Eric Coates’ most popular marches include The Dambusters, The Knightsbridge and Calling All Workers. There are many more. Surprisingly, the London Calling March does not seem to have caught on quite as much as the others. Yet this work is thoroughly enjoyable. Ian Lace, in a review on MusicWeb International has suggested that it ‘sweeps you along and gets your toes a-tapping.’ It is a good description. Like much of Eric Coates’ music, there is little analysis or descriptive notes in print. My main source of reference here is Michael Payne’s The Life and Music of Eric Coates which was published in 2012. It was based on his thesis The Man Who Writes Tunes: An Assessment of the Work of Eric Coates (1886–1957) and his Role Within British Light Music (PhD Dissertation, University of Durham, 2007).
The London Calling March was completed on 11 December 1941. It was originally called This is London Calling March but this was crossed out in the manuscript and the current title applied. It was dedicated to his godson, Alick Mayhew, on his sixth birthday.
This march was written as a signature tune for the BBC’s Overseas Children’s Programme. The original concept of the piece was to provide a short piece incorporating some ‘well-known airs from the four countries’ of the United Kingdom and also the tune ‘Boys and girls come out to play’. This desieratum bears no resemblance to what Coates finally delivered.
The London Calling March was one of a number of marches composed at this time, including the once ubiquitous Calling All Workers March written for the BBC radio programme Music While You Work in 1940. The Eighth Army March celebrated ‘General Montgomery, the Officers and Men of the Eighth Army.' The Over to You, March was composed in 1941 and dedicated to 'to all those who make and fly our aircraft'. Another important work written around time was the orchestral Four Centuries Suite, completed in November 1941.
Like many of Coates’ marches, London Calling is written using the formal structure of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches. Michael Payne (2012) defines this as Introduction-ABAB-coda. The theme from the March is based on the radio call-sign. The introduction is a verbalisation of the words ‘This is London calling’. It is applied to both rhythm and melody.
The work was first performed ‘on-air’ on 22 March 1942 as the signature tune to one of the BBC’s children’s programmes on the BBC’s Latin American service. The BBC Theatre Orchestra was conducted by Stanford Robinson. The march was played on the BBC Home Service on 13 June 1942 with the same players, although I cannot find reference to this in the broadcast schedules. The Radio Times for 25 August 1943 notes a further performance conducted by the composer.
Eric Coates and the London Symphony Orchestra recorded the London Calling March at the Abbey Road Studio One on 3 October 1945. It was released the following year on Columbia DB 2233 and was coupled with the Television March (1946).
Subsequent recordings have been relatively sparse. John Wilson conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra (The Enchanted Garden ASV CD WHL2112). Naxos released this march as part of Eric Coates’ Music for Wind Band, Volume 1 featuring the Royal Artillery Band led by Major Geoffrey Kingston. A version of London Calling payed by Charles Williams and the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was issued on the Guild Light Music Series GLCD5107.