Obituary: John Duffy

The LSO is saddened to hear of the death of John Duffy, former LSO Double Bass and later Personnel Manager, on 14 February.

John played in the LSO Double Bass section from 1966 until 1976 when he became the Orchestra’s Personnel Manager. John’s fixing and organisational skills were legendary, as he single-handedly booked the players for all the sessions in the LSO’s very complex schedule without the aid of any of today’s technology. He accompanied the Orchestra on many overseas tours including summer residencies at the Florida International Festival and visits to Japan, the Far East and Australia.

John Duffy with LSO members
John Duffy, second left, with LSO colleagues 

He left the LSO in 1985 to pursue an international career as an arts and orchestral manager and lived for many years in the USA, Malaysia and Japan.

John will be missed by so many people all over the world and our thoughts are with his son Dominic and his daughter Nicolette and all his family and friends at this sad time.

A tribute by Gerald Newson, former LSO Double Bass

John Duffy, who passed away in February this year, was a man of character and great personality who over his long life represented so much of the style and panache of what we now call the Music Industry.

John Duffy

John was born in Liverpool and took up the Double Bass after watching the Liverpool Philharmonic Bass section in his teenage years. He was so attracted to the lifestyle and uniqueness of an orchestral musician's life and the excitement of the musical world, particularly the Double Bass section with its camaraderie and professionalism, that he was soon drawn into the magical idea of life as a professional musician being a real possibility.

After a period of time in the Liverpool Philharmonic, he joined the Hallé Orchestra as Principal Double Bass before moving to London and becoming a member of the London Symphony Orchestra. These were very happy years for the LSO and for John, full of international touring, recording sessions, concerts with international artists and the beloved film session work at Abbey Road Studios, all which suited his energetic personality. Working seven days a week, it was a time of great excitement with each day presenting different challenges physically as well as musically.

In the 1970s John changed hats and became Personnel Manager of the LSO, where his unique personality and efficiency was coupled with a sharp memory and topped up with his Liverpudlian humour. John became legendary with musicians for his ability to remember phone numbers, players’ wives and children's names, when and where they were going on holiday and reminding them of their next LSO booking. All of this done with pen on the back of an envelope well before the word 'IT' was invented. During this time, he was also involved as Personnel Manager with the European Youth Orchestra which was formed in the early 1980s.

Always looking for new challenges, he moved to Pittsburgh USA, where Lorin Maazel was Principal Conductor, and as Personnel Manager made his mark as an efficient, warm and well organised member of the staff. Often though, he would say to me that there were so many people who had difficulty understanding his Liverpudlian accent during his orchestral announcements as most of the players were Americans or of East European origin. Consequently, many a player missed the bus owing to confusion with departure times announced with an English accent.

After several successful years in the PSO he moved to Miami and helped set up the New World Symphony Orchestra with Michael Tilson Thomas as its conductor.

Always one to seek further horizons he continued in the commercial world with his instrument brokering, where he built up a successful global reputation as an appraiser and dealer in fine musical instruments. During this time, he was approached by IMG agency to help set up a new orchestra in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This new orchestra, The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, which was just being formed, was ready to take up its residency in the new Petronas Twin Towers concert hall. This was a great success and he established a structure of orchestral terms and conditions which are the basis of those musicians' employment today.

On the completion of his time in KL with the MPO he moved to Tokyo, and resumed his commercial enterprises with instruments and achieved much success with high quality sales, including a number of Stradivarius violins. In his final years he returned to KL and spent a very happy six years in semi-retirement as a music consultant before moving back to the UK two years ago to live out his final years with his family and friends.

John was an extraordinary person with a special unique character and manner. He always understood the culture, style and needs of musicians, their fears and joys, and was thus able to relate to them in a warm and caring way. In return, he required from them a sense of discipline and duty toward the profession and to themselves.

He was caring combined with a professional attitude, much loved and respected as a human being from all who interacted with him, an ability to think quickly and adapt on the spur of the moment to changing situations all combined with a great sense of Liverpudlian humour.

John, you will be greatly missed.

Gerald Newson, February 2021