This single small photograph of Ireland at St Luke’s has huge significance, given the close (and in some cases lifelong) associations of the composer with the people captured in it. This is the eleventh in a series of short blogs uncovering the personalities behind the faces.
The little boy stood behind and to the left of John Ireland is Charlie Markes (1900–86), whose careful guarding of this photograph makes it possible to write about the choir in 1913. Two choristers had particularly close relationships with their choir director. One was Bobby Glassby, the other Charlie Market.
Charles Stafford Markes was born on 1 July 1900 in Pimlico. His Uncle Victor was a chorister at Southwark Cathedral and took on the task of educating his nephew musically. At the age of 8 he auditioned for Ireland and was accepted into the choir, staying there until his voice broke in around 1915. Charlie became leader of the Cantoris side in about 1913. In this photograph, then, he appears as a senior, valued member of the choir. Markes also became a private piano pupil, taking his lessons with Ireland at his then home in Elm Park Mansions, Chelsea.
After this point he studied organ with Stuart Archer at the Curzon Street Church of Christ the Scientist, before assuming duties as helper to Ireland. Their initial friendship lasted from 1908 to 1920. Ireland used Markes, an excellent musician and brilliant sight-reader, as a trusted person to look at and listen to his music, and to pass comment. He wrote to him often, mainly concerning domestic matters, and they shared an intense friendship, often dining together at The Greyfriars, behind South Kensington station, or The Queen’s, Sloane Square. The two, who had been so close, fell out by accident in 1920. Markes was called up in 1918, and on being demobilized in 1919 turned to light music as a source of income. His first big break was a stint at the Palladium and a tour with ‘The Rockets’. One day Markes was passed in the street by Ireland, and perceived that he had been snubbed for his move into this different musical world. In fact, Ireland was oblivious to this, and the estrangement was merely a case of misunderstanding. In any case, this disdain would have been unlikely, given the composer’s own background as a pianist at smoking concerts. Markes then joined the team of artists that made up the Co-Optimists, a highly successful variety revue that toured the UK and Australia. He married and returned to London in 1929. Ireland was by now at the height of his fame and their paths did not cross – or maybe it was simply that they now led separate lives and had temporarily forgotten one another. They met again in 1948 and immediately resumed their close friendship, Markes then going on to work on Ireland’s music, helping with the preparation of scores for publication, including the orchestral overture, Satyricon (1944).