Contemporaries of David Munrow Remember

Here, I thought it would be interesting to give out some of the testimonies of people who knew David Munrow well, and not so well. This collection will over a short period of time be expanded. But here comes the first testimony from Michael Laird who did alot of work for the Consort....

1. Michael Laird.

      I first met David Munrow in 1969. I was performing a  Bach B Minor Mass (Ithink) in Wolverhampton in 1969.

A cheerful,energetic young man sitting  next to me on the bassoon introduced himself as David Munrow and asked immediately "do you play the cornetto?''
"What's that" I queried
"Oh" David said "it's a wonderful instrument made of wood with holes and a
trumpet type mouthpiece. You can buy one from Christopher Monk. I'll give
you his number. They're not expensive. You'll be good at it. If you can
learn it quite quickly I can offer you some recording sessions".

So that was how we got to know each other. I bought a cornetto and worked as
hard as I could and was able, just about, to play a few phrases on 'Anthems
in Eden' with Shirley and Dolly Collins. EMI 1969with David, Christopher Hogwood, Oliver Brookes, Alan Lumsden, Gillian Reid and myself in the backing group. We all went on to work for David for many years.

David was a wonderful man to work for. He was very sympathetic to the problems that players had with the Renaissance instruments. He prepared pieces that he had researched for performance but if, at rehearsal, an individual had problems he was quick to help by saying something like 'don't worry. we can put those 8 bars on the
recorder, you play the next 16.'This meant that everyone felt relaxed and
comfortable with what they had to play .

He himself had an extraordinary ability on the many instruments he played.
He would have a table set up on the stage for the performance with maybe 20 wind instruments on it. He would switch rapidly from one to another, each
having a different reed and fingering system and proceed to play flawlessly.
Quite amazing.

He had a wonderful sense of humour. There was always a laugh or a giggle
somewhere just below the surface. However he set extremely high musical
standards for himself as well as for all of us. This made for challenging
but very happy music making whether on the concert platform, the recording or TV studio.

His energy and powers of concentration were  extraordinary. He could
hold a complete concert with maybe 35 short pieces in his memory, being
aware of which followed which, what repeats we were making and the exact
tempo of each one.

He had a great love of life away from music too. I
remember in Cambridge after a day of recording Monteverdi Vespers he
announced that we were all going for a curry. He knew a good place across town,
cheaper and better than the nearer places. But we would have to hurry after
the evening session as they shut early. He led the way at an incredible
sprint through traffic and startled pedestrians and I ( a very fit squash
 player) and the rest of the group couldn't keep up!

David would often send cards out to us after a concert to thank us for our contributions - a unique way of showing his
gratitude and something that endeared us all to him. I was devastated when I
heard that he had died so very young.

My father found a lovely  drawing of David in a shop in Brighton on which
David has written 'Can this be me?' and then signed.

2. Jack Salway.

I did meet David's father. David's father was Head of Physical Education at Birmingham University at the time.I should say that I was a PhD student in Medical Biochemistry and
therefore rather on the fringe of both the music and the phys ed activities which
were my hobbies.    However, David's father was always very welcoming when I met
him,  He was a very nice, genuine man and I was not at all surprised when the University named the Department (or is the building) after him.

I really got to know David when we were the only two postgrads at the summer  camps which were organised for the first year students studying Physical Education..  We are a similar age (about 24/25 at the time) and did not relate to the teenage students and we were too young really to relate to the  staff so we stuck together during our free time.Hismain role was to teach  sailing.  We were based on the edge of Lake
Coniston in the Lake District. We spent the evenings together chatting about
the day's events etc and often singing Gilbert and Sullivan together.He told meof his old instruments and his time in Peru but I didn't take much notice.

He was not at all manic at that time (as he has been described in the
Wilkepedia debate).  He was a  nice, unassuming, modest, friendly even ordinary
lad. I really liked him and we got on really well together. I had no idea he
was so talented or driven.

On one occasion he used the word "stentorian". It was a new word to me, he
explained its meaning and I always immediately think of him on the rare
occasions I hear the word.The only time I heard him play an instrument was
when he played the bassoon in the Student Operatic Society (Guild Theatre
Group) productions (I sang in the chorus or took a minor principal role) but I
don't have the experience to comment on his performance.  I am to this day
a very amateur musician but  I still love singing and am a member of a 90
voice male voice choir.

I told you of the last time I saw him in about 1966 when he was thoroughly
fed up with his teaching job at George Dixon's Grammar School in Birmingham.
We bumped into each other on the Campus at Birmingham. This is a very vivid
memory which I recall as if it was a year ago.  I remember the exact spot
and how I walked away feeling very sad to see him looking so despondent.
Within a short time of this meeting he was famous!

 I often thought of writing to him to congratulate him on his
success but I will always regret  not doing this. 

I heard him interviewed on"Desert Island Discs".  Shortly after this he committed suicide.  I was very surprised.  My memory is of a really nice, even ordinary chap.  I never thought for a moment he would be  so successful, neither did I ever think his lifewould end so tragically.Well, that is my memory of David.

3. Ian Harold.

David Munrow and I were at school (King Edward's Birmingham) together. As I recollect, his birthday was one day from mine (12th or 14th August - mine is 13th) and we often celebrated together - I can remember a visit to see Britten's 'Let's make an opera' on such an occasion.

My interest in music was initially limited to the hits of the day, but he encouraged me to develop singing and keyboard skills; by the time we were in the sixth form our performance of 'Sound the trumpet' was legendary! (I still sing counter-tenor professionally with the Schola Cantorum of Tewkesbury Abbey, before that with Gloucester Cathedral Choir, so I have much to thank him for).

 A memory I have of playing for him on the keyboard: a glorious summer evening at a friend's house (Michael Lindop our flautist, I seem to recall) - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 with David playing the high trumpet part on the sopranino recorder, most effectively. During the second movement, he and I took a break (no trumpet and pretty complete without continuo) to listen from the garden in the setting sun. It was then, I think, that I decided music was to be an important part of my life.

He also encouraged me in my early attempts at composition. What I consider to be my Opus 1, Fantasia on a Nursery Tune, for flute, oboe, bassoon and piano, was played as part of a radio broadcast on the then Home Service (in, I am guessing, 1957? 58?... or rather 67,or 67 editors "correction"?) with David on bassoon, his first orchestral instrument. I am still waiting for the BBC to ask for something else!

We met occasionally while at university, he at Cambridge, I at Merton College, Oxford. As at school, he showed great ability to communicate his enthusiasm, which was to be a feature of his working life, but our paths were going in different ways, and we were both moving on. We met a few times after that at Early Music Consort concerts, which was always a thrill.

 About eighteen months before his death, I entertained David and Gillian to dinner as we lived reasonably close to each other (Hatfield - St. Albans). David had changed. I noticed a neurotic quality I hadn't before, a restlessness beyond the enthusiasm I had always known. I put it down to the fact that that day the police had recovered some of his instrument collection which had been stolen a few months previously, but in the light of what was to come I am not so sure.

Mind you, I teased him with a recording of some Beatles numbers in Baroque style which, I am delighted to say, featured in a future 'Pied Piper'. And that's it. Sorry, no funny anecdotes. I am sure there were moments of hilarity, many of them, but it was a long time ago, and just part of life. If only I had kept a diary ......

4. Polly Waterfield.

The hesitation was due partly to realising I don't have very many specific
memories - it seems like a very long time ago!

I'm not sure how I came to work for David, I think on the grape-vine, and
because there weren't very many treble viol/rebec players around then. He was
unfailingly kind and courteous to me, as an unconfident newcomer on the
scene, and always made me feel part of the gang. My memories have to do
really with a general sense of vitality, musical purposefulness, and
camaraderie, rather than anything more specific. And, as one does with
devastating deaths, I know exactly where I was when the news came through -
in Bristol playing cantatas.

5.  Hilary Strebing.

Yes I did know David but hardly well enough to be of any assistance to a biographer.  I remember him playing the crum horn in one concert I was singing in!  We also sang together whenever the Music Dept did sing-throughs of Early Music in the Elgar Room. I occasionally stumbled across him in Maida Vale studios but again, nothing of real interest. Wasn't his father the P.E. Prof?

6. Paul Kriwaczek

Munrow was a musical genius.....that much is beyond dispute. But he was also
obsessive, at times quite manic.....

He had no concern for anybody else he was working with,
 particularly if they excercised a craft or skill (i.e. those of the mass
media) that he didn't value. He didn't seem to care that he made it
almost  impossible for those trying to support him (e.g. me, the studio floor
manager, the camera crew) to do their jobs.

Ancestral Voices was performed in front of an audience and we recorded two programmes per day in the BBC Television Theatre
(as was) on Shepherd's BushGreen: one in the morning and one in the

I wrote the draft scripts, which he was supposed to turn into his
own words. We began in the studio at 10.00 each morning. Munrow insisted on
delivering the finalised scripts at midnight the evening before, so that I
had to work all night to prepare the camera script -- and was myself not
in the best shape to do the  difficult job of directing the large assembly of
crafts people involved in any television production.

When, in rehearsal, the  studio crew found difficulty in getting the required shots, he would explode with anger and berate  everybody present for unprofessionalism (though most of the crew had been working in their medium for many years more than he
in his). Things quite often go wrong during television recordings, but
when we had to stop to adjust the lights or change the shot, Munrow
would go ape.

On one occasion (ever engraved on my memory) he stood before the
 audience and raved, telling them that this production was all rubbish and
was absolutely the worst show he had ever had the misfortune to be involved
in.The programmes should indeed have been better and more polished than
they were, but he made that impossible.

Munrow committed suicide the night before the first transmission of the series and we approached his widow for permission tgo ahead with the broadcast, which she generously gave.All the time we worked together, it was clear that he was deeply disturbed.


  1. It should have been obvious to all close to him that there was something wrong that should have had attention by a psychiatrist. Although depression was not diagnosed as frequently as it now is, and the symptoms not as recognizable as such, someone should have caught on before the worst happened. I also think it peculiar that Christopher Hogwood, who outlived him, has no comment on this page. But then with him, I think it was Moi! all along. I wonder if he attended the funeral.....


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