James Blades

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James "Jimmy" Blades OBE (9 September 1901 – 19 May 1999) was an English percussionist.[1][2][3]

He was one of the most distinguished percussionists in Western music, with a long and varied career. His book Percussion Instruments and their History (1971) is a standard reference work on the subject.[1][2]

Blades was born in Peterborough, England in 1901.[2] He was a long-time associate of Benjamin Britten, with whom he conceived many of the composer's unusual percussion effects.[4] In 1954, Blades was appointed Professor of Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music.[1][2]

As a chamber musician he played with the Melos Ensemble and the English Chamber Orchestra.[1]

Blades' pupils included the rock drummers Carl Palmer and Richard James Burgess as well as the percussionist Evelyn Glennie.[1][2]

His most famous and widely heard performances were the sound of the kettle drum playing "V-for-Victory" in Morse code, the introduction to the BBC broadcasts made to the European Resistance during World War II,[1][2] and providing the sound of the gong seen at the start of films produced by the Rank Organisation. Blades played this sound on a tam-tam. On screen Blades's sound was mimed to by the "Gongman".

His autobiography Drum Roll: A Professional Adventure from the Circus to the Concert Hall was published by Faber & Faber in 1977.[5]





  • Graham, Colin. "Staging first productions 3", from Herbert, David (ed) (1989). The Operas of Benjamin Britten. Huntingdon, Cambs: The Herbert Press Ltd. ISBN 1871569087.