Without music, life would be a mistake. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE PIANO
I think I’ve already said that I wasn’t terribly keen on learning the piano. However, like everything else, my parents made the decision, a piano was bought and Rita and I went every week to Aunt Frances for lessons. The fact that she was our aunt made no difference - she was pretty strict with us, and, supervised by our mother, we each did our half-hour’s practice every day. Very soon I discovered that I liked to have an audience, and was always keen to perform for anyone who would listen.
Frances had a string of letters after her name, and used the recognised methods of teaching. Later on however, she was clearing out her sheet music, and I acquired a number of popular songs which I eagerly practised - Old Faithful, O Play to me Gypsy, When I grow to old to dream, I’ll never say “never again” again, and my favourite Red Sails in the Sunset
This record of 1935 is by the Casani Club Orchestra. This band, resident at the Casani Club in London, was led in the 30s by Charlie Kunz and it’s likely to be his piano-playing which is heard on the record.
During the few years before the war, our summer holidays were spent at Lower Largo in Fife. Despite the fact that this was a fairly small resort, there was a concert party performing twice daily on the pier. The first year we were there, it was in the open air, but after that the shows were inside a large tent. Of course I was thrilled with them, and would have attended all the performances. When we were back home, I spent hours at the piano, pretending I was playing for the concert party.
At secondary school a big annual event was the dance and, in preparation for this, there were dancing lessons. I was usually given the job of pianist, with the result that I never really learned to dance satisfactorily.
The music for the actual night was provided by a band made up of boys slightly older than I was. A few years later their pianist left and they asked me to join them. I suppose that they would probably have had no more than 4 or 5 engagements per year, but my parents said “No”. That was a great disappointment to me. Playing in a dance band was not quite respectable, it seemed!
A time came when I did play at dances, but, in order to book me, one band-leader used to approach my father to get his permission. I’m sorry to say that there were occasions when I played at dances without telling my parents.
I’ve been remembering the many “classical” pieces I learned in those far-off days. One of them was the famous Minuet by Paderewski, and I found this clip of the composer himself playing it in the 1936 film “Moonlight Sonata”. He had an interesting life as pianist, composer and diplomat. During 1919 he was Prime Minister of Poland, signing the Treaty of Versailles for his country, and later became Polish ambassador to the League of Nations.
During the second world war there were many charity concerts in aid of the war effort, and very often I took part as accompanist. Most folk had to spend their holidays at home and during the Glasgow Fair Fortnight there was every type of entertainment in the parks or in the local halls, and I had a great time playing for them.
While in the RAF I was able to enjoy my music to the full. Our small band, consisting of trumpet, guitar, double bass, vocalist and me on piano, played regularly on the camp and in nearby Carterton.
I had an unusual musical experience when I broke every rule in the book. The Royal Naval School of Music at Burford were holding a big dance there, and, strangely enough, they didn’t have a pianist available that night. They got in touch with our CO’s office and I was delegated to do the job. And so it came about that a RN vehicle was sent for me, and, on arrival at the dance hall, I had to change into the full dress uniform of a RN musician - totally against all regulations!!! That was the first time I played with a full dance band, and it was a great thrill!
I don’t know when this next video was made - “In the Mood” played here by the Glenn Miller Orchestra led by Tex Beneke. There are 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, a French horn, 5 saxes, the usual rhythm, plus a string section which is seen briefly towards the end of the clip
After demob I played with a number of bands, mainly deputising, and it wasn’t till I was married and we had our three children that I joined a “big band”. The Metronomes line-up was 2 trumpets, trombone, 2 saxes, piano, drums and vocalist. They played for dancing every Saturday night in Riddrie, Glasgow, and had quite a number of dances and weddings elsewhere.
Eventually, reflecting the general changes in popular music, the services of the two sax players and myself were dispensed with, being replaced with guitars. Rock ‘n Roll had arrived!!!
Coming Soon -
MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE ORGAN