Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Handel & Hendrix

I heard on the news last night that the house in Brook St, London where Jimi Hendrix lived is to be made into a museum. This seems a good time to re-publish my blog post from five years ago........
14 September 2010
Handel & Hendrix
Apart from their alphabetical proximity in the dictionary of music, George Fredrick Handel and 'Jimi' Hendrix were close in another way: They both lived for a time in Brook Street, London.
When Jimi moved into the top floor flat of 23 Brook Street in 1967 there was a blue plaque on the front of the building commemorating the previous tenant - G. F. Handel. Whether this had any bearing on his seeing Handel's ghost I could only speculate. However, Handel actually lived next door at 25: The plate has now been moved and Jimi has his own plate. Two weeks ago I had a hospital appointment in London and took the opportunity to visit the Hendrix in Britain exhibition at the Handel House Museum, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of Jimi's death.
The museum receptionist enquired whether I had come for the Hendrix exhibition or the Handel museum which I considered a little presumptuous on her part. I may have been in a minority having both sung The Messiah in St. Paul's Cathedral for Radio 2 and also seen Jimi Hendrix perform at the California Ballroom, Dunstable. However enjoyment of the two styles of music are not mutually exclusive. Amongst the things I learned at the exhibition was where I was on the evening of 28 October 1967?! I well remembered the night but not the date.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Landmark Trust on TV

Channel 4 have made a series about the work of The Landmark Trust  which will start at 8pm on Wednesday 14 October and run for six weeks

The series will follow the restorations of Belmont and St Edward’s Presbytery, as well as the history behind several other Landmarks. The stories will be told by  Alastair Dick-Cleland - Conservation Manager and Surveyor, John Evetts - Furnishings Manager and Anna Keay – Director.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

(Who was?) Kathleen Ferrier

1953 was a year of celebration for Britain: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II; the conquering of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Ten-sing; and my success in the sack race at primary school for which I received a  *Matchbox model of the Coronation Coach. All these events had a lasting impact on life in Britain: my contribution was the perfection of the technique of pushing my feet into the corners of the sack which allowed me to walk (albeit like a bandy-legged lady in a pencil skirt) rather than to jump.
But on October 8th the country was plunged into mourning with the death of the greatest contralto this country has produced. Sixty two years ago today Kathleen Ferrier died in London from breast cancer. at the age of 41 after ten years of phenomenal success. As a teenager I  was frequently moved to tears on hearing her rendition in English of What is life to me?  (listen here)   from Gluck's Orfeo & Euridce. Her unaccompanied rendition of the Northumbrian folk song Blow the Wind Southerly (listen here) was  a popular request on the BBC Light Programme in the 1950s and 1960s.
Kathleen's birthplace
Kathleen was born in Higher Walton near Preston but she did not  begin her career as a singer. She was a keen member of the school choir but even then she had a big voice and she was usually asked just to stand at the back and sing quietly. Her mother, keen to encourage Kathleen’s musical interest, arranged piano lessons for her and, as a talented young pianist of only 14 she passed the final grade of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music
Kathleen left school at 14 and went to work for the GPO in Blackburn, first in the telegrams department and then as a switchboard operator. In July 1930, at the age of 18, she took part in her first concert as a pianist, which was broadcast from Manchester.  In 1935 she married Albert Wilson and had to leave her job as the GPO did not employ married women. Albert was moved to Silloth, on the Cumbrian coast, to manage a local bank and Kathleen gave piano lessons to the local children. When she entered the prestigious Carlisle Festival in 1937 as a pianist, her husband bet her a shilling (5p)that she dare not enter for the singing contest as well as the piano prize. Kathleen accepted the challenge, entered the contralto solo class and not only carried off both trophies, but won the first prize for the best singer at the Festival. Carlisle was a turning point, and this brilliant new singer was in great demand. In 1939 she made her first radio broadcast as a singer.  Most of her subsequent career is well documented and I am not reprinting it here. However one aspect which seems to have evaded most historians, and indeed also The Kathleen Ferrier Society, is that when she was working in Blackburn she would cycle to Withnell Fold on a Saturday evening (when she was not needed as accompanist at King George's Hall in Blackburn) to play piano for the village dance.
The Old Reading Room, Withnell Fold

The dances took place on the upper (sprung) floor of the  reading room  which had been built for the residents when the village was established in 1843 for the workers at the new paper mill.

Here she met a local resident, Albert Wilson.

I was relating this tale at an illustrated talk I gave a few months ago and afterwards a chap, aged about 40, approached me and asked  
Who was Kathleen Ferrier?

As we are currently living in Preston for a while we made a trip out to Higher Walton to see the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Gardens.

 What a disappointment this was.

Higher Walton seems to have forgotten Kathleen Ferrier
The site is a disgrace and its neglect an insult to the memory of this great singer.

I am writing to the parish council and I hope others will too

Pedants will have noted that at this time Lesney did not use the Matchbox brand name: these models were labelled A Moko  toy by Lesney made in England
From time to time I wondered why my coach was silver and others appeared gold until I realised that the silver plating was apt to tarnish.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


After ten years living aboard Gecko and cruising each year from March - November, we have decided to spend the winter months ashore. To facilitate that we have sold the house we let for holidays in Bath and are looking for a bungalow  in Lancashire. In the meantime we are renting a flat in an old cotton mill in Preston.

Centenary Mill was built in 1895 by Horrocks Ltd to celebrate their centenary.
Horrockses Fashion Off the peg style in the 40's and 50's V&A

It closed in the 1960s but was converted to 180 flats about ten years ago.

This impressive  entrance hall

was originally the engine hall

Which looked like this, apparently