Portsmouth Music Scene

The Portsmouth Music Scene

Florence Annie Lavinia Greaves


Miss Florence Greaves,
photo taken from an Evening News page

Florence Greaves was responsible for re-starting the Portsmouth Competitive Musical Festival
after the 2nd World War.
The article below appeared in the Evening News 20th April 1956.


THE littte girl who used to alter the clock when music practice time came, grew up to be the central figure in one of the major musical events of her home City.
Florence Greaves was a dramatic soprano soloist of an era when people made music for themselves and when musical concerts in churches and halls occurred almost nightly in Portsmouth, Now, 30 years later, Miss Greaves regrets the lost inclination for amateurs to make music in their homes and in public because there are so many 'ready-made" amusements to be had It is not the fast that amusement comes easier that worries her most. but that young persons who have talent, so few worthwhile opportunities to be heard as amateurs.
So many young people should be heard, but there is no trying out ground," she told a reporter. through the Portsmouth Musical Competition Festival resurrected as an annual event by Miss Greaves after it had lapsed during the war, that local singers, instrumentalists. and amateur actors have an opportunity to hear opinions on their talent from eminent adjudicators at a fraction of the usual fee.


The cost of running the festival is met entirely by voluntary subscriptions and occasional money - raising functions, For weeks before the event, Miss Greaves's home in Victoria Road South. Southsea, becomes the official centre for administering the Festival and her husband. Mr H. Primmer, becomes caught up in the enormous amount of paper work involved. Miss Greaves deplores the public attitude that will not support the " local " person, however talented. Early in her career she gave many solo performances in concert-halls and churches to Portsmouth but as time has passed, she has in performers who may be their near neighbours.
Why does one not get more out of one's own territory? she asked " The general public think if someone is local they cannot be very good, Why not? Miss Greaves is slow to talk about her personal musical career, preferring to dwell upon music generally in Portsmouth. and the things she would like to see happen in the musical life of the City. Miss Greases was trained by Stirling McKinlay, an eminent London teacher. She learned to sing anywhere, at any time " and public performances helped to meet lessons.


First great moment in her career came when was a soloist in the peace thanksgiving service on January 5, 1919, in St. Thomas's Church, High Street now Portsmouth Cathedral. This service was marked by one of the early performances of Stanford's Thanksgiving Te Deum. Later she had a bigger thrill in appearing at the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth. in a concert conducted by Sir Dan Godfrey "To get there was the Mecca-and I was the cat's whiskers that day," she said. She recalled the friendship of the late Mrs. Grace Bullin, who was also a well-known member of the flourishing Portsmouth music circles, She was Miss Greaves's accompanist at her first recital and was her chaperon on trips to London for her lessons from Mr MacKinlay.
Occasions that were very serious at the time, but are amusing to remember, were when she sang as part of the accompaniment for silent films. One advertisement bills her asa film, "The Song of Love " which' starred Norma Talmadge in a sensational story of desert passion and intrigue. But after telling this short amount about her own career, she returned to the wider subject of music for Portsmouth audiences.


" I would dearly love to dramatize an oratorio before I die," was one of the wishes she expressed. She believes in combining colour and dramatization with music, and from the many letters of criticism that followed her production of "Hiawatha" last year, she likes to recall the warming letter which said that its writer was made, against her will, to enjoy the production because of its colour.
Another dream, " Utopia " she calls it. " If only all the local experts on music could be persuaded to get together under the guidance of one man, perhaps an invited conductor, sharing their ability. Look at the absolute wealth of music for one evening." In more recent years she has become a leading figure in several fields other than music in Portsmouth although music has at times crept into other work. She is a past -president of the Portsmouth Women`s Club and of the Business, and Professional Women's Club, and a founder-member of the League of Friends of St Mary's Hospital, of which she was secretary until a year ago.


She formed a nurses' choir at St Mary's Hospital, and among their successes was the winning of the choral cup at the Isle of Wight Music Festival. "It was the first time it had been off the Island for 20 years, they nearly threw us into the sea" said Miss Greaves. The nurses choir is now disbanded, but there are two other choirs formed by Miss Greaves and still flourishing.
They are the W.V.S. choir, holders of the 'Solicitors' Cup for five years at the Portsmouth Musical Competition Festival- And the Cranleigh Ladies which was originally the Police. Wives' Choir. These choirs occasionally appear together as the Portsmouth Ladies Choir. A woman who believes singers should realize that, "It is a privilege to have a voice and who enjoys singing and making others sing" Miss Greaves seems personification of the motto of the Festival which causes her so much work. Do thou thy best and rejoice with those whom do better.

Florence Annie Lavinia GREAVES age 8 in 1911 born 1903 Portsmouth.
Florence A L Greaves married Harold S Primmer Sept qtr 1928 2b 1295
son Brian A S Primmer born Dec 1929 Portsmouth 2b 699
harold sidney primmer born 12 oct 1898 died Portsmouth 1978 20 0790
they lived at 46 Victoria Road South.


Portsmouth loses a great musician

Miss Florence Greaves, organising honorary secretary of the Portsmouth Music Competition Festival since its post war restoration in 1947, died yesterday 26th May 1975, age 73.
In private life Mrs. H. S. Primmer, this "First Lady of Music in Portsmouth," as she has been described, lived at 46, Victoria Road South Southsea, which during the period of preparation for the music festival, became the headquarters of the event.
Her husband Mr. Primmer told The News: "Florence had been very ill for about three months. She died in a nursing home. The name of Florence Greaves was synonymous with the Portsmouth Music Competition Festival, but she had also been with many other music ventures, notably the Portsmouth Ladies' Choir, which she directed. During World War II she drove an ambulance. She was a prime mover in the League of Friends of St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth. Again, during the war, she and her Florence Greaves Singers' went around entertaining the troops. Florence Greaves was a dramatic soprano soloist in an era when musical concerts in churches and halls occurred almost nightly in Portsmouth.
Mr. E. T. Symons, former Editor and one-time music critic of The News and a former Chairman of Portsmouth Music Competition FestivaI, has written the following biographical tribute to Miss Greaves.
Some called her " Lady Music' and others 'Portsmouth's Queen of Song', but all are agreed upon the magnitude of her contribution to the city's cultural life.
Reduced to plain fact, they referred to Miss Florence Greaves, who for more than half a century was in the forefront of Portsmouth's musicians, in a variety of ways.
Let us examine her public career as a vocalist, music teacher and administrator. In all capacities she gave of her best, and by normal standard j that meant al very find best indeed. Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. AIfred Greaves, she was born in High Street, Old Portsmouth, on November 27th, 1902, and was christened in old St Mary's Church, Highbury Street demolished after World War II. Educated at Portsmouth Town School, at the age of 14 she became a pupil or piano, and voice with Mr. R. H. Turner, then organist and choirmaster at St Thomas's Church, now Portsmouth Cathedral.
Much of her subsequent development was due to the interest taken in her by the late Mrs. Grace Bullin, first wife of Mayor Sir Reginald Bullin (he had not been knighted then) who herself went regularly to London to receive piano forte lessons from the famous English pianist York Bowen in the next studio was Sterling Mackinlay, well-known teacher of voice production and it was to to him that Mrs. Bullin took her protege on her visits to London.
Soon after the close of World War I, Miss Greaves went to Cardiff to study operatic singing under Edward Davies, of Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company fame, who, I remember, used to be billed as the only British tenor to have sung in Milan. Davies had certainly assumed the mantle of the ageing Ben Davies, most famous of all Welsh tenors.
Cardiff as befitted the capital of Wales, was at it's peak of musical prowess. Edward Davies Iived at Roath Park, overlooking the lake and nearby was Madam Clara Novello Davies, mother of the immortal Ivor, who had achieved national fame overnight a few years earlier with his song, "Keep the home fires burning' one of the great musical successes of World War I and a taste of the splendid musical plays which were to came from his pen. Cardiff's Blue Ribbon Choir was at it's peak, and so were Arthur Angell’s Sunday evening concerts at the Park Hall. The atmosphere of this throbbing musical city must have had an enduring, influence in forming the musical character of it's visitor from Portsmouth.
There returned to Portsmouth, a splendidly equipped young musician with a Mezzo-soprano voice, of remarkable qualify, bereft of the plumminess which sometimes afflicts such singers, but capable of a wide range and subject at will to fascinating changes of colour light and shade which, used in conjunction with good looks and a commanding stage presence, served the owner faithfully to the delight of audiences for the next half-century.
When Florence Greaves married Harold Primmer a Portsmouth Cathedral on September 5th, 1928 many old friends attended to wish the couple a happy future. The Rev. WH David, a former Vicar of Old Portsmouth, emerged from retirement to conduct the service and former church organist Mr. Turner did likewise to play the organ.
As the years progressed Miss Greaves became more and more involved with music in Portsmouth and surrounding districts. She was constantly in demand as a professional singer and also became firmly established as a teacher of voice production and the piano.
In the early1920's she established three choirs among the children at the Marine Orphan Home, St. Michael's Road Portsmouth. She also Ied the Sunday school choir at Green Rxxx Rooms, Pembroke Road, Old Portsmouth During World War II she was conductor of the first Women's Voluntary Service choir in England, and this Portsmouth body enjoy the distinction of having Lady Reading as it's president. Miss Greaves also found time to con duct two choirs at St Mary's Hospital, one for cadet nurses, and the other for senior nurses. Nor was this the end of the story. Miss Greaves also conducted the Police Wives' Choir and the still going strong Portsmouth Ladies Choir of 45 to 50 voices, including a junior section.
The Greaves - Primmer contribution, to Portsmouth's musical life would have been important if only for the great works she and her husband have done behalf of the Portsmouth Musical Competition Festival Society, which they revived at the end of World War II. Miss Greaves as honorary secretary and her husband as honorary treasurer, the Society had its headquarters at her home in Victoria Road South, Southsea. The festival, held annually, brings to Portsmouth distinguished adjudicators who can advise the city's youth on the path to success in the arts.
What has given the parents most satisfaction in he Greaves - Primmer story is the success of their son Brian Alfred Sidney Primmer, for some years now, Iectured in music at Durham University. A Master of Arts and a Bachelor of Music, his appointment crowned a career that started as a chorister , at Chichester Cathedral, followed by study at Hurstpierpoint School and the winning of an open scholarship at Magdalene College, Cambridge where he graduated. Today he, is one of the country's leading authorities on music, with much demand on his services as adjudicator, lecturer and author.
Brian Primmer
Brian born 1929, died on 29 November 2008.
He was very musical while at Hurst and distinguished himself by winning a music scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge.
Brian followed a musical career and was sometime director of music at Dover College and later a lecturer in music at Durham University.
At Oakham School in Rutland, he was music master from 1950 to 1959 this must of been his first music position after graduating from University. He was a brilliant, if eccentric musician, and inspired a generation of schoolboys to love music.
Brian wrote several arrangements for the school choir, and was a talented composer. Not only was Brian a talented musician, he regularly stripped the school organ down to fix sticking notes etc, and remember some choice words coming from the depths of the organ as pipes and bits were ejected, only to be reassembled later as a working instrument. In those days, the music master was expected to turn his hand to everything. Brian Primmer was church organist in Sandwich, Kent.
Dover Choral Society Concert at Dover Town Hall Works: Handel "Messiah" Performers: Dover Choral Society, Patricia Kent, Ann Reynolds, Lawrence Watts, Richard Golding, Brian Primmer (harpsichord), Joseph Dudley (trumpet), orchestra led by Sidney Clout, conducted by Ross Anderson
In the 1970s, the society was privileged to perform Berlioz's “Te Deum”, both in Durham Cathedral and later in York Minster under the direction of Mr Brian Primmer. This work was also performed as part of celebrations for the installation of Dame Margot Fonteyn as chancellor of Durham University.
Mr Primmer was succeeded in 1987 as conductor by James Lancelot.
Brian Primmer c.1970-1987 at Durham University Choral Society.

May 31st 1975, Florence Greaves
May I too add my tribute as one who for many years has been, very closely associated with Florence Greaves in her work connected with the musical life of Portsmouth, and in particular through our work together in the varied forms the Musical Competition Festival has taken in the city.
This association stems from the work of the Portsmouth Welfare Association for the young in 1919, when I was chairman of the Music Competition Committee of that organization Florence who was then in her teens and I nearly twice her age had choirs competing in those early Festivals and have since competed in numerous festivals.
Through World War it these competitions were in abeyance, until resuscitated in 1947 through the initiative and enthusiasm of Miss Greaves.
Her ability and amazing, enthusiasm, shown in all she undertook as a soprano of outstanding charm and excellence, as a member of the executive of the area association of competitive musical festivals as a most successful and inspiring conductor of senior and junior choirs and as a most competent tutor of voice production can only fill one with admiration.
Some young persons, however, inspired by Miss Greaves's ability and enthusiasm, may feel constrained to assist in furthering the great work she brought to such fruition.
Ethelbert Harvey. Park Avenue, Purbrook.



greaves4-10-1924news greaves13-11-1926news

4-10-1924 ----------- 13-11-1926

greaves19-11-1932news greaves18-4-1936news

19-11-1932 -------------- 18-4-1936

greaves15-12-1943news greaves 24-6-1944news

15-12-1943 --------------- 24-6-1944


Florence Greaves singing with Michael Wallis at the piano

Portsmouth Music Festival images

Scrap Books of the Festivals

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