2017 sees R Smith & Company celebrate 160 years as a music publisher. Over these years it has built up an enviable catalogue of brass band music, including many of the all - time classics: John Ireland’s Comedy Overture, Gustav Holst’s A Moorside Suite, Herbert Howells’s Pageantry and Eric Ball’s Resurgam to name a few. As well as major brass band compositions, the catalogue contains some of banding’s best marches – the most famous being BB and CF and Mephistopheles and perhaps now Death or Glory as well, thanks to Brassed Off– overtures, solos, duets and quartets and lighter pieces, both original and arranged. The most successful seller is Eric Ball’s arrangement of Hugh Roberton’s All in the April Evening.
The first significant original work for brass band – Labour and Love by Percy Fletcher – was published by R Smith in 1913 and used as the test piece for the National Finals, held in the Crystal Palace. John Henry Iles, the owner of R Smith & Company at the turn of the 20th century, commissioned and published all the early great works for brass band for the Crystal Palace contest. These included A Moorside Suite (Holst), The Severn Suite (Elgar), Kenilworth (Bliss), Comedy Overture and A Downland Suite (Ireland) and Pageantry (Howells). R Smith also published many other early cornerstones of the repertoire, many of which are still mainstays today – Life Divine (Jenkins), Freedom (Bath), An Epic Symphony (Fletcher). Others have not stood the test of time as well - On the Cornish Coast (Geehl), Joan of Arc (Wright), Victory (Jenkins) and Honour and Glory (Bath). Significantly, R Smith seems to have been the first company to regularly print full scores.
The use of R Smith publications at the National Festival continued right up to and including 1938. By the end of the second world war John Henry Iles was over 70 and a very worried man, for he was in severe financial difficulties. The Nationals passed to the Daily Herald but the ownership of R Smith went to Iles’s son, Eric and in 1946 Eric Ball became music editor.
Smith’s music continued to be used at the National and, for that matter, even more so at Belle Vue. From 1945 up to and including 1968 an R Smith publication was used at Manchester. Its most well-known work of that period, and probably still so today, is Eric Ball’s Resurgam, which was used at the contest in 1950. For the National Finals in London, R Smith music was exclusively selected until 1952 when the Frank Wright era emerged although Eric Ball’s Festival Music – the first newly composed music since 1945 – appeared in 1956.
1967 saw major change within the company. At the BBC Geoffrey Brand was a music producer, including responsibility for brass band output. He wrote the radio notes for British Bandsman, which was now being edited by Eric Ball in addition to his duties as music editor of R Smith. For Geoffrey, being a music producer at the BBC had restrictions. He wanted more freedom and to be able to conduct more. Geoffrey takes up the story, “One day I rang Eric Ball who said it would be nice to see me. Thirty minutes later I was at the top of 210 Strand on the third floor. Eric felt the time had come to relinquish editorship of the BB and music editor of R Smith.” From then on events “happened quickly”. Eric Ball spoke to Eric Iles who asked Geoffrey to meet him for a discussion. “We met at the Café de Paris in Piccadilly and I took along a colleague, Raymond Dutfield, a chartered accountant, who at that time worked for the Rank Organisation”, recalled Geoffrey. The deal was completed and Geoffrey gave three months - notice to the BBC. “Eric Ball suggested he spent some time with me and my wife, Violet, who gave up her teaching job and spent two days a week working at British Bandsman”.
Geoffrey Brand was all too aware that he had inherited a pedigree and quality repertoire but that the company also needed to move on musically. “I knew of Edward Gregson and his music and invited him over. We came to an arrangement whereby he would offer R Smith his band music”. The result was a succession of fine music that is still highly regarded today – for example, Prelude for an Occasion, Partita, the cornet solo Prelude and Capriccio, The Plantagenets and Essay.
More young blood was needed. Geoffrey Brand again, “We decided to ask the music colleges in London to invite students to express an interest in writing for brass band. Amongst the people who replied was Philip Sparke and we got on well. I gave him a score of Prelude for an Occasion and suggested that he might write something in that mould. After a few weeks he came back with Concert Prelude”. Thus it is fair to say that R Smith was responsible for the launch of the brass band careers of two of our most distinguished composers to add to an already impressive portfolio. Other ‘big name’ composers whose music was published by the company during the Brand era include Gillbert Vinter, Robert Farnon, Derek Bourgeois, George Lloyd and Joseph Horovitz.
In 1983 the company made a dramatic decision. Geoffrey Brand, as chairman, and his son, Michael who was now managing director, reached the conclusion that the company needed to act to expand its sphere of activity. The brass band market was small with only a few thousand customers worldwide. Wind band music was seen as a growing market. The Brands felt it was hard to justify the brass band side of the business whilst establishing and building a catalogue in the wind band market.
There was surprise in the band world when British Bandsman announced that with effect from 14 July 2004 the entire share capital of R Smith and Co Ltd., had transferred to Salvationist Publishing and Supplies Ltd (SP and S). Since then the company has continued to be a pure retailer of wind band and educational music and continues to sell R Smith brass band titles and G&M Brand concert band titles. It also sells Salvation Army music – as the Judd Street Collection – as an outlet for SP & S. As part of Salvationist Publishing and Supplies Ltd. it is based in Wellingborough alongside all the other commercial operations which operate under the name of Salvation Army Trading Company (SATCOL), the profits from which are ploughed back into the Salvation Army. Today R Smith & Company act as an exclusive distributor for many labels, including Prima Vista Musikk, Kantara Music and Experianza Music. In addition to selling music for brass band they also distribute items for concert band, jazz ensemble and orchestra from publishers around The World.