Biography:John Watlen

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WATLEN, JOHN. He was, as many of his title pages inform us, originally of the Royal Navy, and must have been much of an erratic genius with a taste for musical composition. Among his musical works are sonatas, concertos, descriptive works, as "The Siege of Toulon," etc. Some of these were published by the Edinburgh music sellers before his own entrance into the music business. In 1788 his own and his wife's name are placed in the subscription list of Gow's " Second Collection of Strathspey Reels," from which it appears he was a music master and tuner in St. James' Square, Edinburgh. After this he was at 17, Princes Street, from whence he published "The Celebrated Circus Tunes, performed at Edinburgh this season," folio. Another set of " Circus Tunes " was also published in numbers by Stewart & Co. Watlen now opened a music shop at 13, North Bridge, and published sheet songs. "Yarrow Vale," his own composition, has this imprint. He, however, cannot have stayed more than a few months here, but removing to 34, North Bridge, he, during the last six or seven years of the century, issued many hundred sheet songs and larger publications. At one time he had a London agency with Mr. F. Linley, the successor to John Bland, but this was before Linley removed to Holborn, for his address, as given on Watlen's sheet songs, was 42, Penton Street, Pentonville. He next had a London agency at No. 1, Charlotte Row, Long Lane, Southwark. Watlen's business was pretty extensive, but towards the end of the century he seems to have fled to avoid arrest for debt to the sanctuary of Holyrood, and while here he published sheet songs, one of which is " Sandy, a favourite Scots song... by Robt. Burns... printed and sold by John Watlen, at his house, the Hermitage, Abbey Hill, where may be had his terms for teaching the pianoforte, singing, and violin, also all his musical works." His Edinburgh career having come to an end he removed about 1800 to London, where he recommenced business. (See London section.) [from Frank Kidson, British Music Publishers, Printers and Engravers].

Edinburgh circus research Kim Baston concludes that Watlen, like many musicians of his era, had a "patchwork" existence of teaching piano and violin, performing, composing and some music publishing. He was employed for seven years as a clerk and piano tuner at the music warehouse of Corri & Co. (on Edinburgh's North Bridge Street), but then acquired his own premises where he bought, sold and rented pianos. Baston also mentions that on the title sheet of one of his self-published works, "The Glorious battle off Trafalgar in Descriptive Music" Watlen proclaimed he spent some time as an officer in the Royal Navy and was "formerly of Salisbury Cathedral [and] late organic of Bombay"[1].

  1. Kim Baston, "The Celebrated Circus Tunes: Music and Musicians in an Eighteenth-Century Circus", Popular Entertainment Studies, Vol. 9, Issue 1-2, 2018, p. 24.