Memories of Bob Peel (CR 1960-91)

We will be sharing memories of Bob Peel (CR 1960-91) over the next few days. Today Alexander Arkwright  (CR 1995-) remembers filling Bob’s shoes and looks back on his lasting legacy.

 

I inherited the conductorship of Brasser in 1995 from John Iveson who was Bob’s successor four years earlier and, although there was a reasonable gap between Bob’s retirement and my appointment, his influence was still in the walls and atmosphere of the, so called, New Music School. Looking through the archives of concerts and events was quite frightening: so many amazing works played; not only amazing but difficult, so many traditions established and developed, such a culture – impossible to replicate.

His name and reputation was undimmed and continues to live on in many conversations with OMs over the years. For some considerable time if I meet an OM if a certain vintage and they ask what I do, I simply say ‘I’m Bob Peel’ and everything to them is clear.

A number of years ago we had a 40 year Brasser Reunion, an idea conceived and expertly driven forward by Steven Bishop. OM musicians in droves appeared on Club Day to support this excellent venture. The College provided logistical support in terms of equipment, music and also some Marlburians of the time filling in gaps here and there. Bob, as far as I was aware, had only revisited the College once in the 20 or so years since his retirement. Jonathan brought him to the event and expertly supported him. He presented as being quite nervous, a little overwhelmed, even slightly uncomfortable – I suppose a legendary reputation can only go one way if things don’t go well. The warmth, love and respect shown to him by the OM community was palpable. They tumbled into the Memorial Hall for a rehearsal in various states of musical competence ranging from players who clearly had hardly picked up an instrument to current, highly respected professional musicians. This cosmopolitan bunch were united in love and respect for Bob and, although not the intention when the idea was floated, this quickly became a tribute to this remarkable man. The shadow of nerves and discomfort lifted from his persona as the leader in him shone through and his conducting skills, not utilised for many years, filled the room with joy. A regret of mine is that I didn’t take a photo of Bob, Jonathan, myself and my son Joe. One for the archives: two conductors of Brasser with their trombone playing sons! Not to be.

It is not for the author to pick out highlights of Bob’s time at the College – others will do so with far more accuracy and authority but I can comment on his legacy. Bumping into him in Waitrose was always a delight – gracious and supportive to a tee and always enquiring in a gentle way how things were going at the West End of the High Street.

Bob Peel was a remarkable, influential and kind man, the like of whom we will struggle to see again and the current conductor of Brasser, on behalf of current Marlburians who play in the ensemble, salutes his remarkable career and his amazing legacy.

Alex Arkwright
Head of Brass, Wind and Percussion