The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 43









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Garry Laycock: Australian musician 1944-1988

By Paul Bentley


Garry Laycock performing in the Australian Ballet's production The Concert, 1979.

Garry Laycock — who also performed and wrote original compositions and arrangements under the name Leon Gibbons — was born in Bingara, NSW, on 22 June 1944. After an education at Newcastle Boys’ High School and Newcastle University, he spent his early working life teaching music and languages in the Newcastle district and, at South Sydney Boys’ High School, where he was Languages Master.

The development of his musical talent began with the piano accordion at the age of seven. Three years later, his parents enrolled him at the Newcastle Conservatorium to begin piano studies under the tutelage of Joyce Blewitt.  

In 1959, at the age of 15, he was invited with four other Newcastle Conservatorium students, to compose music to be arranged by John Antill and performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra during a concert for schools.   

His musical studies under Frank Hutchens, Alexander Sverjensky and Gordon Watson culminated in a performer's diploma at the Sydney Conservatorium .  

In 1977, he joined the Australian Ballet as resident pianist and was concerto soloist for numerous ballet productions, notably Ballanchine’s Ballet Imperial and Grahame Murphy’s Beyond Twelve, for which he played the G major concertos of Tchaikovsky and Ravel each evening for a total of 42 performances in 21 days at the Sydney Opera House. 

Because of his work on the Australian Ballet’s Anna Karenina, British composer Guy Wolfenden, in Australia to arrange the music for the ballet, was moved to comment in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Garry is absolutely brilliant, one of the best repetiteurs I’ve ever heard. I think that Andre Prokovosky [the choreographer] has completely changed the feel and tempo of many of the numbers during the creative process of working with a brilliant pianist.” 

In 1981, he joined the Australian Opera as repetiteur, performing the daily routine of coaching, rehearsals and pit duties. The Australian Opera gave him the opportunity to do what he liked most of all — accompanying singers. Nothing gave him as much pleasure as the annual Australian Opera benevolent concerts, which allowed him to give expression to his sense of fun and affection for the songs of bygone days. 

Inventiveness and humour are hallmarks of his original compositions and arrangements, bearing such titles as A Fairly Grand Tarantella from a Night or Two at the Opera, Tiptoe Through the Tulips (arranged for the Sydney Clarinet Quartet), Hoagy Carmichael’s Lazybones, arranged for two oboes and cor anglais, and Santa Has an Accident (for horn and strings).  

During his time with the Australian Opera, he gave numerous concerts and broadcasts - as accompanist and soloist — for other organisations, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Sydney Opera House Trust.  His broadcasts included performances at the Sydney Opera House of Herzogenberg’s Trio for Piano, Oboe and Horn, Op 62 and his own arrangements of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words. His arrangements of Tiptoe through the Tulips and Lily of Laguna were broadcast by the Sydney Clarinet Quartet. With conductor Bill Reid and the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra in 1986, he performed Mozart’s Piano Concert no 21 in C major K467 in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival. In 1987, he performed with Anthony Warlow in Theatre South’s production of Melvin Morrow’s A Song to Sing O.  He also appeared as a pianist in the film Burke and Wills

Garry died, after a protracted illness, in Sydney on 15 December 1988.  

In his review of the annual Highlights of Opera concert at the Sydney Opera House on 27 August 1989, Peter McCallum concluded his review with the following comments: “The evening involved tributes to one present and one sadly absent friend. John Shaw, drew warm applause for arias by Borodin and Verdi. The latter was pianist Garry Laycock, accompanist at previous Highlights, whose untimely death earlier this year deprived the AO of a richly appreciated, if unsung, talent.”

His musical compositions, copies of programs, photographs, clippings and other documents have been deposited in the State Library of New South Wales.





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