Sunday, 26 February 2012

Carnival Messiah at West Yorkshire Playhouse 1999 and 2002

Dear Debs, I see that there is to be a celebration of Geraldine’s Connor’s life in March at The West Yorkshire Playhouse. So I thought this was the time that I should add mine and Foxwood Steel Bandits’ part in the story.

My steelbands [Foxwood, Sparrows, East Steel] and I played the Hallelujah Chorus in 1999 and 2002 at the Playhouse as [part of Geraldine's epic production that was Carnival Messiah. I think I speak for everybody when I say that it was one of the most moving and ecstatic moments of our lives. Hearing Jean or Michelle say, "Hallelujah, Hallelujah" and then me or Dave clicking the count in to those first joyous bars. We were only on stage for ten minutes but they were so intense. Then the triumphal ending; the truck rolls back and you have to stand really quietly, heart still racing, until you can jump off and dance up and down, or maybe comiserate with someone who missed a couple of notes out of bar 24. Whatever! [For the second run we marked ourselves out of ten every night.] The photograph above is of most of the players from the 1999 run.I played every evening and matinee for both five week runs [ soprano line in 1999, and alto line on double seconds in 2002], and most players played more than half of these shows. The cartoon above is Charlotte's drawing of the band. [I have blocked out of my memory loading the pans in and out and back to College of Music or West Park or City of Leeds School or wherever. Four sets of basses. You wouldn't want to carry them round in your head!]

Practices were whenever people could make them. Saturday afternoons often found Hayley and Stewart exchanging notes on the cellos in my back basement room; Wednesdays after school would find Alicia sorting out Arlisha and Lianna in the study; at City of Leeds School, Georgia showed Tanya and Sarah the way, and Bassem learnt the tenor line on three different layouts of tenor basses – at Parklands, Hillcrest and City of Leeds Schools. Melvin joined us late in the day and 12 year-old Morgan showed him the soprano line. [Melvin had actually been in the original cast, playing steelpan in the other band in London some years before].

There was a complicated rota worked out of who was to play each evening and which pans needed setting up or down. I would get to the Playhouse just before the break and tick players off as they arrived, then, if anyone was away or unexpectedly present a couple of us would rush down during the interval and change the pans backstage on the truck. Hayley worked at some pizza house, and some nights we’d have someone at the Green Room door, ready to let her through – she went more or less straight from the bus to the stage. Philip was at medical school in Birmingham – he only got there twice [hence he’s a bit ghostly out in Charlotte's cartoon].

There were occasional mishaps. I dislocated my knee cap the week before we started the first run, and had to sit down to play for the first two weeks [hence the wooden crutch in the cartoon]; Bex’s cellos were set up the wrong way one evening and she mimed her way through the whole Chorus. One evening in the second run we knew that all the cello-pan players would be away, so Jan had to leave bass and relearn the cellos for that one night.
I needed to make sure that all the under 16 year-olds had a lift or taxi home. Being amateurs, we could not expect everyone to commit to every show, but I need to ensure that the quality of our performance never diminished. We were only a small part of a great show, but my pride and the overall quality of the production ensured we were always good, even with a different permutation of players for every show. And, in fact, as you can see from our card from Geraldine in 1999, we did a good job.
We got standing ovations; we got good reviews. In fact the Daily Telegraph thought we were the only good thing about it. This went to some players’ heads and I had to remind them that it was Geraldine’s idea and vision that we were where we were in the show, and we played what we did. Mrs Sensible Band Leader! I loved our reviews as much as the next player. We made friendships, with Nigel, Ronald, Manny, Preacherman Dave, Pork Pie [see below with me and Mig at the after-party].
Anyway, all good things come to an end. New World re-formed in 2004, a steelband that Geraldine was keen to support and promote, and they played for the next Yorkshire production. But, if you come across the DVD [have to confess, not seen it, so don't actually know if we're on it] or the CD, that’s us playing. We were Foxwood: Victoria [me], Bex, Alicia, Stewart, Hayley, Natalie, Sarah L, Georgia, Morgan, Dave, Charlotte, Victoria S East Steel: Sue, Tamanna, Bassem, Sparrows/Steel Sensation/Merlyn Rees: Tanya S, Thomas, Rosalind, Melvin, Katie, Tracy, Lucy, Sarah, Tanya Y, Esther, Angelica, Sherelle, plus from Pan Explosion [College of Music Steelband]: Jan, Trish, Christine. Becky H,
. . . . and we loved every minute. Geraldine and I didn’t part, in the end, on good terms, which was a shame, but that’s sometimes how it goes, and it does not detract from the memory of those two great runs. And sometimes, I think that our contribution gets forgotten, so I am now setting the record straight for myself and for all of the others above.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Barbecue and even more birthdays in Hyde Park and East End Park

Who would have a barbecue in February in Leeds! John did. Outside in February in Hyde Park, Leeds. It was freezing. The picture [right] doesn't do justice to the cold. The camera flash makes it look quite cosy. It's February - grand-daughters have birthdays: Stella got to be ten, Lola got to be five; then the Foxwood sisters: Bex and Katie had birthdays, as did Vicky. The three of them had their first party at Katie's new house in East End Park. I met Stewart in Carpe Diem where they had never heard of Blue Bex, so I was obliged to start drinking alcohol at 7.30! I was carrying a recently-baked and still warm cake with me, and some royal icing mixed and ready to put on. Dividing the cake in three looked somewhat like a gynealogical artefact. Hmmm. They were all doing karaoke. I said no.

After that, half term came to an end, then, after the East Steel practice, the three of them decided to go for another celebratory drink. By now the medicos in East Steel had assured me I wasn't going to lose this stupid cough/cold/whatever virus by staying in, so I went up to the Hyde Park pub and joined them. Some pub clients were randomly wearing Tigger outfits. We had a couple of drinks and left. No steel pans in this blog, Debs, just a reminder, if you are feeling homesick that it is very cold here in Blighty.

Brace yourself for all our March gigs.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Singapore Bradford Music For Youth Again, Rick's birthday

Well, Morgan took his planes to Singapore on the 4th. We, the family had a couple of farewell dinners for him, one previously at his work, and one at our house. [Please note that, in this picture on the left, no alcohol is being consumed.] Then Walt offered to drive Mig to Manchester on Friday, ready for his early flight to Dubai, and compounding my anxieties about sons travelling. February in Yorkshire and snow forecast. They ignored me, as sons do, and of course Mig safely gets to Manchester; Walt safely gets back to Leeds, Mig takes plane to Dubai [briefly near yourself, Debs], and it snows so hard in Leeds 12 hours later that taxis, yes, taxis won't take us to Bridget's party in Roundhay.

Meantime it's the Music For Youth Primary Prom in Bradford, and now I have the photos of Barney in our dressing room, with a much-quivering Danielle, and a much quivering Ashley. Nina finds a small cupboard to hide in [I see a theme here]. And this is Amy outside St George's Hall, waiting for the van and demonstrating the temperature. Cold.

Friday 10th springs up; Foxwood PHAB gig at Prince Philip Centre is cancelled due to the weather; we all take Rick to the West End for his birthday. I call the picture with him and the kids, Help.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Wild Horses, Otley Chevin and Music For Youth in Bradford

Dear Debs, So, you're in Abu Dabi, where I guess it's hot and we're here in Yorkshire, where it definitely is the coldest night this winter.

Setting the scene. On behalf of my local high school, City of Leeds, I teach at several local primaries. You won't be surprised to learn that I teach music to them all, whole classes of percussion: steelpans, glocks, xylophones, djembes, tambourines and anything else you can shake, rattle or hit.

Not a primary school teacher by training or inclination, I first entered the Schools for Smalls with some trepidation back in 1996 when I joined the Leeds Music Service as a peri. And once I got the hang of it, and got over the fact they kept bursting into tears, well, I guess I did quite like them - well Years 5 and 6 anyway. So when Tracey emailed me just after Christmas and asked if I was coming in on the first week back, I replied: Wild Horses . . . . and so the 3-5 school Hyde Park Percussion Orchestra was renamed. And, Debs, on the right here is Shire Oak, Blenheim and Quarry Mount at their first joint rehearsal in the City of Leeds Drama studio. Along with Rosebank and Springbank we're all entering theMusic For Youth Regional Festival at St Aidan's Harrogate on March 10th. If they all come it'll be nearly 100 children all in one band. But I am not counting my little chickens until they all get to Burley Park Station.

I was hyper all Thursday evening with how well they'd played. I needed a walk on the Chevin. That's Sunday me, Diz, Lola, Joe, Ben. Me and Ben only had thin socks in our wellies, and after jumping in a few ice pools, Ben retired frozen feet; as a responsible adult I kept out of the puddles after that, and the photo is the little leader again with her mum.

Back to the working week, and now it's the Leeds Silver Doves at the Music For Youth primary Prom in Bradford St George's Hall. We had to meet at 7.30 am at Leeds Station. Me, Joe M and some teenagers, and a couple of 20 pluses. None of us with a track record of early rising!

Varshika was at the station for the 8 o'clock train to Liverpool for her Uni interview. She texted Amy that she assumed we'd all made it as there was none of us left on the platform. Well actually one of us was still in bed! No problem, Joe M1 stood in for the soundcheck and Joe M2 got the bus over plenty of time for first set. Teachers were me and Joe; players were Amy, Joe, Sophie, Nina, Ashley, Maisie, Danielle, Georgia. Played Your Song, Swan Lake and Is Heat. Ashley did pan de neck into the audience. The audience clapped along with gusto from the start. [You may not be surprised to know that I advised them not to.]

The compere was Barney from Children's TV; Danielle and Ashley were in heaven, and Ashley even kidnapped said compere so they could have pics taken with him.

I laughed but actually 30 years ago, I saw the Undertones at this very same venue and waited outside afterwards to get Feargal Sharkey's autograph - which I still have. Also saw the Cure here, but was seated to watch them, so did not really get into it. The photos above are from the soundcheck.