Late father's composition comes to life

A 1940s jazz piece gets almost certainly its first-ever public performance in Chichester this weekend.

Tuesday, 17th October 2017, 11:06 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 3:24 am
Harold Nicholas, 2002
Harold Nicholas, 2002

The piece was written by West Lavington resident Harold Nicholas during or just after the war.

His daughter Claire Nicholas, who lives in Chichester, confirmed it exists in a very old piece of home video of Harold playing it on the piano, but the piece had never been written down… until now. And this Saturday it will be performed.

“It had been on my mind for years and years to try to get the piece converted to sheet music, but I had never known anybody that would be willing to take it on without having to spend lots and lots of money.

Emma Francis

“But I was temping at the University of Chichester last year and the year before, and I got speaking to a student who was helping me out, Emma Francis, a third-year music student doing a four-year course. It was like she just fell into my lap! I just mentioned it to her and she is such a nice girl she just said she could do it. I think initially she was expecting it to be fairly simple, but she found she needed to get help from others, and so she has overseen it and done the best part of the work herself. The piano isn’t even her first instrument. Her first instrument is the clarinet and then the piano some way down, but it warms the cockles of one’s heart to know that such a willingness to please still exists in the young.”

Harold, who lived in West Lavington and died some 15 years ago, was a brickmaker and then a postman. He was never a musician, but like many of his generation, learnt the piano and enjoyed playing it. Claire isn’t sure whether he composed the piece during the war while he was still in the RAF or afterwards. She doesn’t believe it dates from after 1948, the year he became a father: “He would say that he didn’t get very far in his learning. It was just a hobby really that was thrust upon him. And to our knowledge, I don’t think this piece has ever been performed outside the family until now. He co-wrote it with a friend, but we don’t even know who the friend was. We only ever heard it when he was playing it to us. We have just got a very bad video, taken such a long time ago. It’s a nice piece, a short piece, very light, very catchy.

“When I mentioned this to Emma, she offered to transcribe it to sheet music. It was not an easy job; the quality of the video was not great, being so old, and although the piece was short, it included some complicated work.

“But Emma persevered, at times drawing on the help of others, and she has now been able to present us with a score.

“ This seemingly-simple favour has given my whole family the chance to keep dad’s music and memory alive for us and for future generations. The fact that Emma has done this out of the kindness of her heart adds another level of pleasure to the outcome.

“She and her boyfriend will be performing this music, along with a couple of other pieces, on Saturday afternoon, October 21 from 3.30pm at St Martin’s Coffee House in Chichester.”