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LYNN NORRIS talked to
the late Roy Budden about his life with music


Roy Budden was born in Bridport, Dorset, UK on 14 October 1913. His father had a business making ropes and twine, and when he went bankrupt he was taken over by a larger local factory which made the same products. When a branch opened in Manchester, Roy's family moved there. A couple of years later, in 1928, Roy's mother died of pneumonia. A year later his father died of diabetes.

On Sunday evenings the family would gather around the piano and sing. His father sang the popular ballads of the day and his mother accompanied him on the piano. After the early deaths of his parents, Roy moved to London and was found work at Bensons, an advertising company.

Roy Budden
Roy Budden

In 1930 he joined the Islington Choral Society which rehearsed near Holloway prison and gave three concerts a year giving Roy a working aquaintance with standard choral works. After the outbreak of war, Roy, who was a conscientious objector, was placed in the Hendon Civil Defence Service and became an ambulance driver and when required was also given other duties such as unloading coal from railway trucks. He joined the Morley College Choir which was conducted by Arnold Foster. The two men struck up a friendship and when Foster, who taught at Westminster School, was evacuated, he suggested to Roy that he should go and live in his house at Haslemere Avenue.

Michael Tippett took over the Morley Choir and every other week, when the choir did not meet, they began to gather at Foster's house where they would sing madrigals and hold parties. Soon they took on string players as well and found that they had to hire a hall for the concerts which they put on. As the war progressed, more and more singers left to join the services, but more string players joined the group. Thus the Hendon String Orchestra came into being.

Roy had had no formal training for the role of conductor. It was a German lady refugee who suggested to him that he should get himself some proper instruction. This prompted him to think about his future. He was thirty. When his wartime work ended, he could either go back to Bensons for the rest of his life or try for some training in music. The Guildhall accepted him and by having a little financial support from Westminster Council and by training as a typist and working through a typist agency, he was able to support himself through college.

Roy left the Guildhall after passing with merit. He continued to conduct the Hendon Strings, started in 1943, and was given a job reviving the Working Men's Orchestra. He then took over the conducting of a choir and orchestra in Welwyn Garden City and so his music career was launched. Along with conducting, Roy began to build up a library of music. A conductor needs a repertoire of music available. Roy was fortunate in having natural business instinct which became evident as a child when he would buy comics and and magazines of the time such as Boys Own and let them out to other people for the day for tuppence. That way the children got to read seven for the price of one and Roy made a small profit.

The management of the Working Mens College at Crowndale gave Roy a grant of fifty pounds a year to buy music. He looked for second hand music from dealers at reasonable prices. For fifty pounds a year, Roy could get a lot of music to put in the library which could be both played and loaned out. Roy became aquainted with dealers who would travel to Leipzig to buy their music and he made some good deals with them. This left him with a surplus of music which he was able to sell. He was then able to have a purpose built library in his garden housing over five thousand sets of music.

In 1949 Roy decided to start a professional orchestra called the Capriol Orchestra. This was a full symphony orchestra and it lasted for forty years. During its lifetime it played a number of first performances by British composers. It also gave the first performance of a piece by Beethoven which had recently been discovered. Soloists who performed with the Capriol included Leon Goossens at Wigmore Hall, and Alfredo Campoli and Peter Pears at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Roy encouraged Emanuel Hurwitz to play with his wife Kay for one of his amateur orchestras. They played the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.

Another area which Roy enjoyed very much was operatic conducting. He began with Brent Opera company conducting Aida and also performed Orpheus in the Underworld and La bohème with them. He conducted for the St Marylebone Operatic Society, The British Empire Relief Association and a Gilbert and Sullivan Society. He also did eleven shows with Hampstead Garden Opera over the space of six years. They included Onegin, Fledermaus and Cav and Pag.

Roy cutting his birthday cake with members of Mornington Sinfonia. Photo © 2003 Lynn Norris
Roy cutting his birthday cake with members of Mornington Sinfonia. Photo © 2003 Lynn Norris

At the age of eighty eight when many brave men would have long since hung up the baton, Roy was still conducting four orchestras: the Mornington Sinfonia, The Crowndale Orchestra, The Parents' Orchestra and the Hendon Strings. On his ninetieth birthday, many of Roy's players turned up to play a Mahler Symphony with him.

His death on 25 November 2009 at the age of ninety six still comes as a shock. Roy was a charismatic and inspiring man who overcame problems, lived by his convictions and used his musical, business and social talents not only to benefit himself but also many others.

Copyright © 12 December 2009 Lynn Norris,
London UK


Roy Budden's funeral will take place at 1.30pm on Thursday 17 December 2009 at East Finchley Crematorium (sometimes known as the St Marylebone Crematorium), East End Road, East Finchley, London N2 0RZ, UK. Further information from A W Luck & Sons Funeral Directors on +44 (0)20 8883 2429.

Roy asked for music to be played at his funeral, and this will include Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending and Marcello's Oboe Concerto.

Lynn Norris' conversations with Roy Budden are taken from her forthcoming book, Tales of the Century.

Further information about Roy Budden can be found in the obituary at Hampstead Garden Opera written by Alastair Macgeorge.




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