Correspondence with James Blades (1901-1999), and material relating to Percussion Instruments

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of a number of letters to James Blades including :

  • - letter from Music Librarian, Liverpool City Libraries, 20 June 1967, about a title to do with the tambourine
  • - letter from Music Librarian, Liverpool City Libraries, 27 June 1967, indicating that photostat pages relevant to the tambourine will be sent to Blades
  • - letter from Deutsche Grammophon (GB) Ltd. to Faber and Faber, 9 March 1965, about the Zimbelstern used on a recording
  • - letter from Deutsche Grammophon (GB) Ltd. to Faber and Faber, 23 March 1965, about the Zimbelstern and its construction
  • - letter from Faber and Faber to Blades, 18 April 1966, about bells in 'Parsifal'

There are also the following within the collection:

  • - photostat pages from Liverpool City Libraries relevant to Instructions for the tambourine ...
  • - photostat pages of Music for a thousand autumns which was played on the birthday of the Hsuan-tsung Emperor on 5 August 728
  • - photostat copy of article On playing the triangle by Alexander Brent-Smith from the journal 'The Musical Times', January 1930.
  • - photostat copy of instructions for drum, clapper and jingles in a Chinese piece

Administrative / Biographical History

The percussionist James Blades OBE was born in Peterborough, England, on 9 September 1901. He had a diverse early career - joining a circus when he was fourteen and playing cymbals and a bass drum, performing in local brass bands, being an engineering apprentice, and working in a cinema creating sound effects for silent films. In 1932 though, he joined the London Film Society orchestra and he was famous for playing the gong which began the films made by J. Arthur Rank studios (the Rank Organisation) though the film recording of this was mimed by Bombardier Billy Wells, a boxer. In 1940, Blades joined the London Symphony Orchestra.

During the Second World War, BBC broadcasts to resistance movements in Europe were begun with a recording of Morse code for V-for-Victory played by Blades with a tympany mallet striking an African membrane drum. After the war he worked with operas, symphonies, and chamber music, and he was invited to participate in the Coronation Orchestra in Westminster Abbey 1953 for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1954 Blades became Professor of Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music. He lectured and also worked with physically and mentally handicapped children. He wrote Orchestral percussion technique (1961), Percussion instruments and their history (1970), and A Check-List of the Percussion Instruments in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments (1982). With Jeremy Montagu he wrote Early percussion instruments: from the Middle Ages to the Baroque (1976), and with Johnny Dean How to play drums (1985), and, with a foreword by Evelyn Glennie, he wrote These I have met...: reminiscences (1998).

James Blades OBE died on 19 May 1999 in Cheam, Surrey, In England.

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Open to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance of any visit.

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Acquisition Information

Material found in cupboard at Reid Music Library, Edinburgh University, by a member of staff. Accession no: E2009.13.

Note

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using information widely available on the internet, but particularly the obituary by Nick Ravo in The New York Times, 25 May 1999, 'James Blades is dead at 97; a percussionist for Victory'.

Other Finding Aids

None created for this collection.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Graeme D. Eddie, Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library.