Bill Tamblyn and the American connection

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When I first came to the Institute as a Principal Lecturer in 1974 I had to miss out on my first big function because I had been called away to the USA by the International Committee on Music in the Liturgy ( ICEL). I had won the competition (organised by this group) to create a template for English settings of the Roman Mass to be circulated round the English speaking world. An honour indeed! But more was to follow.

Within a few years, the St Thomas More Group of Catholic Composers (of which I was a founder member) was snapped up by American publishers OCP and after the success of their first 2 albums they were invited to the USA to demonstrate their eclectic styles to an American public brought up on third-rate religious pop.

What I and my fellow composers had to offer was a music steeped in English folk song, the great English choral tradition, and that special blend of Gospel and Blues that the English (from the Stones onward) had made their own. At first the Americans were suspicious that the English had stolen their music. When I appeared at a conference of African Americans they were amazed to find that Jubilee Service (now a staple of the African American scene) was actually by an English guy from Birmingham England!. The acceptance was now complete and from then on my music has mostly been published in the USA.

I have appeared as gospel soloist with audiences from 800 to 1000 on several occasions. I have done music tours of the American West Coast singing and composing in a variety of churches where the folk and gospel styles co-exist happily with the choral tradition (something we don’t find in the UK). A few years ago I had my own concert in Chicago (promoting the music of Tony Barr – an ex-pat Englishman and my own music) which I describe as ‘simply the high point of my career as singer and composer’.

Now it is time to repay the compliment. 

The 4th of July concert at firstsite was an apt time to celebrate American music which, alongside African music has been the staple diet of Quire. It was also  the start of the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of Quire – founded in 2004 – initially as an evening class at Wilson Marriage School and now resident at Lion Walk (for rehearsals) and performing across East Anglia. Quire has three CDs to its credit; a number of BBC recordings on Radio 4, the World Service and a featured slot on Aled Jones programme The Choir on Radio 3; and recently took part in the London Sangerstevne – an international gathering of choirs.