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Authors: Steve Turner

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Historical, #Nonfiction, #Retail, #Titanic, #United States

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It was in this vibrant place that the first two sons of Leon and Marie-Rose had been born, but both died in infancy. Marius, the eldest, was a victim of diphtheria and then, six months before Roger’s birth, her second-born son, Marcel, died unexpectedly. These tragedies could have been what sent Marie-Rose back to her mother for comfort and help. With Leon at work in the Casino she would have had a lot of free time and yet would have been apprehensive about the possibility of losing a third child. Two years later there was another son who lived, Gaston Leon Carolus Bricoux, nicknamed Lolo by the family.

Roger Bricoux (left) with mother Marie-Rose, father Leon, and brother Gaston.

It seems to have been from his father, Leon, that Roger inherited his love of the arts. Leon had grown up in Paris during the 1860s and 1870s when bohemianism was flourishing and the world was looking to the city as a capital of culture. It was the era of authors Flaubert and Hugo; of artists Gauguin, Renoir, Courbet, and Manet; of the poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud; of the first exhibition of impressionism and the founding of the Folies Bergere; of Haussmann’s creation of modern-day Paris with its wide boulevards, radiating circuses, and public parks. Leon’s father was a painter and his brother, Charles, a teacher of drawing. He was given music lessons from an early age.

In Monaco Leon earned enough money to buy a grand home at 37 rue Grimaldi and also to finance regular visits back to Cosne where they would stay in a house they owned in Bannay. The fact that Leon knew the royal family of Monaco and drove his own car impressed the locals. With his neatly trimmed hair, flourishing mustache, and air of dignified success, Leon Bricoux cut a dash in rural France.

Roger was given a Catholic education in Monaco, first under the Christian Brothers at College St-Charles and then under the Jesuits at the College de la Visitation. When Prince Albert I separated church and state, Leon decided that Roger would continue his Catholic education over the border in Italy at the French speaking College St-Charles in the village of Bordighera, and later la Coeur Immacule de Marie in Taggia. He was confirmed at l’Eglise Sainte-Devote in Monaco in 1903, the same church where he and Lolo would later take first communion.

On graduation Roger was accepted by the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna, Italy, Mozart’s alma mater, which had a great reputation for teaching cello. He studied there for three years, winning first prize for his cello playing, and then moved to France, where he spent an additional year studying at the Conservatoire de Paris. While in the city he was able to work to pay his tuition fees. One short-term contract was with the orchestra of the spa town of Uriageles-Bains. After this he returned to Monaco.

Roger Bricoux with cello.

In 1910, at the same time that Wallace Hartley was on the
Lusitania
, Bricoux accepted a twelve-month contract with the Grand Central Hotel orchestra in Leeds. Somehow he must have come to the attention of the Black brothers. The Grand Central Hotel, which had opened in 1903, was on Briggate, not far from the Grand Theatre (1878), which presented serious drama and opera, and the Grande Arcade (1897), and around the corner from Collinson’s Café (1903). Bricoux traveled to England by train and ferry and took lodgings on Melbourne Street, a ten-to fifteen-minute walk away from the hotel.

It was a stirring prospect for a twenty-year-old boy, especially for one who barely spoke English. Leeds had only recently become a city (1893) and its center was being modernized with a series of elegant shopping arcades with high glass roofs and ornate moldings. Its university had opened in 1903 and its first cinema in 1905. The prosperous local engineering and tailoring businesses had produced a wealthy class of people who wanted cultural attractions.

We don’t know much about Bricoux’s time in the city except that he apparently “possessed many friends among the musicians of Leeds” according to the
Leeds Mercury
and was known for his “joviality and friendliness.” As with most hotel musicians he would have had to work for at least two sessions each day and be available for concerts, dances, and special events.

It’s very likely that he would have made use of the time to travel in England, make new friends, and learn about British culture. In April 1911, as his contract drew to a close, he wrote to his brother who was planning a trip to London, possibly as an eighteenth birthday present:

Dear Lolo,

Father wrote to tell me that you’re coming to London. I’d like to take the opportunity to tell you that if you want to come to see me that would give me such pleasure that I will put you up, feed you and pay for your journey to London and back so it would cost you nothing apart from the effort but I think you know you’ll have some fun too.

It would take you two or three days with an excursion ticket from Cook’s agency. That means you get your ticket from Monaco direct to Leeds and the return from here to London I will get for you. But secure your ticket from Cooks’ otherwise you get taken on a more round about journey and it will also be more expensive. Give my love to father and mother and love to you too.

Roger.

Bring my contract with you. I’m counting on you to come.

The letter, and others like it, reveals Bricoux as a sensitive boy from a close family. He wrote home regularly, was always concerned for the health and happiness of his parents, and was unafraid to discuss his emotions. His father understood the precariousness of the freelance life and Bricoux seemed keen to show that he was becoming self-sufficient. His greatest pride was making a living from music without having to give lessons. Yet it was tough. Work hours were inevitably late and interfered with normal socializing. Wages weren’t huge, so accommodation had to be cheap and was often cramped. He dreamed of a time when he could afford a wife and start his own family

When his contract with the Grand Central Hotel expired, he left Leeds for Lille where he found lodging with a Monsieur and Madame Caron-Guidez at 5 place du Lion d’Or, the address published in the wake of the
Titanic
disaster. When settled in, he played at various Lille establishments, including le Cecil Bar and le Kursaal on rue du Vieux Marche aux Poulets. The Cecil consciously imitated the bars of New York and Chicago, but its music was European and bohemian. In an advertisement it described itself as “an American bar, the most luxurious in Lille, with a gypsy orchestra of the first order, authentic American drinks, warm suppers and diverse attractions.”

The revival of interest in “gypsy music” was part of a movement that prized intuition over formal study, passion over reason. It was a reaction to the dominance of science, engineering, and the doctrine of progress. What was thought of as gypsy music varied from country to country, but there was a shared emphasis on stringed instruments, Oriental ornamentation, and harmonic transitions.

He may also have played at the Café Jean because it was on its headed notepaper that he wrote to his parents on December 30, 1911, when his time in Lille was drawing to a close.

My Dear Parents,

As it is New Year I am writing to you as I have done in previous years to wish you a good and happy year, good health and as few cares as possible because I know you have some but believe me when I say that I do not have any. You would be right to say, “You’ll see when you earn your living” and I do see and it’s hard. But it seems to me that I am unburdening myself of a huge weight because I love you very much. I have many faults perhaps but don’t think that I do not think about you often. I also believe that you are in good health and that consoles me for all the worry I’ve put you through, which I wholeheartedly regret. If the cello from the Sun Palace is no good, tell Morlais to send it to Eldorado in Nice as that’s where I had to go and it’s Morlais who has the business.

All my love,
Roger

The business of the cello and Morlais is unclear and unexplained. He may have been contemplating work in Monaco or Nice but in the end decided to return to England. Madame Caron-Guidez later spoke to
L’Echo du Nord
about the day of his departure from his lodgings in Lille: “All he had was a little trunk and it was my husband who took him to the station when he went. He left us with a wonderful memory.” If this description is accurate, he must have sent his cello ahead of him.

His departure appears to have been sudden and uncharacteristically he didn’t keep his parents informed of his arrangements. He’d been back in touch with the Black brothers who’d offered to give him work as a ship’s musician for a trial period. It was only when already at sea that he let his parents know his plans:

Dear Parents,

At last I can write to you. After receiving my letters you must have been surprised to discover that I was making such a strange and unexpected journey. This is what happened: after finishing at Lille I left for England and got this contract. I think that I’m going to take up my position there as I had such a good time that I haven’t been able to prevent myself from returning and am getting ready to go. It is a trial voyage I am making. That is to say, they are trying me out for two months (paid, of course) to see if I’m up to scratch and afterward I would have a good position. I hope that despite my negligence you are not angry.

I am very well and I hope you are too. Write to me on board the
Carpathia
—in Trieste (Italy) or Naples if you reply later. Naples would be best. The voyage is marvelous. We left Liverpool on February 10th and passed through Gibraltar, Tangier, Algeria, Malta, Alexandria and Constantinople, then (we will call at) Trieste, Fiume, Naples and finally New York. I assure you that it is splendid. We had a storm but I wasn’t at all sea sick. I was amazed. I have very little time as the post is about to leave. I send you all my love.

Roger

I will write at greater length at Trieste.

The
Carpathia
, soon to play such a great role in the
Titanic
story, had been launched in 1902 and regularly cruised from New York to the Mediterranean. In tonnage it was less than a third of the size of the
Titanic
and only carried one hundred passengers in first class. The two-month cruises would call in at up to fifteen ports and typically the outward journeys were populated with wealthy Americans while poorer emigrants were picked up in Naples, Fiume, and Liverpool on the way back. The bandmaster in 1912 was twenty-two-year-old Edgar Heap and on piano was William Theodore Brailey, the London musician who would transfer with Bricoux to the
Titanic
.

The
Carpathia
arrived in Trieste, where Bricoux would post his letter on March 4, and docked there for two nights, setting sail for Fiume (now Rijeka in Croatia) on the sixth. Bricoux omitted to mention the next ports of call—Messina and Palermo in Italy. There was an overnight stay in Naples on March 14, but he used the opportunity to take a one-day excursion (perhaps to Pompeii) leaving no time to write the promised letter to his parents.

On March 5, in Hanley, Staffordshire, an eighteen-year-old domestic servant named Adelaide Kelsall gave birth to a daughter whom she named Laura. Adelaide told her family that the father was a cellist about to join the
Titanic
. The father’s name was left off the birth certificate and the only clues as to any possible connection with Bricoux are this story passed down in the family and the fact that when Laura Kelsall was a young girl she bore a strong resemblance to him.
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BOOK: The Band That Played On
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