22nd November 1919.

Today The Musical Times recorded the last of the Queen’s Hall Symphonies of the year 1919.(1)

The paper said that ‘Mr Gustave Holst conducted three movements Venus, Mercury and Jupiter from his Planet’s Suite, most of which was first heard at the Philamon Concert early last year….’.



The full work, however had to wait until 1920, when the full glory of the enormous range of instruments would have been heard and seen, and which must have constituted the largest ensemble of percussion in main-stream music.

It required six timpani with two players, drums both base and snare, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, glockenspiel, xylophone, tubular bells, celesta and tam-tam.

It was the tam-tam which the great percussionist James (Jimmy) Blades played for the J. Arthur Rank logo which preceded his films, accompanied by the miming ‘gongman’ (2)

Blades eventually became Professor of Percussion at the Royal School of Music, where one of his students for a time, was the brilliant ‘Phil’ Seamen, the big-band and jazz drummer, who before his demise under a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, was one of the most gifted drummers in the land.

Tam Tam

Tam Tam

However, according to Blades, Phil never completed the course, being unreliable and disorganised and he died early in 1972 at 46, a sad loss, but leaving a legacy of influencing the new generation of jazz and rock drummers of today.(3)

Seamen had played with the greatest which included Nat Gonella, Joe Loss, Jack Parnell and Ronnie Scott, and was so well regarded, he was first choice of percussonist for Leonard Bernstein’s 1958 opening of West-Side Story.

(1) On January 1st 1920.

(2) Bombadier Billy Wells the boxer.

(3) Phillip Seamen born 28.8.1926, in Outwards Street Burton-on-Trent, from where he biked, as a youth, the tow-path of the local canal to work at the local Marston’s Brewery.

The Author remembers seeing him on his last days sitting on Burton Station playing imaginary ‘air’ drums: sad. He died on 13.10.1972.

No doubt the Author’s cousin saxophonist, Les. Dunkerley, who played in the local dance bands, in the great days of ‘swing’ in the 1940’s and 1950’s, would have known Seamen. His ‘guest’ appearances locally certainly excited my older sister.

Ref: Pics: google images/percussion.

Ref: Wikipedia on Blades and Seamen.

Ref: Guardian Obituary, David Corkhill Saturday 29 May 1999. James Blades (9.9.1901-19.5.1999)

Ref: Jstor.org/discover. ‘The Musical Times’.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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