Portsmouth Light Orchestra marks its 80th anniversary

An amateur orchestra capped a special anniversary in style by holding a concert playing iconic music.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 27th October 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 27th October 2016, 5:31 pm

The Portsmouth Light Orchestra (PLO) was formed in 1936 and has attracted different musicians from various backgrounds throughout their 80 year life-span.

The ensemble, which practises once a week at Buckland Community Centre, in Malins Road, has an emphasis on playing light-hearted tunes that get audiences’ feet tapping and that most people have heard previously.

Although there are plenty of different abilities among the members, they share a passion for classical music and playing in such a way that makes their audience sit up and take note.

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To mark the orchestra’s 80th anniversary, it hosted a concert at Admiral Lord Nelson School, in Dundas Lane, where it performed tracks from films such as Pirates Of The Caribbean, as well as other well-known hits.

Leading the production was conductor Eddy McDermott, 66, who’s got a wealth of experience.

He’s been a passionate classical music fan since his father played him Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring as a child.

Eddy spent almost 30 years as a Royal Marine Bandsman and his talents saw him chosen to play on Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia for 12 years, performing in front of the likes of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton during his career.

Mr McDermott, who lives in Gosport, said: ‘I have always been musical and started playing the flute when I was eight years old.

‘Most of my life has involved either playing or listening to music and it has been a great way to live.

‘I have performed all over the world on the Royal Yacht, such as the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

‘Because it was a very high standard of music, it was the epitome of my career and I got a great deal of pride from it.’

After leaving the Marines and working for Virgin Records, where he helped the classical music section flourish, Eddy then took over as conductor of the PLO in 2008 from the late Bob Loft, a former Royal Marines Bandsman who passed away in 2009.

Since taking on his voluntary role, Mr McDermott has taken pleasure in showing people how to play their music in a different way and gets great satisfaction from hearing their progress.

He said: ‘When you are standing in front of an orchestra, it is a mesmerising experience.

‘There is really nothing that compares to it.

‘The only thing that I can compare it to is the sound of Concorde when it used to take off.

‘Members still want to learn, no matter what age and you’re never too old to be educated.

‘A lot of people can play a note – it is getting them to play it in a certain way that I try and encourage.

‘It is really satisfying when you tell someone to play it a different way and they then can tell the difference.

‘At the 80th anniversary concert, I decided to play a lot of songs from Pirates Of The Caribbean as the last film is coming out next year.

‘A lot of the people knew the songs we played and some people got up and applauded us at the end – it was a great effort from all.’

Val Loft, Bob’s husband, spends a significant amount of time planning the concerts, as well as recruiting new members.

Mrs Loft, 79, a former secondary school teacher, who plays the piano, said: ‘The anniversary concert went extremely well.

‘We play a variety of genres, most of which are light-hearted and many of them are quite famous – I really enjoyed playing Phantom Of The Opera.

‘Bob was the previous conductor for 26 years and he helped a lot of people.

‘He used to change the music we played every six weeks, which was a massive task for everyone.

‘Eddy gives musicians longer and works really hard to improve them.’

The PLO has been backed by a number of former Marine bandsmen and they also help out charities in the process.

Val added: ‘Raising money for the charities gives us a lot of pleasure.

‘We’re really grateful to everyone who has helped us over the years.’

Jenny Reeves, Val and Bob’s daughter, is the longest member of the orchestra having joined aged 12.

She reached Grade VIII on the violin – the highest grade possible – and she enjoys the relaxed environment the most about the PLO.

Mrs Reeves, 44, said: ‘I played a piece along with my mum and it’s great to be able to play with her.

‘It is a lovely place to practise on a Tuesday evening.

‘It is more relaxed than other bands that I play in and that’s why I think it has been going for so long.

‘The best thing about playing the violin is that it is a hobby. I can play at home or with other people and it is a break from day to day life.

‘We would really like the younger generations to start playing with us. Granted, you have to be able to play an instrument to a Grade V standard, but we encourage all abilities to come along.’