3 May 1940 to 13 April 2018
Dorset composer Graham Stansfield passed away peacefully in Poole Hospital on Friday 13 April following a long and valiant struggle with cancer, an illness he steadfastly refused to make concessions to.
He worked consistently throughout lengthy and often debilitating periods of treatment. Indeed, just six days before he had introduced his latest work – new settings of poems by his beloved Thomas Hardy – at a concert in St Michael’s Stinsford, the Hardy family church, given by the Wessex Consort ensemble he co-founded with conductor Andrew King.
Graham was born on 3 May 1940 in Beaminster, where his mother, his grandmother and an uncle and aunt were all organists at different churches. Not long after the family moved to Weymouth and Graham won a scholarship to Westminster Abbey Choir School where he sang at the Coronation in 1953 before returning to Dorset and Hardye’s Grammar School in Dorchester.
When their parents died a year to the day after each other, Graham and his brother Roly were taken in by Mr and Mrs French, family friends from Broadway Methodist Church, an act Graham later recalled as the most Christian thing he ever knew.
He played organ in local chapels and on the advice of a minister went to teacher training college then studied music under composer Herbert Howells at London University.
In 1969 Graham formed the progressive rock band Rare Bird. Their first single, Sympathy – written by Graham (as Graham Field) after an encounter with a tramp in the snow – went to number one in France and Italy and sold three million copies around the world. It was covered by at least 300 artists.
Bad business brought about the end of Rare Bird and Graham moved on to his next project, Fields, then wrote theme songs for television shows including Agony, the hit sitcom with Maureen Lipman. He also provided early music arrangements for a folk album by Bob Pegg.
After spells at South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell and as founder-director of Epsom Playhouse, Graham returned to his native Dorset and got a job programming music and literature at Poole Arts Centre, now Lighthouse, that lasted some 28 years until his retirement in 2010 and, crucially, gave his five children the childhood in Dorset he had enjoyed.
In recent years Graham wrote music for string quartet; a chamber opera entitled The Treasure of the Knights Templar; an oratorio Not Just For Sundays and the ballad opera Paix a Peyresq. However, for the last three years he had been largely concentrating on a wide range of choral music with Wessex Consort, the incredibly talented ensemble of 12 young singers of which he was so proud.
With them he released two CD albums, A Choir for All Seasons and’Tis Christmastide. A third, featuring Graham’s settings of Hardy poetry, will be available on Aeterna Records later this summer.
Graham was deeply knowledgeable about his passions, a constant source of inspiration, and as a highly skilled and expressive composer and arranger his work was supple, nuanced and intelligent, evidently as enjoyable to play and sing as it was to hear.
In a business where such qualities are rare enough to be remarkable, Graham was unswerving in his efforts to secure the best interests of the artists he represented and booked, leaving them free to concentrate on giving of their best for the audience.
Graham was a kind, generous man with a keen sense of fun and a uniquely positive outlook on a world that frequently appeared anything but. He will be much missed by all who knew him, but especially by his wife Pam and childrenMel, Lu, Andrew, Caroline and Austin and his wife Jackie and their children Ellie and four-week old new arrival Henry Graham.
Following a private cremation a memorial service for Graham has been arranged for 14 July at St Mary’s Church Lytchett Matravers from 1pm.
:: Andrew is running the 46-mile Jurassic Quarter ultra marathon from Portland Bill to Old Harry Rocks on 19 May in aid of the Dorset Cancer Centre at Poole Hospital. To donate visit justgiving.com/fundraising/arrunning.