Everyone loves Piccadilly. Whether it is the statue of Eros which was once deemed to be the centre of the Empire. Or perhaps it is the promise of high-octane shopping in Regent Street. Maybe it is afternoon tea at the Ritz or heading down Haymarket towards the theatre or a snifter at the club. Perhaps it is just to see and be seen? Remember Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan’s delightful railing against the aesthetic movement, Patience: he chose to ‘walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in his medieval hand'. Everyone loves Piccadilly.
Cyril Watters is one of the lesser-known, but hugely productive exponents of British light music. He was born in the Edwardian era in 1907 and wrote extensively for the music libraries that publishers maintained for use in TV, radio and film productions. He gave many radio concerts during the 1950s. Latterly he was secretary of the Light Music Society. One of his most treasured pieces was the Willow Waltz which was used in a BBC serial called ‘The World of Tim Frazer.’ Cyril Watters died in 1984.
In 1953 Cyril Watters had secured work as the Chief Arranger at the publishing house of Boosey and Hawkes. That same year he produced what was one of his most promising miniatures Piccadilly Spree. It was used as the signature tune of the television series ‘Performance.’
This work is pure fantasy from the first note to the last. There is nothing but sheer pleasure and enjoyment awaiting the protagonists of this music. I imagine them to be a middel-aged couple, in from Richmond or Twickenham to enjoy a night on the town. The mood appears to be a winters night. After a bit of shopping in Simpson’s (now Waterstone’s) and possibly Hatchard’s the couple would walk as far as the Ritz. Possibly too late to pop into Green Park, they would make their way back past the Burlington Arcade and the Royal Academy. Stopping to admire the neon lights at Piccadilly Circus, they would then head on for a light evening meal before taking in a show…
After a quick rising passage for strings the jaunty main theme is presented. Watters’ makes good use of woodwind decoration of the tune. Brass is very much to the fore, muted sounds give a subtle jazz mood to this piece. There is also a battery of percussion including xylophone. Piccadilly Spree is almost a rondo in the sense that the main theme keeps reappearing after various digressions. It is the orchestration that impressed me most about this short work.
Cyril Watters’ Piccadilly Spree can be heard on YouTube. It is also available on The Golden Age of Light Music: 1950s from Guild Records with the New Concert Orchestra conducted by R. de Porten.