Sunday, 20 October 2013

On Margate sands

Well not quite on Margate sands but hard-by to them are the Winter Gardens host to Laurel & Hardy, The Beatles and various political party conferences. But also once the home to the Margate Municipal Orchestral during the heyday of such watering places before the 1950s.

Tunelandia - Orchestral Selection arranged by Lodge & Franks

The Margate Municipal Orchestra
Conducted by Herbert Lodge

Dominion A.185
(1254-2, 1255)
Issued November, 1929 but recorded about July, 1929

Link to FLAC file (about 15Mb)

First a quick tour through Margate's musical history. Margate employed Herr Moritz Würm's 'Red Viennese Band' as their municipal band from the 1890s and later by Karoly Klay and his 'Blue Hungarian Band' in 1903 when Würm had been tempted away by Folkstone. The musicians in these band were predominately British players dressed up in quasi military uniforms in various colours – Holst being a trombonist in one, and bitterly regretting it.

In 1904 Margate formed the Royal Meister Orchestra of seventeen or so musicians and employed Edmund Maney, a violinist of the newly formed LSO, as conductor. As the years progressed the orchestra increased to twenty-five, thirty-six which was bolstered to forty-one as the season got going in August. In 1911 a new pavilion and winter garden was built at a cost of £26,000 and the orchestra was renamed Margate Municipal Orchestra. The municipal purse was then strong enough to attract soloist that included Tetrazzini, Melba, Clara Butt, Kreisler and Backhaus. 

The Orchestra had to be reformed after the World War when G. Bainbridge Robinson took over as chief conductor. He instituted the Robinson's Music Festival that ran from mid-September to the end of the season  attracting other conductors including Landon Ronald, Cowan, Sargent and Holst. These concerts were not financially stable and Robinson departed

In 1928 Herbert Lodge, a fine bass player became the new conductor. He studied at the Royal Academy and Berlin, played for the Kroll Opera House and then in the Royal Opera, Covent Garden 1913-21, LSO 1921-31 and Royal Philharmonic 1932-35. He also claimed to be the first bass player to make a solo gramophone record, broadcast, and to feature in a talking picture, this apparently in 1931, the film still survives and can be watched here! 

Herbert Lodge conducting at Worthing 1950

With experience of playing in various orchestras to a circus and apparently appearing at times in London cinemas with an all saxophone band this short, dark and dapper man with a wide experience made him the perfect conductor for Margate. He played light classical concerts at the Margate Oval on Friday mornings but also concertos and symphonies at the Winter Gardens but had to accompany all sorts of acts and act as the house dance band. The Second World War killed the orchestra off and Lodge became conductor of the 'Southern Orchestra' to entertain factory workers and troops. He managed to reform the orchestra in 1946 but it lasted only a season before fading out. Lodge had already been conducting the orchestra at Worthing from the mid 1930s but after the war this was loosing money and came to an end  on Lodge's retirement, through ill health in 1954

The Winter Gardens from the air

Lodge composed or arranged various orchestral items to entertain the seaside goers, and Tunelandia was typical of the entertainment that was given at Margate. I do not believe it has ever been published; i also do not know what 'Franks' had in the piece or indeed who he/she was.

Dominion Records first supplement appeared in September 1928 but by July 1930 it was all over and declared bankrupt. The company was part owned by an American company called Cameo records, a number of whose recordings where pressed here in the UK under the Dominion label. Cameo went bust in 1929 and the UK end of the business struggled on. The records are pressed on very cheep and noisy shellac and this copy is not in the first flush of youth. I'm not altogether sure what recording system they are using but it is quite probably a bespoke system to avoid paying royalties to Western Electric; the sound although quite boxy still has a verydecent high frequency response and fine violin tone.

The previous conductor, Robinsoin, had recorded the orchestra on the Edison Bell label so naturally enough did Lodge when he took over. He recorded Lizst Hungarian Rhapsody No 14 for Edison Bell but when issued in May 1929 this 'New Margate Municipal Orchestra' effort was badly reviewed 'I am sorry I cannot commend this. The music is taken much too fast, without poise or style. Some of the instruments appear to be indifferently in tune. We must have better work than this nowadays.' In October 1929 Lodge and the Margate where demoted to the Edison Bell Winner label for their next release. Maybe this was the reason for the move to Dominion. When Tunelandia was issued in November 1929 the review was a bit more supportive 'Those who like a medley of well-known airs, or rather a musical switch, will much appreciate Tunelundia, by the Margate Municipal Orchestra.'

The Winter Gardens was damaged in the last war and the original way it functioned has changed. The interior shows the stage where the orchestra performed, behind them was a semi circular glass wall which can be seen on the next photograph, The idea was to have the orchestra facing the sea so that the facing glass wall could be opened to the sea and the southern breeze would waft through the building with the audience partly inside and partly on a large veranda in deckchairs facing the music. This sea veranda has no been built over as can be seen in the ariel photograph.


  1. Thanks, Jolyon! First prize for guessing all the tunes used - 1 week in Margate. Second prize: 2 weeks! No, I jest of course. Any idea what that first solo bass record was? All the best, Nick

  2. Dear Nick

    I might have to settle for third prize - no idea what the first solo record was, Lodge also recorded with the London Ensemble Octet for Dominion and for Piccadilly label under Lodge's Belgravian Band. Doubtless, work was thin on the ground in the thirties and he grabbed what was on offer. Probably recorded for other small labels too but don't know where the solo recording appeared although I bet it must be be a novelty number or something akin to the Pathe film. I see that he wrote several articles in the mid 50s for The Gramophone on 'The Lighter Classical'


  3. A very nice travel in Quizland Tunelandia, great fun! And nice to read about the Margate orchestra and Herbert Lodge. Thanks, Jolyon!

  4. Thanks Satyr - Glad you liked my visit to the seaside