Friday, 21 September 2007

Soundtrack Track 59

59.Fields Of Gold (Sting) STING
This song is featured as it was played at the funeral of a dear family friend, Violet – and It remnunded me of a piece of writing I wrote shortly after her death so have included it here – A little longer than the normal I’m afraid!
I must have been little more than three years old. I had just been given the Fisher-Price family houseboat, and in my excitement there was only one thing on my mind. I stepped out of the porch of 44 Hilary Crescent, clumsily negotiating the step with my new toy, and began my short journey. I pulled the houseboat by its string, past Beattie and Franks’ bungalow, towards my destination. I turned right into the path which, as always, had beautifully tended flowers and shrubs along the left hand side. This was the house with a little stone church at the top of the garden – which in later years I seem to remember was “Breedon-On-The-Hill”, and a bush of the hugest most colourful flowers which could be seen from the back windows. This was also the house with a shed that contained not only miniature steam engines but a couple of fully operational beautifully detailed miniature fairground carousels. All of these things held great delight for a small child, but this was not my reason for visiting. I pulled my boat up to the backdoor, which as it was a fine day would of course have been open, peered through the door and would have seen the kitchen table on the other side of the room. On the left, by the window, Bert would have sat, and on the right not to far from the boiler, with an open copy of “Peoples Friend” in front of her, was my main reason for visiting. Violet. If I had a new toy then, of course, it had to be presented for Vi’s approval. Her approval and delight were always forthcoming – and as I got older this ritual never changed, as it changed from toys to books and later records I would still have to show my spoils to Violet.

Always smiling and always happy to see me, Violet was a constant presence in my life. One mustn’t forget Bert as well naturally – a known story teller who loved to spin a yarn – albeit often the same yarn told and re-told. I am still haunted by his tales of how it wasn’t that great in the old days, and the cheese was left piled high on the pavements for the dogs to urinate on.
“You’d still eat it” he would say. Truly the stuff of nightmares. The other abiding memory I have of Bert is of his kindness to me. But at Vi and Bert’s bungalow, kindness was in no short supply.

On occasion I would knock on the door and Vi would have visitors so I would apologise and say I would come another time. Vi would have none of this of course.
“It’s alright, come in m’darlin’” she would say – and if I wavered she would be quite insistent. So I would be welcomed in and sit with her while she chatted to maybe her friend Lena with the artificial leg – or Janet and her mother Lucy. Sometimes she would have her family over, George and his wife Hilda, and maybe John and Audrey. They always seemed larger than life to a small child, with their broad northern accents, but were every bit as welcoming as Vi herself. Then there was her sister Irene, and Jess – always dressed in trousers with blousons of elaborate designs that twenty years later were revived by Versace. Sometimes Irene and Jess would have a little fall out but to me they were always lovely. I remember one Christmas they bought me a toy post office – complete with stamp pads and tiny packets and jars of the all the products you might want – I was delighted.

Some people you remember with sadness, others with a smile, but with Violet it’s not long before you begin to laugh. So many incidents over the years happened that ended in laughter that it’s a pleasure to recall them. A visit to London to see Simon at the Players Theatre ended in us being late for our train at St.Pancras. As myself and my Nan ran for the train Vi was having difficulty keeping up, the train started to pull out so I remember shouting at the guard “You stupid man can’t you see she’s an old lady!” I don’t recall if we managed to get on the train but I do remember everyone laughing around me. Sunday mornings Violet would come round and have a drink of wine before lunch, “Your cheeks are getting red!” my Nan would say to her, and my Grandpa would say “Y’alright Fatty?” and she would chuckle with good humour. Often we would sit in the kitchen and play scrabble, and on one occasion, as it rained outside, suddenly there was a clap of thunder and Vi was nowhere to be seen. In her fright she had sprinted from the table and was cowering in the hallway. When we found her we took one look at her and she started chuckling at the absurdity of it all. Most Saturdays were spent on a shopping expedition, Leicester, Loughborough and on occasion Nottingham. It was on one of these occasions (actually I have a sneaking suspicion that it happened more than once) that somehow we lost Violet and seemed to spend hours looking for her – finally tracking her down wandering the multi storey car park. There was one very funny incident when she telephoned my Aunt Jane, after she had been baby sitting her three children, because she had got home and realised that her false teeth were no longer in her mouth. It seemed she had fallen asleep and the teeth were discovered by one of the children down the back of the settee. So, when we remember Vi, laughter is never far away.

In the last few days I have heard so many people say that Violet never had a bad word against anyone, to this I can add that she always seemed very happy and was always incredibly appreciative of anything anyone may have done for her. She never took the kindnesses of others for granted.

In the years after they both lost their husbands Violet became very close to my Grandma Cox, and they would spend many hours sitting together and chatting. On one occasion my Grandma complained that her false teeth were uncomfortable and it transpired that she had somehow put Vi’s in.
“It’s alright I’ll wash ‘em” said Vi, and that was the end to it. There were a few occasions when Grandma Cox, whose health was on the decline, could be a little caustic towards Violet . Violet never complained about this, always saying “It’s alright I know she doesn’t mean it”.

When Violet moved from Hilary Crescent to Park View I felt that loss as keenly as any bereavement. By this time I had long moved to London – but it didn’t seem right that on my visits home I couldn’t do the short walk that I had first done so many years before to go and see Vi in her house. In these years I saw Vi much less than I would have liked, so often my infrequent visits home seemed to tie in with her frequent holidays, but I would at least try to send her some flowers at least so she would know I was thinking of her. When I did go to her flat I was always touched to see that all the candles I had bought her for Christmases over the years seemed to be given pride of place. I would urge her to use them but she would say “I don’t like to ‘cause they seem so lovely”. She really did appreciate everything so much.

AsIe moved into adult life time seemed to move so quickly and, before I knew it, another year has gone by, and I would sometimes stop and think I can’t believe that it’s so long since I saw Vi. The last time I spoke to Violet was at one of these moments, and I had decided to give her a call.
“’Ello m’darlin’ it’s lovely to hear from you” she said and I can’t recall what we spoke of but I remember her warmth and affection at receiving my call.

How do you do Violet justice? Initially a neighbour to my grandparents, her good friends Jean & Reg, Violet seemed, over the years, to become adopted by the entire family and it’s a tribute to her that so many of us were there to lay her to rest. But it kind of goes without saying, because even if she wasn’t of our blood she was a vital part of our family. But how do I define Violet’s role? I could say it was like having another grandmother or another aunt but neither of those words do her justice. She was a “Violet” and I count myself lucky to have had her in my life. Always kind, always smiling.

There are no better closing words than Violets own.

“ninety one, going on ninety two – not bad is it ?”

Friday, 14 September 2007

It Was Twenty years Ago Today......

Sgt Pepper taught the band to play…..

Actually it wasn’t – it was more like forty. However it’s with great personal shock that I realise it’s twenty years ago today (14th September 1987) that I started work for Stoll Moss Theatres (as it was then) in box office……I did start very young!

I remember that morning quite clearly. I knocked on the side door of the box office at Her Majesty’s and nervously announced myself. I was greeted by Douglas Hinton, box office manager, who spoke with a cut glass English accent despite (as I later found out) being a Texan. I was introduced to some of the other staff including Mark Trumpess, and Toni Gabriele (who I seem to recall had just returned from holiday), before I was taken to head office – Cranbourne Mansions – whose top floor housed the advance booking period for The Phantom Of The Opera. Working on Phantom was very exciting as in Theatreland in was a true phenomenon, breaking all box office records, in an era where Andrew Lloyd Webber really ruled the roost in the west end. Phantom truly got everywhere, it was mentioned in the papers almost every day and I can even remember Eastenders’ Dirty Den quipping “I’m going to see The Phantom Of The Opera and I’m taking her to the theatre”.

Oh my god twenty years? Where has it all gone? Well if you read my column called “Wishing I Was Somehow There Again?” (back in the intouch archives if you missed it) you will remember my time at Her Majesty’s has been well covered as indeed has the Apollo and my experiences working front of house at the Phoenix and The Palladium (even longer ago! Yikes!) . Someday I will get round to telling you about my time at Drury Lane (and the occasion when Plum Peyton was instrumental in getting us all banned from the Rock island Diner for bad behaviour) and even maybe my early years at the Palladium. However I thought it would be much more fun to take a look back and see what I can actually remember about 1987!

So what about the rest of the west end? Across town at the Palladium, Colin Brooksbank and Edwin Shaw prepared for the theatre’s last pantomime to date – Cannon and Ball in Babes In The Wood. Derek Bessey was box office manager at the newly refurbished Cambridge, where Lulu was starring as Peter Pan, and 42nd Street was in residence (along with Plum Peyton) at Drury Lane. The Adelphi was occupied by Me And My Girl and, of course, Vereen Irving. At the Palace was Les Miserables, proving to be a blockbuster despite opening to bad reviews. Cats and Starlight Express continued to go strong and Chess was enjoying it’s successful run at the Prince Edward. Other musicals included Time and Nunsense. Non musicals included William Gaunt in When Did You Last See Your Trousers? at the Garrick, and Maggie Smith at the Globe (now the Gielgud) in Lettice And Lovage. Shaw’s You Never Can Tell was at the Haymarket and the Queens was occupied by Jeffrey Archer’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt. Of course I was determined to see as many shows as I could and I can particularly remember seeing Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the Shaftesbury in November 1987. I was living at my Uncles at the time and our visit coincided with the night of the fire at Kings Cross Station. By the time we got home at 1am my Nan had left over twenty increasingly insane answer messages as she slowly convinced herself we had been killed in the fire!

But what about the world beyond theatre? Well 1987? This was a time before Ipods, DVD , Big Brother and Sky TV. A time when Amy Winehouse was a toddler and Elaine Paige dominated the album charts. This was a time when Whitney Houston was prime minister and Margaret Thatcher wanted to dance with somebody. French and Saunders were still funny and Rainbow was flying high.

In the world of television this was the year that the staff of the Crossroads motel where given their marching orders – it went off air the following Easter. Coronation Street stalwart, Hilda Ogden sang Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye as she left Weatherfield for ever. Den and Angie’s, tempestuous relationship kept us all glued to EastEnders and up in Liverpool Brookside’s Sheila Gant mourned the loss of her beloved Damon. Much to the consternation of evil wardress “Vinegar Tits” Vera Bennett, Frankie Doyle and her girlfriend Doreen escaped Cell Block H of Wentworth Detention Centre, while over in Ramsey Street Scott loved Charlene.

Elsewhere on screen Morse solved his first case, and Jean Luc Picard took to the skies for his maiden voyage. The Simpsons of Springfield made their debut and a fresh faced Richard and Judy launched This Morning. Last but not least, the Tardis had a new occupant as Sylvester Mccoy became the seventh Doctor Who alongside Bonnie Langford as his companion Mel.

At the movies Cher was Moonstruck as well as being one of The Witches Of Eastwick. Glenn Close’s antics in Fatal Attraction gave rise to the term “bunny boiler” and Patrick Swayze dirtydanced across the screen with Jennifer Grey.

In the pop charts CDs were still a relatively new innovation so the 45rpm vinyl single still flourished. The Stock Aitken Waterman partnership ruled the charts with the likes of Bananarama, Rick Astley and their latest signing Kylie Minogue was poised to make a big impact the following year. Young Scottish band Wet Wet Wet sang their way into the charts for the first time with Wishing I Was Lucky,and Pet Shop Boys bagged the Christmas number one with Always on My Mind. The album charts were dominated by the cast recording of The Phantom of The Opera and later in the year George Michael’s Faith.

On a sadder note 1987 was also the year that Hollywood legends Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye and Rita Hayworth died. Broadway mourned legendary choreographer/director Michael Bennett, as well as his A Chorus Line colleague, lyricist Ed Kleben. Over in the UK original Starlight Express cast member (as well as Rent A Ghost’s Timothy Claypole) Michael Staniforth passed away.

So that was 1987 – and just a little of what was going on (come on you didn’t really expect me to tell you the sporting news did you?) Well, the years have flown by and, little did I know that I would still be here, selling tickets, twenty years later. I have seen great changes over the years. What began as Stoll Moss is now RUGT. I have met some great people and formed some lasting friendships. Worked on some of biggest hits the west end has ever had and more than a few flops, and it seems most fitting to end with a line from the show I saw on the night of the Kings Cross fire….

“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here!”

Bye for now
Twenty years and counting!


Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Soundtrack Tracks 56-58

56.”I Will Be Waiting” (Joseph ) MARTYN JOSEPH
“I will never give up on anyone except maybe me” well that would a tad dramatic I think – but I have found that there are times when I should really have been more focussed on my own problems but instead have become involved in sorting a friends out and just hoping things would sort themselves out as far as I am concerned. However that’s not why I have particularly chosen this song – it’s because it defines the moment that myself and Lisa (Sharp) became friends. We had been part of the same social group for a while and she had just moved back from the States to Holloway. It had been her birthday and I had bought her the Martyn Joseph CD as part of a present. This lead to a long conversation about music over breakfast the following morning, and it was a couple of years later that we discovered that we both thought this moment was where our friendship really began. It’s always great to see Lisa at her huge house in Chiswick with her hundreds of kids – well two anyway!

57.Stronger Than Before (Newton John/Roboff/Chapman) OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN
By this point I have probably mentioned a couple of times my Dad saying that whatever awful things in life may happen you always gain something from them. Now this song that Olivia sang to illustrate her fight with cancer illustrates this point beautifully. Life’s traumas really can make you stronger. Always! Without fail!

58.I Didn’t Know That I Was Looking For Love (Watt/Thorn) EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL
OK soppy moment! This is here because it reminds me of the wedding of Jo and Nick. It was the song for their first dance, and it was really such a lovely wedding, We all descended en masse on Lake Windermere where the nuptials took place for what proved to be a really lovely weekend. Good company, good food, good conversation. It stands as one of the loveliest days I have ever had. Funny how many of those seem to be weddings. Lisa and Jon’s the previous year is up there too of course.