In the Beginning
As a child I woke daily to the sound of classical music floating or booming up the stairs while my Dad smoked his first pipe of the day or sang robustly along to his favourite Beethoven or Mozart symphonies. My mum's favourites were the pop songs of the 40s - Ella Fitzgerald and the Andrews Sisters. I remember her singing "A Tisket a Tasket, I Lost My Little Basket" and "Don't Sit Underneath the Apple Tree with anyone else but me".
A piano came into the house and my brother David started lessons with Mr McDaniel down the road. I had to wait till I was seven and then I too trotted down to Mr McDaniel and learned to play The Bluebells of Scotland and The British Grenadiers. Mr McDaniel had lost a leg in WW1, and it was hard not to look at the pinned up trouser against his stump. If I got to my class early I sat on his settee and looked at copies of Titbits Magazines, naked breasts and female mud wrestlers, exciting and disturbing in equal measure, while Audrey Swinburne finished her five finger exercises. Back home I was encouraged to practice by the placing of an egg timer set for fifteen minutes on top of the piano. Even though I could hear my pals playing out on the street and longed to join them, the egg timer held me to the piano stool till the bell went ping and I could run out to play.
Neither of my parents played an instrument, though Mum remembered a group piano class where they were given silent cardboard keyboards and were expected to...what exactly? They were delighted that David, Debbie and I all wanted to learn and encouraged and supported us through exams and small concerts. We belonged to the Methodist Church and went every year to a church-organised music and art competition for the Kent area. We were the family Von Nelson, winning cups and certificates that Mum hung on to for years. When relations or family friends came to visit we were asked to play and sing. I sang "In an English Country Garden" and "The Ladies of the Harem of The Court of King Caractacus" by Rolf Harris. When I played piano there was a sighing agreement - she's so sensitive!
We listened to the Saturday morning Childrens Favourites programme, Danny Kaye and the Ugly Duckling, Doris Day in the Westwood Stage, Oklahoma, The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swan. Pop music was rationed in our house. We could watch Top of the Pops, or Juke Box Jury, or Thank Your Lucky Stars. The Beatles changed everything. Even Mum and Dad would come in from the kitchen or the garden to see them on the telly. They were a sensation, an event, a happening!
On my last day at primary school the boys could all be Beatles and the girls could all be Supremes and we could mime to records. Oh hang on.... I wanted to be a Beatle and play bass guitar. Signs of things to come. On family holidays at YMCA guest houses in Folkestone or Shanklin David and Debbie and I formed bands with our cousin Gill. David banged out tunes on ancient pianos, Debbie played cardboard guitar, Gill played drums on wastepaper baskets and I was the lead singer in jeans and sunglasses. It's the Loving things You Do by Marmalade and Last Night in Soho by Dave Dee. Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich - a band name that never struck me as dumb at the time. We sang harmonies on long car journeys, laughed ourselves sick singing My My My Delilah with full dramatic absurdity and Massachusetts in high BeeGees falsetto. And David taught me how to play Georgie Fame's Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde on the piano. A walking bassline! A stomping beat! Dominant 7th chords! My first Blues!
Musings on a musical life.