Celebration of composer

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Selsey will celebrate its most famous composer in a night dedicated to the music of Eric Coates as the gala opening event at this year’s Selsey Festival (Tuesday, August 9).

Coates, who died in St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, on December 21 1957, is perhaps best known for The Dam Busters theme and also for By The Sleepy Lagoon (1930) which is still used to introduce the long-running radio programme Desert Island Discs.

The evening is being organised by Selsey-based theatre director Pamela Howard who is delighted to be joined by two renowned interpreters of Eric Coates’ music, tenor Peter Dempsey and pianist Guy Rowland.

The evening will take the audience through Coates’ life and the time he spent down here composing so many well-known and much-loved melodies.

“He was tremendously associated with Selsey,” Pamela said. “The first time he came here was in 1922. He was married to an actress called Phyllis Black, and when their son was born, they wanted to get out of London and I suppose they wanted the sea air for their child.

“But Phyllis had a total passion for doing up old houses” - a passion she fulfilled in West Sussex. They lived in six houses in Selsey, one in Sidlesham and one in Aldwick Avenue, Bognor Regis. They lived in the area - barring the war years - until Coates’ death in Chichester.

Pamela was approached by the Festival organisers about putting together an evening in celebration of the music - and soon discovered a fascinating man.

“I usually work in big operas and things like that. And then I became this person delving into the life of Eric Coates’ life - which was totally extraordinary.

“Selsey was an inspiration for him. We are choosing as many of the songs as possible that relate to the houses that he lived in in Selsey. All along the beach here grows wild tamarisk. He loved looking at it and walking along. He wrote the Tamarisk Foxtrtot because he and Phyllis were mad ballroom dancers. And of course, By The Sleepy Lagoon was written here.”

The piece gives its title to the evening Pamela is organising. By The Sleepy Lagoon is

at Selsey Town Hall, 55 High Street, Selsey starting at 7.30pm. Tickets £8.50 available from www.selseyfestivities.co.uk or 01243 602260.