Alan Vinson Middleton by Richard Ineson
I began to learn to play the banjo in the early 1960s and soon found the B.M.G. magazine which was a valuable source of information about players of the past, banjo music, and instructional articles. One of the names I came across in the pages of this venerable magazine was that of Alan Middleton (aka Alonso Medio) whose original compositions and fine arrangements of things such as the Bach ‘Bouree’ were often featured in the music supplement.
Alan Middleton had been taught to play the banjo by Bernard Sheaff who was Cammeyer’s duet partner, although Alan’s father P. A. (Pa) Middleton was his primary musical inspiration.
Alan was born in 1927 and witnessed the Crystal Palace burning down as a boy(he was not involved) in 1936, from his bedroom window, he and his parents were living in Croydon at the time.
National Service was still a feature of every young man’s life until 1957 and Alan did his compulsory stint in Palestine. He had been trained a as a cartographer and he spent most of his time mapping the country prior to it leaving UK control in 1948
On his return from the Middle East, Alan was employed by the Clifford Essex Music Company at their premises on Old Compton Street, the move of the company to this address being brought about by the destruction of the C.E.Company’s previous premises on Shaftesbury Avenue in the London blitz of WW2.
It was during this time that he met his future wife, Sheila Topliss, who was born in the Scilly Isles, her father was a noted artist. Sheila persuaded Alan to undertake a course of training as a craft teacher and on qualifying, he secured a position as a teacher on the Isle of Guernsey where he remained until his retirement in the 1990’s.
Alan had great woodworking skills and made many musical instruments during his long life, including a harpsichord. He also made guitars and harps of all sizes, the harp was his favourite instrument.
I first met Alan as a result of playing the banjo with Paul Whyman, his son in law, in the 1980s, Paul had recently qualified as a Doctor at Sheffield University which is how I came to meet him.
Paul invited Alan to come out of banjo retirement and take part in the Reading Banjo Festival which was organised by Julian Vincent and was held in the Reading Town Hall at the time. This seemed to rekindle Alan’s interest in the banjo and when he retired from teaching he and his wife returned to England and Alan became an active member of the UK banjo world once more.
We often performed together and Alan began writing new pieces for the banjo including his ’Something Different’ Suite amongst many others, we also supported the various Federation events and took part in the competitions.
Later, when Clem Vickery revived the Clifford Essex Company and the B.M.G. magazine, Alan became the editor and ensured the success of this side of the C.E.Co. business.
Alan was a very decent chap of the old school, and had a good sense of humour, we would travel together to various musical events and Alan’s wit made the miles skip by.
Inevitably time and old age took its toll, his charming wife, Sheila passed away and Alan returned to Norfolk where he continued to enjoy life but retired from performing, preferring to concentrate on his woodworking and his model railway.
It is some years since we saw and heard Alan play his banjo, the last time being at the Backwell Banjo Rally, his contributions being sadly missed.
He leaves two daughters, many worthwhile compositions for the banjo and the guitar, a guitar tutor and many memories.