All of us love to walk along the beach: whether it is during our summer holidays in the Costa Brava or Clacton it is a lovely relaxing way of passing the day. A ‘beachcomber’ was traditionally regarded as someone who lived in the South Sea Isles and made their living by pearl fishery and sometimes by less reputable means. However, in later years the word has come to mean anyone looking for something of value at the tides edge. Perhaps the most famous fictional example is Ben Knox, played by Fulton Mackay in the film Local Hero (1983). Nevertheless there was a lot of ‘beachcombing’ going on in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island. The present tune suggests something a little less industrial.
Clive Richardson is probably best known for his ‘major’ light music works such as the wartime London Fantasia for piano and orchestra (1942) and his railway inspired miniatures such as Melody on the Move and Running off the Rails. Perhaps less well-known is the fact the he provided the score for Will Hay’s film masterpiece Oh Mr. Porter (1937).
Beachcomber opens almost quietly but comically with a catchy bassoon melody – soon this is joined by other woodwinds. After this material has played out the middle ‘eight’ is given on strings with light percussion. It is a lot more romantic. The brass section adds their commentary on the proceedings. And then there is even a Spanish moment complete with castanets. However, the bassoon melody always seems to be in the background. The work ends as quietly as it begins.
Ernest Tomlinson has described this work as presenting the image of ‘walking idly along the sea-coast, inspecting the miscellaneous debris brought in by the tides...’ Perhaps it is as he suggests the retired socialite or businessman who has opted for a quiet life by the seaside? Or maybe it is just two lovers passing the time of day? Whatever the background, this is a relaxing piece of music that does not ask too much of the listener.