The Kent-born composer, writer and musician Carey Blyton, a nephew of the world-famous writer of children’s books, Enid Blyton, was honoured by his home town of Beckenham on 14th March, his 70th birthday, with a Civic Reception in the presence of the Mayor of Bromley and attended by many of his friends and family. The Mayor even wore the Mayoral Chain of Beckenham, which is now part of the London Borough of Bromley.
Carey Blyton himself was indisposed and unable to attend, but an extended This Is Your Life-type film was made of the occasion with contributions from admirers and colleagues of this dedicated musician, which was then sent to him to watch at his leisure.
Please note that I write “composer, writer and musician” as for many musical listeners there is no tautology here. Not only is Carey Blyton a composer of notable lyric gifts but he is also a fine pianist and a dedicated man of music who has enjoyed a distinguished career in both the essentially creative and the commercial sides of our art. He wrote the book and song Bananas in Pyjamas in 1972 and his many TV scores include the music for three of the Doctor Who episodes.
Curiously, in view of his later life, Carey Blyton showed a marked apathy, even hostility, towards music as a youth. In 1947 he contracted polio severely, the consequences of which changed his life in a dramatic fashion. Since then he has endured his disablement with considerable courage: indeed, his life in many ways shows what can be achieved in the face of fearful odds. However, an enforced two-year convalescence in 1947 led him to the piano, where his innate musicianship, buried beneath his early teenage indifference to it, found its true outlet.
Blyton’s music career began at Mills Music and Faber Music, alongside his work as Professor of Composition at London’s Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in the latter capacity pioneering and specialising in music for film, television and radio, the first such course in these subjects at any British music conservatoire. In some respects Carey’s commercial career took valuable time from a creative life which has been placed at the service of others as much as of his own work. Now, at 70, and despite the onset of post-polio conditions, Carey Blyton can perhaps devote more time to his work as a composer. Before we examine something of his large output of over 100 Opus numbers, even if most of them are relatively short works, an outline of his life is necessary.
Blyton’s burgeoning interest in music soon led to original composition and he was a founder-member of a group of like-minded young artists known as the Beckenham Salon, which flourished between 1950 and 1954 and whose President was Sir Arthur Bliss, the Master of the Queen’s Musick. Public and semi-public concerts mounted by the Salon enabled Blyton to hear almost all of his early works, mainly songs and chamber music, until in 1953 he entered the Trinity College of Music. The following year he won the Granville Bantock Prize for Composition. In 1957 he was awarded a BMus and a Churchill Scholarship to study abroad, at the Copenhagen Conservatoire of Music. Blyton returned to England in 1958 and became an Editor at Mills Music, where he was responsible for overseeing the publication of works by such composers as Richard Rodney Bennett and Roberto Gerhard.
Late in 1964 Carey Blyton joined Faber Music, becoming Benjamin Britten’s personal Editor there, from Curlew River to Owen Wingrave, as well as overseeing the publication of many works by Gustav Holst.
Earlier, I referred to Blyton’s “notable lyric gifts” and a superb new album from Upbeat Classics, URCD 160, entitled Carey Blyton: The Early Songs, gives an excellent introduction to the work of this genuine composer. The 34 songs fall naturally within the English tradition, yet are not traditional in the generally accepted sense of the term, being stylistically more akin to Michael Head, Finzi and Britten. The performances, by Ian and Jennifer Partridge, Stephen Roberts, Beryl Korman, David Campbell and the group Sheherazade, which comprises soprano Verona Chard, flautist Denise Dance and harpist Fiona Clifton-Welker, are admirable and have delighted the composer. The recording quality is first-class and the disc is very strongly recommended.
A more recent CD, URCD 179, of songs with orchestra is due out soon, sung by Ian Partridge with the Britten Sinfonia under Nicholas Cleobury, including Lachrymae—In Memoriam John Dowland and Lyrics from the Chinese, the projected title of the album. On the strength of the currently available disc, this new album, which we hope to review in a future issue, should be well worth the attention of that large number of lovers of genuine English music of the 20th Century, as Blyton’s song-writing gifts are truly exceptional.
Fand Music Press has published the first in its series of Composer Interviews, devoted to Carey Blyton in conversation with Peter Thompson, revealing many of the composer’s views on music and much of interest regarding his long and productive career. For those keen to explore this gifted composer’s work further, this publication is a must. Fand Music has also issued scores of several of the later works, and we look forward to hearing more of Carey Blyton’s music in his birthday year and beyond.