27 May

Ernest Tomlinson

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Long regarded as one of the leading figures in the field of light music, Ernest Tomlinson was born at Rawtenstall, Lancashire on September 19, 1924 into a musical family. He started composing when he was only nine, at about the same time that he became a choirboy at Manchester Cathedral, where he was eventually to be appointed Head Boy in 1939. Here, and at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School his musical talents were carefully nurtured, and he was only 16 when he won a scholarship to Manchester University and the Royal Manchester (now Northern) College of Music. He spent the next two years studying composition, organ, piano and clarinet until, in 1943, the war effort demanded that he leave and join the Royal Air Force. Defective colour-vision precluded his being selected for aircrew and the new recruit, having his request to become a service musician turned down on the grounds that he was too healthy to follow such a career, found himself being trained as a Wireless Mechanic, notwithstanding that many of the components he was required to work with were colour-coded! (The future composer, however, was duly delighted with his assignment, which he thoroughly enjoyed and which almost certainly contributed to a later interest in electronic music). He saw service in France during 1944 and 1945, eventually returning to England where, with the cessation of hostilities, he was able to resume his studies. He finally graduated in 1947, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Music for composition as well as being made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and an Associate of the Royal Manchester College of Music for his prowess on the King of Instruments.


Ernest Tomlinson then left the North of England and headed south to London where, for several years, he worked as a staff arranger for Arcadia and Mills Music Publishers, providing scores for radio and television broadcasts as well as for the stage and recording studios. He maintained his interest in the organ by taking up a post at a Mayfair church, but increasingly, composing came to play the dominant role. He had his first piece broadcast in 1949 and by 1955, when he was able to earn his living entirely by composing, he was to be heard on the radio with his own Ernest Tomlinson Light Orchestra and later, with his group of singers. While not neglecting the larger-scale forms, including several works in symphonic-jazz style, the first of which, Sinfonia '62, won the million-lire First Prize in the Italian competition for "Rhythmic-Symphonic" works, three concertos, a one-act opera Head of the Family, a ballet Aladdin, Festival of Song for chorus and orchestra as well as a substantial and varied body of works for choir and music for brass and wind bands, it was as a writer of light orchestral pieces that he was to become best-known. In this area, he has produced a considerable number of works ranging from overtures, suites and rhapsodies to delightful miniatures, of which Little Serenade is probably the most popular.

From the time that he first directed a church choir when he was just 17, Ernest Tomlinson has been active as a conductor, firmly believing that involvement in performance is vitally important for a composer. From 1951 to 1953, he was musical director of the Chingford Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society in Essex. In 1976, he took over the directorship of the Rossendale Male Voice Choir from his father, Fred, a post he held for five years, during which time he led the singers to victory in their class in each of the three years of BBC Television's Grand Sing Competition. Not long afterwards, in association with the Rossendale Ladies Choir and its conductor Beatrice Wade, he helped form the Rossendale Festival Choir which quickly went on to win a number of competitions. Then, at the official retiring age of 65, he founded yet another new group, the Ribble Vale Choir, with which he is still actively involved.

In the orchestral field, he has often conducted performances of his own works, one of the most notable occasions being in 1966 when he was on the rostrum in the Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow for his Symphony '65, played by the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra and Big Band - the first time a symphonic jazz work had been heard in Russia. In his home country, he was responsible for the founding of the Northern Concert Orchestra, with whom he gave numerous broadcasts and concerts, the emphasis being on the light orchestral repertoire.

A man of boundless energy, Ernest Tomlinson has also found time to serve for several years on the Executive Committee of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain and was its Chairman in 1964. In addition, he has been a composer-director of the Performing Rights Society since 1965. In 1984, he founded The Library of Light Orchestral Music, which is housed in a huge barn at his farmhouse home near Longridge, Lancashire, and currently contains around 30,000 pieces, including many items that would otherwise have been lost. And finally, his wartime training has been put to excellent use in his ability to utilise technological developments within the musical sphere, be it by realising scores electronically or by perfecting computer publishing and cataloguing systems.

Much respected by fellow professionals in the musical world, as witness his receipt of the Composers' Guild Award in 1965 and two Ivor Novello Awards (one for his full-length ballet Aladdin in 1975, the other for services to light music in 1970), Ernest Tomlinson's services have been called upon in other areas as well. A keen sportsman, he played wing-threequarters for the prestigious Saracens Rugby Union Club and then for Chingford in Essex. For many years he could be found padded up and ready to do battle on behalf of Eynsford village cricket team in Kent and, later, his home town of Longridge in Lancashire. He still enjoys an early morning cycle ride, while for relaxation (!) he lists do-it-yourself, electronics and, last but by absolutely no means least, the joys of family life - of which, with a wife, four children and eight grandchildren, there are many. This, then, is Ernest Tomlinson: composer, conductor, organist, administrator, librarian - and consultant for Marco Polo's British Light Orchestral Music series.

Ernest Tomlinson
Ernest Tomlinson
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  • Andrew Griffiths posted by Andrew Griffiths Thursday, 25 June 2015 17:51

    So sad to hear of the death of Ernest Tomlinson - my light music hero. I've always placed him second behind Eric Coates. I first became aware of his delightful music when "Dick's Maggot" from his first set of English Country dances was used as the intro music to Steve Race's "Invitation to Music" on the old Home Service (later Radio 4) in the 1960s.

    I was delighted when the CDs of his music were issued in the 90s and I quickly bought them all.

    I'm now going to listen to my recording of Brian Kay's interview with him on the late lamented "Brian Kay's Light Programme". I'm happy to make this available to anyone who'd like it.

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.

John Barry Plays 007 - new book


The stories and artwork behind the music of every James Bond film scored by John Barry alongside 300+ colour images, Oct 27, 2022, English
    By Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker || Cover design and artwork by: Ruud Rozemeijer.