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Weedon’s Wanderings: 8th April 2018

Sibelius sauna shed

GETTING IN A FLAP

We’ve been surprised by catching whooping cough - we’d always assumed it was a childhood illness.  But then we are just big kids. The word ‘whooping’ made me think of whooper swans (which you can see and hear here and here).  From there it was a short step to cranes (here and here). And from there a shorter step still to the beautiful 5th symphony by Jean Sibelius... 

The final movement has a stunning theme, which is sometimes said to represent Thor swinging his hammer.  But I was more convinced by Christopher Headington’s argument that it was inspired by swirling autumn leaves and the wing beats of migrating cranes.  Sibelius composed from a pretty shed by a lake in his native Finland, directly under the cranes’ migration route.  CH felt that Sibelius was sitting in his hut, feeling rather down through being off colour, with the dead leaves skittering around outside, when the huge birds passed overhead on their way South for winter.  What do you think: is this a mythical figure doing some heavy-duty DIY, or the haunting depiction of birds, and summer, deserting a darkening Scandinavia together?

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More Weedon’s Wanderings: 22nd March 2018

Houses of Parliament

GREAT NEWS!

A few months back, I took the unusual step of writing to my MP.  Why? Because moves were afoot to close down long-standing small music venues (including village halls etc) if new housing was built nearby. The logic (?) behind this plan was that the new residents would be unreasonably disturbed by the noise from the hall. No-one seemed to view the entertainment on the doorstep as an asset, which I certainly would. Not to mention that the hall would be useful for playgroups, scouts, community gatherings and the like.

I was surprised to receive a fulsome and personalised letter from the MP, although he was able to offer no concrete hope. But today my copy of the Musicians’ Union magazine flopped onto the mat, with the great news that the bill has been changed: now it’s the builders’ responsibility to make the homes sufficiently sound-proof and the halls can stay open.

I’m not patting myself on the back for this change of heart, though. It looks as though Sir Paul McCartney was the prime mover and shaker on this one, backed by Jools Holland, Brian Eno and various other worthies.  Nice to hear that sense can, however, prevail at some points in the mad times we’re witnessing.

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WEEDON’S WANDERINGS: 22nd March 2018

Penny wandering

What’s in a name?

As you may have noticed if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I have been struggling to name it.  I think it started out as Weedon Wednesdays, and it has certainly ended up as Weedon Weekly.  But neither describes it accurately. The arrival of each instalment is dependent on my work schedule, my access to the internet (which has been completely haphazard since we moved into our ‘Hansel and Gretel’ home in the forest) and whether I have anything of interest to impart. I’ve been fretting about this, and Tony suggested over breakfast that ‘Weedon’s Wanderings’ would be a better fit.  I’m not entirely sure if he was referring to the fact that I often lose my thread in conversation with him, or that completely disconnected subjects grab my attention at unpredictable intervals.  Never mind.  Let’s go with Wanderings for now, and I hope you enjoy the element of surprise which that title will allow!

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Weedon Weekly: 12th March 2018

Brian Sharp
Mark Shakespeare

STILL REMINISCING...

Although I made no headway in music by the accepted routes of 'who you know' and 'luck', I eventually fell (like Alice falling into Wonderland) into exactly the right place for me. The organ world. And what a wonderland it has been! I was fortunate to discover it just as 'orchestral' organs were developed, just as the whole happy organ community was growing like topsy, and just when I expected it least.

My time at music college had been cut short by joint trouble. My foray into the record industry, working at EMI, ended in disaster (that's another story). What on earth was I to do with myself?

I'd just learned to drive, and my mum sent me for my first solo trip to get her some carrots.  I came home completely vegetable-free but with both a job and an organ. I'd chanced upon a new shop with a window shaped like a grand piano. Sneaking in quietly, I saw a youngish fellow playing an instrument in a see-through Perspex case. The sounds coming out were like nothing I'd heard before.  Positively symphonic.  The shop owner, a very trendy chap with bell bottoms, kipper tie, wide lapels and a stage curtain of hair, sidled up and asked me if I liked what I heard.  I nodded.  

'That's Brian Sharp' he waved towards the player.

'He's very good,' I said. 'He ought to take it up professionally!' I still wither with embarrassment when I recall that faux pas.  Many years later, when I shared my stupidity with Brian himself, he was kind enough to laugh uproariously. 

Anyway, I bought that Perspex organ (or rather my long-suffering parents paid for it - I just arranged delivery). And the shop took me on as their travelling music teacher. The organ was an Eminent proto-type and it satisfied my longing to be a conductor.  Here was an entire orchestra at my fingertips.

At this point, organs were selling like hot cakes. It was my job to drive round the leafy lanes of Bucks to the purchasers, and teach them how to use and play their new toy. In many cases, these encounters turned into life-long friendships.  It always seemed to be hot and sunny then. And I always seemed to be offered delicious homemade lemonade and just-cooked biscuits when I arrived. This beat the so called 'fame' I had thought I wanted!

I fell into playing for concerts by chance. One of my pupils ran an organ club, and he booked me to do a workshop and play a few pieces. Then he suggested to Sceptre Promotions that I do the same thing at their massive Caister Festival. What a shock that was - about 1200 people, including countless families with children, ranged round a huge stage listening to me. The spotlights were blinding and I can say I have never been more terrified in my life.

Those were the days of free electronic organ concerts in prestigious venues, staged by the manufacturers - Lowrey, Farfisa, Elka, Hammond, Gulbransen, Baldwin, Godwin, Marlborough, Bird, and of course Yamaha and Technics, to name a few. The demonstrators were heroes of the organ world, including one beautiful youth in his early teens, Mark Shakespeare, who wowed us all at the Wersi kit organ. One of my pupils bought the kit and assembled it over hundreds of hours in his loft - then found he couldn't get it down through the hatch. 

I'm sure many of us remember those heady days. People say now that the organ world has had it. I disagree. But it's certainly in need of urgent help.  What could that be?  Well, I'll mull that over till next time, and would love to hear your thoughts and reminiscences as well.

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Weedon Weekly: 7th March 2018

Harry Belafonte
Bert Weedon
Don Estelle

THE FAME FORMULA?

So: what do all these people have in common? Fern Britton; Harry Belafonte; Simon Rattle; Barry Mason; Joseph Cooper; Joe Loss; Vera Lynn; Pam Ayres; Don Estelle; Basil Brush; Marty Wilde; Frank Carson; and Bert Weedon.

Give up? Well, when I decided I'd like to work in the music business, everyone said the same thing: ""Success is being in the right place, at the right time, and knowing the right people!" Then they helpfully added that it was all down to 'luck' anyway. This was a confusing recipe for a young hopeful.  Where was the right place? London? New York? Probably not rural Buckinghamshire, where we lived. And, once I'd decided on the right place, when was the opportune time to be standing there? And which of the passing people were the right ones? It was all totally baffling.

As it turned out, the right people came and went in droves.  I went to school with the now famous TV personality and writer, Fern Britton.  I competed in a music competition with, and tied for a place with, a child who was escorted and intently watched by Harry Belafonte (as my mother pointed out in rather too loud a whisper). I was at music college with, but too over-awed to speak to, the big haired and very popular young Simon Rattle before he hit the heights as a conducting maestro. I was coached in song-writing by the author of such hits as Delilah and Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, Barry Mason, and was too shy to accept his invitation for further help.  I was adjudicated several times in competitions by Mr Face the Music, Joseph Cooper. When I worked at EMI I regularly ran errands to Joe Loss, and even received a Christmas card from him. At the same time, I rubbed shoulders with Vera Lynn, Pam Ayres, Don Estelle and Basil Brush (the voice, not the puppet) and probably many more who escape me. I played with my drummer friend as the warm up act to Marty Wilde and the Wilde cats, and backed Frank Carson (hard to do, when you're laughing till you cry). And, to cap it all, I never took up an invitation to coffee with my namesake, Bert.

So, all in all, I've managed to be in the right place in the wrong way, wasting time, and totally failing to connect with the right people. I don't know if that counts as 'luck'. But it's been a heap of fun. 

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