I would like to emphasise how much music meant to him in his life. Central in this was the role of the Oxford & Cambridge Musical Club.
As children we were well aware of this through attending concerts, and in particular the rehearsals. I remember dark winter evenings sitting in the back of the Staff Common Room at University College before the concerts, and wandering out to explore the dimly-lit corridors to meet the ghost of Jeremy Bentham. My earliest memories of my father bringing us to Gower Street date from the early 1960’s.
Needless to say, all of us children learnt to play an instrument. The grind of cello lessons from the age of 8 seemed a pain at the time, but now something for which I am forever grateful. I played the cello, Frances the violin, and Jonathan the trombone. This made for a very strange quartet indeed at family celebrations with Dad, of course, as leader!
Jonathan was the only one of us children who played at a Club concert. There may be those in the Club who still remember the occasion when he opened a book to read during a long interval, got absorbed in the steamy novel, and forgot to come in on his cue. I don’t think my father was very impressed. That might have been the end of his tromboning career, for I don’t ever recollect it coming out of its case after that. I fared a little better, with a Junior Exhibition to the Royal College of Music in 1967. Dad had high hopes for me… but unfortunately I wasn’t destined for a musical career. I still play, from time to time in local orchestras, but with long gaps ‘getting rusty’ in between, I’m afraid I just don’t have the same dedication to and love of music that he had.
Father was always quiet, hard-working and self-effacing in his musical activity, as in most other things, yet we were very aware of his central role on occasions as leader of the orchestra and for many years as chairman of the club. His involvement in the day-to-day life of this mattered to him as much as his work in China. At week-ends the phone always seemed to be ringing. I still have memories of him picking up the phone at no.13 Routh Road in Wandsworth: “Van Dyke 2165 – Percy speaking…”. It was always club business. Tireless in the extreme, he could never say no to each new request, yet it meant everything to him to make music and help the wheels of the club go round.
We always knew when it was coming up to a Club concert. He would spend more and more time practising in the dining room, trying to get each new piece of music right. Everything would be going smoothly until he got to a really difficult bit. There would be a sudden pause, silence, then the exclamation “Damn!” or “Blast it!”, followed by a repeat attempt, and then, “Crikey, that’s blinking hard!”. Nothing worse was ever said (the curses in Anglo-Saxon were always uttered by me on the cello!). Come Saturday, however, you would find him well tuned-up, and give or take the odd B#, fiddle-perfect. He knew he couldn’t be a virtuoso, but what mattered to him was getting it right.
I would like to say something about how his musical life started. Some of you may know a little of this already, but I guess this will be news to most. My father never talked much about his childhood, and I only learnt this myself recently.
He first took up playing the violin when he was 5 or 6, no doubt encouraged by his father, whom I am pretty certain had little or no musical background himself. Their own origins were certainly humble as a working-class Walthamstow family. His first violin exam (Trinity College of Music) was taken age 7, thereafter he competed every year in various music festivals. From a young age his musical life was interwoven with that of Stanley Pritchard, later known as Sir John Pritchard, former conductor of the BBC Orchestra and well-known figure at the Promenade Concerts. They went to the same Infant School, shared the same violin teacher, and in 1930 formed the Borough Juvenile Orchestra. The small fledgling group of musicians met in dad’s sitting room at Barratt Road, and at each rehearsal (so the story goes) the neighbours used to congregate outside the front door to listen. Together they took part in many music festivals, winning a cup at the Leyton Eisteddfod. They are pictured here, with my father (as leader), holding the cup. Stanley Pritchard (nick-named ‘Fatty Pritchard’) is standing behind, on the far right, whilst George Barnard (later Professor Barnard, statistician) is at the back, second from left. This initial success first brought them to the attention of a number of professional musicians.
Before becoming involved with the Oxford & Cambridge Musical Club in the late 1950’s, Percy was the leader of the Chelsea Chamber Orchestra, the Worker’s Music Association Orchestra, and an orchestra in Essex.
The rest perhaps is known to you. Many will have played with him over the years, some till quite recently. Indeed, he continued playing in quartets at home right up until a week before his death. It would be fair to say that it was his music, and in particular the desire to stay involved with the OCMC, which kept him going throughout those last difficult years of ill-health.
My father always managed to integrate music in a really quite positive and creative way into the rest of his life. This is reflected in his support of his ethical, humanitarian and political commitments; fund-raising for Musicians Against Nuclear War, Amnesty International, and the Labour Party (I should emphasise, perhaps, ‘Old Labour’ rather than the ‘New’ within their constituency!), whilst the ‘quartet’ (forever a changing entity, but always with Percy) played at numerous family occasions. Usually, but not always, these were weddings. I remember being serenaded at our own, one glorious May Day at Nanteos Mansion, near Aberystwyth. Only the musicians were sober – but then again, perhaps not! The one and only funeral that it performed for, was for that of its departed leader, and then, in respect, it came as a trio.
His two great loves, music and China, did sometimes take precedence over the rest of Percy’s life, including at the expense of us in the family. However, I do always remember music as being a positive influence around us. Most importantly for him, music-making was something that he could give to others, and thus it could be received by them, in a purely non-commercial and charitable way.
It remains for me to wind up. I think there are many here who have a great respect for my father and what he did to promote the Club and music in general. All of his unassuming hard work was however rewarded in the best way possible for an amateur musician – in the form of a composition dedicated to him, and written for him to play. ‘Percy’s Waltz’, a piece for violin and piano, was written by Mervyn Horder, and was first played by my father at the club. Very few of us mortals ever have that privilege!
I would like to thank the Club for organising and hosting the memorial concert, the players for taking part, and the audience for coming and listening. I’m sure my father would have liked to have thanked you himself for giving him so much that enriched his own life. Finally, I would like to voice a word of thanks to my mother. Behind the scenes within our family, as in that of many others, there is usually someone who helps to make it all possible -Vera has in some ways been as involved in the Club as my father for almost 50 years, and will no doubt support it for years to come.
Simon Timberlake - 16/10/2004
This text is a slightly expanded version of notes prepared for and presented at the P.A.T. memorial concert on Saturday 16th October 2004
|Back to Top | Home||
Page last updated: 25 October 2004