Wednesday 24 December 2014

Something for Christmas

Harry Amers was and now never will be a household name. He however did his part to promote music to the masses in the first third of the 20th century at the seaside resort of Eastbourne on the South Coast of England for which we really should be grateful.

Amers: All on a Christmas Morning, Idyll [1920]
Amers: The B'hoys of Tipperary, Patrol [1915]

The Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra conducted by Harry G. Amers

Columbia 5400
(ⓦAX 8896-2 & ⓦAX 8894-2)
Recorded: Thursday, 18th April 1929 at Eastbourne
Issued: mid June 1929

(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)

‘Harry’ Henry Gallon Amers (1875 - 1944) was born in Newcastle to a musical family. Harry’s Grandfather was a band sergeant in the Newcastle Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry and his father J.H. Amers may also have been a member of this same regiment but due to delicate health we find him conducting a string band that also grew large enough to be called and ‘orchestral band’ that gave entertainment at various shows and functions in the in the Newcastle area. Most notably as musical director to the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887. Harry started as a chorister in St George's Newcastle and as a youth he played a solo by command before the Princess of Wales and several times before King Edward VII - unfortunately I do not know which instrument he played.

Harry Amers around 1908
Harry was to joined the same regiment, now renamed the Northumberland Hussars Imperial Yeomanry, on 24 March 1896 as a ‘Bandmaster.’ This was just a month after his father’s death so the two events are probably connected for Harry either joined in order not to be a drain on the family finances or to help support his mother and siblings. In 1898 he can be found conducting the Elswick Military Band at the Pleasure Gardens at Saltburn and seems to have conducted various military bands in popular and classical music throughout the North-East. He may have been with the Hussars during the Boer War however he was certainly in the UK in 1906 to record a number of pieces, including some of his compositions for the Homochord label. Harry apparently re-enlisted twice firstly in June 1906, roughly when the Homochord records were issued and again in June 1908.  One has the feeling that Harry’s health was also delicate for although receiving his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal when war broke out in August 1914, Harry, still only 39 he was found unfit for service. Despite this he still seems to have seen action as he was wounded in action. Harry remained with the Hussars and sometime after 1915  took charge of a prisoner of war camp. Once hostilities had ended he received the rank of captain in the reserves on his leaving the army in 1920. 

Inside the Eastbourne Pavilion.

Amers soon afterwards was employed by Eastbourne corporation to form a municipal orchestra that was based at the Devonshire Park both in the Pavilion auditorium and the Theatre for the next fifteen year the orchestras conductor. He conducted his small orchestra throughout the year, the orchestra being augmented with musicians down from London once the session there had ended. He clearly had good connections in the music world for he very soon instituted a music festival. The first of these remarkable festivals was in 1923 and was reviewed in the December issue of Musical Times.

Devonshire Park - the Theatre to the left and the Pavilion behind the trees.
'Eastbourne.- A notable Musical Festival was held by the Municipality at Devonshire Park on November 8-17,with the Municipal Orchestra under Capt. H. G. Amers. The interest and popularity of the Festival were maintained from beginning to end. The British music included Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Herbert Howells’s new Pastoral Rhapsody, Alfred Wall’s Thanet and Lucretius, Mr. David Stephen’s Coronach, Holst’s Fugal Concerto and Fugal Overture, Dame Ethel Smyth’s Prelude to The Wreckers, Maurice Besly’s new Suite, Chelsea China, and works of Holbrooke, Eric Coates, W. H. Reed, Granville Bantock, John Foulds, Roger Quilter, Howard Carr. and A. W. Ketelbey, who all came to conduct their own compositions [!!!]. Franck’s Symphony was conducted by Sir Henry Wood. The choir appeared only once - in [German's] Merrie England. The Municipality is to be congratulated on the excellent management and success of its new venture.'

The festival continued annually, even the redoubtable Thomas Beecham came to conduct together with international soloists as Elizabeth Schumann, Arthur de Greef, and Guilhermina Suggia. 

During the late 1920s Amers and the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra broadcast on the BBC a number of summer programmes from Devonshire Park. I understand that in the summer concerts were given in the Pavilion and in the winter in the Theatre. 

Film of the the North-East Coast Exhibition 1929.

The present recordings are connected to the North-East Coast Exhibition, a world fair held in Newcastle between May and October 1929. Recorded in Eastbourne in April 1926 the orchestra then headed north to Amers home town for the Exhibition. The record was issued by Columbia in their mid-June supplement when a total of eight sides which included these two of Amers own composition/arraignments.

Columbia Supplement mid-June 1929
1929 was probably the high watermark of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra’s success, a combination of economic distress and the Corporation of Eastbourne wanting a more popular fare with their new Band Stand  caused the orchestra to be disbanded in May. 1936. 

The last Festival was held at Devonshire Park on November 25-December 1 ‘The principal works in their programmes being as follows: Sir Hamilton Harty - Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto (Mr. Michael Cherniavsky), In Ireland (Harty); Sir Thomas Beecham - Schubert’s Sixth Symphony. Sibelius’s Four Historical Themes. Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony; Sir Landon Ronald - Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D (Miss Orrea Pernel). Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony; Dr. Adrian Boult - [Elgar's] Cockaigne/ Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (Miss Myra Hess), Bax’s ‘Tintagel’; Sir Henrv Wood-Moussorgsky’s ‘Peep-Show’ Sibelius’s ‘En Saga.’ On the Friday afternoon Capt. Amers conducted a programme that included Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto (Orloff) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 in C. Mr. Gordon Jacob conducted his Passacaglia on a well-known Theme. The festival concluded with a performance of ‘The Messiah’ under Capt. Amers with Miss Isobel Baillie. Miss Betty Bannerman, Mr. Heddle Nash, and Mr. Harold Williams as soloists. It transpired that the Corporation intended to disband the Municipal Orchestra when its present contract expired next April. At the end of his concert Sir Thomas Beecham made a vigorous speech against this decision.' [Musical Times January, 1929].

Opening of the new Eastbourne Bandstand in 1936 - at 28 seconds there is what maybe a 
glimpse of our Capt. Amers standing behind the dignitaries at his last official function!

Harry 'was a handsome fellow; it seems, always immaculately dressed with a red carnation in his buttonhole and red hair to match. Much admired by lady members of the audience it is said ... . He had flair and a good sense of showmanship and never arrived until the second item on the programme, allowing his deputy to start the concert off. He appeared, as did the orchestra, in uniform during the day but in the evening he put on evening dress and became Captain Amers and his Famous Orchestra' (Pegg: Newcastle's Musical Heritage - unfortunately with a number of inaccuracies but with further information on Amers the contribution to the North-East Coast Exhibition)

I suppose Harry Amers probably went into retirement and is invariable recorded as having died in 1936 however Harry lived until 1944 and  died at West Hills, Ottery St Mary in East Devon. He was at the time of his death married to Kate Amers but he was also married to a Beatrice in 1907, but that ended in divorce in 1910. Harry was cremated and his ashes were interned with his parents John Hall Amers (1840-1895) and Frances Gallon Amers (1846-1906) and his siblings John Richardson Amers (1865-1946); Frances Amers (1874-1941); Hilda Amers (1881 - 1891) and Richard Amers (1884-1885). 

Debussy at the Grand Hotel Eastbourne taking a photo of the sea -
probably not really thinking about La Mer which he happened to compose there!


  1. Very interesting and pleasant to read & hear! Thanks again for uncovering this part of musical history!

  2. Thanks for taking us down this musical bye-way. It shows that the British write the most MUSICAL band music -- even the minor composers, never mind Holst
    and RVW!

    Ambitious programmes for a seaside summer festival; doubt we'd see anything like it nowadays.

    Debussy composed La Mer at Eastbourne???!!! Who'd a thunk it!

    Mike in Plovdiv

  3. Utterly charming, deeply fascinating and quite remarkable - thanks so much for this wonderful portrait and lovely transfers! Thanks too for everything you've so generously shared in 2014 and very best wishes for 2015! G

  4. Dear Ash - sure thing

    Best wishes