John Henry Iles OBE, memorial inscription, Parish Church of All Saints, Birchington

John Henry Iles OBE, memorial inscription, Parish Church of All Saints, Birchington
Church advertising
Image by chrisjohnbeckett
In Loving / Memory of / John Henry Iles OBE / Master of the Worshipful / Company of Musicians 1932-1933 / Who devoted his Life to the / advancement of Brass Bands / Died 29th May 1951 aged 79 years …

Biography: "(John) Henry Iles (1871-1951), brass-band promoter and entertainment entrepreneur, was born at 8 Clarence Road, Bristol, on 17 September 1871, the son of John Thomas Iles and his wife, Mary Ann Butler. After leaving Ashville College, Harrogate, he entered his father’s timber business. At the same time he built on his strong interest in music to develop a business career of his own. A keen church organist, choirmaster, and singer, he began by buying the journal Organist and Choirmaster before turning his interest to the brass-band movement. He appears first to have encountered brass bands when attending a contest while on a business trip to Belle Vue, Manchester, in 1898. Almost immediately after this he purchased the band music publishing house, Richard Smith & Co., turning its journal, the British Bandsman (founded 1887), into the movement’s only weekly paper in March 1902. With its combination of regional news and gossip, technical hints, and extensive advertising columns, it rapidly became the most important element of the band press.

"In January 1900 Iles, a highly effective publicist for the band movement, persuaded Sir Arthur Sullivan to conduct massed bands in a rendition of the composer’s setting of Kipling’s ‘The Absent-Minded Beggar’ during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in aid of South African War charities. Building on the enthusiasm that this engendered and using Sullivan’s influence as a director of the Crystal Palace, he established the National Brass Band Championship, which was held at the palace from 1900 until it was destroyed by fire in 1936. Until the early twentieth century, brass-band contest music typically comprised operatic selections and Iles was instrumental in the decision to encourage composers to produce complete pieces specifically designed for the brass band’s distinctive configuration. In 1913 ‘Labour and Love’, an unsolicited work by the light orchestral and theatre music composer, Percy Fletcher, was selected as the championship test piece with this consideration in mind. Gustav Holst (1928), Sir Edward Elgar (1930), John Ireland (1932), and Arthur Bliss (1936) were among the many composers commissioned to produce test pieces in the next decades: Iles was especially proud of his achievement in securing a work from Elgar. The best of these pieces did much to increase the level of technical ability within bands.

"These commissions, the positive publicity that Iles consistently brought to a movement prone to suffer from an inferiority complex, and, not least, his personal popularity, made ‘John Henry’ an immensely respected figure within the band movement. On his death, a number of obituaries termed him ‘our chief’ and many commentators clearly saw him essentially as a philanthropist and not a businessman. At a memorial service, the composer Eric Ball claimed that for Iles, the band movement was ‘a crusade, an ideal; material gain from it did not worry him’. Certainly, by the inter-war period, Iles seemed to see his band work as more hobby and social obligation than money-making venture, but this had not been the case at the outset, when philanthropy and profit fused in fruitful combination.

"Iles’s band work also led him indirectly into the business ventures which were to be the eventual basis of the considerable wealth which he enjoyed at one stage. In 1906, he managed a ‘world tour’ undertaken by the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, during which he was much inspired by the amusement parks of North America. He returned with the British rights to the switchback ride and with plans for the ‘scenic railway’, a feature which he soon introduced at Blackpool and the White City in London. Eventually Iles was to enjoy major interests in amusement parks in Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Cairo, Copenhagen, Paris, and Pittsburgh. In terms of the English outdoor entertainment industry, he was most closely associated with Margate, where he developed the Dreamland Amusement Park and the Cliftonville Lido on a seafront site purchased in 1919. He also had interests in greyhound racing, introducing the sport into Kent in the late 1920s, at which time he also became a director of Belle Vue, Manchester. Unsuccessful investment in the British film industry in the later 1930s effectively destroyed Iles’s business empire, a loss of some £250,000 resulting in his bankruptcy in July 1938. He resigned from all his directorships, though he maintained control of the brass-band National Championship until 1945, when he finally relinquished it to the Daily Herald.

"Iles served as master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians in 1933. He was appointed OBE for his services to the band movement in 1944 and was also made an officer of the Académie Française. A keen sportsman, he was an occasional member of the Gloucestershire county cricket side in 1890-91 (he was proud once to have bowled W. G. Grace in a net practice), enjoyed a lifelong enthusiasm for golf, and wrote a cyclist’s guide to Bristol and its environs in 1898. In 1893 Iles married Eleanor Marion (b. 1869/70), daughter of Frederick Bird, a merchant of Midsomer Norton; they had a daughter and three sons, the eldest of whom, H. F. B. Eric Iles, took over a number of his father’s directorships after 1938. The family made their home at Birchington in Kent from the 1920s, Iles serving as a Margate JP from 1935 to 1938.

"Iles died at his home, ‘Aurora’, Cliff Road, Birchington, on 29 May 1951 and was buried in Birchington on 7 June. He was survived by his wife. A well-attended memorial service, held at St Sepulchre’s, Holborn, saw a number of leading figures in the band world pay verbal and musical tributes to a man whose respect for bandsmen’s skills and commitment led him, directly and indirectly, into fertile business operations and the band movement into a level of public exposure beyond anything it had previously received."

Source: Dave Russell (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)