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.

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