Music


After I’d heard Sara Collins interviewed on Scala Radio (one of many fascinating interviews I’ve heard on this station since I abandoned, most of the time, the ‘other classical music station’) I just had to read her first novel, ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’. The story is just as fascinating as I’d hoped but it has made me equally fascinated to know on what criteria the Costa prize in awarded.

The writing, in my opinion, is terrible.

Too many similes

I struggled through the first five chapters, much of the time not knowing what the author was talking about. From there it became easier but the overload with similes continued as did the often tortuous metaphors (the word ‘like’ seems to occur on almost every line – now it irritates me every time it occurs).

Nevertheless, I determined to keep going as the story seemed to be becoming as fascinating as the interview promised. As I write this I’ve reached the eighteenth chapter, having recently read at least a chapter a day.

During the interview I was interested to hear Sara Collins say she “hated” the necessary research into 18th/19th century London. I’ve been surprised to find that I’ve disliked my necessary research into 60s/70s London as I try to finish my novella/novel subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London’.

Disliking research

I’ve been surprised because before this I’ve really enjoyed research, first in a research laboratory, then as a journalist. Perhaps now it’s just frustration that my memory fails so often as my novella/novel is based on real experiences. An example: I was at Covent Garden the first time Margot Fonteyn danced with Nureyev; I remembered much, including the 23 curtain calls and, of course, the balletGiselle – but I  could  not remember the precise date (easy to find – 15 February 1962) or details of the environment inside the opera house at that time, vital for my story. I’m still having problems with the latter.

One of the things I often dislike about the writings of ‘indie’ authors is that, as someone who has travelled a lot, it is obvious to me they have never set foot in the place in which they have set their story or action nor done the necessary research.


More on Scala Radio

I’ve found it worth listening to Scala Radio just for some of the interviews (not all, some of the ‘celebrities’ are, as usual, tiresome but not all: Howard Shelley talking about Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto was wonderful).

However I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy much of this station’s output, exceptions (as I’ve said in a past post) being programmes about film music, video games music and pieces from many ‘modern’ musicals. What is certain is that Scala has introduced me to quite a bit of classical music which I don’t recall having heard before, a pleasant surprise as I’ve been listening to classical music for about eight decades.

Unfortunately Scala is not on FM as we cannot get it on DAB at home and don’t have DAB in the car; I listen at home on the app. For the regular listening in the car, school runs morning and afternoon, the Classic FM presenters are two of my favourites: Tim Lihoreau and Anne-Marie Minhall). The third is Alyd Jones but unfortunately he usually shuts down on a Sunday morning at ten in favour of that gardener, just when one of the other Scala programmes I don’t like comes on.

Sorry (again) for the recent silence. I’ve been a bit poorly (again). A bit of explanation at the end of this post.

I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music but I wouldn’t have thought at my advanced age I’d be discovering new forms of music that I enjoy but it’s happened twice in recent months. Anyone who’s followed me for a while will know me as a ‘classical music man’.

Post Modern Jukebox

The first ‘discovery’, being introduced to it by my Latvian blogging pal Ilze, was Post Modern Jukebox. If you don’t know it they do an amazing variety of covers of well-known songs with a variety of amazing singers and other musicians. The pianist, and founder of PMJ, is just wonderful.

Scala Radio

But this post is about Scala Radio, a much more recent discovery. I won’t go into why I was looking for an alternative to my regular radio listening for the past 16 years or so – the ‘other classical music station’.

You can listen to Scala Radio on an app as I do, on internet, on a ‘smart speaker’ (whatever that is) and on DAB if, unlike me, you can tune to it.

Experiencing new classical music

First, after over three quarters of a century of listening to classical music it was rare indeed to encounter something that I didn’t know or at least did not recall hearing before. It’s happened several times with Scala Radio in the short time I’ve been listening to it, perhaps particularly on the ‘show’ from 4 to 7pm weekdays hosted by Mark Forrest. He usually broadcasts from his historic farmhouse high in the Yorkshire Dales.

Enthusiastic chat

There’s quite a bit of chat from the presenters, and banter between them on changeover. I thought I’d find this irritating but quite the reverse. They are so enthusiastic it’s catching and often amusing. Not one of the presenters has me reaching for the off switch; I cannot say that about other stations.

Interviews

There are interviews with artists who come into the London studio and most of these are really interesting. The most recent I heard was with the Balanas Sisters from Latvia – incredible talent (they played live in the studio) and a really interesting story. It was great to hear John Rutter too; in my opinion he’s one of the great living composers, equally deserving of a ‘Sir’ as those who have it.

Food

There’s a food man on a show once a week and recently a ‘tinto’ from Portugal was  recommended. After a trial bottle I went back and bought every bottle on the shelf!

Early morning birdsong

There’s a great show from 5am to 7am called ‘In the park’, alternating  calm music with sounds of wildlife – birdsong etc. It’s a perfect accompaniment to my morning tea, Yorkshire tea of course!

I don’t like all the shows: I’m not a fan of film music without the film, nor music from ‘musicals’ except live on stage (there are exceptions to both), and I avoid video game music, so some shows which feature only these get switched off. But on the app I can catch up on something I missed, for a week.

Brass bands and choral music

Being a tyke I really like the fact that brass bands appear now and then. And of course choral music.

I’m not enthusiastic about the some of the musicians(?)/composers(?) championed by the presenters. One I really dislike. I dare not tell you the three I most dislike. They are all very popular. They get paused.

I’ve said enough. Try it!


Regular followers know about the overriding health condition. In recent weeks I couldn’t eat, losing well over 10kg in little over a fortnight. It culminated in camera and surgical instruments being shoved down my throat while I was awake. Far worse than the open surgery I’ve had in the past. But, as ever, I was well looked after by the Airedale Hospital nurses and am now am eating well and feeling good.

 

If you don’t like so-called ‘classical music’ this post will not be of interest. However, if you do and have yet to discover ‘Classic FM Revision’ it might be.

I have listened to Classic FM for a few years – it’s my background for many things but particularly writing, at low volume – despite the often annoying advertisements, silly announcements that I am listening to Classic FM between every piece of music, some really irritating presenters (hence the low volume) and, for me, one boring programme. Now, with ‘ … Revision’ at least the last two can be switched off without losing the continuous (but it’s not, despite the claim to be music “all in one continuous stream”) music. Also, the music seems to be on a ‘loop’ so we seem to hear the same pieces repeatedly but if it is a loop it’s quite a big one.

Don’t get me wrong, not all the Classic FM presenters are irritating: none of the women, not David Mellor (my favourite programme) , Alyd Jones nor many of the other men. So who are the irritating ones who now definitely have me switching to ‘ … Revision’?

Top of the ‘irritating’ list

First and top of the ‘irritating’ list is that presenter of some pointless tv quiz who tries so hard to be witty, Alexander Armstrong. What is more, although he has a decent voice he cannot sing, but other presenters feel obliged (are obliged?) to plug his albums and people buy them – it’s beyond me; his ‘Christmas’ offering was surely the most boring Christmas album ever produced. He even jumped on the band wagon with ‘Peter and the Wolf’, again irritating after David Bowie did it so well.

I didn’t mind the plugs for Alyd Jones as he really can sing and the diction is wonderful – as both man and boy. Handel/Somervell’s ‘Silent worship’ sung by Alyd is a delight no matter how many times I hear it.

Other irritants and the boring one

Not far behind Armstrong in the irritation stakes are the Yorkshire (unfortunately) gardener, Titchmarsh, and Suchet; both speak to us as if we’re in primary school. The most boring programme? ‘Saturday night at the movies’; there is some excellent film music, written to accompany a film, but relatively little of it can stand alone as music in my opinion, and even less might be given the tag ‘classical’.

Not continuous music

Classic FM Revision’ claims to produce non-stop music ideal for the students who like a music background to studying, as I would. It’s not quite true. The stupid frequent reminders of what programme we are listening to are there, maybe a little less frequent as there are no presenters for each piece. The silly or inappropriate advertisements are still there (are students really interested in buying a holiday home?) but, for the moment at least, they seem less frequent.

But the big plus is that when one of the irritating presenters is due to come on I can switch to ‘ … Revision’, but switch back for a more varied selection of music with a pleasant presenter when they have finished.

Răcitură

New Year’s Eve is a special celebration for us: it is my wife Petronela (P)’s birthday, which in accord with Romanian tradition means ‘open house’, the table spread with Romanian food. No invitations are issued, friends and neighbours just ‘know’

Romanian food

The day before is a busy one for P as generally she does all the Romanian (specifically Moldovan) cooking but this year I attempted a favourite of mine – răcitură (known as ‘piftie’ in other parts, pieces of meat in ‘aspic’ – in this case pork though I prefer with cockerel or, even better, goose). Of course you can make it with commercially available gelatin but I was determined to make traditionally so was on a hunt for pigs’ trotters (feet) and ears. I was amazed when a butcher in Leeds Kirkgate market suggested the only place I would find them was in the pet shop. “Are you are butcher?” I asked. Fortunately there are ‘proper butchers’ in Bradford so I was able to pick up both trotters and ears on my way to hospital on Thursday (see previous post). The result must have been OK: my Romanian neighbour (Moldoveancă – lady from Moldova) ate almost a whole dish. Something new for me, at the suggestion of my Latvian blogger friend Ilze I ate some with mustard and vinegar. Delicious!

Table with Romanian food, awaiting guests

For those unable to come to ‘the party’ Facebook and other internet applications have created a different way for wellwishers to join in: at the last count over 150 people had written their birthday messages on Petronela’s ‘timeline’ to which must be added more than 30 private messages, some internet live chats and the odd phone call. What on earth would you do with that number of birthday cards?

Birthday girl early

Birthday girl later

London Fireworks

Guests gone (the last at 11pm) we turned on the tv at 11.55pm, popped the ‘bubbly’ at 00.00, then watched the London fireworks as we always do. Of course, with friends in other parts of the world I was sending New Year wishes at 00.00 before and after according to other timelines

Nile Rodgers (pic Rollingstone)

Nile Rodgers and Chic – better music

A big musical step up from previous years, bracketing the fireworks, for me was Nile Rodgers performing with Chic, celebrating their 40th year. Dreadlocks flying, he ensured we stayed awake to finish the bubbly. The likes of Gary Barlow, Bryan Adams and Robbie Williams – as in previous years – don’t cut it for me, boring me to sleep! Queen better!

I’m now going to do something I never did before, stop this post here and continue – with a completely different type of musical experience with a lot of personal history behind it, in another post – probably tomorrow.

It’s always exciting to get a new follower, not because it adds one to the total (I’m not really interested in increasing the number as such) but because I always go to look at their blog and from time to time find new, interesting blogger friends, sometimes from a ‘new’ country. In the past few months I’ve added Slovenia and Latvia to the list.

View from our bedroom window this morning; it looks over the Wharfe valley

View from our bedroom window this morning

The most recent new follower is Lisa Lennon, who says she’s a professional blogger. As regular readers of grumptyke know, for me blogging is just a hobby and that would change only if I created a business in the future. It could happen but if so it would have a different website/blog.

When I went to Lisa’s blog to see what it was about I saw a recent post on happiness. I won’t quote from it here; if you’re interested her blog is at

https://lisalennonofficialblog.wordpress.com/

Happiness is …?

However, it set me thinking about happiness for me. I’m lucky, in general I have it. Look at the view from my bedroom window above, over the Wharfe valley in Yorkshire (it’s the same view from the kitchen window) so there’s a good chance of feeling happy each morning, whether getting out of bed or making the morning tea/coffee. We’re lucky enough to wake to birdsong too early in the morning, mostly bluetits, blackbirds and goldfinches. How can that not make you happy?

Picture of busker singing in Briggate, Leeds, todayToday I went to my local city, Leeds. Again as regular readers will know I do not in general like cities, I’m definitely a country person, but Leeds makes me happy. Perhaps it’s the young people – it’s an important university city so it’s full of them. Perhaps it’s the buskers on the street, there’s always at least one, ranging from potential rock celebrities to young classical violinists, from young aspiring operatic sopranos to today’s offering, a not so young singer, far, far superior to Classic FM’s Alexandra Armstrong. Not quite Pavarotti but a good voice who treated us to a variety from Nessun Dorma to Sweet Caroline, which again was not quite Neil Diamond but excellent nevertheless. He made me happy, as did a group of three young women sitting on the street eating some wrap or other they had just bought interspersed with hilarious laughter. I couldn’t help but laugh with them.

Music

Then there’s music. I couldn’t possibly list all the music which instantly makes me feel happy so I’ll mention just two pieces. The first is Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; depending on my mood I’ll sit quietly basking in it, or dance around the room singing the melody lines. The second can be guaranteed to make me feel happy no matter what catastrophe has befallen me: Beethoven’s ninth symphony, as I hang on every note waiting finally to drown in the ‘Ode to joy’.

Possessions

I’ve been trying to think of possessions which make me happy. That’s difficult. Certainly there are many things which I’m glad to have but I cannot say they make me happy, though what they allow me to do does, like reading and writing blog posts. In that sense my 10 year old Macbook and my rather younger iPad make me happy. And of course the radio bought for 50p on which I usually listen to music; I have more sophisticated equipment to play my LPs, which include the complete works of Beethoven, many operas and all sorts of other music. That equipment is probably 30 or 40 years old.

I’m rambling, which is anyway how this blog was conceived. So, sitting writing it, I’m happy.

Pavarotti with David Mellor

Daily Mail picture

Having slated Classic FM for its 25th birthday concert from Liverpool in my previous post (in which I too late saw I had wrongly, in my exhausted grumpy state, typed Bartok rather than Bruch – sorry) I thought I should redress the balance having enjoyed a couple of hours of superb music, with the most musically knowledgeable of the station’s presenters and, for me, the greatest tenor, certainly of ‘our times’. I’m talking about David Mellor paying homage to Pavarroti on Sunday evening, on the 10th anniversary of the death of the ‘King of the high Cs’.

I have to admit that when I first heard of David Mellor’s programme on Classic FM several years ago I groaned and was ready to turn the radio off (I had the same reaction when I heard that damned gardener was joining the team). When Mellor was a Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s then John Major’s Governments I had mixed feelings about him. I admired his outspokeness on Israeli treatment of Palestinians though it got him into quite a bit of trouble; I was saddened by his outburst to a taxi driver but only because it made him sound a twit (Mellor that is) – I’ve had my run-ins with cabbies; as for extra-marital affairs, I regarded them as none of my business. Unfortunately the report that he liked sex dressed in the Chelsea FC strip turned out to be a fabrication. I reckoned the detractors were just jealous that such an unlikely guy had ‘pulled’ a slim, attractive 6ft tall Antonia de Sancha.

Anecdotes

One of the things I like about his Classic FM programmes is the anecdotes about the many great musicians he has met, often revealing aspects of the great men and women of music of which I would otherwise be unaware. One such was a highlight of Sunday’s programme: when Mellor was at his lowest point thanks to the mass media, shortly before he had to resign his Government post, coming off stage Pavarotti went out of his way to give him a hug and tell him not to be put down by it. This confirmed for me a feeling I’ve always had about the big man, communicated to me previously only by his singing.

There were many wonderful moments in Sunday’s broadcast, many of the recordings I had not heard before, but three stood out for me. One was Pavarotti singing to his home crowd at an open air concert in Modena. His enjoyment, sheer joy, was evident in every song. The second was him singing with Joan Sutherland, a partnership made in heaven. Third was him hitting the nine high Cs as Tonio in, La Fille du Regiment; I’ve heard it many times but it is ever a wonder.

As for Mellor, I don’t know how he gets away with it but he doesn’t add “On Classic FM”, as seems obligatory for all the other presenters, to the end of every announcement of a piece. It’s extremely irritating and generally untrue.

And he doesn’t try to sing! Lord preserve us from Alexander Armstrong – neither tuneful nor witty and now he’s tried to emulate David Bowie with Peter and the Wolf. It took me all of five seconds to reach the ‘off’ switch. But it’ll be on again before next Sunday’s Mellor spot.


An aside: after six weeks writing almost only my Facebook diary (I don’t regard that as writing) I’ve suddenly got the urge really to write again. At the moment it’s an urge to write blog posts (never, I promise you, several a day!) but I’ll maybe get to fiction again soon.

Our real life Cruella de Vil

Returning to UK after the longest period away since I returned, in 2004, from living in Romania there’s so much to write about. Should I settle on a theme or just ramble away as is my wont? The latter is more my style so here goes.

Britain used to be the most liberal of countries and we thought of Germany as very strict and restrictive. Now it seems to have reversed. Stupid regulation after regulation governing everything here, so called ‘Health and Safety’ reaching ridiculous proportions, every child seems to have an allergy so cannot eat this or that (we’d have starved!), excellent recruits for the Nazi SS, unintelligent bullies, controlling train travel (at least on Northern Rail) and car parking, not all of course but a substantial proportion; teachers now expected not only to teach but to take over the role of parents in the most basic of  ‘education for life’; teachers and nurses bogged down with stupid form filling rather than getting on with the job for which they signed up, so leaving their professions in droves. Essential utilities companies, like British Gas (foreign owned of course), hiking their prices by stupendous amounts while rewarding their senior executives with massive pay rises.

We have a perfect Cruella de Vil leading the country using leaving the European Union (I refuse to use that dreadful ‘B…..’ word) as a perfect excuse to remove the power from Parliament and put it in the hands of a few of her lieutenants, so called ‘Ministers’.

Of course, everything is the fault of the immigrants, especially if they’re from eastern Europe or Muslim – I don’t think.

In fact, it’s the fat cats who are determined to get even fatter and roll in their slime.

Even (now this is going to upset 10% of the population) my previously favourite radio station, Classic FM, has sunk further into the money-making mire with repeated self-congratulation from the majority of the presenters, advertisers who seem to think the audience is made up of cretins. Their much (self) lauded 25th birthday concert, with a superb orchestra and chorus (the Liverpool ‘Royals’), was largely rubbish with no obvious reason for the bits and bats played. There was a super rendition of Bartok’s violin concerto by a young man, only 21 I think, and a premiere of a very interesting, exciting, piece composed by a young woman, only 23 years old, whose name I cannot remember but I’ll be seeking her out. With that fabulous orchestra and chorus why the devil didn’t we get, eg, Beethoven’s 9th instead of that mishmash of bits of this and that?

What prevents me jumping in the car and going back across the water? An elderly lady’s smile, sitting on a wall in my village main street and discussing the weather with me yesterday morning while waiting patiently for her bus.

 

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