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My great-grandfather on my mother's side was Henry Andrews, born in 1832, who began life as a journalist and ended up as a non-conformist preacher, pastor of the Quay Congregational Church in Woodbridge, Suffolk from 1870 to 1887. His wife Harriet Augusta (nee Thurston) was musical and played the organ. Their second daughter, born in 1866, the high-spirited Leisa Lovely, was my grandmother, and she inherited the musical gene, singing and playing violin and piano.
She married Leader, son of Funston Benson, the owner of a family firm puryeying high-class leather goods at establishments around London. Leeder ran one at 70 Upper Street, Islington, the large silver BENSON sign remaining until late in the twentieth century. He was a gentle soul who played the flute, a talent passed on to his son Alec. Alec's two older sisters, Gladys and Dolly, played the piano a little, but real talent was inherited by my mother, their younger sister Grace, both as pianist and violinist. Unfortunately, where her mother abounded in self-confidence, Grace was timid and self-deprecating. In early 1914 at the age of 17 she was invited to join the prestigious Queen's Hall Orchestra as a violinist, but was too shy to accept. With the outbreak of war the boys whom she had grown up with were prime officer material and eager to join up. Most left for the trenches and didn't return.
At fifty Leader died of a heart attack whilst cranking a car by the Hugh Middleton statue at Islington Green and my unpredictable grandmother sold the business, acquired a new husband and went to live in the South of France. Grace was left to fend for herself and the disintegration of her home was a loss and shock. She would recall her early life in Islington with deep affection: the Agricultural Hall where she could hear lions roaring when the circus came; Collins Music Hall echoing with the sound of laughter and applause; The Biograph on the corner showing silent films with piano; walking in column to Union Chapel on Sundays, her father in a silk top hat arm in arm with her mother, the four children marching behind, a maid and errand-boy bringing up the rear.
Her cousin Dora Rowse was a pianist and music teacher whose husband played the organ at the Alexandra Palace: her cousin Mary was an actress in the Frank Benson Shakespeare Company, once playing Celia to Tallulah Bankhead's Rosalind. She married Jack Bligh, a film stunt-man and friend of Charlie Chaplin. She wrote novels and, when they moved to South Africa in the Thirties, founded a theatre company in Johannesburg and broadcast talks on radio. Her cousin Ivan Andrews in Muswell Hill gained a PhD at 22 and pioneered diesel technology. He also had the musical gene, playing excellent Bach on the piano and visiting Bruges to play the carillon for his holidays.
Grace got a civil service job in the Accountant General's office of the GPO where she was befriended by office superintendent Constance White and her sister Elsie, committed members of the Plymouth Brethren. She took lodgings near them in Ealing, went to meetings and became immersed in this very narrow religion. Constance and Elsie loved 'little Gracie' and they took her everywhere with them. The shock of her family's sudden disintegration and the behaviour of her mother no doubt assisted her descent into this change of belief pattern. She had lost her family but found another with the Brethren.
Plymouth Brethren hold the strictest of puritanical outlooks; one should only pursue that which is 'profitable in the sight of God'; one's 'yea' should be 'yea' and one's 'nay' should be 'nay'; to lie to anyone is to lie to God and He will punish you. They don't believe in unprofitable pastimes like the cinema, or romantic novels, or the theatre, or dancing, or love songs or the playing of music - unless it is the simplest of hymns, sung purely to the glory of God, hymns sentimental and (to my mind) vulgar, such as those of Sankey. For my mother to have to play and sing this sort of material after an upbringing in classical music must have been hard, but she took it, and by the time she was introduced to a devout young Brethren preacher, she seemed to have lost any rational defence system that might have given her second thoughts.
Horace also worked in the Post Office and also attended the White sisters meetings, often preaching. He met Grace there and also had lodgings in Ealing, waiting at the underground station to travel in to work with her and one day proposing on the platform at Ealing Broadway. He explained that he had ceaselessly prayed for God to give him guidance and God had told him that he should marry her. My mother felt she had no choice. How could she go against God? She didn't love Horace, in fact she didn't much like him, and she thought that her well-spoken family would probably not like him much either.
She was right, and once they'd married her family started to drift away from her. I was never to meet Dora Rowse or her husband who played in the Alexandra Palace. I met her cousin Ivan by chance more than 50 years later, just before he died. His cousin Sybil, who I'd never even heard of, approached me after the premiere of 'Benedictus' in St. Alban's Cathedral and asked if I had a grandmother called Andrews. She was amazed to learn that I was a musician and composer despite my background. My father had to them been 'beyond the pale' and Grace had had to manage without them.
Horace had grown up in Broadstairs, his father devoting his life solely to God by being the leader of a sect of the Brethren, gaining a meagre living by acting as companion to an old Brethren member. Bible reading began at breakfast when after grace each family member must read a passage from the Bible, passed solemnly around. One also had to invent prayers, which I experienced once or twice and found unbearably embarassing. His wife had given him six children whilst also running their home as a boarding-house. A wealthy PB member provided funds to educate the oldest son Harry, who was sent to Simon Langton's in Canterbury, deserted the brethren, studied medicine and became a succesful Harley Street surgeon, later marrying as his second wife Lady Valerie French, daughter of Field Marshall Sir John French, Baron Ypres - quite a social step upwards.
Horace as second son received no assistance and had only four years of school, but he made the most of it, at the end of his life still able to quote the funeral oration from Julius Caesar, adept at multiplication and division, and able to sight-sing or play hymn tunes using the tonic solfa method. At twelve he started working as a telegraph boy earning one farthing per telegram delivered and giving one-third of the proceeds to the family. Like all Brethren he was respectful and hard-working and with the help of evening classes took City and Guild exams and gained a position at the telegraph office where he also learnt the Morse-Code.
On outbreak of war he was conscripted by the army but refused. Summonsed to appear in court he explained to the judge that whilst loyal to King and Country his religion forbade him to kill people under any pretext. The judge asked if he would be prepared to work as a non-combatant in the front line but forfeit the protection of carrying a gun. He agreed and was sent off to Ypres in Belgium as a private in the Sappers, detailed to lay cables at the front line. As shells and bullets whistled around him he continually prayed to God to protect him, which He obviously did, since he emerged from the war without a scratch. However, the period in the front line had not lasted too long because when it was discovered that he was good at the Morse-Code he was moved to the interception of enemy messages and proved invaluable by intercepting them.
After the war he was taken on by the Central Telegraph Office in London. All his spare time was taken up by preaching and Grace was the first woman to whom he proposed. They married in 1927 when they were both thirty, considered quite old to start a family, although it wasn't immediately clear that they wanted to. Horace was monumentally energetic in his work, his self-advancement and his evangelism. They moved to Enfield where a PB member helped them finance the building of a house. Horace commuted to Central London, worked a five and a half day week, took endless evening classes and, in whatever spare time there was, ran an organisation called Brigadier Hall assisted by Grace - a charity organisation for poor London children. They taught them the Bible, fed them tea and buns, organised swimming galas and took them on holidays to Southend and Clacton.
Grace was not permitted to keep her job. She kept house. There was an upright piano used for nothing but Sankey hymns, and a violin locked away because she was forbidden to play it. Her brothers and sisters did sometimes visit but on the whole her life revolved around the Brethren. She was gentle, quiet and very shy and had no idea how to stand up to her husband.
It is possible that I might never have been born at all if it had not been for the interference of my grandmother, then living in Nice. She suggested to a Mademoiselle Peters that she might like to visit London and stay with her daughter and son-in-law in order to learn English. The two women got on famously and my mother followed her suggestion of seeking medical advice. Attention to her Fallopian tubes followed and resulted in the birth of my brother Philip one year later. She was 38 years old.
My father was thrilled with his first-born and innumerable photos show joy in a face ever-previously solemn, while Philip smiles and laughs and chortles with glee, giving no clue to future worries.
I was born in the general hospital in Enfield three years later on October 28th 1938, becoming the third male Scorpio in the house. Quite a few early photos exist of me too, but the happiness on Philip's face has faded. He is a bystander. He had had three years of total individual adulation and attention, and suddenly it had changed. Where Philip took after his father, I took after my mother. The opposing natures of the parents were written large in their sons. Where Philip was clever, rational and serious, I was instinctive, irrational and cheerful. I was adored by my mother, Philip was adored by his father. But he was so much like his father that this caused tremendous tension, Horace seeing his own strengths and failures and, not wishing to be shown them, trying to correct them. I with my mother was never anything but happy and have no memory of ever once falling out with her. She was so musical, so gentle, so humorous.
In the seventies I developed an interest in astrology, and without prompting several astrologers somehow became interested in me and sent unsolicited readings:
'The nerve stress in your life comes from signals received on the sensitive antenna which at your birth was tuned exactly to a frequency known of old to attract musical composition as a gift.' (Samuel H. Weir, 1976)
'Your astrological chart is aligned at 16 degrees between Taurus and Scorpio which spells out musical ability, and is similar to Mozart's. (T. White, 1977)
'The prints of both active and inactive hands reveal a combination of spiritual beauty and physical charm together with a dedication toward spiritual unfoldment. A great number of lines and signs in combination, inherited from the wisdom of your earthly parents, is bestowed on you for a sure and certain reason. The pre-natal influences are so intensely carved and repeated in former existences that you will find it difficult to trust your inner wisdom, as a veil of shyness and oversensitivity covers the inner glory of your spiritual kingdom.'
'Please stick to the possible refinement, improvement and surely try your best in your line of work with ever-increasing zeal and vitality with a detached viewpoint. Realize that it is God who is doing so even though you may be titled in time as the best composer in the world, but let not your ego be influenced by its superficial aspect because whatever we have is just borrowed from our infinite sources. That is why we should try to play our role to the best of our ability, ever seeking His direction and guidance for the sake of sharing the privilege of being useful to mankind.' (Ghan Shyam Singh Birla 1974)
In Palm Springs in 1994 I was introduced to a Mexican woman with psychic gifts, a companion of John Wayne's. She knew nothing about me at all but after a long time in silence said:
'Your whole life has been shadowed, affected and in some ways determined by sibling rivalry'.
How could she know that?