Bob Briggs 1954 – 2011 : Disc and Concert Reviewer for MusicWeb International / Seen and Heard
Bob as his April Fool invention Claude – Denis Autobüsse
The death of Bob Briggs, an important and popular member of Music Web / Seen and Heard’s London reviewing team was announced yesterday. Bob died in hospital where he had been for several months receiving treatment for advanced cancer – which with typical humour, we gather he always referred to as “Kevin”. Bob did not wish to have a funeral and instead donated his body to medical research and training. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues and we understand from his family that a memorial service may be held for him at some time in the future.
Len Mullenger - MusicWeb International’s Founder and Owner writes: “ Bob Briggs was a larger than life character who you never expected would die and whose loss will be irreplaceable. Although he worked for me for several years as a CD reviewer our communications were by phone or e-mail. The first time I met him was a bit of a shock. He was dressed in a large black tent complemented by long flowing locks of black hair and a long beard. He looked exactly like Hagrid! Bob knew everybody in the book and musical world. The way he described it to me I got the impression he worked from the depth of a railway arch selling old books. As a reviewer he had two great virtues – an encyclopaedic knowledge and a very enquiring mind. He would have a go at anything. He also seemed much more willing than most to “champion the underdog” by which I mean not only that he’d review unfamiliar and/or neglected music but also that he’d review less high profile performers – the Ealing Symphony Orchestra was one example. He was also extremely productive. Where most reviewers would ask for 3 or 4 discs in a month he would request 20 and still tell me that if I had more just send them along. His reviews were long and informative and full of personal anecdotes. As soon as he asks I will beam him up some mp3 files to listen to.”
Bill Kenny, Bob’s former Editor on Seen and Heard adds:
“In addition to being a formidable disc reviewer Bob Briggs also managed to pack in a prodigious number of concert reviews from London, all of them erudite and entertainingly crafted and ranging across almost all musical genres - excluding opera but importantly including musical theatre works by the likes of Sondheim, Cole Porter and Gershwin. As Len says, Bob’s knowledge was legendary but his concert reviewing had one other remarkable characteristic; it was invariably kindly even when performances were less than first rate. Small wonder then, that he was extremely well regarded by the artists whose work he reviewed and I know that he was particularly pleased when the London Phoenix Orchestra dedicated a concert to him on learning of his illness.
As Len also says, Bob liked to do things on the grand scale and among his other accomplishments, he held the record for the longest interview that we have ever published – with composer Howard Blake which took over five hours to complete and amounted to some 7,000 words when written up. Personally I shall miss the extraordinary sense of humour with which his emails were always peppered, more than I can say. Bob knew and loved music in a manner which was absolutely unique and I can do no better than commend readers to remember him by reading the review which I will always regard as a fine example of his best work. This is Bob (and his Teddy) on a disc of Vintage Children’s Favourites. It’s typical, memorable and completely priceless.”
Len Mullenger and Bill Kenny 7.12.2011
A memory from Geoff Diggines
I got to know Bob Briggs a few years ago when Bill sent a memo asking if anyone writing for SandH from London could visit Bob, who was in hospital at the time. As I am quite close I agreed to make the visit. I had intended to stay for about 1 hour. I ended up staying for over 4 hours, so much did we have in common, and I was fascinated by Bob’s vast knowledge and love of music. Bob quickly recovered and was soon discharged. From that time until his last illness I saw him quite a lot at concerts, pubs and restaurants, and also had many e mail conversations with him. I hadn’t imagined I would ever meet someone of such enormous erudition, not just in music, mixed with such humour. To use an old fashioned phrase Bob was a man of great wit. Sometimes his humour could be outrageous, verging on black humour. But he had that rare quality, especially in today’s context, of being able to laugh at himself. I have never laughed so much as being with him in a pub over several pints!
I don’t think that Bob possessed an ounce of pretension or snobbery. As a book seller he had a wide knowledge of literature; anything from Kafka to detective fiction, which mirrored his love of film, particularly classic film noir. But it was mostly music that dominated our conversations. His musical taste was wide – ranging (including many forms of ‘light music’) and he never became stale in his musical preferences. Rather than listening to, or reviewing, another Mahler, or Rachmaninov symphony/ concerto, he would always go to great lengths to seek out rarely played music. He had a particular love of Scandinavian music; composers like Dag Wirèn and John Fernström, to name a couple but also neglected (in this country at least) contemporary French composers like Pascal Dusapin. Bob also thought it an outrage that major British symphonists like Peter Racine Fricker and Malcolm Arnold were hardly ever performed in the classical mainstream centres. We had lots of disagreements about composers and interpretations, but with Bob these divergences were always productive, never descending into petty point scoring or one-upmanship.
I visited Bob in hospital regularly through his last illness. From an early stage, when he knew his illness was serious, he showed a degree of stoicism, irony and humour in regard to his condition, which even experienced hospital staff found amazing! And this was part of his uniqueness. He was a ‘big’ man in every sense of the word. I learnt much from him both in the realm of music, literature etc, but also in the affective realm; his humour, stoicism and generosity of spirit.
I will sorely miss his friendship but the very idea of writing a ‘memory’, or obituary for Bob would have struck him at best as mildly amusing. I can hear his responses now, in language that probably would not be printable…… But then that was Bob! Or, at least, an important part of him.
And An Important Biographical Footnote from Martin Anderson
Martin Anderson of Toccata Classics and Toccata Press who has known Bob since the late 1970s has emailed to remind us that Bob studied composition with Harold Truscott at Huddersfield Polytechnic shortly before he and Martin met. Martin reports that Harold considered Bob a gifted student and was disappointed that Bob didn’t make more of his ability after he graduated. Typically however, Bob himself says in his biographical note for MusicWeb that:
When I was 17 I went to Huddersfield Technical College, and, subsequentlyHuddersfield Polytechnic (as it then was) where I had the great good fortune to study composition (and so much else) with the great Harold Truscott, to whom I owe almost everything musical in my life. He opened my ears to so many musical things and was the catalyst for my continuing interest in literature.
After studies I gave many concerts as a singer, specialising in English music of the 20th century, and continued writing, gaining performances in this country and the USA and Australia and being commissioned from the Bromsgrove Festival (my proper 6th Symphony), the USA and Iceland! At a concert of my music in London in about 1982 Roger Wright played a piano piece of mine.
At 25 I gave up writing music – I realized that my work simply wasn’t good enough and I was never going to set the Thames on fire with my genius – and started writing about music – for Records and Recording, the very short lived Classical Sounds, sleeve notes for LPs and the odd programme book for concerts.
Len Mullenger and Bill Kenny