The 20th Century Music Group

How reflections on a jazzed up mass led to something new

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20th Century Music Group

The Light Music Years

Sometime in the 1950s, an official student club was constituted at the University of Cambridge, which was destined to have a considerable influence on the way music and drama were used in churches and outside in the wider world. Known under various incarnations of the name 20th Century, this student society would eventually produce a number of touring folk and rock groups, a recording company Reflection and a number of noted solo artists and composers. The influential folk-rock oratorio A Folk Passion was recorded in the 1970s and later the power-pop hit singles Stand Up and Be Counted and Mad World in the 1980s. Here's the whole story, from the memories of former members...

1950s: Church Light Music

John Lockley, composer, piano and occasional bass, 1968-72 recalls:

I am not completely sure of the origin of 20th Century. Certainly there was a national movement concerned with putting modern music into churches: the man most associated with this is Geoffrey Beaumont. I believe that he began the 20th Century Church Light Music Society and wrote various songs and hymns, including a modern setting of the Mass.

Here are some facts about the founders of the society, trawled from the Internet:

Geoffrey Beaumont (1903 - 1970) was an Anglican priest and composer. He was chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge. With Patrick Appleford, Beaumont founded the 20th Century Church Light Music Group and edited a number of collections of new hymns and songs. Among his own compositions included:

  • Twentieth Century Folk Mass, scored for unison voices and small orchestra (pub. Josef Weinberger).
  • Hatherop Castle, the tune to which the hymn O Jesus I Have Promised may be sung (arr. Richard Irwin, pub. Josef Weinberger)
  • Thirty 20th Century Hymn Tunes, by Beaumont and other members of the 20th Century Church Light Music Group, 1960 (pub. Josef Weinberger).

Patrick Appleford (born 1925) found his vocation at Trinity College, Cambridge, where Geoffrey Beaumont was his chaplain. He studied for the ministry at Chichester and served his first curacy at All Saints Poplar, in the East End of London from 1952-8. There he wrote pantomimes for the youth club and his first hymns. With Beaumont, he founded the 20th Century Church Light Music Group and edited a number of collections of new hymns and songs, many of which found their way into hymn books around the world and are still sung frequently today. Applefords' original compositions include:

  • Mass of Five Melodies, scored for unison voices and piano (pub. Josef Weinberger).
  • Music for Series Three, scored for SATB chorus, congregation and piano (pub. Josef Weinberger).
  • New English Mass, scored for SATB chorus and piano (pub. Josef Weinberger).
  • Six Hymns for All Seasons, scored for unison voices and piano (pub. Josef Weinberger).
  • The hymn Living Lord, perhaps his best-known tune, which was inspired by Cliff Richard's early pop songs (pub. Josef Weinberger)

1960s: Patrick Appleford and Acker Bilk

Richard Norman, a chorister in the 1960s, recalls:

I was a chorister in St. Giles Camberwell during the 50s and 60s we were members of the St. Giles Youth Club during the early 60s. During the early 60s Fr. Pat Appleford came to live in the ground floor front room of the then St. Gile's Vicarage. He was involved with the Youth Club, which met in the other ground floor front room, and we young things would often migrate into his room where he would play his piano to us and we would sing. He would put up a newspaper or any other item that he wanted to get across to us, play a psalm tune and sing the article as a psalm.

We knew that he and Geoffrey Beaumont were in something called the Twentieth Century Church Light Music Group and Geoffrey's Mass and Pat's hymns were then very much in vogue and being sung in St. Giles. During this time I believe that he was instrumental in getting Acker Bilk to come and play at one of the St. Giles fund raising fêtes; I attended the Bilk crowd in Pat's room, meeting Mrs Bilk (Jean) and all the members of his band and their various wives and girlfriends. At this time, his famous tune Stranger on the Shore was in the top ten; and since this was released in 1961, I think this event happened at around the same time.

Pat had left St. Giles by around 1964. The last I knew of Pat was after he came back from Africa, when he wound up in Suffolk (I think) and did some work in 2013-14 for Chelmsford Cathedral. He wrote a celebratory hymn, entitled Jesu Redeemer You Set Us Free, to mark the centenary both of the Diocese of Chelmsford and the dedication of the cathedral.

1963: Great St Mary's

By the early 1960s there was definitely a Cambridge University student society of the same name in existence, the direct successor to Beaumont and Appleford's society.

Michael Lehr and guitar

Michael Lehr, guitar and composer 1963-65, and founder of Reflection, recalls:

When I joined the Cambridge 20th Century Church Light Music Group towards the end of my first year (1963) it was very much part of Great St Mary's church activities, really just an occasional choir using mainly the music published by Josef Weinberger. I happened to walk in on a communion service they were doing, using Patrick Appleford's Mass of Five Melodies, backed by the University's Traditional Jazz Band.

I hated the music, but was intrigued by the possibilities, as my musical life at the time was totally divided between the first of many university rock bands, The Golden Blades, and singing in Jesus Chapel Choir (although I was an undergraduate at Trinity). I wanted to see if I could unite the two sides of my music, and so I joined the group and wrote my own guitar-based setting of the then communion service, A Mass Of Saints And Sinners, which was used over several years. It was actually published by Weinberger and recorded (I suspect rather badly) and is now best forgotten! The then archaic language of the liturgy just didn't work at all in a rock setting, although the music was okay, and the Vicar, Canon Hugh Montefiore, was well pleased with the result, since it got bums-on-pews for the church services!

1966: Reflection Records

A Folk Passion (vinyl LP)

I was just the first of an influx of many new members arriving in the following years (led by Richard Spence, another guitarist) and with the combination of musicians joining 20th Century, we were able to form a proper contemporary musical group. We even gained our first talented lyricist in Paul Merchant, and started to write some original hymns and songs. Further members joined over the following years, including John Lockley, who, with Mike Colley, was later to create the group's famous folk-rock oratorio A Folk Passion. Although I graduated in 1965, I continued to be involved with 20th Century over the next few years.

The year after I had left Cambridge (1966), I rejoined the group for a long weekend trip to the Anglican chaplaincy in Brussels, where I met some of the then current members. That's when the idea of Reflection was born, as we wanted to carry on the kind of work that 20th Century had started. Reflection would be a Christian music recording and publishing partnership, devoted to contemporary musical styles. Several members of 20th Century, including John Lockley, Michael Clements and Andy Knight, stayed involved with us for several years, long after they had graduated, and participated in other Reflection activities, but the others went their own ways (mostly because of their greater distance from the Home Counties, where we tended to be based).

Present Tense: songs by Sydney Carter (vinyl LP)

The The first record we released was called The Present Tense and featured a number of Reflection musicians and singers, playing the songs of Sydney Carter. We later recorded and published many other albums, including A Folk Passion, released in 1972. The company was to continue for a good many years, and had its own website, Reflection Christian Music. Although Reflection formally ceased trading in the late 1990s, we still keep good contact with all our former members, and meet for one reason or another several times a year.

Editor's note: Michael Lehr passed into glory during the night of 27 March, 2010, after a significant illness. He wil be greatly missed.

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