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Weedon Weekly: 12th January 2018

Robin Richmond LP

THE ORGANIST ENTERTAINS - NO LONGER :-(

After nearly 50 years on the airwaves, the BBC have just announced that they will be axing this venerable programme in May, along with the "Radio 2 Arts" programme and  "Listen to the Band". I remember tuning in as a little girl to get my weekly fix of Robin Richmond, and pretty much sticking with it ever since Nigel Ogden took over as presenter. I only missed it when, in later years, I was away from home being one of the organists actually doing the entertaining.  

How excited I felt when I first appeared on the Radio 2 playlist! I popped up there periodically for a few years, until the Beeb in their wisdom decided that we 'orchestral' players weren't really organists at all. So I put together a new CD of 'pure classical organ tracks' (In Classic Style) which did the trick. I was back on air again! I have recently been putting together a theatre organ mix, but I fear that will never be heard on the wireless now.

Over the years, the programme has had some unexpected champions - not least, Chris Evans on his breakfast show. But now we're told that the special interest programmes are no longer of special interest to Auntie Beeb. A BBC spokesperson says "listeners will still be able to catch organ and brass elsewhere on BBC airwaves. Radio Three regularly features organ and brass throughout the day as part of its commitment to classical music. This includes Choral Evensong, a show featuring [classical] organ music and a dedicated slot "Choir and Organ" each Sunday."

Tony and I shared an ironic laugh at this. Does Auntie Beeb never listen to her own output? When have they ever broadcast a Wurlitzer, Compton or Christie on Radio 3? Even less a Yamaha, Roland or Wersi? No doubt, if they did, the regular classical listeners would have an attack of the vapours. So that argument won't wash, sorry chaps! And the salt in the wound is that these niche programmes are being replaced by yet more amorphous Radio 2 content of pop and chat. 

It reminds me of the sad (and apparently engineered) demise of the hugely popular Organ Stop programme. For many years it went out across the whole of BBC South and West, on 8 or 9 local radio stations, with loyal listeners from South Wales to Lands End to Portsmouth and beyond. One week, we went in to find a letter congratulating the team on having the highest listening figures of ANY special interest programme in the UK! Two weeks later it was taken off air from most of the local stations. Another two weeks later a letter arrived saying that, due to the sudden and unexplained (?) drop in listening figures it would be taken off air altogether. Makes you despair, doesn't it?

So, what can we do about TOE? Probably precious little against the leviathan of Beeb management, but let's not give up without at least a little fight.  If you complain to the Beeb, you will probably get the standard spiel I've copied above (but you could follow that up with another email or a letter). And you could contact the Radio Times Letters page (feedback@radiotimes.com) or get in touch with the Feedback programme. 

I had it in writing from the BBC, when they barred electronic organ tracks from the show, that TOE's menu of purely pipe organs appealed to a surprisingly sizeable swathe of listeners (many quite young). It has, at any rate, been one of the last bastions of the word 'organ' in the media. Even if it didn't exactly reflect your particular taste in organ music all the time, wasn't it, and shouldn't it still be, a brief window onto a world of melody that many remember fondly, and quite a few young ones are just discovering?

 

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Weedon Weekly: 1st January 2018

A set of carillon bells

SAY IT WITH BACH
As I write this, the whole world is seeing in the New Year like a Mexican wave - well, except here at Weedon Music, where we're snug by the fire listening to the rain pattering against the windows. We hope you're equally cosy. Only one tune springs into my mind at this season - In dir ist Freude, arranged as an organ chorale by the incomparable Johann Sebastian Bach. Say that in a Welsh accent and it sounds pure Dylan Thomas. Let's listen to it being played in the skilful hands (and feet) of 40-year old Swedish Organist Ulf Norberg - and he must be good as he played at the Swedish Royal wedding!

Bach wrote this chorale specifically for new year. Did you notice the repeating pedal tune (D G BCDCD G)? It imitates the repetitious peal of celebratory bells perfectly! It's exhausting to play, mind. When I played it in churches, I used to hope the congregation would leave quickly, inspired by its catchy rhythm. But no, they always stayed to the end, by which time I was close to faltering like an exhausted hill-climb cyclist. It is much easier to play it on my electronic organ, and I like to set it up as a carillon for the occasion (here in a recording from my CD 'By the Fireside).

Now let's hear it sung by the Knabenchor, Hannover. Wow, that's different. And if that doesn't set 2018 off to a toe-tapping start, I don't know what will :-)

 

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Weedon Weekly: 7th December 2017

Our view from the gods

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

OK, I confess:  just when I should have been penning this I was sitting up 'in the gods' in a packed concert hall listening to The John Wilson Orchestra and Chorus. If you've not come across this musical phenomenon, John Wilson is a young Geordie lad who decided the MGM film scores (all destroyed when the big screen musicals had apparently had their day) were too good to lose. So he sat down with the many, many hours of soundtrack recordings and re-wrote the orchestral scores in complete detail, all by ear. Now, I've done my fair share of transcribing by ear and like to think I'm no slouch, but I can't see how one life is long enough (or one pair of ears sharp enough) to perform such a herculean task. 

John Wilson looks barely out of his teens now, but he must have been conducting from a pram when he founded the orchestra in 1994. I first heard JW and his startlingly lovely band in the 2009 Proms, since when he's been featured (and televised) every year in that august festival. Tony and I were so enthused that we bought rather expensive tickets to see him live - expensive, even though they were in crammed seats behind the orchestra. When we got there, we found the legroom was so poor we simply couldn't sit down. After some discussion amongst the ushers, we were escorted through tunnels beneath the concert hall to emerge centrally in the dress circle, to what must have been the best seats in the house (and certainly beyond our means) at no extra charge. The orchestra immediately swelled into glorious life and we both shed tears of sheer bliss.

Each year now we scrape together the wherewithal to sit up in the roof when JW returns on tour. And each year he adds yet more to his leviathan orchestra. This year he had his core dance band (4 each of trumpets and trombones, 5 saxes, bass and rhythm guitars, drummer and not one but two grand pianos). Added to that he has a full symphony orchestra - woodwind, French horns, harp, an amazing toy counter of percussion including a lovely celeste, and a body of the most exquisite strings you'll ever hear. This year's new feature was a real Hollywood chorus, who added stunning vocals behind the solo singers. Where can he possibly go from that? Unless it's to introduce the full Busby Berkley dancing spectacular? At least we'd get a birds' eye view from our seats in the stratosphere!

The concert hall was heaving with fans who cheered each number to the echo.  They were mostly our age - folk who remembered those movies the first time round - but also equally enthusiastic young 'uns. It goes to show that, even when pricey, tickets can sell to quality shows. I still maintain that TV exposure is the key to popularity, and TV exposure of organs has been remarkable by its absence. 

Now, as the snow falls so heavily it's blocking out the light, I'd just say that John Wilson and his Orchestra and Chorus are the best winter warmer there is. If you've not seen them yet, watch out for them on the tele, click here to see them on YouTube or even book to see them in the flesh. They truly are entertainment, with a capital 'Eee' (in a Geordie manner of speaking). 

PS: if you receive this as a newsletter sent direct to you email inbox, don't forget that there are loads of past articles available on the website itself.  Just go to www.weedonmusic.com and click on 'Blog'. And if you're already reading this on the website but would like future blogs sent to you direct, then subscribe at the foot of the home page.

 

 

 

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Weedon Weekly: 19th November 2017

Penny

Less Weakly

I'm feeling much better today, perked up by your kind wishes and swift responses to yesterday's blog.  I'm now turning my attention to the opinions you expressed after my item 'Choose Your Fantasy Programme'. Terry, whose email prompted that item, wrote in to say "Well done! I'd like to think a few artists will take note. I like your suggested music - Stylistics, Barry White, Bee Gees etc. Hopefully you will publish the reactions." Your wish is my command, Terry.

Syd said "I'm one of the silver haired concert goers that Terry mentioned. I can remember quite well being in the barrack room in the early 50s listening to Radio Luxembourg on a tinny radio. So my enjoyment of music spans the 50s to the 80s, 1960 to the end of 1980 being my favourite time. Discos in the 70s as a 40 year old teenager - now that was something else! I am not a great fan of modern music. Yes, let's have some light classics included in our concert programme. There are some of us that enjoy this music. Me included."

Chris mailed "What an interesting idea! I was born in 1950 and have a lot of favourite pieces. Sadly, We'll Meet Again and White Cliffs of Dover are not in them. Some of my favourites are Palladio, Whiter Shade of Pale, Nights in White Satin, Cry Me a River, Music of the Night, This Old House, Summertime, Rule the World, Careless Whisper, Tiger Feet - loads more, but you only asked for 10..."

Norman's choice? "I find it difficult to send my Top Ten as I enjoy listening to the arrangements, styles and registrations of the various artists. I particularly enjoy hearing such arrangements as The March of the Bowmen, Knightsbridge March, The Horse Guards, Whitehall and Ivor Novello songs, The Way You Look Tonight, These Foolish Things, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes etc. It would seem I've answered your question re the decade!"  Norman followed up with another point: "My main concern is the use of new compositions. Since I retired, some 25 years ago, I have enjoyed writing as much as playing. I wrote to various publishers without success. This led me to complete the ALCM in order to see if my writing was acceptable. When I have played some of my compositions in public I have received requests. There must be many people like myself, writing music yet unable to find a way of offering these compositions to the general public. Which begs the question, do we only like to listen to the music we know, or are we prepared to listen to new compositions?"

That's a very good question, Norman, and one I shall throw open to our readership. What do you think, folks? And how many would like me to write about getting your music published? I do have an idea up my sleeve...

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Weedon Weakly: 18th November 2017

ESN Wurlitzer

Weedon Weakly?

Why the spelling? Well, dear readers, I had the flu jab and I can report it works: I got the flu. Though I must say it has just been the hot and cold and achey bit. Not one cough or sneeze to interrupt my few days of slumber! I'm now reclining on the sofa, dog on lap, in that rather pleasant no-mans-land where dear Tone is still being doctor and I'm still being lazy patient. I thought I'd fire off several Weedon Weeklys featuring your emails, to get us back on track. This one is made up of your responses to my piece of 21st September 2017 about the American concert venue on a boat, when I asked for your suggestions of pleasant or unusual venues.  

First to reply was Alan Hoar who suggested The Turkey Cock pub in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire.  Alan says "I visited this place 60 years ago and, on making enquiries it's still there, worth a visit.  I won't give the game away, but getting into the place needs thinking about..."
Now, here the plot thickens.  According to the Hunsdon Village website, the pub was requisitioned for demolition by the Air Ministry in 1939. Yet it was still there when Alan visited in 1957. Has this anything to do with the tricky access? Or is it to do with this photo

Next to answer the call for venues was Terry Trevett, who said "The only venue that stands out in my memory is a Folk Park in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I listened to a Swedish pop group many years ago - it could have been the beginning of ABBA but I lost the programme, so I'll never know!" Oh, Terry. I just Googled this, and a book, The Girl With the Golden Hair, is advertised from which an excerpt reads "Her (Agnetha's) next career commitment was a summer folkpark tour with Björn, Benny and Frida, their first as a foursome. One week later, their summer folkpark tour opened in Gothenburg." That programme could have been a money spinner if you still had it...

I can add my own ten pen'orth now - the stunning concert hall at the East Sussex National Golf Hotel (pictured at the top), built by the owner of the golf club to accommodate his other passion: a Wurlitzer. I visited this venue a couple of weeks ago for some marvellous coaching from Michael Wooldridge in the (sometimes scarey) art of 'flying' a huge theatre organ.  The surroundings are, to say the least, impressive, and the organs (yes, there are two of them under the stage) are in apple-pie order. If you're free on the 10th December, then consider the Music Variety Show being held there, with Michael Wooldridge at the Wurlitzer, International Multi-Instrumentalists Andante, Star Singer Samara Stanton, and Drummer Chaz McLeod - as the poster outs it, 'A feast of music and fun'.

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