Saturday, 19 May 2012

The God of Scarborough

Ran off to Vienna for a week with my Mrs to stuff ourselves with cake, culture and music, thus have been a bit dilatory with fluff. I'm inflicting some more light music on you too, but promise some more 'serious' stuff next time

The 'God' here is not Haydn Wood but Alick Maclean another of those all but forgotten British conductors.

Alick Maclean, Scarborough 1932 - Pathe Films 

Haydn Wood:  Variations founded on Durandeau’s 
“If you want to know the time as a p’liceman”
[Variations on a Once Popular Tune]

New Queen's Hall Light Orchestra
cond. by Alick Maclean

HMV D 52 
[HO 4252 af, and HO 4253 af]
Recorded: Monday, 26th January 1920

1 Flac  file HERE at Mediafire. [about 23Mb].

Alick Maclean (b Eton, 20 July 1872; d London, 18 May 1936). English composer and conductor, father of organist Quentin Maclean. He was educated at Eton where his father, Charles Maclean, was director of music. In 1891 he resigned his army commission to resume musical studies. He won the Moody-Manners prize for the best one-act British opera in 1895 with Petruccio, an early example of verismo in England. His sister, writing under the pseudonym S(heridan) R(oss), was his librettist. Maclean was the musical director of Wyndham’s theatres (1899–1912), and subsequently conducted the Scarborough Spa Orchestra to great renown, until his death. In addition he conducted the Chappell (initially Ballad) Concerts from 1916 to 1923 and in the winter months of these years the New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. He conducted concert versions of his operas Quentin Durward and The Hunchback of Cremona and scenes from his oratorio The Annunciation in Scarborough in 1920. (Grove)

I strongly recommend watching the 1932 Pathe film of Maclean in all his glory performing in the specially built miniature seafront auditorium of Scarborough HERE. The illustration above is a still from this Pathe short.

If you can get hold of a copy, I recommend the reading of K.Young: Music’s Great Days in the Spas and Watering Places (London, 1968), which has a chapter on this conductor ‘Alick Maclean: the “God of Scarborough” ’, pp.78-107, and much else besides of this sadly diminished seaside tradition.

Haydn Wood

It is difficult to exactly date Haydn Wood's composition although I think it must be roughly of the same vintage as the recording. The score was not published until 1927 by which time it had acquired the new title ‘Variations on a once popular humorous song’. Haydn Wood conducted a performance of the piece at the Proms in 1926 under this latter title and this may have prompted the works publication.

The record names the work as ‘Variations founded on Durandeau’s “If you want to know the time as a p’liceman” - a somewhat cumbersome title that probably accounted for it being renamed. The record had a very short catalogue life. Issued by HMV in April 1920 it was deleted as soon as December 1921 although it did get into second and third stampers so initial sale may have been quite good. I don't recall actually seeing another copy of the disc and my pressing is not exactly in the first flush of youth having had various scuffs, scratches and a 2 inch crack inflicted on it. The label, as can be seen from the illustration, does not have the usual music copyright stamps affixed which points to the composition being played from an unpublished score, or maybe even from a manuscript fair copy.

The music critic W.R. Anderson spoke of the work after hearing it on the radio in his round up article for Musical Times published in January 1941 ‘Haydn Wood's Variations on a Once Popular Tune had long escaped me. I am glad to renew acquaintance with "If you want to know the time, ask a policeman" which makes just over ten minutes of ripe Robertian fun, with the authentic rolling gait of dignity, and an old-time opulence of frame that does not disable the constable from running to a horse-down, a fight or a fire. The piece would make a capital gramophone record.’ I don’t really have an idea what ‘Robertian fun’ means, does anyone?

This suggestion of a new recording was not taken up as far as I can see and the work languished until the Marco Polo label issued a series of CDs on British light music performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under Ernest Tomlinson. The original music hall song that the variations derive from was composed in 1889 by Augustus Durandeau with words by E.W. Rogers and originally performed by James Fawn.


  1. I dunno - Variations founded on Durandeau’s "If you want to know the time ask a p’liceman" is quite a good title, I think.

    Thanks for this, and for the link to the film. I have often wondered what encountering one of those seaside bands would have been like. We have bandstands around here but they are not on the water and are mainly occupied by polka bands.

  2. The odd one still functions in the UK usually with brass bands - We had the surreal experience of being at Deal in Kent scoffing ice cream and looking over the waves when Land of Hope and Glory started wafting towards us - sure enough there was a band stand on the seafront with tables with Union Jack tablecloths, deckchairs all lined up in a circle, cake and tea, programmes of the music being handed out, old people humming along to well know classical ditties and children screaming their hearts out. For all the world you'd guess the sun never did set on Empire!

  3. Wonderful! Thank you so much, and for the interesting information. I'm not that far from where Sir Dan and his Municipal Orchestra used to perform. Long before my time, of course.

  4. Capital stuff, young Jolyon!

    Robertian, Bobbies < Sir Robert Peel > Peelers!... that's how I see this etymological lemma, your Honour.

    Now move along, there!


  5. Oddly now that you mention it actually crossed my mind but for some weird reason went straight out again. I did not associate Policemen with Bobby Peel that day, possible cake poisoning in Vienna!!!