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‘Yet another guitar recital filled the Wigmore Hall’: The Popularization of the Classical Guitar in Britain, c.1950–c.1970

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 August 2021

Abstract

The popularity of the classical guitar in Britain surged between 1950 and 1970. The virtuosity of elite professionals led by the pioneering Andrés Segovia and the new stars Julian Bream and John Williams earned the classical instrument considerable purchase within the wider culture. Above all, it inspired thousands of largely middle-class, male, relatively young and urban amateur players, attracted not simply by the instrument’s intrinsic appeal but also by the opportunity offered to display a fashionable modernity and sophisticated connoisseurship. However, although securing for the classical guitar a much-enhanced musical role, these enthusiasts also created an often inward-looking specialist culture.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Royal Musical Association

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Footnotes

The quotation that forms the title of this article is taken from an anonymous review entitled ‘Herbert Garcia’, The Times, 7 November 1966, 14. A prestigious London concert venue, the Wigmore Hall then had a capacity of about 600. I am grateful to the anonymous referees for JRMA for their very helpful suggestions and advice.

References

1 BMG, May 1943, 142–3. Founded by the music publisher and instrument dealer Clifford Essex and published between 1903 and 1976, BMG (Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar) was Britain’s leading fretted-instrument magazine.

2 BMG, August 1943, 217–18; September 1943, 234–5.

3 Button, Stuart W, The Guitar in England, 1800–1924 (London: Garland, 1989), 125–87Google Scholar.

4 Palmer, Tony, Julian Bream: A Life on the Road (London: Macdonald, 1982), 25;Google Scholar Julian Bream, ‘Foreword’ to Stuart W. Button, Julian Bream: The Foundations of a Musical Career (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1997), xii, 109, 113. Bream did eventually play the guitar in student concerts, however.

5 Ivor Mairants, in BMG, February 1957, 118.

6 BMG, April 1967, 214; Guitar, September 1972, 31.

7 Gramophone, April 1970, 1644.

8 Paul Sparks, ‘Editorial’, Plucked Strings, ed. Sparks, special issue, Early Music, 46/1 (2018), 1.

9 Turnbull, Harvey, The Guitar from the Renaissance to the Present Day (London: Batsford, 1974)Google Scholar; Wade, Graham, The Traditions of the Classical Guitar (London: John Calder, 1980 Google Scholar); Button, The Guitar in England; The Early Romantic Guitar, ed. Christopher Page, special issue, Early Music, 41/4 (2013); and Plucked Strings, ed. Sparks.

10 Button, Bream, Julian; Starling, William, Strings Attached: The Life and Music of John Williams (London: Robson Books, 2012 Google Scholar). Wade, Graham, The Art of Julian Bream (Blaydon-on-Tyne: Ashley Mark, 2008 Google Scholar), provides a detailed record of Bream’s performances, recordings and editions.

11 The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, ed. Victor Anand Coelho (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Kevin Dawe, The New Guitarscape in Critical Theory, Cultural Practice and Musical Performance (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).

12 News Chronicle, 24 December 1956.

13 Button, The Guitar in England, 2–123; Andrew Britton, ‘The Guitar and the Bristol School of Artists’, The Early Romantic Guitar, ed. Page, 585–94. On the possibility of a wider class base, see Christopher Page, ‘Being a Guitarist in Late Georgian England’, Plucked Strings, ed. Sparks, 3–16 (pp. 6, 12–13).

14 Ehrlich, Cyril, The Piano: A History (London: Dent, 1976), 1718 Google Scholar, 92–3; Page, ‘Being a Guitarist in Late Georgian England’, 15.

15 The Stage, 7 July 1882 and 29 June 1883; Button, The Guitar in England, 140–87; Paul Sparks, The Classical Mandolin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), esp. pp. 44–8, 87–98, 157–61; Sparks, ‘Clara Ross, Mabel Dowling and Ladies’ Guitar and Mandolin Bands in Late Victorian Britain’, The Early Romantic Guitar, ed. Page, 621–32.

16 Sparks, ‘Clara Ross, Mabel Dowling and Ladies’ Guitar and Mandolin Bands’, 629.

17 The Scotsman, 8 December 1926; Graham Wade and Gerald Garno, A New Look at Segovia (Pacific, MI: Mel Bay Publications, 1997).

18 Button, Julian Bream, 13.

19 Roy Brewer, The Guitarist’s Notebook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 97.

20 Daily Mirror, 8 April 1957. Most guitars were imported, but the instrument was never listed separately in relevant Board of Trade documentation. Total imports under the heading ‘wind and string’, presumably its ascribed category, rose from 44,000 in 1954 to 300,000 in 1958, an almost sevenfold increase, with an especially steep rise from 123,000 to 264,000 between 1956 and 1957. It is impossible to know how many guitars might have been included here, but the data does at least provide a possible indication of sales patterns. Annual Statement of the Trade of the United Kingdom with Commonwealth Countries and Foreign Countries (London: HMSO, 1960), vol. 2, schedule D.23, 436.

21 Bragg, Billy, Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World (London: Faber & Faber, 2017 Google Scholar), 303; Daily Mirror, 8 April 1957.

22 Ed Lee, ‘Bringing the Guitar into your School’, Pop, Rock and Ethnic Music in School, ed. Graham Vulliamy and Ed Lee (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 91–101 (p. 91).

23 The visit to the 1950 Edinburgh Festival by Rosario y Antonio (Florence Pérez Padilla and Antonio Ruiz Soler) was a defining moment. Daily Mirror, 8 April 1957.

24 BMG, September 1956, 302. Sensier, one half of the influential duo Dorita y Pepe, was a central figure in introducing yet another specialism, that of Latin American guitar, into the contemporary musical environment. Guitar, April 1973, 20–3, and November 1977, 2; Maurice J. Summerfield, The Classical Guitar: Its Evolution, Players and Personalities since 1800 (Blaydon-on-Tyne: Ashley Mark, 1996), 218; Michael Brocken, The British Folk Revival, 1944–2002 (London: Routledge, 2003).

25 James Bone, Philip, The Guitar and Mandolin: Biographies of Celebrated Players and Composers for these Instruments (London: Schott, 1954), 181 Google Scholar.

26 Gavall was born Guy William Hugh Walters and known to friends as Hugh Walters. Classical Guitar, February 1990, 22–5; Summerfield, The Classical Guitar, 349; interview between the present author and Gordon Crosskey, 25 January 2019 (partial transcript available from the present author). In 1952, Gavall compiled what his publisher claimed to be the first collection of songs with guitar accompaniment to appear in Britain for half a century. BMG, March 1952, 142; August 1952, 262; December 1952, 52 and 84. For Hayes, see Gramophone, July 1952, 43, and April 1954, 449; and Bone, The Guitar and Mandolin, 165–6. For Kingsley, see Guitar News, June–July 1953, 1–3; and Bone, The Guitar and Mandolin, 187.

27 Freund Schwarz, Roberta, How Britain Got the Blues: The Transmission and Reception of American Blues Styles (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 35 Google Scholar–9.

28 BMG, May 1951, 174.

29 Summerfield, The Classical Guitar, 228.

30 Turnbull, The Guitar from the Renaissance to the Present Day, 79. Essex was advertising light and heavy gauge sets for around 15s. (75p) in BMG.

31 Bream did not release a guitar album until 1956. Williams’s recording début came in 1958.

32 For Appleby, see Button, Julian Bream, 64–5, 133–9. In the early 1950s, Duarte remained essentially a plectrum guitarist, but he was to become one of the most influential figures in the classical guitar world not merely in Britain but also internationally. Graham Wade, ‘Jack W. Duarte: Composer and Writer’, Manchester Sounds, 3 (2003), 119–37; The Guardian, 31 January 2005. For Sensier, see note 24 above. For Usher, see BMG, June 1969, 289, and August 1969, 370; and Summerfield, The Classical Guitar, 243.

33 BMG, August 1969, 370.

34 Usher originally arranged these pieces for plectrum guitar, but on publishing some of them in BMG added the important rider that he and Duarte often played them fingerstyle. BMG, October 1943, 19; July 1943, 196–7; April 1952, 181; April 1953, 171.

35 BMG, May 1951, 165 and 174; Button, Julian Bream, 133–9.

36 BMG, April 1959, 185. Following a reorganization in 1954 effectively ceding control to Len Williams, the PSG kept its title only out of deference to Perott and it was changed soon after his death. Classical Guitar, June 1990, 55.

37 BMG, June 1952, 232; July 1952, 257; and March 1954, 142; Button, Julian Bream, 36–9, 109.

38 Duarte provided a highly critical perspective in Classical Guitar, February 1990, 54–5.

39 Guitar News, August–September 1951, 6; December 1954–January 1955, 7; June–July 1955, 17.

40 Starling, Strings Attached, 10–12.

41 BMG, June 1952, 234, and September 1952, 285; The Guardian, 2 December 2011; Starling, Strings Attached, 69–79.

42 Williams had been born in Australia to a mother of Australian-Chinese heritage, but although his Australian nationality was unquestioned, he was happily granted an honorary British identity.

43 Dupré swiftly moved to the lute and viol.

44 Button, Julian Bream, 16–22, 38–40, 92, 99. For informative obituaries for Bream see, for example, The Times, 15 August 2020; <https://www.theguardian.com/global/2020/aug/14/julian-bream-obituary>; and <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/julian-bream-dead-classical-guitarist-a9671946.html>.

45 BMG, May 1955, 193; Starling, Strings Attached, 87, 113.

46 Guitar News, June–July 1954, 5. BMG, May 1954, 191; interview between the present author and Crosskey, 25 January 2019. Students saw him privately rather than at the RCM.

47 Guitar News, August–September 1954, 17, and July–August 1958, 6–7; Starling, Strings Attached, 140; Quine obituary, Daily Telegraph, 18 January 2015.

48 Michael Stimpson, ‘The Guitar in English Musical Education’, British Journal of Music Education, 2/1 (1985), 51–68 (p. 53).

49 BMG, March 1964, 206, and August 1971, 372 and 377. All have biographies in Summerfield, The Classical Guitar.

50 BMG, March 1971, 190–1.

51 Arthur Marwick, British Social History since 1945, 3rd edn (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996), 114.

52 BMG, September 1965, 415; December 1963, 66–7; January 1964, 141. Multiplication by 20 would give an approximate contemporary cost for all items discussed here.

53 Albert Percy Sharpe, Make your Own Spanish Guitar (London: Clifford Essex Music, 1957). Guitar News, January–February 1967, 11; BMG, December 1970, 108. Guitars were sometimes made in school carpentry lessons for later class use. John Gavall, ‘The Guitar: An Evaluation’, Musical Times, 95/1341 (November 1954), 596–7.

54 All prices derived from Halifax Evening Courier, May 1965.

55 Chris Cook and John Stevenson, The Longman Companion to British History, 3rd edn (Harlow: Penguin, 1996), 121.

56 BMG, August 1963, 354.

57 Guitar News, December 1954–January 1955, 14; The Observer, 11 July 1965.

58 Margaret Campbell, ‘Everybody’s Instrument’, The Times Educational Supplement, 24 May 1968, 1741.

59 Albert Percy Sharpe, The Story of the Spanish Guitar (London: Clifford Essex Music, 1954).

60 Back-page advertisements in BMG, September 1957, May 1962 and November 1963.

61 All figures based on September editions.

62 For classes in private schools, including Cheltenham Ladies College and Dartington Hall, see Guitar News, December 1954–January 1955, 17.

63 Gavall, ‘The Guitar’, 596–7; Classical Guitar, February 1990, 22–5. For his early work at the George Salter Secondary Modern, West Bromwich, see Radio Times, 8 July 1955, 7.

64 See, for example, BMG, March 1966, 199, for Southampton; and Guitar News, March 1968, 32–3, for Redbridge, Essex.

65 Lowe, John, Adult Education in England and Wales: A Critical Survey (London: Michael Joseph, 1970), 53–8Google Scholar. Overall provision grew by 50% from 1956 to 1966, with 1.4 million students attending Local Education Authority classes by the latter date. On music classes, see Adult Education in 1961: The Yearbook of the National Institute of Adult Education (London: National Institute of Adult Education, 1961), 6, and John Hursey, ‘Music’, Adult Education and the Arts, ed. David J. Jones and Alan F. Chadwick (Nottingham: Nottingham University Department of Adult Education, 1981), 24–31.

66 Making Music, spring 1964, 10–11; Campbell, ‘Everybody’s Instrument’.

67 Floodlight, 1967–8, 62.

68 Guitar News, June–August 1968, 10–11.

69 Floodlight, 1969; BMG, January 1970, 124.

70 BMG, November 1969, 46–7; December 1969, 107–8; and January 1970, 124; Making Music, spring 1975, 4. See also Lee, ‘Bringing the Guitar into your School’, 94–5.

71 BMG, December 1969, 107.

72 For Perott, see Summerfield, The Classical Guitar, 181; for Appleby, see Button, Julian Bream, 35; for Usher, see Starling, Strings Attached, 14, and BMG, February 1961, 150; for Duarte, see The Guardian, obituary, 31 January 2005; for Dupré, see Wade, Julian Bream, 15; for Spencer, see Summerfield, The Classical Guitar, 228.

73 Summerfield, The Classical Guitar, 349; Button, Julian Bream, 16; Daily Telegraph, 18 January 2015.

74 News Chronicle, 24 December 1956.

75 Daily Mirror, 8 April 1957; see Chesnakov’s obituary in The Stage, 9 February 1984.

76 Interview between the present author and Crosskey, 25 January 2019; see also Andrews’s obituary in The Independent, 4 August 2010; and for Harland, see <https://history.rcplondon.ac.uk/inspiring-physicians/philip-sydney-erasmus-gregory-harland> (accessed 28 January 2019).

77 Campbell, ‘Everybody’s Instrument’.

78 Summerfield, The Classical Guitar, 362; Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 January 1970.

80 The London region societies were located in Hampstead, Hendon, Nonsuch Park, Purley and Wood Green.

81 Liverpool Echo, 27 October 1968 and 15 November 1968; <http://liverpoolguitar.org/> (accessed 22 January 2019).

82 BMG, January 1964, 113.

83 For the social structure of adult education classes, see Lowe, Adult Education, 241–3, and E. M. Hutchinson, ‘Adult Education: Sale or Service?’, Adult Education: The Year Book of the National Institute of Adult Education (England and Wales), 1970–1, 2–11 (p. 7). There is some evidence that music classes had one of the lowest rates of working-class participation, although many of these will have been history and appreciation rather than practical sessions. See Lowe, Adult Education, 252; BMG, March 1974, 25; and interview between the present author and Crosskey, 25 January 2019.

84 Erik Strenstadvold, ‘“We Hate the Guitar”: Prejudice and Polemic in the Music Press in Early Nineteenth-Century Europe’, The Early Romantic Guitar, ed. Page, Early Music, 595–604. For the ‘lady guitarist’ in graphic art, see Frederick V. Grunfeld, The Art and Times of the Guitar (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1969), 215. For the career of Eliza Chichester (1798–1859), see also Sarah Clarke, ‘An Early Victorian Amateur Guitarist’, Early Music, 47 (2019), 99–111.

85 Guitar News, November–December 1968, 7; Button, Julian Bream, plate 14 (between pp. 108 and 109).

86 Campbell, ‘Everybody’s Instrument’; Guitar News, June–August 1968, 10–11.

87 There were just 15 candidates in total in 1966, and 75 in 1971.

88 Guitar, January 1973, 16.

89 See, for example, BMG, March 1962, 174–5. For the early career of Cheryl Grice (b. 1953), see BMG, March 1974, 3.

90 The Stage, 22 March 1894, 26 April 1894 and 7 June 1900.

91 Starling, Strings Attached, 81–2. Information derived from reviews in BMG, January 1961 to January 1962, and in Guitar News, January–February 1960, 26; September–October 1967, 37; and March–May 1969, 20.

92 Guitar News, October–December 1959, 15; January–February 1960, 9.

93 Classical Guitar, January 1990, 55–7.

94 Russell, Dave, ‘Key Workers: Toward an Occupational History of the Private Music Teacher in England and Wales, c.1861–c.1921’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 47 (2016), 145–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar (pp. 150–1).

95 Guitar, January 1973, 16.

96 Bayton, Mavis, ‘Women and the Electric Guitar’, Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Sheila Whiteley (London: Routledge, 1997), 3749 Google Scholar (p. 39).

97 Button, Julian Bream, 35; BMG, December 1969, 107; ibid., September 1961, 371.

98 The Observer, 11 July 1965.

99 The Times, 29 June 1959, reviewing Segovia at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

100 The Times, 1 October 1956 and 30 September 1957; Guitar News, January–February 1967, 21; Liverpool Echo, 21 October 1967.

101 BMG, September 1971, 119–20; December 1970, 119.

102 The Bristol centre employed seven teachers by 1965. BMG, February 1965, 157–8.

103 Data abstracted from listings of diplomas awarded, BMG, January–December 1971.

104 On self-tuition, see Brewer, The Guitarist’s Notebook, 54–5.

105 For details of Wade’s pioneering work, see BMG, March 1971, 190–1.

106 Wade, The Traditions of the Classical Guitar, xii.

107 Dawe, The New Guitarscape, 21–2.

108 Brewer, The Guitarist’s Notebook, 7.

109 Gramophone, August 1961, 107.

110 Haskell, Harry, The Early Music Revival: A History (London: Thames & Hudson, 1988), 122–3, 164 Google Scholar; David Tannenbaum, ‘Perspectives on the Classical Guitar in the Twentieth Century’, The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, ed. Coelho, 182–206 (p. 192).

111 BMG, July 1962, 301 and 326.

112 Andrew Crisell, An Introductory History of British Broadcasting (London: Routledge, 1997), 142.

113 Manchester Guardian, 23 November 1963; Radio Times, 6 February 1964. He also performed on the show.

114 Daily Mirror, 21 October 1968.

115 The Times, 29 June 1959.

116 The People, 3 June 1962.

117 Reading Evening Post, 29 March 1966.

118 Byrd helped to popularize the ‘classical’ sound in Britain through his introduction of jazz on the Spanish guitar. His bossa nova Desafinado, recorded with the saxophonist Stan Getz, reached no. 11 in the British pop charts in 1962.

119 Liverpool Echo, 15 November 1963 and 23 December 1963.

120 The Guardian, 26 November 1963. Secondary modern pupils had failed the selective 11+ examination and were deemed less ‘academic’.

121 Coventry Evening Telegraph, 8 July 1965.

122 Coventry Standard, 10 August 1967; Acton Gazette, 15 June 1967.

123 Interview between the present author and Crosskey, 25 January 2019; The Stage, 27 April 1967, 28 September 1967, 4 April 1968 and 18 April 1968.

124 BMG, March 1966, 196.

125 Richard Dyer, Stars (London: BFI, 1998), 39–53.

126 Liverpool Echo, 15 November 1963.

127 News Chronicle, 24 December 1956; Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 9 September 1962.

128 The Times, 21 March 1963.

129 BMG, April 1962, 207; V. Boté Gomez and M. Thea Sinclair, ‘Tourism Demand and Supply in Spain’, Tourism in Spain: Critical Issues, ed. M. Barke, J. Towner and M. T. Newton (Wallingford: CAB International, 1996), 68–9. On the guitar and Spanish heritage, see Dawe, The New Guitarscape, 164–7.

130 Coventry Evening Telegraph, 6 February 1961.

131 Birmingham Daily Post, 23 July 1966.

132 Frank Mort, Capital Affairs: London and the Making of the Permissive Society (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 197, 222.

133 BMG, January 1964, 181.

134 BMG, March 1966, ‘Coming Events’.

135 BMG, July 1959, 256; Starling, Strings Attached, 96–7, 133, 331–41.

136 Carter, Ian, British Railway Enthusiasm (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008 Google Scholar), is a masterly guide to such worlds. For DIY, see Harrison, Brian, Seeking a Role: The United Kingdom, 1951–70 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009), 384–5Google Scholar.

137 Clare Langhamer, ‘The Meaning of Home in Postwar Britain’, Journal of Contemporary History, 40 (2005), 341–621; Carter, British Railway Enthusiasm, 203–5.

138 Guitar News, August–September 1954, 14 and 55; September–October 1969, 25.

139 Guitar News, October–November 1953, 6–7.

140 Classical Guitar, February 1990, 55.

141 BMG, June 1951, 192; Guitar Review, February 1961, 22.

142 Tannenbaum, ‘Perspectives on the Classical Guitar’, 198.

143 BMG, November 1952, 45; November 1957, 43.

144 BMG, July 1961, 324.

145 Christopher Page, ‘Editorial’, The Early Romantic Guitar, ed. Page, 555–6 (p. 555).

146 The Tatler, 4 July 1962. For the history of the repertoire, see Wade, The Traditions of the Classical Guitar.

147 Manchester Guardian, 14 September 1955.

148 The Times, 1 April 1975.

149 Gramophone, February 1964, 85; The Times, 15 January 1974 and 29 March 1977.

150 Gramophone, January 1971, 1191.

151 Wade, The Traditions of the Classical Guitar, 8.

152 The Guardian, 29 April 1969.

153 Manchester Guardian, 21 November 1956.

154 BMG, April 1971, 223.

155 BMG, August 1963, 354.

156 Making Music, spring 1975, 5.

157 Guitar, January 1973, 17.

158 Making Music, spring 1975, 5.

159 Christopher le Fleming, ‘Music Making’, Rewley House Papers, 4/11 (1963–4), 20–5 (p. 20).

160 Finnegan, Ruth, The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)Google Scholar remains the seminal work on amateur music; see also Dave Russell, Popular Music in England, 1840–1914: A Social History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 276–7.

161 Jackson, Brian, Working Class Community (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1972), 22 Google Scholar. See also Herbert, Trevor, ‘Nineteenth-Century Bands: Making a Movement’, The British Brass Band, ed. Herbert (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1067 Google Scholar.

162 Guitar News, November–December 1969, 20.

163 Stimpson, ‘The Guitar in English Musical Education’, 55. For Trinity College’s grade examinations, see Guitar News, January–February 1968, 24–5, and BMG, February 1975, 1.

164 BMG, September 1961, 371.

165 John Duarte, ‘The Private Teacher’, The Guitar: A Guide for Students and Teachers, ed. Michael Stimpson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 16–25 (p. 17).

166 BMG, January 1964, 123.

167 Floodlight, 1974–5, 7.

168 Classical Guitar, July 1990, 4.

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