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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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Weedon Weekly: 15th February 2018

Charles Williams

NORMAL SERVICE CAN BE RESUMED!

At last - we have an internet connection again, albeit painfully slow (0.4 meg download). In the interim, I wish I had been able to broadcast a diverting interlude, such as the famous potter’s wheel which the BBC used whenever transmission was interrupted in the 1950s/60s.

My friend Shirley describes her web-browsing activities as a ‘breadcrumb trail’, which I feel perfectly describes the journeys of discovery which can grow out of one visit to the internet. In this case, the breadcrumbs led me to the music behind that video, “The Young Ballerina" composed by Charles Williams. I had forgotten what a delightful piece this is, and I also realised that I know nothing about the composer - although you may well be familiar with what follows. What I have discovered makes me feel quite ashamed of my ignorance.

Charles Williams is perhaps one of the most prolific and successful recent British composers, but because most of his music was written as ‘library music’ (where programme and film makers just pay a modest fee for using the works as background or theme music without any credit to the composer) his name has never achieved the prominence it deserves. During his lifetime (1893 to 1978), Williams composed some of the most iconic broadcast music. He was born Isaac Cozerbreit in London, but opted for the more accessible name as his career developed, first as a freelance violinist playing in theatres, cinemas and symphony orchestras. Only later did he win a coveted place at the Royal Academy of Music to study composition. He followed that with 6 years as an in-house composer for Gaumont British. Then, after the war, he took the baton as conductor of the newly-founded Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra (the very one we hear playing The Young Ballerina). He followed that later by forming his own orchestra, which he led until his death in Worthing at the age of 85.

So what would CW’s CV look like? I’m dumbfounded to learn that we have him to thank for The Dream of Olwen, The Blue Devil’s March, Devil’s Galop (of Dick Barton fame), The Old Clockmaker (used for the Jennings at School radio series - one of my great favourites), the Television Newsreel theme, High Adventure (still used as the theme tune for Friday Night is Music Night), A Quiet Stroll (used for The Farming Programme), Majestic Fanfare (used by Australian Broadcasting Corporation news), and themes for over 50 films, including The Way to the Stars and The Apartment.

Quite a breadcrumb trail! Now I have to resist the lure of enjoying the internet further today and get down to learning some new concert repertoire. But I have a sneaking suspicion some Charles Williams will find its way into it somewhere!

Lovely to be back with you all!

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Apology 12th February 2018

NORMAL SERVICE...

...will be resumed as soon as our internet connection is made.  We joined a new provider a month ago and, although they texted to say 'Congratulations, your new broadband has gone live' on the 30th January, we're still waiting for the connection to be completed.  The unkindest cut of all?  Another text message saying "Your account for your first month of broadband is now ready.  You can view it online". Ha jolly ha!

In the meantime, thank goodness for this computer in the public library so I can say 'You're not forgotten'.

Weedon Weekly: 23rd January 2018

Never too late

NO SUCH THING AS ‘TOO LATE’

So often people say to me, with heartfelt regret, “I’d love to take up music [again] but I’ve left it too late”. And I always counter that it’s never too late to get pleasure from music in some form or other.  Apart from those whose hearing has altered so that sound is distorted, there’s always broadcast and recorded music to enjoy.  One can learn a phenomenal amount about music history and/or theory by listening to it with some explanation. One of the most popular courses we ran for HF Holidays was ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Music’ in which Tony and I explained each aspect of music - melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre and expression - and then played glorious works which illustrated each facet. The guests always said they got a whole new level of pleasure from each piece, once they understood what was happening ‘under the bonnet’, so to speak.

So much for listening. What about playing an instrument? We often overestimate the effect of physical constraints in music making that come with increasing age. 

  • Our eyesight might be less than perfect - but we can still learn to play by ear (yes, really - it is a learnable skill). 
  • Our hands may have stiffened up - but we have modern keyboard instruments which can be satisfying and melodious when played with one finger on each hand while the ‘automatics’ do the rest. And the very business of playing can restore lost mobility to digits. 
  • We may feel our ability to absorb new skills has gone out of the window along with the colour of our hair (or even our hair itself). But the brain is tantamount to a muscle, which strengthens with exercise. We can always make new synapses, connections between the neurons, like an old-style telephonist connecting calls. This is particularly evident in those who have suffered a stroke. My father rediscovered his arm movement by thinking about a cough, and his leg movement by thinking about a yawn. And research has shown that the discipline of learning a musical instrument gets less frustrating and more rehabilitative each day. 
  • Our hearing may have become ‘bassy’ or ‘toppy’, but Orla have manufactured instruments with adjustable bass and treble frequencies to help tune the sound to our liking.
  • We may seize up in the back, neck, shoulders or legs when we sit too long at the instrument, but a cheap cooking timer makes a great reminder to stand up and stretch after each short stint of 3 or so minutes.
  • Perhaps we feel too down to enjoy life. But we can ‘lose ourselves’ at an instrument so completely that our concerns are shelved for a welcome while. 

This week, the real headline item concerning music has come from a charity called ‘Playlist for Life’. Its founder, broadcaster Sally Magnusson (daughter of Magnus Magnusson) discovered that her mother’s distress from dementia was soothed immeasurably when she played her significant songs from her past. I have seen this in action myself, as I used to play for the Alzheimer’s Society. When I first arrived, my audience would be asleep, uncommunicative or uneasy. But before the end of the first piece of music they were all alert, happy and active. Memories would be exchanged, laughter (and some tears) would abound, and I would share their happiness at the shared experience.  Broadcaster Anthony Hopkins told me that his wife was beyond communication unless he sang his conversations to her. She would answer in song and they would be completely unhindered by her lack of spoken words. Yes, music is probably the first thing we revel in whilst in the womb, and its power to move and lift us lasts a lifetime. 

PS: Since writing this, I have just spoken with our pal Alf who is revelling in playing his refurbished Baldwin Theatre organ which he purchased 33 years ago. He is the embodiment of all I have just said, as today is his 97th birthday. 

 

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Weedon weekly add-on: 13th January 2018

Cross emoticon

Computers? Nothing to smile about!

If you received my blog as a newsletter today, you may wonder why a smiley face followed the announcement of TOE's impending demise. I'm wondering the same thing! I now discover that my computer is an incurable optimist. If I type in a sad face  :-( it replaces it with a smiley one  :-)  I'm all in favour of a sunny nature, but who's boss here? Me or my computer?  Hmmm. Better not answer that...

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