Composer Alan Bush – Our Third President

Alan Bush

During the last years of his life, Paul Robeson disappeared from public life, and the choir had very little contact with him up to his death in 1976, following years of ill-health. Again the choir faced the decision about who was a worthy successor to Dr Bradsworth and Paul Robeson. This time the choice was simple.

In 1940 Alan Bush was an encouraging figure behind the setting up of the Birmingham Clarion Singers.  To this end he was in correspondence with founder-member Katharine Thomson, who herself had studied in Germany in 1933 and had experienced the rise of Hitler at first hand. This led to visits to Birmingham to direct choir rehearsals, as Elsie Marshall remembered:

“Our choir consisted of 90% working-class people, most of whom had never sung, except in their sing-songs around the piano, songs from ‘The Left Song-Book’ or escapist pop songs of the day. So you can imagine the impact the visit of Alan Bush made on us. His tall figure, his dark brown beard, which made his grey eyes look very piercing, his unbelievable energy had an electrifying effect on us. Alan was always very keen on impeccable diction, and he worked very hard to get it; we used muscles in our faces we never knew we had, practising b-b-b, k-k-k and rrrrrrrrrh, and every consonant with great gusto. This hard work stood Clarion in good stead, for we have always paid great attention to diction and have something of a reputation for it.”

Alan was greatly concerned at the rise of Fascism in Germany, and it was in response to this, as well as meeting like-minded musicians such as Hans Eisler and Ernst Hermann Meyer, that his political awareness and sense of conscience began to emerge, developing into a life-long commitment to Marxism and the Communist Party, the seeds of which were probably sown as far back as 1917, when he learned of the death of his brother Alfred on wartime service during the period leading up to the October Revolution in Russia.

In 1936 he and several friends established the  Workers Music Association eventually becoming its President in 1941.

After the war Alan’s work with the Workers’ Music Association continued with the establishment of their Summer Schools. The first had been in 1946 (run by Rutland Boughton), and thereafter Alan was in charge for 31 years. The musical education these courses gave to so many people from all walks of life deserves to be recognized, and it was certainly the first school of this kind helping amateur musicians to develop under professional guidance of the highest order.

Alan Bush died in Watford General Hospital on October 31st 1995, after a short illness. In 1997 the Alan Bush Music Trust was established by his family to further the cause of Alan’s music.

Birmingham Clarion Singers celebrate Alan’s 80th birthday


Obituary for Alan Bush from The Times, Saturday 4th November 1995



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