RIP Carl Davis – composer, conductor, enthusiast and inspiring communicator!

Reading the obituaries since Carl’s death was announced last week, we realise how privileged BFC were to perform with him as a small part of his astonishingly varied musical life.

Memories that stand out are those concerts at Leeds Castle with the audience parading in during our afternoon rehearsal with picnics, furniture and copious amounts of alcohol, and Carl’s complete unflappability as the noise levels rose in direct proportion to the amount of refreshments imbibed. They were grand and joyous occasions – and extremely popular: regular favourites included the choral version of the Blue Danube Waltz  which had the audience waltzing away on the hill and of course, the climax of the concert with the 1812 Overture  which we belted out in Russian over the roar of cannons, fireworks and an RAF flypast. The only disappointment as singers was that we never saw the fireworks as they were going off behind us!

Recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios and Watford Town Hall of popular classics, opera choruses, and WWII songs were another highlight and an opportunity to witness Carl’s consummate musicianship and his ability to bring out the best in orchestra and choir alike, without fuss or panic, in very tightly timed recording sessions.

But perhaps the one memory that remains with all of us that were part of it was the UK tour of Last Night of the Poms with Dame Edna and Les Patterson (aka Barry Humphries) where we performed the epic cantata, Song of Australia, the brainchild of Carl and Barry. They were a matchless duo – a scream from beginning to end, a joy to work with and completely indefatigable. The tour included dates in Bournemouth, Birmingham, Brighton and London. Watching Carl conduct the last movement with a gladioli at each performance is an image that will never be forgotten.

Sam Wigglesworth, director of performance music at Faber, Carl’s publisher since 1990, sums up this remarkable musician perfectly: “To spend time with Carl was an energising – often dizzying – joy … Few, if any, composers today can boast such an eclectic life in music, and our world will be a duller place without him”.

We cannot but agree.

Carl Davis CBE (1936-2023) is survived by his wife, the actress Jean Boht, and their daughters, Hannah and Jessie. Our thoughts are with them, and all those who were close to Carl, at this time.

Text: Lucy Brett. Photos courtesy of Carl Davis Collection and Kent Online.