Tag Archives: DOUBLE BASS

THE FALKLANDS WAR

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).

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE 1980s

SHIPPEA HILL RAILWAY STATION

SHIPPEA HILL

SHIPPEA HILL

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.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

DOUBLE BASS FESTIVAL on the ISLE OF MAN

AUGUST 1982

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.

festival-final

*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.]

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE DOUBLE BASS

joemasonspage@gmail.com

MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

THE RECORDER

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.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE STORY OF MUSIC

THE ART ROOM (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 45)

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 .

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

FRANCIS CUNNINGHAM WOODS and the GRESSENHALL SUITE

 

F. CUNNINGHAM WOOD

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)

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

MY BOOKSELLING LIFE

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.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

THE STORY OF A HOUSE (10)

THE RAILWAY ROOM

My first model railway was a relatively modest affair on a 6 x 4 baseboard. Even so there were two circuits of track, one low-level and one that climbed to cross the low-level track by a girder bridge. This would undoubtedly have satisfied me; it was after all so much more than most eleven year old boys could imagine, but my father already had bigger ideas. Who was I to complain? 

Church railwayThere were four rooms in the basement of number 29 in Surrey Street, Norwich. It was a basement, not a cellar, and each of the rooms had a window. Now, under new ownership, this has been converted into an expensive basement flat. I should perhaps explain why my father did not convert it to living accommodation. Back in the 60s the whole building was designated as commercial property, so it had to be let as officespace if it were to be let at all. The market for offices then demanded modern open-plan space, and the basement was not attractive to potential tenants. My father had the ground floor for his optician’s practice, and let the first floor to an insurance company, but the basement was Dad’s to do as he liked with. 

The smallest room wasn’t that small; it was almost as big as my present study and was my photographic darkroom. The two largest rooms were the workshop and the printing office. I have already told my readers of some of the things that went on in these other rooms. This leaves the former larder, a room of about 12 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was this room that my father proposed to turn into the Railway Room.

My model railway was 00 gauge and all my rolling stock and most of my locomotives were made by Tri-ang. This firm later became known as Hornby as it still is. Before this combination with Triang Hornby-Dublo was a part of Meccano. Two of my locos were made by Hornby-Dublo. These were the LMS liveried  Duchess of Atholl, a model of a Pacific loco that had originally been three-rail. My father had sent it off to be converted to two rail. The other Hornby-Dublo loco that I possessed was a Great Western Region Castle class in BR livery. The name of this 4-6-0 was Cardiff Castle. I also had a Trix-Twin Britannia, only this was in HO rather OO scale, so it looked slightly smaller although the gauge was the same. Besides the “foreigners” I had virtually the entire range of Tri-ang steam locomotives but I didn’t have a single diesel! My father didn’t like them. (But to give his due, he said that electric traction would reconcile him to the loss of steam.) These Tri-ang locomotives were made of plastic, whereas the Hornby-Dublo and Trix ones were made of metal.

The whole of the railway room was decked in, with just a narrow walkway opposite the door. The walls were painted blue to represent the sky and the decking was olive-green. A winding river went across the room. Off the river was a dock and beyond a lock-gate was the harbour for shipping. A hill occupied the far corner of the room which was where the tunnel was. It was much too far to reach the hill from the walkway, so a trapdoor was provided to deal with any derailments. These normally occurred in the most inaccessible part of the layout in the tunnel.

To one side of the walkway was the railway yard. This was the most interesting part of the layout. It had engine sheds and a turntable, a coaling tower and sidings.  On the other side was the main railway station with platforms covered by a canopy. This worked well because the station and the engine yard were easy to get to and they were where I was always handling rolling stock. Finally at the end of the walkway, where I stood with my back to the door, was the control centre. It had two power controllers connected to the two circuits of track and a third to operate the railway yard. Also located here were the switches that controlled the electric point motors. I never got round to installing any signal lights or motors to operate the semaphore signals although this was something I always intended to do. 

As you can see from the picture there were plenty of buildings. You may be just able to see the line in the background; the foreground is taken up by the painted river covered with a plastic sheet. This was the country end of the layout; the town was the other end, by the station. The trees were of plastic and were bought from the local toy shop, while the hedged were of green dyed lichen which had to sent away for. The dock had a ships by the quayside, a small oil tanker called Shell Welder that was built from a 1/72nd scale kit. There had to be a dockside railway, naturally, and it was run by a kit-built tram engine. The greatest problem was dust. With a busy road just outside the draughty sash window the track cleaning train was the most common piece of rolling stock that I used.

Considering that I spent most of the year away at boarding school and there were all the other activities to be pursued in the school holidays it is remarkable how much I did get round to doing to the railway. It was really my father’s toy of course, but I did much of the work. I don’t think I did any studying while I was at home on holiday though – I left that for the weeks and months while I was at school. The mental stimulation from all these various and diverse ways of passing my leisure time must have left me with a lively mind all the same. At least so I tell myself.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

THE UNIVERSITY of EAST ANGLIA

My place card

My place card

My first visit to UEA was in 1966 when I was considering my options for applying to University. I went from school to the University in Earlham to explore the possibility of studying for a Fine Art degree there. The University consisted of a number of very temporary buildings in what is known as the University Village, on the corner of Wilberforce and Earlham Roads. The only permanent building used by the University was the 17th century Earlham Hall; the ziggurats of Denis Lasdun were still being built and the rest of the campus was also just a building site. The University Broad did not exist and the SAINSBURY CENTRE  had not even been dreamt of.

On that occasion my visit to the University was not a great success; it was just three years old and the lecturer I saw was rather non-plussed by my presence. ‘I can’t show you anything,’ he said. The whole of the course material consisted of colour slides of artworks, and although he could show me the cupboard where the slides were held he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) show me the actual pictures; that was it as far as my introduction to academia was concerned. There must have been some books, but he didn’t mention them. There was no library to speak of, no common room (as far as I was aware); nothing. I left and spent the day at my father’s business premises at 29 Surrey Street where there was rather more to do and certainly more intellectual stimulation. Needless to say it was not one of the universities on my UCCA application form in 1967.

Rapidly over the next ten or twelve years the university took shape. The Broad was dug out to provide the gravel for the huge concrete buildings which appeared. Once a bridge was constructed over the river Yare I could take my dog down from Colney Lane and round the lake. The fields were all open grassland between the broad in the valley and Colney Lane on the hill and I used to walk Fido regularly across the open ground; the trees have grown up in the last forty years. A grocery shop and a bookshop in the University Square were built, and a large library was established where you can look out of the windows to the Broad as you read.

During the late 1970s/early 1980s I was a regular visitor to the afternoon recitals given in one of the lecture halls. These were of very modern music; being a double bass player myself I particularly remember a concert given by the bassist Barry Guy. It is a great shame that the University has decided to close its Music Faculty, as this had been one of the best parts of the institution since it started.

Margaret Mutch

Margaret Mutch

On the 20th of May 1982 I was invited to a sherry party in the Senior Common Room as guest of Margaret Mutch, a violinist originally from Cambridge who played in an orchestra with me. We heard a talk on “Regional Arts: who needs subsidies?” The speakers were Professor James McFarlane of UEA and C. V. R. Roberts, at that time the Arts Editor of the Eastern Daily Press. More to the point, the Senior Common Room invited us all to a buffet meal. “The meal at the UEA was very delicious; fish, paté, salad, wine. The discussion was quite lively too” as I noted at the time.

I became busy with other things, and the UEA took a back seat in the 1990s but in 2004 I was invited by my friend Rex Hancy to accompany him to the launch of the book Medieval Norwich edited by the historians Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson of the UEA. This was held in the branch of Waterstones bookshop on the campus. I got chatting to a young man who had written one of the final chapters of the book. I later read this essay and thought it a dreadful bit of writing. I see he is now a professor at UEA.

Once I had begun my researches on King Edmund of East Anglia I spent many useful hours in the university library using their fine collection of books; it is a phenomenal improvement on the meagre resources that I encountered in 1966. They have many of the history books which used to belong to the late R. W. Ketton Cremer of Felbrigg Hall for instance; he was still alive when I first went to UEA. Incidentally the three crowns on the UEA Shield of Arms represent St Edmund’s  sovereignty, martyrdom and innocence. I wonder how many UEA historians know that!

My sister Tiggie was not very impressed by UEA from the earliest days, when she wrote to the first Vice-Chancellor (Frank Thistlethwaite) on some matter and received a hand-written reply in an elegant hand with a prominent spelling mistake! Personally I know how easy such mistakes are, and if his correspondence had been typed for him he could always have blamed any errors on his typist. This was not an option for Thistlethwaite, and his lack of a typist shows what a shoe-string the university used to be run on. Incidentally, the coming of the personal computer has, among many other things, banished the ideas of typewriters and typists to the distant past. With spell-checkers there is also now no excuse for spelling mistakes, though they still creep in. At least in Frank Thistlethwaite’s case he had the courtesy to reply to my sister; in these days of emails and instant communication it is difficult to get any reply at all.

The whole of UEA has been created during my lifetime (and I am not incredibly ancient, indeed I have only recently reached the official retirement age). When I first remember Earlham Hall the site of the university campus was a golf course and Earlham Hall itself was the local Junior School. In fact it was attended by Molly my wife. Two peacocks wandered round the courtyard  and my wife even remembers their names; Billy and Biddy, descendants the birds that roamed the grounds when the Gurneys (the Quaker banking family) lived there. Looking back it seems like another age, which it was. But what glorious surroundings in which to start your education! The school may have turned into the university but the peacocks that survived two World Wars have gone many years ago.

[There were still peacocks there in 1983 because a note in my diary states that I saw them after taking my dog for a run down to the river at Earlham.]

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

BRUNDALL MUSIC CLUB

 The Elephant, by Camille Saint-Saëns

Joe Mason plays the double bass

Joe Mason plays the double bass

Brundall Music Club was the creation of Roger West and his wife Janet. I began to attend in the early 1980s. Janet was the one who I remember best, although I understand that Roger did a lot of work behind the scenes. It involved many of the best musicians in Norfolk at the time, as well as some more inferior ones such me; people who were nevertheless passionate about music.

The majority of the audience were not performers, just enthusiastic listeners. The meetings were held once a month in Brundall Primary School down Braydeston Avenue, near the RAILWAY STATION. Brundall is a village on the river Yare between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. These extracts from my diary give an idea of what it was like.

Saturday 10 January 1981

In the evening drove to Brundall. We got there well before Mr and Mrs Partridge – who paid our guest fees! The first half of the evening was individual contributions; a very good violinist, indifferent flutes and recorder, and a terrible pianist but good one to end with. Then we heard Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti. This was new to me and I enjoyed it very much. Beverley (Rogers) was in the chorus as an “extra”; she told us when we met beforehand, she is not a member of the club.

Joe Mason plays bass

Joe Mason plays bass

Saturday 7 February

I had already changed for Brundall then picked up Beverley. We got lost because she had not put on her glasses but still gave me directions. Saw Mr and Mrs Partridge Cathryn, Joan and her husband and Mr Sears. I have almost let myself in for doing Saint-Saëns’s The Elephant next month. 

Sunday 8 February

After supper I had a quick look at L’Elephant – it is not too hard- so if I can get the piano part from Colin I will phone Beverley and give her the go-ahead.

Tuesday 10 February

In the evening I went to Colin Boulter for my double bass lesson. I asked him for the music to L’Elephant (piano as well) which he then asked me to play; as he did not know I had already been playing it he thought I did it rather well!

Friday 13 February

Got Carnaval des animaux, the piano part from the library. We had a pigeon for tea. (Pigeon is an anagram of one pig.) Played L’Elephant on the bass.

Saturday 14 February

Had rabbit in cider (rabbit is an anagram of bat rib). After several attempts I got through to Beverley. I am leaving the piano part with her tomorrow evening. She wants 3 rehearsals.

Wednesday 18 February

Supper was plaice; then to Thorpe High School for the orchestral music class. (Janet West is the conductor.) I discovered that the City College are doing some pieces from Carnival of the Animals tomorrow. Janet has seen the programme for Brundall Music Society and I am on it! She is going to be away in London one week after half-term, and is going to ask Beverley to take us again. She is suddenly turning up all over these pages.

Thursday 19 February

Home, took Fido for a walk and watched the news. The sudden collapse of business will probably force me to sell up and live as a recluse with my double bass, which would be rather nice.

BARRY,1958

BARRY,1958

Saturday 7 March

I got to Brundall School and played my elephant twice before Beverley arrived and twice together. She was at home in Ipswich last night and missed the train back to Norwich this morning. Also at the Music Club were Barry and Phyllis Osborne (my 2nd cousin and his wife) and George Gould (an organic market gardener from South Walsham and a friend of my father’s), all of whom I managed to speak to. At the party later at the Pightle (the West’s home) I met a lot of other people including fellow bassist David Storey. John Barnett may have a job for me at the May concert. The chocolate elephants appealed to my accompanist!

CLICK HERE to listen to THE ELEPHANT

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE