A Brief Biography of
LEON EDWARD STEPHEN YOUNG
Arranger & Conductor (1916-1991)
by his son MALCOLM HARVEY YOUNG
Leon Young was born on 21 April 1916, the son of Leon and
Ethel Young. Named Leon after his father, he is especially
treasured, particularly as his younger brother, Raymond, was
soon to die in infancy.
Leon senior was a signalman on the railways, and a few years
after his sons birth he was transferred to the signalbox
at Strood near Rochester. Leon senior was a devout Salvationist,
and his family were soon embraced into the local Salvation
Army corps, with father playing cornet in the band and young
Leon becoming the little side-drummer boy. His musical education
had begun and before long, he had graduated to cornet and
later to trombone.
His schooling took place at Rochester Mathematical School
where he was destined to pursue studies in electrical engineering.
But one, May Baker, presciently noting his natural musical
talent, referred him to Percy Whitlock, the assistant organist
at the cathedral. Percy had himself been a musical prodigy
as a cathedral choirboy from the age of seven and by 1930
had established a fine, if local, reputation for his musicianship.
In his appointment diary, he notes of his new pupil - 'Leon
Young - Pfte - a protegee [sic] of May Baker at Technical
School. Salvation Army Parents - v strict - she wants him
to gather all possible musical experience'.
Accordingly, at 2.15pm on 23 January 1930, a surely nervous
thirteen-year-old Leon climbed the steps of No. 9 King Edward
Road, Rochester, tentatively rang the bell beside the double
fronted door and presented himself for his first piano lesson
with Percy Whitlock. An infinitely kindly man and, like many
an organist and, unbeknown to Leon, a keen loco-spotter and
railway-modeller, those few months and the time spent in the
cathedral organ loft were to be a life-long inspiration.
At the time, it was assumed by everyone that PW would naturally
succeed the illustrious Hylton Stewart as the cathedral organist,
but when he was passed over in favour of a certain Harold
Aubie Benntet he moved to Bournemouth. Pastures new and much
wider recognition, not only as a church organist and concert
organist with the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra but also
as a composer of light (and not so light) orchestral works
very much in the English tradition - a curious blend of the
sacred and the secular which was also to characterise the
musical life of his pupil.
Percy died of a stroke in 1946 but his music lives on. Had
he lived, how much he would have enjoyed following the career
of our subject, his onetime pupil.
In 1935 the Southern Railway completely remodelled the station
at Tonbridge and a brand new, state-of-the-art West signal
box was built. Once again Leon senior was transferred to become
its first signalman and once again the Young family found
themselves in a new town. His schooling now behind him, nineteen
year old Leon found himself a job as a grocer's assistant,
dispensing ill-informed advice on seed potatoes to men with
three times his years and experience. His father was soon
to become Station Foreman on the railway and Bandmaster at
the SA Citadel.
Perhaps to over-compensate for perceived favouritism, young
Leon found himself becoming the band's whipping-boy. All the
mistakes were his! But a new town brings new opportunities.
The Baptist Church in the High Street was seeking an organist
and the Co-op Choir (a large body in those days) was seeking
a conductor. Leon applied for and was appointed to both posts.
And then there were the local semi-pro dance bands. Leon soon
swapped his SA uniform for some co-respondent shoes and a
place behind an art-deco music stand.
Alfred Harvey, one of the deacons at the Baptist Church who
had appointed Leon to the organ stool was also the Sunday
School Superintendent. He and his wife Alice had a daughter
Grace who not only sang in the front row of the church choir
but also sang in the front row of the Co-op choir. She also
belonged to the Womens' League of Health and Beauty. In November
1939 they were married at the Baptist Church and set up home
with the bride's parents in Hectorage Road. The wedding was
not without incident as the bridal cars had delivered the
bridesmaid and principal guests but forgotten to return for
the bride and her father! The organist repeated his extremely
limited repertoire over and over again. Leon must have thought
that he had been stood up. The matter was happily resolved
and such was the throng outside when they finally emerged
that the regular bus service was delayed until the High Street
could be cleared.
But Hitler had other ideas. We were at war. In the new year,
the Royal Marines were seeking 'Musicians for service at sea
in HM Ships'. What better way to serve King & Country
than with your trombone! Leon duly presented himself as an
HO (Hostilities Only) at the Royal Naval School of Music at
Deal in the expectation that the war would be over by Christmas.
But then came Dunkirk and the story of the little ships. So
it was off to Plymouth for marching drill and gunnery practice.
The military mind associates music with gunnery. Perhaps
the mathematics involved is common to both, or perhaps anyone
intelligent enough to read musical notation will be equally
capable of calculating the trajectory of shells. For either
reason, RM bandsmen are consigned to the Gunnery Transmitting
Stations in the bowels of HM ships at sea.
After a brief return to old haunts at barracks in Rochester
and Chatham, it was now off to Glasgow to embark on the newly
built and commissioned Light Cruiser HMS Hermione. She was
immediately to see service in the Denmark Straits in pursuit
of the German battleship Bismarck which was seen in a snowstorm
on 30 May 1941 and subsequently sunk that very night.
Then back to Scapa Flow the next month and thence to Gibraltar
to join X-Force and later the famous Force H in the Mediterranean,
escorting convoys of aeroplanes to Malta. There had been little
opportunity for music so far but that was to change. Leon
had become firm pals with a fellow bandsman, Max Nicholls,
from their first days at Deal and together with a few like-minded
bandsmen they formed a small dance band which performed in
Gibralta's clubs, officers' wardrooms ashore and over the
local radio as well as aboard other ships and in impromptu
jam sessions with other groups (even borrowing instruments)
whenever the opportunity occurred. The RM band also played
at official events ashore in Gibralta and Leon had the opportunity
to play the organ at the cathedral and the Presbyterian Church
and, at the other end of the Mediterranean, on occasion at
Valetta cathedral on Malta.
Days and nights at sea were unendingly eventful - bringing
down raiding aircraft, ramming and cutting in half the Italian
submarine Tembien on the surface, rescuing downed airmen,
shelling enemy ships and shore batteries and generally protecting
the aircraft carriers, enabling them to safely deliver over
200 aircraft to Malta.
One day in 1941 Leon received news aboard Hermione that back
home in an upper room at Hope Villas his wife, Grace, had
given birth in the early hours of Saturday 13 September to
a baby son. Leon rushed to tell the captain. As an officer
and a gentleman, Captain Oliver greeted the glad tidings with
all the great joy appropriate to the occasion but he must
have had more pressing considerations on his mind, not least
the prowling U-boats! One such U-Boat (U205) found her target
on the starlit but moonless night of 16 June 1942 and sent
Hermione to the bottom of the Mediterranean, some ninety miles
from Tobruk, 'rearing up', as described in The Daily Mail,
'like a huge whale'. U205 was subsequently commended by Rommell
for sinking Hermione, in his own words, 'the terror of the
After 45 minutes of paddling and gulping the dark, oily water,
Leon and Max were rescued by the destroyer Beaufort and taken
(ice cold?) to hospital in Alexandria. A week later they secretly
discharged themselves and literally leapt aboard the HMS Queen
Elizabeth (not the liner, the battle ship) which had been
in dry dock but was now departing for Cape Town, South Africa
via the Suez Canal. Hermione had been to Cape Town earlier
that year as part of a British Force to capture the Vichy-French
island of Madagascar to prevent it falling into the hands
of the Japanese. This was a splendidly successful Hornblower-style
operation undertaken before returning to the all too familiar
waters of the Mediterranean.
On crossing the Equator on the way down, Leon had been subjected
to the 'crossing the line' ceremony for novices. No such novice
this time though. Now it was crossing the line southwards,
east of Africa, rounding the Horn and then sailing northwards
up the Atlantic, crossing the line again this time west of
Africa and after two months and several ports of call, they
arrived at Chesapeake Bay and then Portsmouth, Virginia, USA.
A happy and musical couple of months was to follow. Still
billeted aboard the battleship Queen Elizabeth and later at
the US Marine Corps barracks, Leon and friends formed themselves
into 'The Hermione Three' and played at clubs and dances to
great acclaim. They presented a glamorous image and, invited
daily into the homes and churches of local families, they
were feted as 'England's Proud Sons'.
But it was over all too soon and before long it was an overnight
train via New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia where they boarded
the Queen Elizabeth (this time the liner) bound for Greenock
and ultimately the RN School of Music at Scarborough. Much
of Leon's time here was spent arranging the music and putting
together the musical extravaganza Tokyo Express. This was
one of two official Naval Shows of the war (the other was
Pacific Showboat) and it opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
in June 1945.
Michael Mills was the producer and Norman Whitehead was the
musical director. Band Corporal L.E.S.Young also performed
in item 17, 'Six Hands in Harmony'. Another pianist in the
show was Signaller Trevor Stanford who after the war changed
his name to Russ Conway. Although originally destined for
HMS Agamemnon, the show finally toured Canada instead, but
Max was part of the RM band's rhythm section which, with
five brass and five saxes, 'lifted the roof off'. Leon was
a grocer's assistant when he left civvy street in 1940 but
by the time the war had ended five years later, he was a fully-fledged
orchestral arranger and all-round musician.
Despite his mother-in-law's protests (get a 'proper' job),
he resolved to make music his full-time career and after trudging
the streets of London in his demob suit and trilby, he soon
secured a position as staff arranger at Francis, Day &
Hunter, the publishers, in Charing Cross Road.
Maybe as a result of contacts he made on Tokyo Express or
through his new associates, within two years he was contributing
arrangements for Tommy Handley's ITMA, then the most popular
and prestigious show on radio. Each programme contained a
musical spot featuring the BBC Variety Orchestra conducted
by Rae Jenkins. Among the arrangements contributed by Leon
Young in 1947 and 1948 were Auld Lang Syne, Crazy People,
Gale Warning (conducted by Guy Daniels with an augmented orchestra),
Knees Up Mother Brown, My Boy Willie, Three Negro Spirituals,
Whit-Monday Medley and Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree -
collectors' items all.
'Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree' was chosen for the
Royal Command Performance attended by King George VI, Queen
Elizabeth and Princess Margaret in the Autumn of 1948 because
the song was a favourite of the King's from his Duke of York's
Camps for boys. It is interesting to note that Leon wove into
the closing bars of his arrangement the tune of 'Here's a
Health unto His Majesty' but it's not known whether the royal
The FDH shop enjoyed a double frontage at the top of Charing
Cross Road on the East side, the windows of which displayed
a gleaming array of musical instruments and sheet music. Customers
and artists alike would use this entrance. But at the side
of the building, on Denmark Street, was an anonymous faded
doorway for the use of lesser mortals, behind which three
flights of stone stairway with iron handrail led to a top
floor landing, home to an ancient gas stove and a butler sink.
From there a dim, windowless passageway led to the offices
of the arrangers and copyists overlooking Charing Cross Road.
Halfway along the passage on the left was Leon's office, a
small room, perhaps eight or nine feet square, which looked
out over Denmark Street. It was sparsely furnished with a
desk and chair, an elderly leather visitor's chair and an
upright piano of doubtful parentage. It had all the ambience
of an Edward Hopper scene. The aforementioned facilities on
the tiny landing afforded these professional musicians complete
autonomy. They could brew their own tea and coffee by setting
the hob burners to p, mp, mf, f and even ff according to the
intensity of heat required. Occasionally they were summoned
to the sumptuous offices on the floor below, there to meet
a visiting artist in need of a special arrangement.
Among the fledgling artists whose careers Leon helped to
launch in this way were the schoolgirl, Petula Clark, and
the young Max Bygraves.
Although still living with his in-laws, Leon now felt sufficiently
well established in a secure and rewarding job to buy an Austin
10 and, ever an animal-lover, a long-haired marmalade cat
called Marmaduke. One day in 1948, a member of his church
choir whispered that the house next door to hers in Douglas
Road, would shortly come onto the market. At that time such
insider information enabled Leon to secure the property forthwith.
From this modest semi-detached, within walking distance of
the station, Leon commuted the thirty or so miles to and from
Charing Cross daily until he retired from FDH.
One of the first items to be installed in the new home was
a Bechstein baby grand piano. But it was insufficiently 'baby'
and the front bay windows had to be removed to get it in,
an exercise which resulted in a crack in the frame (shades
of Laurel & Hardy). This was not apparent until the instrument
came to be sold in later years.
Before the war, Tonbridge was home to a Society of Local
Amateur Musical Players (LAMPS), dedicated to producing a
show each year. Together with like-minded friends, the LAMPS
was reformed in 1948 with Leon as its Hon. Musical Director.
Their first show in 1949 was No, No, Nanette performed at
the old Repertory Theatre in Avebury Avenue, an edifice adequate
at front of house but devoid of dressing rooms backstage save
for some draughty lean-to sheds which denied modesty to the
female cast members, even from the road outside. Rehearsals
were held at Phil's Cafe attached to the boathouse on the
river. A single-storey wooden structure, it sported a large
meeting room ideal for the purpose.
Postwar austerity lingered on in Britain into the 1950's
but the deprivations of rationing had been somewhat alleviated
in the Young family at least by the regular arrival of parcels
of food and clothing from the affluent friends in America
whom Leon had met in Virginia during the war. In 1951 they
came over for a reunion with 'England's Proud Sons' and to
see the sights. The same year saw the advent of the New Elizabethan
era heralded by the optimism of the Festival of Britain.
As the decade progressed, increasing prosperity (not least
for the local Ford dealer) permitted a certain self-indulgence.
The Ford Prefect became a Consul which became a Zephyr which
became a Zodiac.
In 1953 the Decca record label issued two 78s containing
two of Leon's most famous and memorable arrangements, Charlie
Chaplin's theme from Limelight and Ebb Tide. The label had
recently signed up Frank Chacksfield to add to their roster
of Stanley Black, Mantovani and Robert Farnon. This was to
be a 40-piece orchestra with a large string section and Leon
was approached to provide the arrangements. He made fine use
of such resources and, in the event, conducted the recording
sessions as well. Both titles won Golden Discs for sales in
America, the latter being the first-ever British non-vocal
to reach number one in the American charts.
Leon composed the memorable soaring counter-melody for solo
violin which is now synonymous with Limelight while taking
a bracing walk on the promenade at Burnham-on-Sea. The success
of this recording led Charlie Chaplin to invite Leon to Switzerland
to work with him on future projects, an invitation which he
There was also a brief foray into film music with a score
for a B-feature war film produced by the Danziger Brothers.
The Danzigers were better known for their entrepreneurial
abilities than for their artistry and the title is now mercifully
obscured by time. However it occasioned the purchase of an
intricate stopwatch so that Leon could accurately match the
music to the pictures as they were screened on the wall of
the recording studio. This all came to nought on the cutting-room
floor and Leon's career in cinema progressed no further.
More and more Chacksfield long-playing discs were released
by Decca. Conceived as 'concept albums', they were characteristic
of their time and are a showcase of Leon Young's arrangements.
He is credited with some of them in the sleeve notes but only
industry-insiders knew the truth - that he arranged almost
all of them and conducted most of the sessions as well. Frank
Chacksfield was himself an arranger but of limited talent
and it suited him well to maintain the popular belief that
the work was all his own.
Many an arranger, Nelson Riddle included, has had their work
misappropriated by another. Now in his mid-thirties, Leon
had the enthusiasm, the energy and the stamina to sustain
the gruelling demands of his round-the-clock career. Many
were the all-night writing sessions at home and at weekends,
Jock Todd, his copyist, would come down and stay overnight
copying out the parts for the next session. Jock was a professional
copyist and semi-pro accordian player with an entertaining
turn of phrase. He christened these weekends the Crotchet
Copyists work in ink with a special splayed pen-knib which,
flourished expertly, will produce crotchets, quavers etc at
a stroke. The downside is that the ink took a while to dry
so his parts were regularly spread out all over the music
room floor. 'Get that sad cat out of here', Jock would cry
whenever Marmaduke ventured to add smudged inky paw-prints
to the music. Leon's full-score, on the other hand, was written
entirely with a soft pencil which permitted of much rubbing
out before perfection was achieved.
The tools of the arranger's trade were modest - a pencil,
a pen-knife sharpener, a rubber, a ruler (for drawing full-length
bar lines), some pre-printed manuscript paper and a board
to provide a hard surface. Throughout his life, Leon's chosen
ruler was a promotional gift from Confederation Life, wooden
with a metal edge, and his chosen board was the back of a
broken art deco mirror with bevelled corners that had belonged
to his mother-in-law. The sound was of a constant tap-tapping
in the making of small-headed crotchets with detached tails
interspersed with the urgent wiping away of rubber shards
with the side of the hand. The work was composed entirely
within his head with only occasional visits to the piano just
to try out alternative chord sequences.
Both Leon and Jock were sustained throughout these marathons
by large cups of black coffee and a constant supply of Players
Gold Leaf cigarettes bought from the local newsagent by an
under-age junior member of the family. That same person was
also despatched with equal regularity to the railway station
with parcels of parts destined for the BBC broadcasting theatres
or the recording studios. So familiar was the sight of a small
boy and a large parcel on the platform, that registration
formalities for Red Star were dispensed with and the parcels
placed directly into the hands of the guard who could be trusted
to safely deliver them for collection at Charing Cross.
Jock Todd bought the Zodiac second-hand, by this time bristling
with extras - wing mirrors, a sun-visor and a chromium-plated
exhaust deflector. It was a bit flash. Other copyists associated
with the crotchet factory at that time were Albert (Bert)
Elms and Edwin (Ted) Astley, both of whom went on to greater
fame as the composers of many a TV theme tune.
Although a hugely successful songwriter and tunesmith, it
is well-known that Lionel Bart could neither read nor write
a jot of music so Leon was invited along to note down the
melody lines for Oliver as Lionel sang them to him. But it
seems that the experience disinclined him to make the arrangements
as well. They were subsequently undertaken by Eric Rogers.
By 1958 television was well-established in the homes of Britain
and this year saw the first screening of The Black and White
Minstrel Show featuring the George Mitchell Singers. Leon
had known George since the 'George Mitchell Showtimers', as
they were called after the war, had recorded a memorable LY
arrangement of Ten Green Bottles. They subsequently enjoyed
a long and cordial working relationship based on mutual respect,
Leon regularly contributing arrangements for the Minstrels
which would exploit the particular talents of each of the
star soloists as well as the ensemble. The programme was a
huge favourite with the public but by 1980 it was considered
to be offensive to black people and so was discontinued.
Perhaps because of the pressure of all this commercial work,
Leon began to feel the need not just for recognition within
the music industry but for academic recognition as well. This
led him to find the time to study for the Associateship of
The Royal College of Organists (ARCO), whose exams are acknowledged
to be among the most demanding in musical academia, both practical
and written. Of course, the theory and the practical were
no problem at all but poring over weighty tomes on the history
of English Church Music proved more challenging. However,
he passed with flying colours and promptly went on without
a break to take and pass the Fellowship (FRCO) exam as well.
As if that was not enough, he also took private one-to-one
lessons in classical conducting which might have seemed superfluous
at this stage in his career.
At this time he was also busy composing, arranging and conducting
numerous titles for the Mood Music library and at home there
were two services a Sunday at the Baptist Church and choir
practice on Thursdays preparing an anthem. But all this took
its toll and he was laid up with a back problem, confined
to bed on a hard board for several weeks. He had a television
perched atop the wardrobe to keep in touch with his television
broadcasts and a radio to hear his broadcasts with various
BBC orchestras, not to mention programmes on topics which
would otherwise have been of no interest at all - 'Gardeners'
Question Time' is all new to one unable to distinguish a daffodil
from a tulip.
There was no escape. Not to waste the time, Leon spent hours
writing out various combinations of instruments, 'wish lists'
on small sheets of paper, in pursuit of an original sound
as distinctive as that of Mantovani or Bert Kaempfert. Such
an overt style eluded him but his 'signature' is readily apparent
in the distinctive string voicing (noted by many), the use
of woodwind (two flutes a favourite), a marked fondness for
the flugel-horn and certain harp colorations. His favoured
lady harpist smoked a pipe throughout the recording sessions.
Enter the Swinging Sixties and the emergence of youth culture
- Carnaby Street, psychedelia, Elvis, Rock & Roll, The
Beatles, and above all the dominance of the electric guitar
and of small groups. How much cheaper were four lads than
a big band or a large orchestra.
You might think that this would prove to be the death knell
for Leon's style of music but, largely thanks to Denis Preston,
this was not to be. Denis was a record producer whose particular
talent lay in bringing together sometimes unlikely pairings
of artists at his Lansdowne Studios. He suggested the formation
of an orchestra consisting of the very top session musicians
of the day, brought together solely for recording purposes
and to be called 'The Leon Young String Chorale'.
Leon resisted the word 'chorale' at first, perhaps because
it offended his classical sensibilities, but he was persuaded
that it would be a good marketing device as 'chorale' was
a fashionable word at the time. Other artists recording at
Lansdowne were Elaine Delmar, Bent Fabrik and Roger Whittaker,
all of whom benefited from the accompaniment of The LY String
Chorale with his distinctive arrangements. Perhaps the most
memorable of these is the characteristic LY arrangement of
Roger Whittaker's Durham Town.
There were also discs issued on various labels featuring
the String Chorale alone, the finest of which being Ellington
for Strings, a selection of the Duke's compositions specially
arranged by Leon for the album which received enthusiastic
approval from the man himself. But, of course, the most famous
association of this period was with Acker Bilk, an unlikely
pairing indeed. Everyone who remembers the sixties remembers
Stranger on the Shore. Issued as a single on 25 November 1961
it went straight to number one and stayed in the charts for
fifty-eight weeks. Acker's tune, originally entitled 'Jenny'
after Bernard's daughter ('Acker' is a west-country pseudonym
for 'mate') was given to Leon as a single line on a scrap
of paper. From this he produced an arrangement of exemplary
craftsmanship and characterised by the restraint so typical
of his mature style. The change from minor to major ('How
strange the change...') at the close is so very LY.
The success of this track in the UK was mirrored in the US,
resulting in Acker & Leon being invited to appear on the
Ed Sullivan show in New York. The indignity of Leon's strip-search
by US customs officials was in sharp contrast to the subsequent
luxury he enjoyed at the Algonquin Hotel. He also had to contest
litigation with Acker for recognition of his contribution
to the best-seller. It was ultimately settled 'out of court'.
Adrian Kerridge was 'the engineer with an ear' and Peter
'Letraset' Leslie designed the record sleeves. The contribution
of the engineer cannot be readily dismissed. Over and over
again we hear of the interpretation of such-and-such a conductor
but the engineer can control the overall balance and bring
out the pertinent instrumental emphasis far more than can
the conductor. The 'interpretation' lies within his hands.
At home, Leon, now habitually described in the local press
as 'that well-known local figure, Mr Young of the BBC', had
been LAMPS Musical Director on fourteen shows from No, No,
Nanette in 1949 to Katinka in 1962. In the intervening years
the Repertory Theatre had changed its name to The Playhouse
and was finally demolished in 1955 to make way for Sainsburys.
The society then moved to The Royal Victoria Hall at Southborough
on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells and opened in 1956 with
Mr Cinders. Leon became President of the LAMPS in 1963.
The old sticker & tracker organ at the Baptist Church
in Tonbridge High Street had been built by Lewis & Co
in 1894 at a cost of £236.15d and was now showing its age.
Leon drew up the specification for a rebuild to be undertaken
by Hill, Norman & Beard. An organ fund was launched in
1961 which raised £5,500. The new organ with a detached console
and casework by Herbert Norman was consecrated with an inaugural
recital on Saturday, 4 December 1965.
Leon's programme included works by J.S.Bach, Louis Vierne,
Paul Hindemith, Jean Langlais, Flor Peeters and Franz Liszt
among others. Three years later the River Medway burst its
banks and a devastating flood of swirling muddy water rushed
through the church. The organ was dismantled to be dried out
and when the church was demolished and relocated from the
High Street to the north end of town in 1973, the organ was
rebuilt to the same specification but in different casework
on the new site. But, by this time, Leon was organist at the
Parish Church, a change of denomination and repertoire.
During the 1970s and 1980s BBC radio broadcasts continued
with various BBC orchestras hosted by presenters such as Alan
Dell, John Dunn, James Alexander Gordon, Jimmy Kingsbury,
Sarah Kennedy, et al. Leon diligently recorded these broadcasts
on 78rpm 'acetates', open reel tapes and latterly stereo cassettes
in recognotion of their undoubted worth and for private study.
Much of the archive survives, as do most of the original MSS
and parts. Arranging continued too, both staff and freelance,
but there was less recording and more time for original composition.
Among some unusual compositions can be found a novelty brass
band piece for euphonium and a violin capriccio, both as yet
unperformed. Leon employed a number of pseudonyms for his
original compositions including Gil Adam, Gil Adams and Malcolm
Harvey. A much earlier composition performed regularly at
services of remembrance is a fanfare, To Comrades Fallen,
commissioned for the state trumpeters of the Royal Marines.
There also followed a long association with Sidney Thompson
and his Time for Old Time programme which also resulted in
a series of LPs. This might seem an unlikely association as
Leon had never set foot on a dance-floor in his life and would
have had two left feet. But the knowledge and craftsmanship
that he brought to the arrangements was much appreciated.
His deepening commitment to church music led him to install
a classically-voiced organ with full pedal board alongside
the Bechstein. This enabled him to practice at home without
turning out on cold, wet winter nights to practice in a draughty
church. But when Songs of Praise was broadcast from Tonbridge
Parish Church, Leon could be glimpsed at the console, not
attired in FRCO hood and gown, but in his shirtsleeves. To
him, this was just another professional recording session.
In October 1983 he was pleased to attend the founding of
the Percy Whitlock Trust at the old RCO building (of fond
memory with its Italianate friezes) alongside the Albert Hall.
Malcolm Riley (PW Trust secretary and founder member) recalls
that LY was just as modestly retiring that day as he was as
a teenager at PW's door in 1930.
His in-house arranging at FDH had become increasingly demoralising.
This was the time of Adam Ant and of the Sex Pistols. While
the other arrangers tried to make reasonable piano copies,
Leon was required to make orchestral arrangements of 'Matchstalk
Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs' or 'Grandma, We love
His disenchantment was complete. With his ironic daily mantra,
'I hate music', he was just serving out his time until retirement
in 1981. But his commitment to his fellow musicians remained
constant and, as a long-time member of The Performing Right
Society, he joined the panel of the Members Fund and would
make occasional house-calls to assess personal need.
With the daily commute to Charing Cross now a thing of the
past, proximity to the station was no longer necessary and
in 1985 Leon & Grace moved to a bungalow at the north
end of the town. The organ moved too, but not the Bechstein
as Leon now had the compact Challen upright brought with him
from FDH. He also moved to the organ stool at Frant church
on the further outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, perversely in
quite the opposite direction.
The music of the Salvation Army and the brass band movement
in general drew him back. His interest in brass bands had
sustained him throughout his life and he had served as an
adjudicator at occasional contests in the south of England.
In November 1989, Leon & Grace celebrated their golden
wedding anniversary with a dinner attended by family and close
friends, many of whom had been there fifty years before, but
none from the music industry.
We have seen how the railway and the Salvation Army exerted
such influence upon his early life and, fittingly, so they
did at the end. On a cold Saturday evening in January 1991,
Leon & Grace attended, with friends, a concert at the
Royal Festival Hall given by the International Staff Band
of the Salvation Army. Awaiting the train home to Tonbridge
late at night, Leon collapsed and died on platform C at Waterloo
East. His head appropriately full of stirring music, his sudden
and unexpected destination was one not usually served by the
South Eastern railway.
In fact, his head was always full of music. Even in repose,
his fingers were ever active on the arm of his chair, perhaps
a Bach toccata or a brass cadenza. Who could say? And not
just every waking moment - the music entered his dreams as
well. He would sit up in bed and triumphantly announce, 'I've
got to letter M', a reference to the arranger's practice of
identifying the salient structural progressions of a piece
by rubric letters of the alphabet.
Music dominated his life to the virtual exclusion of all
else. He had no other hobbies except, perhaps, the accumulation
of facts and anecdotes but even these were for use in his
regular 'Passing Notes' column in the Baptist Church Newsletter.
With self-deprecating irony he liked to refer to his achievements
as those of 'a wandering minstrel', indeed his talents were
appreciated by musical sophisticates and unsophisticates alike.
Ever a skilled accompanist, the congregational singing at
the Baptist Church could best be described as 'rousing'. His
pre-service extemporisations ('busking' he called it) were
legendary. He would find out the theme of the minister's sermon
and weave a mix of Salvation Army choruses and favourite hymns
into a reverent muse, beautifully timed without fail to quietly
conclude as the minister rose to his feet. The postlude too
would often be a thrilling paean of praise which stopped the
departing worshippers in their pews.
Those precepts of good workmanship which so informed his
youth, were apparent throughout life also in his commercial
work. The youthful exuberance, perhaps a little showing-off
to his peers, in the earlier work exemplified by the ITMA
arrangements, gave way to a characteristic restraint in the
mature years, almost a puritan self-denial and economy of
form. But students and practitioners in the art of orchestral
arranging will always remark the style of unexpected invention
and, above all, the consummate craftsmanship.
Copyright Malcolm Harvey Young 2006: this article first
appeared in the December 2005 and March 2006 issues of Journal