ANTHONY BOWLES was a dazzling jack of all musical trades and master of them all: conductor, composer, orchestrator and no mean jazz pianist.
I met him in the Sixties when we were both teaching at Lamda; I recall his revelatory lectures on Carmen and the St Matthew Passion. An inspirational teacher, he believed he could teach anyone to sing and set out to prove it by strength of will, driving adoring drama students through his eight-part arrangements of 'Over the Rainbow' or 'Making Whoopee' that ranged through every key-signature on the stave and every tempo known to musical man. He was scornful of anything less than perfection and demanded no less of himself. Once, while orchestrating a show, he was struck down by flu. With a temperature of 104F, he completed the show in his sick-bed, far away from a piano, 'just to see if I could'.
Bowles's career had several facets. He was musical director of many West End shows, his earliest being Cranks for the choreographer John Cranko, who was to be his mentor and collaborator through much of his career. His musical directorship reached its peak when he worked on several Lloyd Webber shows: Joseph, Jeeves, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. He was for a while musical director of the National Theatre and the Stuttgart Ballet. He composed scores for films (Isadora, with Vanessa Redgrave, Leo the Last, with Marcello Mastroianni) and for television (a series of films on great artists), wrote church music and incidental theatre music and, while at Lamda, he and I collaborated on two musicals (Mandrake, Love in the Country) for the graduating students. He taught at several other drama schools.
He was a devout High Anglican and committed himself to his church choir at St James's, in West Hampstead, as seriously as to his professional work. He was a man of unswerving loyalty; he stood up for his beliefs, though frequently his stands were uncomfortable for the compromisers around him. He probably did his career no good when he refused a prominent director's request to delay a holiday he had planned for himself and his mother.
Ant and his mother were a cockney comedy double-act of great class; their argument when she lightly suggested that one of his compositions sounded like Richard Rodgers' 'Bali Hai' or their divergence of opinions over Alma Cogan was worth the price of admission.
When he died, Bowles was rehearsing a revival of Love in the Country with the Actors' Choir which he formed in 1980. The show will be performed at the Almeida Theatre next month, a tribute and a memorial to his talent, his fine flow of acerbic cockney wit and, above all, to his integrity as an artist and a human being.Reuse content