Tag Archives: Music

Retired Roger

About eight years ago I wrote this blog for the Guardian Music. (Yes, imagine that. A Bookwitch on music…)

Roger Whittaker, blue light

‘He’s the greatest singer in the world, so why do so few people in Britain appreciate Roger Whittaker?

I still remember the New Year’s Eve party some years ago, where another guest inquired about my Christmas presents. She perked up when I mentioned a CD. “Which one?” “Roger Whittaker.” My friend was about to offer her condolences, when she suddenly pulled herself together and said, “Did you actually want it?” “Yes.” “Oh, well. I believe my parents-in-law like him.”

I have loved Roger’s voice since I was twelve. I used to feel that he’d get away with singing from the telephone directory, if necessary. Luckily he hasn’t had to resort to that.’

And here we leave the Guardian blog post, because it actually gets too confusing, with so many years in between. I just wanted to share him with you today, on his 80th birthday, when he is well and truly retired. No more concerts. Probably no more albums. There is a new one just out, but it’s 98% rehash of old hits; the German hits.

They are not the best, because all Roger has done has been ‘the best’ in my opinion, but the German stuff is good. Very good, as well as a bit different from the usual English language easy listening. Back to the Guardian post again:

‘The Germans really do know how to love their stars. Enormous, sold out venues, with people of all ages going mad, singing and dancing in the aisles. I took my teenagers along last year, and their reaction was simply that they needed a few more Roger Whittaker tracks for their iPods. Seriously uncool, but there’s nothing quite like Ein Bisschen Aroma, especially live.’

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

That was 2007. I went again with Daughter in 2009 and with Son in 2011, and then had to skip the very last farewell tour in 2013 because it clashed with something. On neither occasion did I have to twist any young arms to come with me.

Roger Whittaker concert

When I was twelve I thought Roger was dreadfully old (he was 32). Since then he’s just got younger, relatively speaking. Retiring at 77 was certainly not too early, and I hope he has many more years of ‘living happily in France’ as his agent put it to me a few weeks ago, with plenty of time to not fall over his dog (Roger’s been accident-prone over the years) or worry his wife too much (he had to go through with the last tour despite ill health, as he was too old to insure…).

Us fans still have the hundreds of albums Roger recorded over fifty years, and let me tell you, he’s not boring or purely parents-in-law material!

Right, that’s me done for today. As you were. Might be back to books tomorrow if you are lucky. I only have one favourite singer, after all.

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Photos Helen Giles and Ian Giles

(And another thing; as I looked at the video link, I discovered a Facebook friend standing practically with his chin resting on the stage. It’s the RW universe.)

The Greystones Press

It’s not every day that a new publishing company is born. The Greystones Press is a brand new publisher’s of quality books, started by Mary Hoffman and her husband Stephen Barber.

Very sensibly they are sticking to what they care about most, which is literature, art, music, history, mythology and fairy tales. This will sound silly, but I feel quite excited at the thought of this, in a world too full of publishing companies who concentrate on, well, other things. And it’s because they do, that people like Mary and Stephen are needed. They want to publish the kind of books that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, or sell in vast numbers. (Although it’d obviously be nice if they did.)

We’ve got used to self-publishing by now. Authors who either can’t get commercially published, or who want to have some level of control over what happens to their books, publish either ebooks and/or print copies. But most of them don’t go all the way and start something that will publish other people’s books as well.

This is quite a brave thing to do, but then where would we be if no one tried something new occasionally? Mary clearly has a lot of experience after her years of writing over a hundred books. One of them, the one about David, is going to be part of their first list, and it’s a book that personifies what The Greystones Press stands for. They also have plans for translated novels later on, which I look forward to.

Among the other first books will be Seven Miles of Steel Thistles by Katherine Langrish, whose knowledge of fairy tales I have long been in awe of, and here she will expand on what she’s been writing about for several years on her blog with the same name.

Mary also has a YA/adult crossover book for The Greystones Press, called Shakespeare’s Ghost, which rather suitably will be published on April 23rd. Jules Cashford and Kate Snow complete the first list of books this spring.

Heartsong

Expect to cry a little again.

Illustrator Jane Ray went to Venice and discovered some facts about a children’s home there in the 18th century. It appears to have been similar to Coram’s in London, where desperate mothers left their babies, who were then farmed out for some years, before returning to the nuns at the hospital.

Jane wanted to do something with the stuff she found but didn’t know what, until she spoke to Kevin Crossley-Holland, who took her scraps and made them into a story about one girl in particular, who lived with the nuns at the time Vivaldi was music teacher there.

Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jane Ray, Heartsong

Laura is eleven and mute. She is musical, but lacks a way of expressing herself until Father Antonio starts to teach her. After a dreadful attempt at playing the viola, Laura finds that the flute is her instrument. It becomes her way of talking.

The children at the home dream of being collected by their mothers one day. Laura’s best friend leaves her behind when her mother comes for her.

But at least she has Father Antonio who is kind and who looks after her, teaching her music and letting her play in his little orchestra. And she has this tune that runs through her head continously…

Very lovely.

The memorial service

They didn’t go in for children’s books so much in the 1930s and 40s. That will be why the Grandmother, when she learned to read all those years ago, read Dickens and Scott for fun by the age of eight. And that’s why Daughter did a reading of the end of The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott at her Grandmother’s memorial service on Wednesday.

It was quite a nice service, if I do say so myself. We persuaded Son to be our MC, and he introduced the Resident IT Consultant’s eulogy, which was fairly amusing in places. The Grandmother had once been too young to sign the Official Secrets Act (while having cause to do so). And she used a cardboard box for the Resident IT Consultant to sleep in.

Odd sleeping habits must have run in the family, as her sister reminisced about the three or four years the two of them slept in the understairs cupboard, like some early Harry Potters.

At the crematorium before the memorial Son had the pleasure of hearing ‘Paul Temple’ reading William Penn, and this piece was repeated by Daughter in the next session.

We’re not exactly in the habit of organising this kind of thing, but we knew what we wanted. It was the knowing where to get hold of the right people that was hard. (Many thanks to the Scottish children’s author who didn’t object to questions about suitable musicians.)

In the end we were lucky, as Paul Temple introduced us to a 16-year-old local girl who played Schubert and Stradella on the cello, before charming everyone by singing Mononoke Hime – in Japanese – a cappella. Even an old witch can shed a tear over such perfection.

Initially we’d asked a local church if we could use it as our venue, but we were found too God-less, which meant that we actually ended up somewhere quite perfect in its place. Cowane’s Hospital was just right; the right size, nice and old, beautiful acoustics, situated next to the castle, and generally feeling like our kind of place.

Stirling Highland Hotel

Afterwards we wandered downhill a little – literally – for afternoon tea at the Stirling Highland Hotel, where I normally go to hear about gruesome murders during Bloody Scotland. It couldn’t have been nicer. And no funeral tea is complete without a quick trip upstairs to the Old High School Telescope. The Resident IT Consultant helped paint it, decades ago.

Almost there

Bookshelves

And here they are, the ‘final’ shelves with actual books on them. Son is coming to inspect ‘his’ room, and the question is whether he will approve. Or will he notice there is no space for his hifi? I mean, who cares? Who in their right mind would use a large machine to listen to music?

We also need to get our three-book joiner to come and secure the whole shebang to the wall. Or else we could have a repeat of that time over twenty years ago when Son reckoned these shelves looked like ladder… The crash was very loud. Luckily both Son and the shelves and the books and the floor were pretty much as before, afterwards.

The eagle-eyed blog reader might feel like pointing out that there are some gaps still. That’s because I expect to have more books to put in there. Next week. And the week after. Also, there are double rows. Any book I want to find in future will be behind.

Ever younger kettles

Aunt Scarborough introduced the young Offspring to the Singing Kettle about twenty years ago. At that time they were mainly famous in Scotland, but filtered south to England during the period when we adored them the most. They were wonderful. And funny. Good all round entertainers, who took well known tunes and gave them new lyrics, or wrote their own, or simply used traditional songs for children, but in a fun way. Nothing boring about them at all. I would happily have listened to them with no child as an excuse.

Now they are stopping their Singing Kettling. The two main stars retired a while back, and with the audience age plummeting, they no longer have their ideal primary school aged children, but are performing funny songs to children perhaps too young to understand. (See my comments about this below. ‘Little Diddle’ didn’t even know his own name. But he was cute.)

But I simply had to treat Daughter to one more humiliation while she’s home for Christmas, and take her to see the farewell tour. (She enjoyed it, really.) It was good, but I can see that things are not what they were. Lots of things aren’t. The Singing Kettle have provided fun and intelligent songs for many, many children. And judging by comments from various astrophysicists on Daughter’s facebook page, and the fact that Dodo gave Son a Singing Kettle DVD for Christmas, I’d say that those primary age children may have got older, but they never forgot. That’s proof of quality.

Below is CultureWitch’s review of Monday morning’s concert at the Albert Halls.

“There was a slight disadvantage to sitting on row five when they used their large water ‘pistol’ from the stage. It reached. Very well, too. Although I didn’t do what many parents did, which was to hold their children in front of them as shields. Some parents they turned out to be!

The Singing Kettle at Stirling Albert Halls

I – on the other hand – was an exemplary parent and brought my baby girl to what has been advertised as the last tour for The Singing Kettle. She probably hadn’t been since the millennium concert at the Albert Halls in Stirling, which means it had been a 15 year gap. Contrary to what Daughter thought, you can actually go to these shows as an adult. Neither of us fell over, bumped our heads and cried, nor did we require help to go to the toilet.

It was good. Apart – possibly – from the water and the fact that The Singing Kettle will be no more. It was a tonic, on a Monday morning after Christmas, with plenty of grinning and laughing, not to mention singing. I did draw the line at rocking my poor head from left to right and forwards and back, going over the Irish Sea.

The Singing Kettle mug

Despite there being no Artie and Cilla anymore, Kevin and Anya did a great job, ably assisted by the still baby-faced Gary and his purple trombone. Anya is testament to the strength of the brand, having herself been one of the audience participants, being invited onto the stage. (She clearly never left, which was something I did think about as parents blithely let their offspring wander off with these strangers, in order to perform on stage with them. Did they see them again? ‘The tiniest ever’ Diddle in the first half was the smallest, cutest participant I have ever seen. A little confused maybe, but so keen, and later seen trying to return to the stage again.)

We knew some of the songs (because back then we were pros) and some not, as they were possibly using new material as well as recycling old songs forever. Daughter had forgotten Bunny Fou Fou, but not I. And you have to love Music Man (even without Cilla…).

The preparing and cooking (and subsequent burning) of the turkey made an impression on the younger part of the audience, especially cleaning it with a toilet brush. The snowman who sneezed all over and the galloping reindeer, not to mention the adorable yellow ducks (including tiny Diddle) helped make this a very visual show.

But we weren’t allowed to take pictures (if I’d been Diddle’s mother, I’d have taken a photo of him in his duck costume anyway!) so we don’t have much to show you. Daughter did hit the merchandise stall as soon as we arrived, however. It might be her last opportunity.

The Singing Kettle mug

There was some Hokey Cokey at the end, and a fitting finale of pushing Granny off the bus. (As if we would…)

If you’ve never seen The Singing Kettle live, I feel sorry for you. We used to travel across half the country for them, whereas now it was a mere walk away.”

Mean witch

The conundrum the other day was how cold it was in the conservatory, aka our dining room. It was probably slightly colder than it was in the fridge (that’s the fridge that came with the house, and which is integrated, and that is why we put up with it being a little on the warm side). It felt ridiculous.

But with the help of an electric heater, the breakfast area improved. That’s the same heater we used to fry our former piano. (It’s not former as in late. It just became unwell.) The Grandmother used to sleep next to the piano when she visited, and she felt the cold, so we put the heater in. It made it nice and warm, and the wood on the piano decided to split.

The piano tuner solved it by adding water. Underneath. It got better.

Fifty years ago I never liked sharing sweets with other children. As you know, I still don’t like lending books, for instance. I’m a bit of a Scrooge. But then came the business of moving house and needing to shrink the belongings.

The piano had to go. So did the saxophone. It didn’t look as though we could sell either instrument and make a satisfying killing. In fact, we’d probably be lucky to give them away. So we did.

Luckily the literary world stepped in, and it turned out one of my author friends had a great need for a saxophone. Problem solved. Another author could use a piano. She sent two piano collector men round to pick it up.

For some reason we started chatting about our tuner. ‘Who did you use?’ asked the men. I told them Mr Sandwich. Within a split second they were both bending their knees and bobbing their heads towards the undercarriage of the piano.

‘No water,’ said one to the other. ‘Phew.’

It turns out Mr Sandwich has quite a reputation for curing ill pianos with water. On some occasions it has still been there when the collector men start tilting the instrument prior to conveying it elsewhere. So they’ve learned that if Mr Sandwich has been involved, it pays to look before you tilt.