Paul Johnson. Sacred Choral Music and Solo Songs
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The Entertainments


magicians hatPaul Johnson’s life-long interest in stage and film began as a child; his father’s local act as a ventriloquist and conjurer sometimes required a helper, and at a tender age Paul sometimes filled the role. Then,  in 1941/2 he saw Michael Powell directing location shots for two films, when Lynn stood in for Nazi-occupied Holland.


Powell & Pressburger followed these up with A CANTERBURY  TALE a film which encapsulated elements  central to Johnson’s whole life: choral polyphony; Bach and organ music;  historic towns; the Middle English of Chaucer; period architecture (especially great Gothic cathedrals and churches); and the concealed homosexuality of the film’s main character.


In mid-career as a Music lecturer, Johnson spent a sabbatical year at the Royal Opera House training school learning Stage Management, culminating on his being ‘on the book’ for Joan Cross’s production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO at Sadler’s Wells.  He went on to be S. M. for several operas in London, such as DIDO AND AENEAS  at  Holland Park; THE TURN OF THE SCREW (Toynbee Hall) and HANSEL AND GRETEL.




In 1963, influenced by Readings-and-Music presentations by the Apollo Society which he had enjoyed at various King’s Lynn Festivals in its heyday under Lady Fermoy,  Paul Johnson devised A TWELFTH NIGHT ENTERTAINMENT which was presented at Lynn Town Hall in aid of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign.

 Drawing on a wide range of poets and writers from St. Matthew’s Gospel to Fanny Burney, Pepys and T.S. Eliot, the readings by Peter Tuddenham  and Margaret Mould,were balanced by songs and choral pieces. Jane Manning OBE,  early in her distinguished career, sang songs by Michael Head and William Walton; the composer’s Thoresby Singers sang madrigals.  Music and readings blended together when Benjamin Milgrove’s  hymn tune ‘Mount Ephraim’  stealthily introduced T.S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’.


For a production of Benjamin Britten’s THE LITTLE SWEEP at Sidney Webb College in 1978 he replaced Eric Crozier’s introduction (‘ Let’s Make an Opera’) with CLIMBING BOY.  Britten himself wrote warmly of this in a personal letter.  Later Donald Mitchell (editor of Britten’s letters) wrote that “ last we have solved the problem of the original introduction”.


In 1998, when Paul Johnson was composer-in-residence for the Centenary Celebrations at Walsingham, Norfolk, he devised THE CHURCH OBSERV’D, for two readers and unaccompanied choral group.  The readings ranged from The Book of Margery Kempe and Chaucer, via  Francis  Kilvert, Thomas Hardy  and Kipling to Rose McCauley, Charles Causley and Philip Larkin.


Paul Johnson’s most ambitious Entertainment has been THE PLAY OF MARGERY KEMPE.  This was presented at two separate King’s Lynn Festivals during the 1970s.  The cast of actors and crowd ‘extras’ was supported by a group of singing ‘monks’ and the York Waits.


Paul Johnson is currently working on JOURNEY OUT OF HELPSTON, a tribute to the poet John Clare.   It is designed for two readers and folk musicians, and will feature back-projected photographs relevant to the poet’s life and the selected poems.