PHILIP LANE (b 1950 )
Philip Lane was born in Cheltenham, the English spa town at the foot of the Cotswold Hills made famous by visits from George III and a place of festivals, National Hunt Racing, literature, competitive cricket and international music, but as he grew up in the 1950s, it was still a very parochial spot, some hundred miles from London. The family possessed an old harmonium on which he tried to play from a very early age; seeing he had some interest in music, this was soon replaced with an upright piano which proved a more responsive vehicle for his improvising—or ‘playing by ear’ as it was called. Any sort of tune he heard, popular, religious or occasionally classical, was a suitable ‘case for treatment’.
At six Philip Lane embarked on formal piano lessons. His teacher, of a conservative turn of mind, when told he played by ear, replied, “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it”, and spent most of his pupil’s adolescence convincing him that his career lay in the library service. He progressed through the grade exams with modest success into his teens, by which time he was attending the local grammar school, the famous old boys of which included at least two international music figures, Gustav Holst, and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. It was there that he took up the organ, mostly as a means of earning pocket money—a half hour funeral (for which his truly enlightened headmaster gave him time off) would pay what his contemporaries took a good many hours in a week or a whole weekend to earn, delivering newspapers or stacking supermarket shelves.
He also began accompanying a local choral society, and at weekends and holidays working in the record department of the local WH Smith, through a golden period of popular music—the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and the like. Perhaps selling so many records gave him the idea that one day he might like to produce a few. During this time he began composing but, in retrospect, to a very limited degree, a few carols, piano pieces, a string quartet, but, significantly, an orchestral Sinfonietta, now withdrawn. The symphony orchestra would be his favourite means of expression thereafter.
In 1969 Philip Lane went to Birmingham University to read Music. His interview took the form of little more than playing through his piano duet suite, Badinages, later to be his first commercially recorded work, with the professor, Ivor Keys, before being told that he would ‘probably be accepted’. His tutors included two composers, John Joubert and Peter Dickinson, but there was little opportunity for composition lessons as such, and he was already excused orchestration class when it was discovered he was already having his orchestral works played by the BBC Midland Light Orchestra just half a mile away at the BBC Studios at Pebble Mill. Despite later encouragement from the Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann, then based in London, he considers himself virtually self-taught in both disciplines.
While at university Philip Lane developed an interest in one British composer in particular, as a result of having to write a thesis in his last year. This was Lord Berners (1883–1950), composer, novelist, painter and eccentric. On graduation, he gave several radio talks on the subject, and from 1987, acted as a trustee of the Berners Trust overseeing the production of a number of CDs which made available, finally, all Berners’ compositions. For much of this time Lane worked freelance for London publishers and taught. From 1975, for the next 23 years, he was on the music staff of the Cheltenham Ladies’ College. The musical legacy of these years is the body of works for upper voices which have established themselves in the repertoire of countless choirs around the world.
By chance, in 1993, Lane was invited to look after the musical interests in the estate of Richard Addinsell (1904–77), of Warsaw Concerto fame. One of his first enterprises was to write a radio documentary on the subject, linked to a CD recording (Marco Polo 8.223732) which had to include one of Addinsell’s most famous film scores, Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939). Given that the only surviving material was a voice and piano version of the School Song, he set to work to take down the Main Titles from the video by ear. The success of this disc led to his being asked to do similar work on the early British films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock—The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Lady Vanishes and others. Since then he has supervised the reconstruction of numerous scores, single composer compilation albums of Arnold, Alwyn, Auric, Bliss, and two more of Addinsell, including one almost complete score, Victor Young’s for The Quiet Man.
In recent years, much of Lane’s work has been in the commercial field, library music, music for BBC plays, including The Merchant of Venice and Sir Thomas More, and TV animation, including the immortal Captain Pugwash, but he has not deserted the world of live music-making, with choral commissions to mark the centenary of the death of Lewis Carroll, one from the winners of the Sainsbury Choir of the Year, and a ballet, Hansel and Gretel, for the National Youth Ballet.