A Tribute to Teddy Gray

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 30 January 2009

A TRIBUTE TO EDWARD ‘TEDDY’ GRAY

A GREAT CORNET PLAYER. by James Charles.
 
Teddy Gray died on the 18th January 2009 aged 82. Teddy had suffered with emphysema for a number of years. I wrote the below dedication last year for the Fodens Winter edition of ‘Fodens Fanfare’ (a magazine for Patrons of Fodens Band)
 
Now it is to the memory of this great musician.
 
“You would have made a wonderful pianist.” Strange opening line for this tribute. Those words were spoken by Sir Malcolm Sargent complementing Teddy Gray during a recording session in 1965. We were making a Men of Brass record of Sir Malcolm’s six Brass Band arrangements including a Chopin prelude for piano called ‘Raindrop’. It was the way Ted played and articulated this that drew those words from this great conductor.
 
Ted was a complete natural musician with many attributes. As a conductor he could achieve what he wanted from a band without ever raising his voice. His score reading was exceptional, always finding the right tempo to bring the most out of the music. Due to having a heavy commitment with Fodens he concentrated mainly on lower section bands, although he did take Greenway Moor Band from the second to the championship section. In the mid 60’s they seemed to win every contest they competed in, regional finals, Buxton, Nottingham, the Grand shield and others, a very successful period for both Greenway and Ted.  I would like, in a later edition, to expand on this and also the Royal Doulton Band which also progressed to the Championship section under his guidance.
 
In this winter ‘Fanfare’ I would like to concentrate on Ted as a cornet player.
 
I consider Ted as one of the all time greats. He had a sound as clear as a perfectly forged bell, quality throughout the whole range of the instrument, flawless technique and nothing however difficult seemed to bother him. A great leader with tremendous stamina, one who could always stay the distance, a true musician of excellence. Teddy was to the cornet as Denis Brain was to the horn.
 
Teddy was born in Aspull near Wigan on the 16th of January 1927 into a musical family. His elder brother Harry (who was also a competent cornet player) later played second man at the Munn and Feltons Band. Both brothers were taught by their father, Ted’s namesake, Edward Gray senior, also a cornet player. I only met Mr Gray once when he came down to a Fodens rehearsal in the early 1960’s. Ted senior and Ted junior looked like two peas in a pod, the resemblance was striking. Mr Gray would have realised the potential of his boys at a very early stage and being an accomplished cornetist himself their destiny was decided. I know from Alan Littlemores book (on the history of Fodens) that in 1934 they played ‘Ida and Dot’, a cornet duet on BBC radio’s ‘Children’s Hour’ for Auntie Doris Gamble, Ted was seven years old, an early age to make one’s debut on the wireless. He joined Hindley Band when he was eight and stayed there for four years before joining Wingate’s aged 12 and played in their 1939 British Open win. The year after this he joined Bickershaw Colliery Band and with them won the 1940 British Open. Two wins in the biggest banding contest aged 13, quite an achievement. In 1944 Ted was called up to serve with the Lancashire Fusiliers and for the next four years was away from banding. However, he was not forgotten and in 1948 after being demobbed was offered a position in Fodens Band. Fred Mortimer, I think, had had him marked for this for a while and when Bram Gay was conscripted Ted took the end seat. Teddy was also principle cornet with the ‘Men o’ Brass’ and the ‘All Star Band,’ both formed by Harry Mortimer. Ted went on to be the Principal cornet at Fodens for twenty-three years (I think this could be a record even exceeding that of the legendary Harry Mortimer) I do know that Ted was at the top of his game for the entire 23 years as well as leading the Foden (A) quartet to many victories.
 
I joined Fodens in the Winter of 1960 aged 16  (Ted had been solo cornet for 12 years and was in his prime.) I sat 5th man down and the way he welcomed me(as though he had known me for years) is something I will never forget. We played ‘Downland Suite’ by John Ireland, a great piece of music. A short way into the first movement the mood changes, the cornet has a short phrase of three dotted crotchets and one quaver, after a short interruption by the band, the cornet has an answering phrase of two dotted crotchets and four quavers, these are two simple phrases, both within the stave, most cornet players would play them with ease, the way Ted played and shaped them so impressed me. I remember thinking I am never going to hear a better cornet player, and to this day, some 48 years later, I am still of the same opinion.
 
In Ted’s prime, great cornet players were ‘ten a penny’, they are not anymore. To name a few that I have known and played in the same ensemble as are Norman Ashcroft, Derek Garside, James Scott, James Shepard, John Berryman and Maurice Murphy. All of these players, if they were in their prime, would occupy the end seats in the top six Bands today. I am not taking anything away from today’s cornet players, our own Mark Wilkinson has held the top seat at Fodens for 17 years and has been as solid as a rock. I know Ted had a very high opinion of him.
 
I suppose reading this I have painted a faultless picture of Ted and that is how it seemed to me. However, if he did have a fault it was that he never wanted the limelight, he never pushed himself, he really should have made solo album after solo album, but he didn’t, well that’s Ted. He was always unselfish in a musical way, if you sat next to him as I did and wanted your chance you would get it, and a lesson at the same time, just sitting next to him instantly made you a better player, amazing. I remember at a massed Band concert in Huddersfield town hall, bandsmen were sorting their seatings when a solo cornet player from a top band took the end seat, Ted sat about 5th man down, Walter Hargreaves took the stand, looking down the lines and said, ‘Where is Teddy?’ when he caught Ted’s eye he pointed to the end seat.
 
Over the years Ted’s health had deteriorated and he had trouble with his breathing, that for me was sad for one who had such wonderful breath control, however his persona was magical, people loved to be with him, I number myself amongst them. He was like a magnet, and when I used to see him he still had that mischievous smile that used to come out when we played cards, that’s another story!
 
Out of my 57 years in music and a 48 year association with Fodens Band my greatest musical experience was to sit next to Teddy Gray, stand up and play duets with him after his solo spot, sit next to him on concerts and contests. Recently Richard Poole, Fodens 2nd man down put onto a disc an old live performance of Ted and myself playing a duet on ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ in October 1966. Also on this disc is Ted playing ‘Polka Brillianti’, a solo written for him by Frank Hughes, this again was live from a BBC broadcast, and believe me it’s really worth listening to.I hope in the future to put more recordings of solos played by Ted on to CDs where they can be preserved and listened to, they are really special.
He was a Bandsman through and through and only played with orchestras occasionally, although I am sure he would have made a brilliant trumpet player. When he played the solo opening fanfare ‘Jousts’ from the suite ‘Pageantry’ by Herbert Howells, he changed from a cornet sound to that of a trumpet, cold and gripping, giving a brilliant opening to this final movement.  
 
If I could have been a great cornet player instead of just a 2nd man, I would have chosen to play like Teddy.
 
It has been a great honour for me to write this tribute to Edward Gray, as it was to have been one of his many friends. Ted, for me you stand alone, thanks for everything.
 
Jimmie.
Foden's band maintains a world class reputation for providing entertainment in the field of brass music with a tradition and unique style Mark Wilkinson