This is a memory stirred for Jane Scott, our conductor, following a lovely comment from Gill Learner (née Lovekin):
“I remember being taken to the final day of the Aldermaston march

in, I think, 1960. Possibly 1961. We met up with a number of the younger Clarion members (Campbells included, also Shirley Nolan, Eileen Feeley, probably Dave Phillips too) who had done the whole 3-day march and I remember that Gill in particular had really sore, blistered feet. I also remember Beryl Coton (nee Price) who was Irene Rickman’s friend and contemporary but also very close to Mum (Elsie Marshall), going to Gill’s 21st birthday party and telling us all about it afterwards.

The thing we did at Reading (with Paul Robeson) was ‘The Lonesome Train’, a cantata about Lincoln. Clarion did it again at Oozells Street School, directed by Charles Parker with Ian Campbell and Luke Kelly as the narrator and ballad singer, and that performance was quite soon after the Aldermaston march I think and I think Gill was part of that. I believe the programme for that concert still exists somewhere.”

When Clarion met Vaughan Williams

84adf861-5f6c-47eb-8ae2-8dd122aad5f1 Ralph Vaughan Williams

In 1945 Katharine Thomson wrote to Ralph Vaughan Williams, a Cambridge friend of her father, and asked him if Clarion could perform excerpts from his opera ‘Sir John in Love’. She mentioned in particular one member of Clarion, a baritone called Martin Marshall. Vaughan Williams replied, saying “I would like to meet your baritone”.

In August, Katharine, Martin and his wife Elsie went to Vaughan Williams’ house in Dorking where he gave them a warm welcome. In the composer’s study, accompanied by him on the piano, Martin sang Vaughan Williams’ beautiful song ‘Silent Noon’.

‘Sir John in Love’ was first performed by Clarion in its entirety in March 1949 at the Birmingham and Midland Institute. The director was Tom Harrison, Regional Director of the Midlands Arts Council. The opera was conducted by Professor Anthony Lewis from the University of Birmingham.

from The Birmingham Post 19th March 1949:

Composer Goes To Rehearsal: Vaughan Williams in Birmingham

With no fanfares of trumpets such as might fittingly have heralded the arrival in the city of our greatest composer to hear his own music rehearsed by Birmingham’s Clarion singers, Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams was welcomed here yesterday by his friend Tom Harrison, Midland Director of the Arts Council.
Undeterred by the most wintery of days the 77-year-old composer had left his Dorking home in the early morning and when he emerged from the 1.40p.m. train at Birmingham his natural bear-like proportions were made more massive still; for his grizzled head was alone visible above a mass of overcoats and rugs.
Refusing any rest Dr Williams went straight to the University annexe for the first orchestral rehearsal of his rarely heard opera “Sir John in Love” which is to have its first Midland hearing from the Clarion Singers in the Midland Institute on March 18 and 19.
He listened to this until 5.30 and after a quick cup of tea returned for the cast’s rehearsal which he followed until 9 o’clock.
“He could hardly be dragged away” said Mr Harrison today.
Asked his opinion on the reading of the work, which he followed on the score, Dr. Williams said: “It is such a long time since I heard it myself that your reading is probably better than mine. I enjoyed the experience enormously.”
This was the first visit to Birmingham by the composer since he came to hear Elgar’s work: “The Kingdom” in 1898, but his has been a familiar figure at Worcester meetings of the Three Choirs.

see also: Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1895-1958
edited by Hugh Cobbe

The Big Top

The Big Top site in Birmingham became home to a circus and a fairground

The Big Top site in Birmingham became home to a circus and a fairground

With the war moving into its final year, Clarion, along with the rest of the residents of Birmingham, were reflecting on the damage done to their beloved city. An area in the heart of the shopping centre had been particularly badly hit, and a circus and fairground were erected on the bombed site. This provided some well-needed relief from the trauma of war, and provided an accessible venue for the many emerging talents in the city.


Drawings of the Big Top performance from a letter by Martin Marshall to Katharine Thomson’s daughter, Margaret.


In 1944, the Choir were proud to present a performance of Professor Edward Dent’s new score of John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” at the Big Top in New Street, Birmingham, as part of the Brighter Birmingham programme, produced by Tom Harrison, with accompaniment on harpsichord by Katharine Thomson.

Katharine Thomson: musical director and piano accompanist

Katharine Thomson: musical director and piano accompanist

Read more about

Birmingham’s Big Top here.

Our New President, Tayo Aluko


Tayo Aluko by Jim Connolly

After the sad death of Aubrey Bowman, Clarion once again had to face the hard decision of who to approach to replace such a great character.  Although the role of president is not one which necessitates a great physical input, it is a key role, warranting an individual who upholds values of peace and socialism, and a love of music.

We first heard about Tayo Aluko when Irene Rickman brought an article from the Morning Star to a rehearsal. It was about how a young Nigerian born singer had written a script about Paul Robeson. We have seen a number of people through the years sing Robeson’s songs, some truly amazing and inspiring. But there was something which intrigued us about Tayo – his passion to ensure Robeson’s legacy would be continued, and his desire to tell the world about this great talent.

And so began an occasional email correspondence, and an overwhelming admiration for Tayo’s determination to promote the show and extend his audience.

A native of Nigeria, Tayo attended boarding school and university in England. Whilst working as an architect in Liverpool, he appeared as guest soloist with a number of orchestras, music societies, choirs and brass bands in the UK, Germany Ireland and Nigeria. He also performed lead roles in various operas and stage musicals, and as a writer contributed articles to several UK newspapers and magazines.

In 1995 in SeftonPark, Liverpool, a woman heard him singing and said that he reminded her of Paul Robeson. Intrigued, he began to research the singer’s history, and in 2005 he began writing Call Mr. Robeson: A Life, with Songs, spanning the historic figure’s life from the age of six to his retirement in the 1960s.

The play is an astonishing journey through key moments in Robeson’s life, and succeeds in reviving his spirit and passion, and ensuring a new generation is introduced to the renowned artist, and his history of civil rights and peace activism.

Tayo has travelled the world with his play, which has been described as “A stunning piece of musical theatre”, and won many awards with it along the way.  In February 2012 – 83 years after Robeson made his big debut at Carnegie Hall – Tayo Aluko performed Call Mr. Robeson on that same stage. It was also Tayo’s 50th birthday, and the standing ovation he received on that occasion was a fitting tribute to him and to Robeson, and recognition of the hard work and dedication Tayo has given to spreading Robeson’s message of peace, equality and justice.

For more details of Tayo’s other works, visit the Tayo Aluko and Friends site here.


Our Fourth President: Aubrey Bowman 1918-2009


Aubrey Bowman

Aubrey Clement Bowman was born in Bournemouth 16 May 1918. His father owned a successful bakery business, and with a love of music and he developed another business; selling
pianos and tuning them.

Aubrey became a student at The Royal College of Music in 1934, when he was just sixteen. However his father died soon after, and though his mother had taken over the day to day running of the family bakery business, she found she could only afford one year’s tuition fees. Determined on an independent career in music, rather than in the family’s bakery, Aubrey applied for and won the RoyalAcademy’s Sir Michael Costa Scholarship on the strength of an original orchestral composition.

At the Royal Academy, Aubrey met and studied under composer Alan Bush who at that time was in the Independent Labour Party, He was instantly attracted by Alan’s combination of music and politics and became involved with the London Labour Choral Union, and from 1936, with the Workers Music Association. Aubrey’s involvement with the WMA, both as the conductor of the WMA choir and a music composer was life-long and he never ceased to believe in the uplifting value of revolutionary and liberation music.

Called up at the start of the Second World War, Aubrey was deemed “unsuitable” presumably because he was now a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain He was demobbed in 1941, and returned to London to  continue his musical studies as a pianist, composer and conductor. He also immersed himself in the Communist struggles of the 1940’s. Aubrey married in 1950 and had two daughters. He also had an orthodox career in music and at various times he was conductor conducted for The London Festival Ballet, the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) and the National Ballet of Canada.

In 1996, Aubrey became Birmingham Clarion Singers fourth president, after many years association with them. He would regularly catch a train to Birmingham to spend a few hours with the choir, even with failing sight and mobility in his later years. He regularly attended Clarion performances and AGMs, and even stood in at rehearsals for Clarion’s conductor during her stay in hospital.


May Day in Birmingham at the Trades Council 2008

His warmth and friendship for the choir was clear to everyone in Clarion, and he was loved as much for his support and encouragement for new and less experienced singers as for his dedication and commitment to the choir’s ideals.

He died in London on 13 December 2009, aged 91, from wounds sustained after being knocked down by a car the previous day. ““The Internationale”” was sung by members of Birmingham Clarion Singers and the WMA choir at his funeral in St Marylebone Crematorium, a performance which Aubrey would undoubtedly have enjoyed, and the incongruous setting he would have acknowledged with relish.


Morning Star Conference June 2009, Congress House, London