Everything is not what it seems

lancaster bomber

Every so often, well usually approximately every 12 months, I find myself with the urge to find a purveyor of motor cars.  For the last 10 years or so these have always been reasonably fast things made by the Germans.  Whatever you think of our European friends, it seems the Germans do know how make a car.  In fact it was Karl Benz who invented the motor car and therefore approximately a year ago i figured a piece of Germanic metal with a pointy star on the front would be the ideal way of moving around.

The car itself is extremely good and does everything you would expect. It mostly drives itself and has many toys and things to distract you whilst it’s wafting around the place with minimal input from the driver. This is a marvellous thing but less so when it goes wrong.  How can such a thing go wrong I hear you ask? German engineering never fails.  Well no it doesn’t, but you see there’s a problem. Whilst the vehicle was built in a state of the art workshop in Bremen, the ongoing maintenance is undertaken at a more local level. In my case this usually involves an incompetent, spotty youth at the Mercedes dealership in Bath.

When I took delivery of the car from the German engineers in their clean & perfectly organised factory, it all worked perfectly.  This continued to be the case until the service display said the car needed to undergo routine maintenance.   At that point a non German engineer took control of proceedings.  After just a few hours they had broken the navigation system, disabled the auto start stop system, made the panoramic roof rattle and handed me the car back with an array of errors lit up on the dashboard and a grinding sound from the wheels when you drive along.

Needless to say I was a bit cross about this, and many idiots were shouted at! 12 months later and we are now at the point where the UK arm of Mercedes are just standing around shrugging and tutting whilst the Germans are having a panic meeting to find someone who can sign off replacing the car with a nice shiny new one…  In fact at one point things got so bad that I spotted a shiny new Volvo and for a brief moment I actually thought it looked rather nice.  We are probably all resigned to the fact that one day you have to buy a Volvo, don your wellingtons and tweed Jacket and the turn up at the country club with a Labrador. But I’m hoping to delay this until I’m at least 93.

All of which brings me to The Dam busters March by Eric Coates.  This piece of music has, since its composition in 1955, become synonymous with both the film of the same title and the real Operation Chastise.  Despite not actually being written for the film, by a composer who hated film music,  to my mind it is perhaps one of the most rousing pieces of British music ever written and symbolises everything which makes Britain great.  Coates, however, was just trying to emulate the work of Elgar.

The lighter side of Elgar – i.e. his smaller works, his salon pieces, miniature orchestral works and songs have often been disparaged and regarded as being of little consequence; however, the same skill and craftsmanship that went into The Dream Of Gerontius was also invested in Dream Children. They are just two different sides of the same creative artist and, as such, they are equally essential to our overall view of Elgar.

By the same token, the music of Eric Coates was disparaged by musical snobs because it was popular, bright and cheerful, and easy on the ear. What is not always appreciated, is that Eric Coates had a thorough musical training; he was a skilled viola player (ok we can overlook that perhaps!), a first rate conductor, an imaginative orchestrator and an incomparable writer of richly memorable tunes.

In his first week at the Royal Academy of Music, he told his composition tutor that his aim was to write good light music – nothing more. Yet, as Geoffrey Self, his biographer, says: ” It is remarkable how the basic material of his light music differed so little from that of the heavy music of some of his contemporaries: Richard Strauss, Elgar and Bax. (Bax was a fellow student and friend at the R.A.M.) Whereas they used the material for tone poems, oratorios and symphonies, Coates preferred the less loaded suite and phantasy material of his light music differed so little from that of the heavy music of some of his contemporaries: Richard Strauss, Elgar and Bax.

The conclusion I draw from this is that in fact I should probably drive a Volvo!  Whilst they may shunted by car snobs as designed specifically for old people wearing hats, there’s a lot to be said for having something which is fit for purpose. Whilst it may in some ways be trying to emulate its Germanic cousin, the chances are it actually just works.  And let’s face it, that many labradors can’t be wrong.


Jules Addison is a music producer and choirmaster who leads choirs in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire when he is not out on location recording with 4 Part Music