In 1995, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Lawrence Martin's musical career spanned those desperate years and he spoke to Anthony Parsons with an authentic...
It would be very comforting to know that a trombone playing career divided between two of London's finest orchestras would guarantee that when you reached your ninetieth year, you be a picture of health, too busy with life and forward plans to have a television set in the house, able to drive your car up to London if you felt like it, have perfect recall, and look at least 20 years younger. Lawrence Martin's next birthday will take him to the ninetieth milestone, and although he personifies all those things, unfortunately for the rest of us he can't put it all down to a lifetime of trombone playing. In fact, giving up the profession may even be the secret.
Lawrence grew up in a musical family at Hailsham, Sussex.
I found a viola in a cupboard upstairs at home that had been used in the string quartet that father used to play in," he began his musical history. "I wanted to learn to play it as thoroughly as possible and had lessons with Adolf Hervé, who had studied at the Brussels Conservatoire. He wasn't a great teacher because he played along with me all the time and I couldn't hear my own playing clearly. He was going back again over the studies that he had learned as a student, and I felt I was leaning on him too much."
In the meantime Lawrence was working in office jobs that didn't seem to be leading anywhere, and he made enough progress to join the viola section of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra (EMO), starting his professional career not 10 miles from home. Off to such a promising start as a string player, how had the trombone eventually become his main instrument? "Father came home one day and said that Stan Rich, of Hailsham Town Band, had told him that the band needed two cornets and a trombone, and would his boys be interested? My brother Jack wasn't, but I thought, the trombone - now that seems interesting.
I went to the library, took down Harmsworth's Encyclopaedia and turned up the trombone. It gave a photograph and diagram of the positions, and I worked out some scales and the compass of the instrument so that I would be able to start as soon as I got an instrument. I went along to the bandroom and was given a tenor trombone. The bandmaster asked me to try and play a low C, and of course I got ready in 6th position, not knowing that in brass bands the tenor trombone is a transposing instrument. I had to start the theory all over again, but I coped with it and soon developed into a good enough player to turn out for band engagements."
Lawrence's versatility eventually came to the ears of Hervé, who mentioned it to Harry Amers, conductor of the EMO, at a time when the orchestra needed a bass trombonist. In 1928 the G trombone was king, and Amers said that if Lawrence wanted the job he must change to the bigger instrument. So, ever adaptable and a quick learner, he bought two halves of different instruments (all that was available locally) and set about it. Not surprisingly, the mismatched sections were very unsatisfactory, and it took five changes of instrument before he arrived at something usable. "I'd had a Hawkes & Son with quite a large bell, bigger than Booseys made, but it had a dead set of harmonics in the middle range so I finally settled on a Boosey."
In 1937, Amers retired to the West Country and was replaced by Kneale Kelly, conductor of the BBC's 2LO Orchestra.
There were the largest yellow posters I ever saw, and the largest red lettering: S KNEALE KELLY, CONDUCTOR OF 5000 BROADCASTS. We did wonder!" In addition to their self-proclaimed great new maestro, a string of very distinguished conductors made guest appearances with the EMO including Sir Henry Wood, Sir Thomas Beecham, Albert Coates, Sir Landon Ronald, Sir Hamilton Harty, Sir Edward Elgar and Alexander Glazunow. Lawrence remembered a Beecham programme which included Delius' Brigg Fair. "This is scored for six horns and the orchestra only had four. Tommy refused to conduct it without the proper instrumentation, decided to play something else, and got round the problem by announcing to the audience: 'Unfortunately my librarian failed to send the score and parts of Brigg Fair, so with your kind indulgence we shall play a Mozart symphony instead'."
To help Lawrence get some specialist lessons, Kneale Kelly (or KK, as he was always known) used his BBC connections to arrange for him to have lessons in London with Frank Taylor, bass trombone of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, teacher at the Royal College of Music and Kneller Hall. Two years after KK took over the EMO, Lawrence was contacted by Frank Taylor about a vacancy in the London Symphony Orchestra. Frank recommended him to the LSO directors, and he offered to audition for them. Instead they gave him a series of three trial concerts.
"The first was at Central Hall, conducted by Dr Malcolm Sargent," said Lawrence, "and I was only in one work, which escapes me now. But I remember particularly admiring Paul Draper's bassoon playing in the Overture to Cosi Fan Tutte. The second concert was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult at the London Museum, when part of it was located in St James's Park. Egon Petri played Henselt's Piano Concerto, and there were the Three Dances by Herbert Murrill, and Brahms Symphony No. 1. The third was at Queens Hall, conducted by George Szell, and I was only in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. These were three of an 8-concert series that George Wood, the LSO secretary, called the Shop Window. The members played for nothing, but I got three pounds and sixpence. The LSO wrote me a long letter saying how pleased they were with my playing, and after asking for advice from Frank Taylor, I moved to London to join them, and the other trombonists, Ben and Jock Ashby, in 1939."
Hounslow, November 3rd 1938
I was of course delighted to have your letter to know you had justified yourself by receiving the offer of the L.S.O., and incidentally too, my recommendation. Congratulations. Now I suppose you have to do some hard thinking. I do not intend to butt in on your private affairs for it is only from that point of view you alone can get the perspective. But I do feel this, as an interested party in your future musical welfare, that the acceptance of this post from an immediate financial aspect is nothing very wonderful and indeed may demand some sacrifice and perhaps a little hardship, but to me it is an excellent opportunity to lift yourself 'out of the rut' and give you a definite standing of no mean importance in spite of their financial setback of recent years, which means nothing from the Musical Standpoint of course, but a certain strain on the pockets of its members, who rely on that alone. This is likely to be your position to start with, but I feel sure your Directors, if they are made to realise your position, will leave no stone unturned to get you placed somewhere amongst their various interests in due course. It may be slow at first but it will surely come if you can stand the initial strain, and to me it wouldn't need a second thought unless I had any family responsibilities to consider - however that is for you to decide. Will K.K. stand aside and not offer to find you a helping hand in the circumstances? Surely he will not make things difficult for you? If he does - well! then he is no longer the K.K. I knew and had the pleasure to work with. I think you hinted to me, in event of this situation arising, he would at once insist on you getting someone to relieve you. Now maybe I can again help you in this. I have a Scholar [Godfrey Kneller] at the College in his 3rd year, and previously with me at Kneller Hall. He wishes to purchase his discharge from the Army, but to do so, he must show the Authorities that he has a job to go to, and he would jump at your Eastbourne job. He is a very good player and I am sure would satisfy K.K. As a matter of fact the Vic and Sadlers Wells people tried to get him (after doing a short tour with them) for this season, but he couldn't possibly accept it. The College wouldn't have it, neither would the Union, and his Military business couldn't be accomplished in the time. Let me know if I can help you in this channel - it can be done, so think it over. I could arrange with the Royal College to let him come along and give an audition if K.K. would agree. Excuse this letter and writing it hastily during B.B.C. duties.
With kindest regards,
Yours very sincerely,
At that time the LSO was a limited company, and to become a member one had to purchase a £10 share. The previous holder of the share Lawrence bought was Harry Blech, founder and conductor of the London Mozart Players, and it actually cost him £13. As Frank Taylor had warned in his letter, the financial rewards were not great, but with care he could manage, and in any case, war broke out in September and simply making ends meet was the priority for everyone. "On one occasion at the Queens Hall, during the bombing raids and after the concert had finished, the LSO entertained those of the audience who wished to stay with some light music. Basil Cameron was conducting, and he conceived the (not so) clever idea of a kind of a Farewell Symphony in reverse. I entered first and played ad nauseam low A flat and F quavers in 2/4 time, the introduction to Luigini's Ballet Egyptien. There was a disapproving frown from Basil when, getting tired of the monotony, I went up an octave for a few bars."
For London musicians and music lovers, the destruction of Queens Hall by a Nazi incendiary bomb on the night of Saturday 10th May 1941 was an appalling tragedy. Elgar's oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius, had been performed there in an afternoon concert given by the Royal Choral Society and the LPO, conducted by Dr Malcolm Sargent. The final words of the Angel, 'Be brave and patient, swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here, and I will come and wake thee on the morrow' as the chorus breathes 'Amen, Amen', have never been more fitting or prophetic.
The night of trial began within hours, and although no lives were lost, many instruments were destroyed. "Adolf Lotter lost one of his basses," Lawrence remembered. "The next day we were recording at Denham Studios and arrived to find that Studio 1 was out of action, an escaping raider having jettisoned his bombs, as they frequently did, one falling on the studio. That was the end of another of Adolf's basses, and nearly the end of him. He didn't live much longer."
Many musicians were called up for military service, and Lawrence joined the Band of the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) stationed at Windsor, keeping up the LSO connection whenever he could get time off. "As the war drew on I got more and more tired of army music. The best way out would have been to go for a commission, but I hadn't the qualifications, so I simply joined the troops for the last 18 months or so. Looking back on it, I should probably have stayed in the band, but the musical boredom was hard to take.
Lawrence was demobbed in October 1945, and in 1946 the LSO returned to Denham for the filming of a n ew composition by a promising young talent, Benjamin Britten. For the film Instruments of the Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted and narrated The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, "and a young fellow came up to us with a roll of soft putty to take the shine off the trombone bells, which were reflecting too much light for the camera." By this time Jock Ashby had moved up to 1st trombone, and Stanley Brown had joined on 2nd. "Stanley had played in Hanwell Silver Band, then joined the RAF orchestra during the war. When Ben Ashby retired and Jock became principal, one of our flute players, Eddie Walker, who had also been in the RAF orchestra, said he thought Stanley would be ideal for the job."
Stanley had designs on a first trombone job himself, and when openings occurred in the Philharmonia he moved on and persuaded Lawrence to join him shortly afterwards. Mick Whelan was on second. Formed only a few years earlier by Walter Legge as a showcase orchestra for Beecham, who then wanted too much control himself, the Philharmonia worked without a chief conductor, but attracted big names as soloists and conductors. "I remember recording the Grieg Piano Concerto with Dinu Lipatti, and we had Issay Dobrowen, Paul Kletzki, Herman Scherchen, and of course Furtwängler, with Kirsten Flagstad, in some famous Wagner recordings. 'Give my love to the trombones' he once instructed one of our administrators, so we evidently pleased him well enough."
In the early 1950s, after three or four years in the Philharmonia, Lawrence again got the urge to move on. The G bass trombone was going out of fashion and the prospect of yet another instrumental readjustment, coupled with his restless and inquisitive nature, led him to consider a career in business. He took his time, and eventually found the right opening in East Anglia, where his brother had moved. His musical activities over the past forty years have returned to the viola (he has made two instruments) and playing string quartets. Woodworking always attracted him, and for a long time he has been creating very fancy bowls to designs by the American craftsman, Dale Nish, and 24 of these have been distributed to friends around the world. Fred Mansfield took over Lawrence's job in the Philharmonia and in turn was replaced by Ray Premru. Arthur Wilson was appointed 2nd trombone when Mick Whelan left the orchestra, and Alfred Flaszynski soon joined on Principal Trombone. Arthur eventually became Principal and stayed with the Philharmonia until the 1980s. Pure chance brought Arthur and Lawrence into contact again recently and made it possible to delve into the trombone playing of days gone by. This remarkable link with pre-war trombone playing will be content with lively conversation on any topic, and if he happens to let slip the secret of healthy longevity, maybe Arthur will share it with us.