No. 196

OSB Logo The Old St Beghian
  January 2020


Sam Ashton (SH 47-53) writes:

In Sir Peter Graham’s obituary in the Times, I noted amongst his many distinctions that whilst at Cambridge he led the university dance band, and played clarinet and alto sax. Perhaps that aspect of his life started at St Bees and on School House. He was an accomplished pianist, often playing the hymn at evening prayers, and took his turn at the chapel organ. And then at the beginning of one term he turned up with a brand new alto sax… in dazzling white plastic. I was already deeply infected by jazz, having first heard the music of, for example, Louis Armstrong seeping out from John Robley’s and Ian Murray’s study.

We formed a band with Peter on his alto, Tommy Herdman trumpet, Peter Macnamara piano, and myself on washboard (which I still have): the School House Syncopaters. I shared a study with John Gregson. His passion was Latin American music and he was inspired by, and actually met, Edmundo Ros. Thus we extended our repertoire to that kind of music with John playing bongos and other instruments for an extended rhythm section, involving shaking, knocking and scraping; Chris Mason was co-opted. It was an all School House enterprise. We once invited the then director of music, Donald Leggat, to `sit in on piano`, which he did with great aplomb.

We performed in at least one school concert, in Big School, the compere was Henry Reekie, the Headmaster, but it was obvious that our music was beyond his comprehension!

Donald was full of good humour and dealt with us man to man, but by gum he put us choristers through it and really taught us how to sing. He pulled the school orchestra round, helped by James Wykes, who was a keen flautist. It was via Google that I discovered that after I had left school he had started the music festival. However, he left St Bees in 1953 to take up the conductor’s baton for the Winnipeg Philharmonic, but that was very short lived and in 1954 he was back at St Bees.

He had a very boyish sense of humour. He and Anthony Dearle and another younger unmarried teacher from Wales (whose name I`ve now forgotten) created this Monty Python-type situation in which they had a mythical Welsh housekeeper called Blodwen to whom they used to shout queries and instructions. I don`t know what their real domestic arrangements were.

Just one example of the many zany things that were part of life at St Bees in that era!



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