hope, give you an idea of the facts as they unfolded, together with the daily round of ordinary events that carried on as usual.

We listened to the nightly bulletins to learn what was going on far away across the Atlantic Ocean. The first reference to the coming conflict came at lunch time on Saturday the 3rd April:

We had corned beef for lunch; I was deeply suspicious that it came from Argentina. That evening I was anxiously watching TV to learn what was happening; I continued to follow the news closely through the following weeks. On Thursday I watched Question Time, which in those days was still hosted by the bow tie wearing Robin Day; there is no doubt what was on everybody’s mind. The spring proceeded nonetheless; the sloes were beginning to blossom on Alderford Common.

With incredible speed a Task Force of 100 ships was assembled at Portsmouth and was ready to sail by the 5th of April. There had been no contingency planning before the invasion; everybody thought such a thing  against British Territory impossible. After the initial flurry of activity there was a lull while the Task Force made its way across the equator and into the South Atlantic. My diary concentrated on other things, notably the week’s performance I was giving playing the double bass in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. My friend Bill came down to the Saturday performance and recorded it on his little tape machine.

On St George’s Day I drove to Oxford, where I took my landlady from my student days out to a meal at the Cherwell Boat House, a rather superior restaurant. I must have been  feeling well off, because I spent £25 on the meal for two. This was a sum that I would feel a little excessive, even today more than thirty years later! Penelope enjoyed it anyway. The next day I joined a meeting of the Recorder Society (of which I was a member) at Magdalen College and played (so I said at the time anyway) rather well! Back at Penelope’s house we continued to listen to the news, and it was on Sunday the 25th April that we heard of the outbreak of fighting on South Georgia. I had earlier been enjoying the Botanical Gardens by the river Cherwell, and had a drink at the Welsh Pony in George Street. This had been my favourite pub as a student, and in 1982 it was still open (it has long gone now). In the evening Penelope, Ian (her fiancé) and I pored over the atlas to discover more about South Georgia. I learned that Ian and Penelope had been a couple for eight years. Ian, who is disabled, works for British Aerospace. He lives in Stevenage, so theirs is long distance relationship during the week. They get together at weekends.

On Monday I returned to Norfolk. The windscreen of my car already had a crack in it, but at Thetford a pheasant crashed into the car, which made the crack much worse. Back in Norwich I had fish and chips for supper with my sister Tiggy. The primroses were out, and the cuckoo was singing; in the South Atlantic winter was coming. On Saturday May 1st things were beginning to happen, as the Task Force approach the islands: We saw the News to keep up with developments in the Falklands. During the next few days the TV was full of updates. On the 4th of May I saw the News, which was rather bad (this was following the sinking of the General Belgrano, the Argentine battleship). The sinking of HMS Sheffield followed shortly afterwards.

The Government spokesman was a man called Ian Macdonald, and he gave daily updates on the BBC; the eyes of the nation were glued to him. My sister Tiggy and I drove up to Yorkshire with our dogs to spend a few days in Bill’s house near Whitby. (Bill was manager of Whitby hospital.) Naturally we had to visit the North Yorkshire Moors Railway while we were there, and an evening was spent at the Spa Theatre in Scarborough. It is rather strange how serious things were going on across the world while we were enjoying ourselves in the British summer.

Victory for Britain came in the middle of June. The Falklands War demonstrated among other things the great abilities of the Harrier jump jet,  without which we would have struggled. The war provided the Vulcan, the last of the three V bombers to remain in front line service, with its only taste of real conflict. Mrs Thatcher, who had been far from popular in the months leading up to the Argentine invasion, drew huge and approving crowds in the aftermath of victory. Following a successful war, for the outbreak of which the UK was in no way to blame, the outcome of the 1983 general election was never in doubt.  It was of course a Tory landslide.

The liner Uganda was converted from a cruise ship (taking schoolchildren on education voyages) to a Hospital Ship, for dispatch to the South Atlantic. Like all the work needed to prepare for the distant conflict, this was done in record time. That summer, when she returned to the UK to a hero’s welcome, she was again fitted out as a school cruise ship in September. After just two months she was chartered as a supply ship for the Falkland Islands. When her charter ran out she was taken to Taiwan for breaking up. My friend Bill Wragge (who we had visited in Yorkshire in the summer of 1982) is a long-standing member of the World Ship Society, and members contributed to the definitive history of the ship. The book was published  twenty years ago. Bill contributed the chapter on her time as hospital ship.

It was the Falklands War that persuaded me to join the TA, but that is another story, which I have already told. Click here to read  of my time as a private in the RAMC(V).







Shippea Hill has been having a bit of publicity recently, with articles in The Guardian and The Daily Mail. It has also got a mention on the Youtube channel. This is all because Shippea Hill is the least used station in the country. Some years the grandiosely titled Tyneside Airport station has fewer passengers,  but generally this distinction falls to Shippea Hill; it gets around one passenger a month on average, so when I say it is mostly deserted I mean it. In the in the autumn of 1977 I got on a train at Shippea Hill.  That morning I (and my friend Bill) must have been among the largest group of passengers to have got on a train at Shippea Hill in over 160 years! There were dozens of us. How did this come about?

I will explain, but first I want to tell you a little about Shippea Hill; it will be a little, for there isn’t very much to say about the place. Where the hill is I cannot say, because the wide expanse of Cambridgeshire fenland seems as flat as a pancake. I have read that the land here rises a foot or two above sea level, so perhaps that  explains the ‘hill’; either that or the sense of humour among railwaymen. Other names that the station has gone by in the past are Mildenhall Road and Burnt Fen. In 1977 there were no buildings in sight except for a signal box – it was still being used until 2012. Otherwise there are just acres and acres of rich agricultural land.

It was early on Sunday September 25th, about 2 o’clock in the morning, that the coaches carrying our party pulled up at the station. We had been on a day trip to France, and as there was no Channel Tunnel in those days we caught a special train from Folkestone Harbour on our return. The train had to terminate at Ely because the junction with the Norwich line was closed for repairs. We got onto coaches at Ely, and the first station on the line to Norwich was Shippea Hill; it was there that we were headed. A DMU was waiting at the station to carry us on to Norwich, and once we had left the train it took the remaining trippers on to North Walsham, 24 hours after they had left.

Just six months before Shippea Hill had been the site of a fatal accident when a train collided with a lorry on the adjacent level crossing.  The train driver was killed and several passengers were injured. The level crossing was operated by the signalman until 2012, when the crossing gates were replaced by automatic barriers. Although most trains do not stop at Shippea Hill (even by request), the line itself is served by stopping trains which call at most of the local stations. In the 1970s express train from Norwich to London still used the line. There were then (as now) two services every hour to Liverpool Street, only they went alternately via Ipswich and Cambridge. The Cambridge route took rather longer.

Shippea Hill is just one of several sparsely used stations on the line from Norwich to Ely; others are at Lakenheath, Eccles Road, Harling Road and Spooner Row. All are among the least used stations in the country. By contrast many far better used stations were closed by Dr Beeching in the 1960s, although the lines still run past these former stations. Even on the Breckland Line (the line that runs past Shippea Hill) Hethersett Station was closed in 1966, although it must have had vastly more passengers than just twelve a year. I wonder how Shippea Hill has survived all those years? Fortunately the trains to Manchester, Liverpool and Cambridge that mostly bypass this little place are themselves increasingly busy.






iom-db-festOn Monday 16th my sister Tig and I set off from our home near Norwich in the Fiat Panda. My double bass was in its cover on the roof rack. My dog Fido was also coming with us all the way to the Isle of Man. We had lunch at a pub near RAF Cranwell. Bill had travelled from his home near Whitby to see us for the day, and having shared the driving we arrived at the house of Marie Wragge (Bill’s mum) in Prestbury at four o’ clock.  We three younger ones took the dog down to the Bollin river for a walk. The river had lots of Himalayan Balsam plants growing on the banks, and I enjoyed surprising Bill with their exploding seed pods. That evening he drove us all out to a village called Wincle, where we had smoked trout at the Ship Inn.

On Tuesday Bill had to catch the train back to Yorkshire, and we bade farewell to Mrs Wragge and drove off to catch the ferry at Liverpool. We had been to the Isle of Man two years earlier, with Bill on that occasion. We gave Fido a run in a disused railway yard beside the terminal and then boarded the RO-RO ferry, Mona’s Isle. The dog got on free, although I think he was supposed to have a ticket. He was able to walk round the ship on his lead. While Tig went to the bar I chatted to a Manxman who was returning to his birthplace after 20 years. After the crossing we drove round the island and saw the Viking longship Odin’s Raven at Peel. She had sailed to the IoM from Norway three years earlier.

Rodney Slatford & PUPILS .IoM

Rodney Slatford & his pupils, Isle of Man

We were staying in Tiggy’s friend Elly Cadell’s cottage near Port Erin. Elly, who was away as resident nurse at a sanatorium, was not then living in May Cottage. This pretty property had previously belonged to Ronnie Aldrich, the former bandmaster of the Squadronaires. We drove south from Peel to find the cottage; it is very picturesque but very damp, although not as bad as it had been in 1980 when Bill and I slept there. In spite of it being summer we had to light a fire, which began to dry things out a bit. There is a lovely moor nearby, with flowering grasses and heather, and so were able to exercise Fido. We had shepherd’s pie and apple tart for tea.

On Wednesday 18th I enrolled for the Festival and bought my ticket for the final concert. There is a newspaper for the competition called the Daily Scroll. Then with Tig I went to see the Glen Maye waterfall near Peel. We took Fido for a long walk and met a sheep in a pigsty. Then we had coffee and Tig bought me a deerstalker hat for 95p! I promptly left on Odin’s Raven, but Tig got it back. To Douglas and saw the horse-drawn and electric trams. We bought a ticket for Fido so he will be legal on the boat back.

In the evening I went to a concert by Rodney Slatford and 12 of his pupils from the Royal College of Music. Frances Dorling, a young bassist from Norwich who is studying at the Guildhall School of Music sat with me. She intends to be a professional musician.* She will be competing in the Festival later. I sent a postcard to our mutual teacher Colin Boulter to tell him the news.

Alan Pickard

Alan Pickard

Thursday; after breakfast I was taken to the Falcon’s Nest in Port Erin where they were holding a Junior Bass School. The warm-up studies were excellent; I suppose I should have been playing, but I would have been out of my depth even in a junior class! Alan Pickard who had taught music at Gresham’s when I was a pupil there has now returned to his native IoM where he has a music shop. I was talking to a couple of locals who were helping out at the concert. They knew Alan very well. After Fernando Grillo’s concert at the Art Centre I went to Alan Pickard’s bookshop and we reminisced on old times. He says that he wrote the Lt. Governor’s introduction in the programme for him! After lunch I went to the Railway Museum- Bill would have had a field day buying souvenirs, old tickets and crested crockery. Next I went to a lecture by a husband and wife who make bows for basses; they are going to show us rehairing later. Then to a Master Class by Barry Green. At cocktail hour I got talking to a student and an army trombonist who plays bass as a sideline. The evening concert was given by the prizewinner of the first competition in 1978. I chatted with Frances Dorling again and met another competitor, a young man called Mike Woolf [an American who is now Professor of Double Bass at the University of the Arts, Berlin].

Friday, August 20th; today I fluctuated between despair at ever being able to play and enthusiasm. I walked Fido towards the Chasms after breakfast of fish fingers; the first class was at 9.30 so I did not have to rush. It was bowing exercises today, followed by a video of the BBC  The Great Double Bass Race. Heard pieces by Mozart, Capuzzi and Bottesini. Had a drink with Frances in the Bass Bar and chatted to Joan, a bassist from the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra. Returned to the cottage to find Elly had arrived with her dog Honey, who Fido was very interested in.

Saturday; drove into Port Erin for a lecture by Rodney Slatford on Koussevitsky (1874-1951), the Russian born conductor, composer and bass player. He spent most of his career in Boston, USA. After going round the Motor Museum I came home for sherry before lunch with Tig and Elly. The dogs get on well except when they are eating, when Honey gets the upper hand. Back for a class on bass maintenance; things like bass bar repairs and the fact the sound post always falls down when the strings are removed – all bass players know that. Then it was a very special Master Class by František Pošta (1919-1991), the Czech virtuoso. On the way over I was chatting to Barry, a bassist who plays with the Bournemouth Symphony who knows Colin Boulter very well – he bought his five string bass from him, a fine instrument by Benedikt Lang. František Pošta’s English is just adequate; his most memorable saying; ‘play in tune then add VIBRATO, play in time then add RUBATO‘. Back for a concert by Leonard Woolf. Barry tells me that Colin got a fellow bass player so drunk he had to be held up all though a concert!

Colin Boulter in 2012

Colin Boulter in 2012

When I got back Tig and Elly were out with Elly’s friend Marie and I was locked out, but the back door was open. Apparently Honey had eaten Fido’s supper again;  she will be getting enormous and poor Fido will fade away.

Sunday; Elly drove us to the Laxey Wheel, and told us to buy something to eat at the pub before going on the tram up Snaefell. We took rolls and cans of drink with us. We went to the summit, leaving the dogs behind. It was sunny, but the haze prevented us seeing any of the four other countries you can see on a good day (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland). We descended and I saw two bassists on the tram going up. Elly took us to Tholt-y-Will Glen, and we walked down past the waterfalls to have a cup of tea at the bottom. We drove south to Fleshwick Bay where I gathered a lot of driftwood for the fire (although we had earlier bought some coal). Back to the cottage to burn some of the wood. This evening Fido was able to eat his food before Honey got to it.

Monday morning Tig and I went to a secondhand bookshop in an old barn. The owner had died three months before and it was being run by his widow. We got a lot of books, a Wodehouse, Pick of Punch etc. I went to a recital at 2.30, it was by the eventual winner. I asked Frances what she did yesterday and she told me she spent it playing quartets with three other bassists. At May Cottage I sawed up some logs. The evening concert was by the Nash Ensemble.

Tuesday; a lot of walking in the rain; things kept getting cancelled but eventually I attended a lecture on position playing. At 10.30 there was a Jazz bass concert. Home, and Tiggie and I went to the Nautical Museum at Castletown. There we saw the armed yacht Peggy  built in 1791 by an eccentric called Quayle. It had been walled up in its boathouse in the early 19th century and was rediscovered in 1951. At Port Erin I heard the lecture on hairing bows. On my return to the cottage I found the ladies having a bonfire in the garden and the house full of smoke. The recital this evening was by a Japanese competitor.

Wednesday. Tig took Fido to Ramsey and nearly ran into another car which pulled out into her path; she braked so suddenly Fido fell off the car seat. I did not go into Port Erin until 10 o’clock and watched a video of two members of the Berlin Phil playing cello and bass in pieces by Rossini, Mon, Paganini and Romberg. I sat through another recital with Joan, Frances left after two items. There was also a concert of Dragonettis and Bottesine pieces written for instruments other than the double bass. As it was such a lovely bright afternoon I skipped the Jazz recital and went round the open air museum, saw the train arriving but returned in time for cocktail hour. I had taken my copy of the 1978 competition programme for Joan to read.  The František Pošta recital was well received by most of the audience but the music was not to Frances’s taste. Colin would say that the job of a professional musician is to play what is put in front of him, not to like what he hears. Afterwards I had a drink in the Bass Bar.

Thursday 26th August. It was the last day of the competition, taken up with recitals by the finalists in various categories. I bought Bill one of the last three dinner plates at the museum shop with the Isle of Man railway crest; it cost £4. The two Dutch bassists who Tig had met earlier in the week gave a very stylish recital. After the final performances (which Duncan McTier won) we went back to the Falcon’s Nest for a farewell drink at the Festival Final Reception. František Pošta shook us all by the hand.


*Frances Dorling has worked as a freelance double bass for many of the professional orchestras in the UK. She played in the Dutch Tango quartet Cuarteto Rotterdam until 2008. For more details of Frances Dorling’s biography click here. To see her and hear her on the bass click here.

For some of my own later experiences playing the double bass click here. A list of the musicals I played in the decade to 1990 is given here.

[I am told by his granddaughter that Colin Boulter died in February of this year- 2017. He had been living in London since 1982.]






The word recorder can have a number of meanings, but I do not here refer to a legal official. Nor do I refer to a tape recorder, but to the musical instrument. A descant recorder is cheap to buy, and a simple instrument to start to play, which is why so many of us began to learn music as a member of a class playing descant recorders. To reach the higher levels of proficiency however the recorder is about as difficult as any other instrument, except perhaps a theatre organ with its four or more manuals, umpteen dozen stops and a full pedal board. Leaving aside such examples of extreme bodily involvement, the real knack of playing music is to interpret it in a meaningful way, and in this respect I can point to no finer executant than the twentieth century Canadian pianist Glen Gould.

In my case the experience of playing the recorder did not begin when I was very young; by the time my class was introduced to the instrument I was  a teenager, with attempts at learning the violin and the piano already under my belt. I could read music by then, and music theory was not a problem for me. I sailed through the theory exam with 100% score. Actually playing anything was a different matter – that required hours and hours of boring practice.

My bass

My bass

It would have been the same with playing the recorder, had the class not folded in less than a term. Our music lessons reverted to singing and listening to records. I didn’t give up learning the piano, but I began to play the double bass.  I found the bass greatly to my taste. I even found practice on the giant instrument quite fun, but I never had more than half a hour’s instruction on it. The only member of the music staff  who played the bass was a remarkable Czech who also played every other instrument known to man. Me and my fiend Bill answered an urgent plea from the head of music for a couple of boys to learn the bass, as the previous players had both left the school. We were taught the first position, which was virtually all we needed to know for the simple music we played in the school orchestra. Only upper ‘C’ and ‘D’ were beyond our normal scope, and required a leap of faith with the first finger. Because we had no instruction on the instrument we never had to pay to use the double bass. It was great fun, but that finished when we left the  school.

I had already started to strum the ukulele aged about 13, and soon moved on to the guitar. I got quite good at reading chords, (C, G7, F, etc) which is a simple task, but at university I moved onto reading the dots and playing classical guitar. I have never had a lesson on the guitar, but at last I had found something I really loved. I practiced and practiced, when I should have been studying my official course. (I did do enough reading of history to get my degree though.) I continued to play the guitar when I left uni, and eventually played some chamber music with my father on cello.

On finding myself living alone once again I returned to playing the double bass, which introduced me to many fellow musicians (including the woman whom I was eventually to marry). I have already done several blogs of my bass playing career in which I came nearest to a semi-professional status. This reminiscing on my musical life is all very well, but I started by telling you about playing the recorder.

I should have been quite busy enough playing the bass, but for some reason I joined an evening class of recorder players. I had not picked up a recorder for about 20 years, and even then it was only to play very simple tunes. I did remember the fingering however, and I dug out my old plastic descant recorder. I also had a wooden tenor which is the same pitch, although an octave lower. Although I tried the treble it is a fourth lower, and I never quite mastered the transposition. My tenor was a useful instrument as all of my fellow players had trebles or descants. Because no-one had a bass recorder I took the bass line on my tenor, which suited me just fine as a bass player.

There were about eight of us and we formed a consort. This was the term used for a group of instrumentalists in the early modern period. Although we should have played lots of concerts, we did not play the kind of music that went down well in old folks’ homes, for example; it was too highbrow. On the double bass I was for ever playing light music in all sorts of venues, to receptive audiences. Our consort did have one success however, being asked to broadcast on Radio Norfolk, which had recently started to use the local airwaves.

Another instrument I had a brief infatuation with was the accordion. I was even paid to play it at Thurton fête one year. On mature consideration (many years later) I think I tried to play too many instruments. I stopped playing any of them when I was busy helping my wife to bring up two young children. We made attempts to start them on playing cornets with the Taverham band, and Peter began playing the bassoon at Norwich School, but they never practised either.





No other classroom was a constant feature of my time at Gresham’s School; the art room and the gym were the only Senior School places we ventured to from the Prep School for our lessons. PE stopped being compulsory for sixth formers and I was glad stop using it, but I continued my time in the art room until December 1967 when I was nearly nineteen.  I had first been introduced to the art room  as a ten year old in September 1959. It was an immutable feature of my life; so too was the art master, Beaver. He was more formally known as Stuart Webster or simply as JSW, which was how he signed many of his watercolours.

The art room was in the Library Building, a 1930s building in muted neo-Classical style. The library itself was on the ground floor, and had a gallery around it at first floor level. It seemed impressively stocked to me as schoolboy – it certainly had all the books I wanted – but it is not the library I am interested in at present. Besides the library there were eight or ten classrooms devoted to History, English, Modern Languages, Geography – and Art. The art room was on the first floor, and to approach it you had to go along a corridor with windows on one side and stuffed birds in glass cases along the other. These were stacked two or three deep. Such ornithological specimens had been popular back in Edwardian times, but by the post-war period they had been relegated to this backwater.

My first term was the Christmas term (official the Michaelmas term) and as the festival approached Beaver got out the equipment needed for producing ‘spatterwork’ posters. Spatterwork was just what it said it was, spattering paint. You would arrange wooden letters on a piece of cartridge paper to read MERRY CHRISTMAS or some similar greeting. To be more accurate Beaver would arrange the letters because most of us lacked any artistic flair, even for such a simple task. Then with a nail brush dipped in poster paint we would gaily cover the paper by dragging our fingers through the bristles; this was the spattering, and it was so simple that we were allowed to do it unaided. Nobody produced too few spatters, but several of us produced far too many, so that the paper became a soggy mass of grey paint as the colours all merged together. Then, once the paint was dry, the wooden letters would be removed to reveal the message in the original colour of the cartridge paper. The last action was to paint white along the tops of the letters to represent snow. This was a tricky thing to do in a suitable manner; it had to look like snow, and this too was normally done by Beaver. The result always delighted his young charges, and so it should, with all the difficult bits being done by a competent artist – Beaver.

Art was always a double period, so it lasted almost an hour and a half. With the paints to be got out first and put away at the end it needed the extra time. Handicraft lessons were a double period too; otherwise a single forty minute session was deemed adequate for everything else. Everything except maths. This also took up a double period, first thing on Monday morning, when we were thought to be bright and fresh. When I first began to do art it was the last two periods on Friday evening – the reverse of Monday morning. By then we were tired and jaded and only fit to mess about with paint.

Art only got a look in once a week until I was sixth former doing Art Amural bass level, when I was in the art room most days. It was formally set out with desks facing the front where Beaver, who was a short man, would sit perched on a high stool behind a massive desk which ran virtually across the whole room. He appeared to be a very pompous character as he sat there giving us the advantage of his wisdom, but when you got to know him well you became aware that this was all an act. This formal instruction did not last long; for most of the lesson he would walk round the desks inspecting our work and deftly improving it was paint brush in his hand.

As a sixth former I was privileged to be given a section of wall in the art room to paint a mural on. The subject was one  of my main interests at the time – playing the double bass. In fact it was a cartoon of an old man standing to pluck a cello.  I never finished it. I was surprise that it stayed  there for a year or two after I had left, before it was painted over.

Over the nine years that I spent in the art room I got very friendly with Beaver, and I even continued to visit when I had left university and he had retired. After a lifetime as a flat dwelling bachelor he had married and was living in a country cottage in Hunworth. Not long after I visited him in the mid 70s I heard that he had died. I made one last visit to his widow and bought some of his watercolours .







F. CUNNINGHAM WOODS     (by permission of    Highgate School)

THE musician Francis Cunningham Woods was the son of a court dressmaker. F. Cunningham Woods was born in London but his father had originally come from Lowestoft. There is not much demand for court tailors in Suffolk so London was the place for him to remove himself to; he was obviously a good man with a needle. He was able to give his sons good educations; Francis in music and his elder brother Alfred in medicine; a third son went to Oxford and became a clergyman in Australia. Francis was an accomplished musician and he was employed as organist first at Brasenose and then at Exeter College Oxford, where he was awarded an MA degree in 1891. He had been a pupil of Sir Arthur Sullivan. In 1894 he became Head of Music at Highgate School in North London, a position he held for almost the rest of his life. He was an enthusiastic writer of songs, and the Highgate school song (which can be heard on Youtube) was penned by him. He was well regarded as the life and soul of the party, and was an excellent raconteur.

Although he spent most of his life in London his East Anglian connections did not end with his paternal association with the East Coast. By the age of 55 his father had sold his successful dressmaking business and had retired to Beccles, where his family would visit him. Moreover Francis’s wife was an East Anglian lady from Norwich and some time during the school holidays was spent in Norfolk. It as while staying in Norfolk that he wrote the Gressenhall Suite.

This extract from the Folkstone and Hythe Herald of the 22 January 1927 gives some details of how he found himself near East Dereham and how he came to write the suite: ‘THE concluding item …was “The Gressenhall Suite” (F. Cunningham Woods), a composition of singular charm. The following interesting notes by the composer on how the suite came to be composed, appeared on the programme. “Some years ago I was staying at Gressenhall near East Dereham, Norfolk. During my visit I was present at a jolly little dance in the parish room. All accompaniments were played on an accordion by a young fellow who was employed in a flour mill. He played a large number of folk dances – mainly traditional – the names of which he did not know. ‘I learnt them from my father,’ he said. One struck me as  being a very jolly one and I named it after the village (Gressenhall). A brother of the Squire told me that the words at the commencement of the song, were – “Throw away sorrow, Cast away care! The parish is bound to maintain us.” ‘

The words quoted by the Squire’s brother refer to a popular tune sung in the alehouses of England in the mid 18thGRESSENHALL SUITE396 century about the Poor Law. “Hang sorrow, cast away care, The parish is bound to maintain us.” It is therefore very appropriate that it should have been rediscovered in Gressenhall, where the parishes of Mitford and Laundich built the House of Industry in 1776 to maintain the destitute. The Poor Law, as it operated in the 18th century, was much more humane than it became in the 1830s. In the earlier period families which had fallen on hard times were kept together in the workhouse and not kept segregated by sex, as happened in Victorian times. Now the old Workhouse at Gressenhall and its attached farm are home to the Norfolk museum of rural life.

Among the many notable former pupils of Highgate School are the composers John Taverner and John Rutter. I am greatly indebted to Henley Smith, the Head of Music at Highgate School, for allowing me to use the illustration of F. Cunningham Woods which is shown above, and for providing other details of the composer. I am also extremely grateful to Helen Bainbridge, volunteer researcher at Gressenhall Museum, who has discovered much valuable information on Cunnigham Woods.  Gressenhall Museum gave a performance of the Gressenhall Suite at 7.30 on JUNE 13th  2015 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its publication. The following is extracted from the publicity for the event:

‘…extraordinary opportunity to hear music inspired by Gressenhall in the atmospheric Old Chapel at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

100 years ago Francis Cunningham Wood visited Gressenhall village’s Reading Rooms for a local dance. Inspired by what he heard he composed and published a string orchestral arrangement entitled The Gressenhall Suite. A century later, this music will be performed on Saturday 13 June 2015 starting at 7.30pm. Entry is by ticket only and pre-booking is essential.

This is an extraordinary chance to hear the Suite close to the village which provided the original inspiration. The concert is performed by West Norfolk Jubilee Youth Orchestra and King’s Lynn Minster Choir and will also include late 18th century music and a variety of English part songs. Attendees are advised to bring their own cushion for comfort on the narrow pews of the Old Chapel!

The sheet music for The Gressenhall Suite was re-discovered last year by East Anglian historian Joe Mason. He wrote about his discovery in his blog which was noticed by a volunteer from Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, who drew it to the museum’s attention.

Curator, Megan Dennis said “Researching more about the composer’s life revealed that he was a music teacher and actively supported youth music. Bringing young musicians to Gressenhall to perform his work 100 years after it was written just seemed appropriate. We are really excited to welcome West Norfolk Jubilee Youth Orchestra to the museum and are looking forward to a thrilling evening of music.”’

Francis C WoodsFRANCIS CUNNINGHAM WOODS (1862 – 1929)





One of my regular catalogues.

One of my regular catalogues.

My bookselling started like many things in my life, by accident. I was sorting through a pile of papers in a junk shop in Magdalen Road in Norwich, when I came across a huge selection of violin music for which the proprietor was asking next to nothing. I bought the bundle and took it home. Over the subsequent weeks I proceeded to advertise it for sale by individual title. This must have been in the very early 1980s, and advertising such things as violin music was not so easy as it has since become, with Ebay always to hand.

I cannot remember now where I advertised the music; possibly in Exchange and Mart, but it sold very well. There was a copy of Monti’s Czardas I remember, and a lot of similar pieces for solo violin with piano accompaniment. Unusually most of the pieces were complete. As I later discovered, with sheet music where the pages are all loose, it is very easy for them to become detached and lost.  I thought I would look out for some more violin music, but I soon found that this was easier said than done. There were acres of piano music, but nobody wanted that, unless it was very old (i.e. eighteenth century) or very well bound (in full leather and not rubbed or scuffed). Of course, it was because violin music was relatively rare that my bundle had sold so well. These were the sort of things I discovered as I went along. It would have saved me a lot of time and heartache if there had been someone to teach me, but at the time I saw no need of a teacher, being brash and young.

Quite rightly I decided that selling violin music was too specialised a field, in Norfolk anyway, and branched out into music books. These varied between the general, which again nobody wanted, and the specialised, which were highly sought after. Once again it was the violin which appeared to rule the roost. The most expensive were those books on violin making. The knack of making a success of bookselling is of course to buy more cheaply than the price at which you can sell. I could have bought most of these books at the full retail price, but finding a bargain was much more difficult. To me, buying a bargain book from a member of the public seemed a bit underhand, but to find a bargain in bookshop was fair game. It is important to know that the condition of a book is of crucial importance in determining its value, which is something I was slow to appreciate.

Because I did not play the instrument anything connected with violins I could sell without a qualm; anything connected with the double bass, which I did play, of course I kept!  I was  certainly better at selling music books than just sheet music, but even so the field was rather restricted as far as purchases were concerned. I needed to select another subject in which I was already quite knowledgeable, but not so dedicated that I would feel a pang in selling a book. I had to enlarge my field of subjects, but not to the extent that I was no longer a specialist.

Beyond music the special subject I decided on was maritime books; these were more plentiful in Norfolk than music books. This must be to do with the proximity of the sea and the Broads. These books seemed to have an enthusiastic following across the country which made them easy to sell. I must have produced dozens of catalogues, at first on my typewriter to be printed by the local printer, and latterly on my computer. Of course you only had one copy of each book, but that is how the secondhand book business is.

Specialised knowledge of the kind of books to look for was the key to making a killing, and the wider you spread your net the less you can know about individual titles.  The secondhand book selling trade has been turned upside down by online trading. Nowadays the internet has made the economics of secondhand bookselling quite different.

Nowadays the shop selling old books has almost vanished and nearly all such sales are made on-line. In this way you are much more likely to find the book you want, but you are less likely to find it at a bargain price, because it is much easier for the seller to find the going rate by doing a quick search. Serendipity, which would throw up all sorts of unexpected treasures and delightful surprises as you browsed the bookshop shelves, has largely disappeared.