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

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


Paul Robeson – Our Second President


In 1959, Katharine Thomson and several members of the choir sat around her kitchen table, staring at a letter drafted to the great black performer and civil rights supporter, Paul Robeson. They wanted to make sure the tone of the letter was just right; would this great man do them the honour of being their next president?

Dr Bradsworth had been killed in a hit and run traffic accident in 1958, and the choir wanted to ensure his legacy would be carried forward with the greatest respect they could muster. Birmingham Clarion Singers and Paul Robeson were no strangers to each other; they had performed at the same concert at Birmingham Town Hall in 1949, in a concert arranged by the British-Soviet Society.


(Birmingham Clarion Singers perform with Paul Robeson at Birmingham Town Hall 1949)

They had continued their association throuImageghout the 50s, supporting him when his passport was confiscated by the US government, and keeping in touch via the choir’s welsh connections its anglo-soviet associations and political involvements with the communist party.

A delegation of Clarion members went to see Robeson at Stratford-Upon-Avon, where he was performing the lead role in Othello. He agreed without hesitation to become president of the choir, and performed with them again in 1960 at Reading Town Hall. He remained president until his death in 1976.

town_hall_paul largeS_A050217-01_Paul Robeson_Ol Man River

Our Founder and First President: Dr Colin Bradsworth


The Clarion, a socialist weekly, was established by Robert Blatchford, a Manchester journalist, in 1890. The paper first appeared in Manchester on 2nd December, 1891. Blatchford announced that the newspaper would follow a “policy of humanity; a policy not of party, sect or creed; but of justice, of reason and mercy.” The first edition sold 40,000 and after a few months settled down to about 30,000 copies a week.

The Clarion newspaper also became involved in a wide-range of different activities including missionary vans, cycling clubs, choirs, handicraft guilds and holiday camps. The various cultural, social and leisure activities promoted in the Clarion paper, offered a complete way of life outside the toil and drabness of the world of work and crowded urban living, and the weekly paper, with its announcements and reports, was essential in enabling Clarion organisations to get started and maintain their existence in the localities.


The Clarion Cycling Club was founded in February 1894 by Tom Groom and five other young cyclists who were members of the BondStreetLabourChurch in Birmingham. Their aim was to ‘combine the pleasures of cycling with the propaganda of Socialism’. The next twelve months saw similar Cycling Clubs being formed by readers of The Clarion newspaper in many other industrial towns. The first Easter Meet of Clarion Cycling Clubs held in Ashbourne (1895) led to the formation of the National Clarion Cycling Club. The object was to be ‘the association of the various Clarion Cycling Clubs for the purpose of Socialist propaganda and for promoting inter-club runs between the clubs of different towns’.

Colin Bradsworth became a member of the Midlands Clarion Cycling Club, which also hosted Clarion Vocal Unions, as well as a range of other additional activities
The Midlands CCC opened its first clubhouse in 1915 at Lyndon End, Yardley, Birmingham, with a dinner to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the founding of the first club.

Colin Charles Bradsworth appears, according to the service record of King Edward’s school in Birmingham listing the record of old boys, to have served in the military during the First World War; if so, it is likely that this marked him out for life as an advocate of peace.

CCC moved its clubhouse to Wagon Lane, Sheldon, Birmingham in 1920, which was large enough to house dances, as well as containing sleeping accommodation, but it closed sometime in the early 1930s.

The decline of the Clarion movement after 1914 may have been a result of both the massive social changes that arose in the post-war period, and Blatchford’s support for British militarism. But Bradsworth, a Communist Party member from the early days, would indirectly resurrect the name Clarion so that it still resonates in Birmingham by a circuitous route.

Bradsworth served for two years on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. As “Doc” Bradsworth, he was part of the medical team for the Canadian section of the International Brigades, the MacKenzie-Papineau battalion, during the Spanish Civil War. On his return to Britain, he was the founder of a Birmingham branch of the Socialist Medical Association, which was one of the most active in the country.

Then, late in 1939, Bradsworth announced that he wanted to start a workers’ choir at a Daily Worker social dance at Bristol Street Schools. A large number of Communist Party members took him up on the offer and, in time the choir was named Clarion, in honour of Bradworth and his earlier associations.

Sources: Dennis Pye Fellowship is Life: The National Clarion Cycling Club 1895-1995; http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk, http://www.grahamstevenson.me.uk