On Sunday, October 27 I was in the audience of the concert celebrating the life of Molly Townson. Molly, who passed away on May 1 of this year, was a pivotal figure in The Hastings Musical Festival and the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition (HIPCC) and was also well known and loved for her teaching and enthusiastic support for all forms of music in the Hastings area.
Molly Townson was born in Rye in 1944 and attended Rye Grammar School. She lived for her music. With a fine voice as a singer, she became organist, musical director and choir mistress at St Laurence’s Church, Guestling and director of Hastings Musical Festival.
The concert was supported by around 450 people who were treated to an eclectic mix of songs, poems and dance, all chosen to demonstrate how wide was the influence that Molly had on the music scene in Hastings.
The evening was hosted by Wesley Stace, Molly’s singer-songwriter son. Emma and Melanie Stace, Molly’s two daughters, sang for us, Emma with two Roger Quilter songs (one of her mother’s favourite composers) and Melanie, in cabaret mode, sang One Voice by Barry Manilow. This last being a great favourite of Molly’s.
I knew her for many years and never knew that she was such a fan of Barry. Wesley sang a A Sussex Ghost Story.
The cast was comprised of performers who had been influenced and in many cases taught by Molly: Naomi Kilby who is now a singing teacher and performer, Kate Rogers, a past winner in the musical festival and successful singer, Otto James-Bell, no more than 12 years old and one of Molly’s latest pupils to mention but a few.
Close to Molly’s heart was Cantabile, an all ladies choir that she founded and who regularly perform for charity. They gave us two songs that I think would have made her very proud.
Denis Delahunt, Steve Stapley and Sue Hopkins were part of a small touring group that Molly founded some years ago under the name of Soiree which took the form of an Edwardian musical evening.
Denis gave us The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God and Steve sang Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes from The Gondoliers . Both of which were accompanied by Sue on the piano.
Molly worked tirelessly in helping to make the HIPCC one of the leading piano competitions in the country and in recognition of this was, in 2017, awarded the Order of 1066. Frank Wibaut, until recently the artistic director of the competition, Miwako Hosono and Miwako Miki , previous winners, marked this with their playing of several classical pieces which gave us an idea of the very high standard achieved in the competition.
Demonstrating the versatility of Molly’s abilities, we heard Louise Winter singing three songs written for Molly by Gavin Bryars which she sang last year in what turned out to be her last public performance.
It was known that Petula Clark, who is president of the musical festival, would be making an appearance, but I think many of us were very pleasantly surprised when she treated us to three songs, including of course, Down Town. My companion told me that that was the first record she bought 50 years ago!
The whole evening was interwoven with recordings of Molly singing a variety of songs in her lovely mezzo soprano voice and when, for the finale, past and present pupils and choir members came up on the stage, they and the audience, joined with her in singing Land of Hope and Glory. A fitting end to a wonderful evening celebrating the life of a remarkable and a rather lovely woman.
Thanks are due to the management of the White Rock Theatre who provided the venue free of charge for the event. About £3,000 was raised on the evening and this will go towards the Molly Townson Bursary Fund which will be used to help young performers in Hastings.
Image Credits: Rye News library , Roberts Photographic .