The first time I came to the Dome was in the very early ’50s when as a small child we were on holiday with some relatives who lived in Hove and I remember Douglas Reeve playing the organ. Little did I realise then that I would play on that stage many times. Growing up in South London Brighton was a place we often visited by steam train and the smell of the sea as you came out of the station was so strong in those days compared to the London air of the ’50s.
My introduction to music was mainly through singing in church choirs and music was probably the thing I was best at, often being wheeled out as an angelic boy treble on speech days at school. At school I played the trombone and joined the Welsh Guards where I was encouraged to learn the double bass. My teacher was a founder member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and also a member of the Brighton Philharmonic, Ernest Ineson. Through him I quickly progressed on the bass and the trombone became my second instrument.
Whilst a member of the Welsh Guards Band we were able to do free-lance work outside and in the latter half of the 1967/8 season (I think it was), I first played with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra at that time was conducted by Herbert Menges so I am probably the only member of the orchestra remaining who played under him.
The bass section had amongst its number John Walton as Principal, Fredrick Wigston, Jack Sylvester, George Upchurch, Doris Greenish and my teacher, Ernest Ineson. Looking at those names now (and then) they were stellar names of the bass playing world in London and it speaks volumes about the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, that they found time to play in Brighton.
I remember in particular from those early days Alfredo Campoli playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole and Paul Tortelier and Moura Lympany.
Herbert Menges was of course followed by John Carewe as Musical Director and playing for him was always fun and we did a few more adventurous pieces such as the Concerto for Double String Orchestra by Tippett. I still see John as I am a fellow trustee of the John Carewe Brighton Orchestra Trust and he is just as lively as ever. The Trust was set up to provide funds for the orchestra and continues to do so and the initial funds to start the Trust, to which John very generously added a much larger amount, was the orchestra’s gift to John when he retired.
Following on from John was Barry Wordsworth whom I knew very well from the BBC Concert Orchestra and is probably one of the main reasons I am still working with the BPO as I have always enjoyed working with him.
The mainstay of my career was as a member of the BBC Concert Orchestra from 1974 until 2012. This was a dream job for me as I always enjoyed playing all kinds of music, particularly Light Music, and in the Concert Orchestra we played every type of music, sometimes all in the same day! One of the great things about the BPO is that we play some of the great masterworks with some interesting diversions into the less well-known, such as the Bernstein Piano Concerto.
In the BPO I usually play on an English double bass made in approximately 1750 by an unknown maker, but occasionally I use my other bass, a Paul Claudot made in approximately 1850. I am also lucky to own two bows by Paul Bryant, who lived in Ovingdean and was one of the great British bow makers. This was very fortuitous as I could occasionally go to Ovingdean and leave a bow for rehair with him after the concerts – he was a very interesting man, slightly eccentric and a wonderful craftsman.
The biggest change I think I have seen during my time with the orchestra is the redevelopment of the Dome stage and auditorium. It makes a big difference to have the stage further forward, both in terms of performance and to improve the fairly dry acoustic. It has always been an iconic venue with plenty of atmosphere and I recall one Friday Night is Music Night in the Dome, probably in the late ’70s, when Douglas Reeve was one of the soloists on the organ, complete with bird calls etc. In those days we often had William Davies on piano, who was one of the great theatre organists, as well as the creator of Friday Night is Music Night, Sydney Torch.
I have been very fortunate and privileged to have had a long and interesting career in music, and playing in the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra has been there all along and I hope the orchestra goes on for a lot longer than I am likely to.
An extract from a longer article written by Richard Watson for the Brighton Phil’s printed programme covering the concerts from 8 October to 3 December 2017, on sale on BPO concert days at Brighton Dome.