John Fletcher In Switzerland And London
by Roger Harvey
Two recent events have prompted this article: early last year the John Fletcher Trust Fund released a CD of new tuba recordings made in London to raise money for the trust and a few months later a small stock of unplayed LPs of The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in Switzerland was discovered. There was a suggestion that these LPs, which feature John as an ensemble member and soloist, might be sold or auctioned through the tuba fraternity and at the same time promote the new recording Tuba Tribute to Fletch.
The earlier PJBE recording came about due to the efforts of Elgar Howarth and others, who had made a number of terrific arrangements for the group for their frequent trips to Switzerland; Philip’s Swiss wife, Ursula was well-known in musical circles there and her tireless efforts to promote the ensemble, as elsewhere, around the globe, were well rewarded. The recording was a great success not only for its excellent quality of sound and virtuosity but also the wit and elegance of the performances.
Fletch, of course was only one of the contributors to all of this but his playing and his personality were usually at the core of what happened; no-one will deny his unique virtuosity. But perhaps his greatest contribution was to act as a catalyst both through his playing and through his presence for others to sound better. It was equally important for him to play a simple bass line in the most apt and stimulating style, as it was to step out and play a solo. I frequently use him as an example when coaching student ensembles playing apparently simple and, to them, unimportant parts in a blas? manner.
On top of all this he was a great companion on tour. He was wise but totally unpretentious about music and the music business, often helping us to get our feet back on the floor through his sensible observations; he provided welcome respite from difficult situations or pre-concert tensions through his zany sense of humour; it was often amusing to see him dealing with his numerous fans that would collect at the stage door after concerts, some of whom even sported the same sort of beard, haircut, and glasses in what was presumably an attempt to play like him by looking like him –even if he was mildly irritated not to be able to dash off for a quenching beer he could not help giving unstintingly of himself for the encouragement of others.
Fletcher in master class
He has been gone for a long time now, but he is still fondly remembered by those that knew him and revered by those that have only heard his recordings. So much so that when I approached my tuba-playing colleagues in London to ask if they would give up some time to make a recording, in his memory, to sell for the trust there was a unanimous and resoundingly positive response. The composers and arrangers agreed to contribute for nothing, as did the engineers and producers. The Guildhall School of Music gave the hall for the ensemble recordings.
These sessions were a very special occasion; it is not often that all the key players in the London scene gather in one place to play together; I can’t imagine that there has ever been another event like it in the tuba world. As is often the case in London, the sessions were rehearse/record; the standard of reading, and instant musical response was hugely impressive, and the atmosphere of comradely goodwill and mutual respect was palpable.
The recording includes solo items in varying styles by James Gourlay, Oren Marshall and Owen Slade, some of Fletch’s quartet arrangements and new pieces for ensemble by Rchard Bissil, Simon Wills, Tim Jackson and Eric Crees.
The John Fletcher Trust Fund was created in memory of the great tuba virtuoso who died prematurely in 1987. Friends and colleagues from all over the world contributed to set up a Fund with the aim of providing bursaries for impecunious young brass players. For a decade now the JFT has been able to support young people attending the courses run by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, where John Fletcher was first a member of the orchestra and then a teacher. (The NYO and the profound influence it has on the musical development of young players was a cause very dear to John’s heart.) The Fund, although small, also supports young brass players in the National Youth Wind Orchestra and the National Youth Brass Band and will consider applications for assistance in other areas of musical study.
For ordering or making donations online or finding additional information, visit the JFT website at http://www.johnfletcher-tuba.co.uk, or by mail at the JFT at Hon. Secretary, John Fletcher Trust Fund, 8 Essex Road, Chesham, Bucks, HP 53H2, England, Telephone 01494 775977, (firstname.lastname@example.org).