Monday, April 26, 2010


He was a lad in his early teens when I first met Julian Bream. He was born in Battersea and he sounded like it; he kept his cockney accent all his life (so far) although sometimes he would try to talk posh but it did not disguise his origins. His dad worked in advertising but played jazz guitar. Julian started playing that way but one day Dad brought home the recording of Segovia playing the Tremolo Study of Tarrega; the die was cast. Several doshed folk helped pay his fees for him to go to the Royal College of Music. At that time the guitar was scarcely known straight music apart from the great Segovia. Julian’s personality and his guitar soon had the other students flocking round him, so much that the director actually forbade him to bring his instrument into the College. He played at parties and the girls adored him.

Parties, little concerts, a broadcast or two, gradually he became known. He acquired a contract with RCA Victor and his records sold like hot cakes. He came many times to the Summer School of Music that I organized at Dartington, sometimes with Peter Pears, sometimes just recitals, later on master-classes and with a consort that he formed to play what Hardy called ‘the ancient stave’ my wife Olive Zorian played violin with him) and one year he brought the slightly younger Australian guitarist John Williams. These last two played some happy concerts together and it was fascinating to compare the two players: John a cooler player but technically more reliable whereas Julian was the great communicator even if he took more risks and squeaked more often.

Julian’s contract with RCA was unique. I think. He was able to record what he liked, where he liked and with whom he liked. Julian’s talent and his personality enabled him to get many composes to write pieces for him: Malcolm Arnold, Henze, Walton, Maxwell Davies, Rawsthorne, Tippett and Benjamin Britten.

Some Juliana: mutual friend John Warrack went with Julian to the Royal Academy show one year and they went into one room dominated by a large nude. Julian:”Christ, I know ‘er”. Silence in that room and bystanders waited for the next pronouncement. “What a smashing pair of plonkers”.

While on a longish tour of India (he made time to see a bit of interesting countries) Julian lent his Earl’s Court flat to a singer friend. She found eighteen pairs of evening shoes under the bed, all worn down at the heels, likewise a cupboard containing a couple of dozen dirty evening shirts and a sack full of unopened letters and telegrams.

Down in Dorset there was an annual cricket match (Julian was a good slow bowler), myself one year on Julian’s team playing the local farmers. Julian said they were nice chaps but they argued when the umpire gave them out and wouldn’t walk. Julian got round problem by getting the local Jesuit priest to umpire.

Julian encouraged me to come to the annual English Music Week in the Bavarian Alps at Schloss Elmau. “Great place, nice people, good music, good tucker and I was knee-deep in girls”. I couldn’t refuse and went the following year: it was, they were, it was and he was...

Alas, some of the fire and that power of communication declined after Julian crashed his car on a bridge near home after a convivial evening (“That bridge got smaller that night”) and after a 70th birthday Wigmore recital he decided to retire. Sadly he has become rather reclusive, living alone, walking the dog but not seeing or communicating with his old mates.

Julian was a one-off. His musicianship was profound yet full of joy. Like the greatest of musicians he knew his stuff but played on his intuition. Never routine, never playing to the gallery except sometimes when chatting to the audience, he enriched the repertoire and he enriched the musical experience of his audience. And his programmes were never boring like so many guitarists were. Building up the architecture of the great Bach Chaconne, loving the line of an ancient pavane, savouring the lollipop Malcolm Arnold Concerto, tearing away passionately in a Villa-Lobos study or just frivolling some encore meringue, he was unique.

1 comment:

DELVIN said...

I was interested to read your blog about Julian Bream. I met him in the 1950s when I was visiting Andrew McIntosh Patrick, his flatmate. Probably one of my most treasured memories is being one of the young ladies you mention listening to him playing at home with friends - more intimate than in a concert hall. I was privileged but did not realise it! It saddens me to hear that he is living alone, but perhaps it is his choice and what he wants. The gift of his paintings to the Music School in Cardiff was an inspired move.