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Now and Then, and then again…

Words, music, pictures, and more words

The Other End of the Wheel

27 February 1950 was one end of my wheel, and now, 70 years on from that day, I head relentlessly towards the other end of the wheel.

Everyone is supposed to have their magnum opus, defined accurately in my case by Dictionary as:

  1. a work of art, music, or literature that is regarded as the most important or best work that an artist, composer, or writer has produced.

and this could be writing a book, climbing a high mountain, or running an ultra-marathon – in other words, something that is beyond the boundaries of your normal expectations of yourself.  I have no inclination or ability to hang my hat on any of the foregoing, but I did write and record an album of 10 songs, entitled The Other End of the Wheel.

The actual recording took place in 2005, as a result of getting my song-brain in gear over the preceding couple of years, when time and inspiration permitted me to write both the music and the words.

I have played a guitar since persuading my Dad in the early ’60s, that this would be a good idea, having heard the Shadows play Apache and thinking that it couldn’t be too difficult (I was wrong there – if it had been that easy, everyone would have had #1 hits).  The guitar duly arrived after some repeated persuasion, and him playing the old ‘you save half and once you have, I’ll put the other half to it‘ card.  I can’t remember if this played out in full, but I did become the proud owner of a 6-string acoustic together with an Ivor Mairants Tutor book of chords.  I learned the basic chords, found how they fitted together melodically, developed calluses on my left-hand finger ends, and found in no time that it was quite easy to strum along with all sorts of songs – I suppose this is because I have what is known as a ‘musical ear’.  But my skill and confidence levels really increased when I found I could play the guitar parts in Paul Simon’s songs in essentially the same way as he could – note for note.  Ray Davies’ songs, particularly from Sunny Afternoon onwards, were also comfortable to pick-and-strum along to.  Fortunately hit songs of the ’60s weren’t complicated, and this ‘musical ear’ saw to the rest.  I should add that all this ‘playing along’ was done by ear, not by reading the ‘dots’.

The guitar, and singing in general, took something of a back seat for much of the time up to my 50th birthday – career, family etc etc.  I would always pick it up to keep my hand in, but nothing more serious than that.  My inspiration to do something a little bit more serious was directed towards a fundraiser for the Romania Aid Programme in the early 1990s – duly recorded as a family effort on which we all sang, even Alice who must have been only 4 at the time.  Every cassette made was sold, and raised enough money to buy a second-hand ambulance to ferry goods over to the orphanages there.  A fantastic result!

Then it was our Silver Wedding anniversary in 1999 – and what lovelier thing to do than to write and record a special song for your wife.  I did, and it was well received.  The seed was sown….I enjoyed the process, so why shouldn’t I write and record an entire album.

I set to it without a particular plan and without specific influences.  I wanted the music to form and settle within itself, with sequences of chords and notes which co-exist happily, and then the words and stories could settle with them, as if they should always have been together. I had grown to like that classic pop/rock combination of guitars, piano/organ, and soon I had completed the writing and arrangement of 10 songs with which I was happy.  Then came the next big question.  Where to record and who with?

I asked around, and the name Fred Purser at Trinity Heights studio in the west end of Newcastle upon Tyne cropped up more than once, on the basis of  ‘if you want it done properly, he’s your man’.  As I might only do it once, better to have it done properly.

I met up with Fred, explained all, got on very well with him, and a full-on 4 days were set aside in February 2005, for the recordings to take place.  I would sing and play acoustic guitar, Fred (Penetration and Tygers of Pan Tang) would play lead and bass guitar, his friend Adam Burgess would play piano/organ, my son Adam (the M00bs and Big Red and the Grinners) would drum, and there were spot roles for daughter Alice on piano, and the family Clare – Roland, Linda, Jane and Peter, from Westbury-on-Trym – at whose house one of the tracks was recorded, and mastered by Fred in Newcastle.

Each song was layered up instrument by instrument, and Fred then waved his magic wand over it all, with the end-result being better than I thought it would ever be in my imaginations.  It’s a cracking recording, well played and finely engineered.

The only outstanding difficulty when planning the recording, was the actual title of the album.

Sue and I had taken off to London for a few days in 2004, part of which was a prearranged ride on the London Eye, followed by a boat trip down the Thames.  The Eye was great, and as we disembarked, we were looking around for the boat which would take us on part 2 of the event.  Not seeing anything likely, I ended up asking a man in uniform.  He volunteered straight away that the boat I wanted was at ‘the other end of the wheel’ – in other words, along the quay to the east end of the London Eye.  Sue and I looked at each other, and smiled instinctively.  We had our title!!  An expression which means what you want it to, especially as wheels don’t have ends, but a title which resonated immediately.

The last track on the album carries the album title as well – a thank you for a life, about a wheel coming full circle, for which the album title seems particularly apt.  And by one of life’s strange coincidences, on the day I was recording the vocal for this song, my brother Rodney ‘phoned to say that our Mother – 91 and in a care home – had taken a turn and was not likely to live much longer.  After a couple more messages over the next couple of hours, Rodney texted to say that she had finally succumbed.  I said to Fred that if I was distracted, it was because of the news I’d just received.  He immediately assumed that the session would be terminated, but I was equally quick to say ‘no’, as carrying on seemed an honourable thing to do, and also a way of saying thank you to my Mum for all she brought to my life.

This new and unexpected circumstance added real depth and meaning to the words, and poignancy to the recording, which I hope shows through.  I’m really proud of this song, as indeed I am of the entire album.  It’s dedicated to ‘George and Elsie Barnes, without whom….‘.  It’s my magnum opus and something of me to leave behind, come the day when my wheel ceases to turn.

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The Other End of the Wheel – Rob Barnes (the song)

Days at Low Wood Bay

Volunteering takes many forms.  Some people are naturally drawn to it, others not.  I do a bit, and I enjoy doing what comes naturally, and what falls in with other commitments I have.

My main volunteering focuses on others exerting themselves, whilst I guide and encourage them to do so.  This sounds like a good deal for me, and usually takes the form of a weekly 3 hours at Souter Lighthouse – the National Trust property on the NE coast of England – where I am on the team for the Great Run Local every Sunday morning, helping manage the 5k and 2k running events.  I love it, and the people of all ages who are involved, many of whom have become friends.  My presence there extends to other events at the location, such as the twice-yearly Night Run, complete with head torches.

Daughter Alice was Social Media Manager with the Great Run Company, before starting her own business, and this connection has extended to our (Sue and I) being asked if we could volunteer at the Great SwimRun event at Windermere in early June.  It would be an all-day 8-5 commitment on our part.

For our first time, we were stationed in the pouring rain at the boathouse at Brathay – I’d never been as wet in my life.  Picture below of me looking happy, in spite of the weather.

For 2018 and 2019, we were stationed nearer the finish line, at Low Wood Bay.  I was given the prime position directly opposite the prestigious Low Wood Bay hotel, ensuring that runners moved safely off the Ambleside Road pavement into the relative safety of the park next to the yacht club from where they would leap into the water for their final swim to the finish line.

The Ambleside Road is one of the busiest in the Lake District, and on a sunny Saturday in June, was a magnet for many classic cars making their way between Windermere, and the show ground at Grasmere, so lots of lovely old cars to spot.  It is never arduous, but it does require concentration at all times, and fortunately, I had clear sight of any approaching athletes for about 600 yards, so was able to time any toilet breaks to perfection, across the road in the hotel.

I also warned the hotel that I would be out there, not to worry about me and would be quite open to them bringing me the occasional coffee and cake, if it looked as though I was flagging.  Well, there are times in life when you just have to be bold.  The picture below is an example of their hospitality.  Much appreciated, Willow.

In spite of my solo position, occasionally interrupted by athletes coming through, each day of 8 hours passes extremely quickly, making the volunteering job a real joy to do – especially when the sun is shining as it did in 2018, a real novelty in the Lakes.P1000454-0011528653629-picsay

The Empress of Japan

When able to take breaks away from our home area, one type of holiday we’ve found to suit us well, is a cycling tour in the company of others – and especially in France, a country we have come to love, having taken the children there on camping holidays for many years.  We’ve covered most of the country in that time.

It undoubtedly helps in our relations with the locals, that we could speak good enough French to get by.  They definitely wouldn’t stoop so low as to speak English, so we always felt on an equal footing with them.  I have never found the French to be anything but unfailingly polite and pleasant.  I can only assume that their reputation for being haughty and starchy, is due to Brits and other nationalities not being prepared to make the effort to learn a little about French language and culture.

Our first venture on two wheels, was with the specialist tour company French Cycling Holidays, who seemed to have garnered many favourable reviews.  We couldn’t have made a better choice, and have made repeat bookings with them since, taking in Provence (including a slow ride up the iconic 2000m Mont Ventoux), the Languedoc, the Dordogne, the Loire Valley, and this year it will be Normandy.

Our first tour was around Roman Provence, in the south.  We arrived in Avignon on one of France’s wonderful high-speed TGV trains – a treat in itself – before being collected by Mike (the owner of FCH), and his co-host, Henry.

We bedded in for our week of moderately strenuous cycling with a trip to Île sur la Sorgue. before settling down in our French country hotel.  Suitcases are taken onward each day, picnics at lunchtime, whilst all you have to do is cycle around 40 miles each day and lap up the scenery!

Our fellow travellers (see pic below) were from the US, NZ, Oz and the UK – and by the end of the week we felt like we had known each other all of our lives.  Lovely company, as it has been on every tour.

Day 4 of this tour took us to Les Baux de Provence, a famous fortified medieval village atop a hill.  We had the chance to wander the streets and look at the historical artefacts, and, when enjoying an ice-cream in the main square, whistles started blowing, and police and security staff swarmed around, pushing we poor tourists to the side, and being told to stay where we were.  They had dark suits, dark glasses and gun-shaped bulges under their jackets, so it was no time to break ranks.

It transpired that the Empress of Japan (sans Emperor) was paying a visit.  Important in her own Japanese way, I suppose, but not exactly someone to get excited about (unless you’re Japanese).  Who even knew what she looked like!  No-one in our party had any inkling, other than presuming she would be slim, smartly dressed, with dark hair.  We were right!!

We needed to be off on our bikes again to maintain our day’s schedule, but were held back for what seemed like an unreasonable time. It seemed an appropriate moment for a show of resistance, so, being bored and British, and feeling mischievous, both Mike (the owner) and I started whistling the theme from Bridge on the River Kwai – the classic 1957 war film about the building of the Burma railway by POWs, overseen by the cruellest Japanese troops.  There were muffled sniggers around us, but not a move from the security staff (fortunately).

All very childish really, but irresistible in the moment, and soon we were on our way back down the hill from Les Baux to continue our leisurely journey around sunny Provence.  Memorable times…. for us and the group you see below.  We’re at the right hand end.

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A Story of the Great War – Part 2 of 2

(continuing from Part 1 of 2)…….and so, if we were to perform Songs and Stories of the Great War (1914-1918) on Remembrance Sunday, 11 November, also the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, where in the North East of England should that be?  One has to start at the top with the area’s prime concert venue, Sage Gateshead – and knowing the place intimately, the Sage Two hall, with its ten sided auditorium and three levels of spectators, would be the perfect venue.

Grasping the nettle, enquiries were made, meetings set up, discussions took place, and their enthusiasm for the project was obvious.  They had heard about our March performance (!), and what I was proposing would fit perfectly with what the Sage had planned for November 11 – a street party on the concourse, a film performance in the evening in Sage One, with our show taking place in the late afternoon in Sage Two.

In comparison with the March show in Fenham, this would be a shorter, straight-through performance of about 80 minutes, but the broad principle of songs, poems and other readings would still pertain, BUT with one major difference.  We would thread these as part of a wider story about the WW1 journey of one Pvt. Fielding Pickard, service number MS/1081, of the Army Service Corps.  He was the great-uncle of my wife Sue, and we know about his journey because of the number of post-cards he collected whilst of his 4 year service duty between Rouen and Saint-Omer, and which were handed down to us through Sue’s family.

With the help of my 11 year old grand-daughter Bella acting as narrator with me, the script was written, and interleaved with:

POEMS by Jessie Pope, Cicely Fox Smith, Woodbine Willie and Wilfred Owen

SONGS by Harris/Squire, Rob Barnes, Eric Bogle, Sarah Morgan and Haydn Wood

CHOIR pieces by Jessica Curry, Eleanor Daley, Hubert Parry and Gustav Holst

What a memorable, memorable occasion in so many ways.

Firstly, everyone’s performances were excellent, with a special mention for the singers from Hotspur Primary School in Newcastle under their Head Teacher Miles Wallis-Clarke, singing Emily Barden’s Armistice Day song for children, Remember.  The verbal and written comments received afterwards were amazing – everyone seemed to love it.  We couldn’t have wished for anything more.

But of course, lots happened before ‘curtain up’ time…

I had never put on a show like this before, so was reliant upon the goodwill of my friends in Fenham Ensemble, and all others participating, not least the technical team at Sage Gateshead, whom I had never met until the day of the performance.  We did a full dress rehearsal at 2pm – without the children from Hotspur – which went generally OK, but knowing that there would be technical refinements to be made for the 5pm show, for which in excess of 200 tickets had been sold – nearly a full house.

It was especially tense for me, being well into the reserve tank of my comfort zone, and, as I’d taken it all on my shoulders, as producer, director, pot washer, the time between the dress rehearsal and the 5pm start time flew by, and all of a sudden it was time to get changed into my performance outfit.  Sharing my dressing room with one woman and two men (not sure how it ended up like this, but I was beyond worrying by this point), I quickly stripped off and donned my suit.  But could I get my shoes to fit?  No!!  Had my feet swollen? – panic set in.  And as I threw clothes into my bag, my hands alighted upon an indeterminate shape – my shoes!  Hang on….oh bloody hell, I was wearing Philip’s shoes, which were lying on the floor next to my bag.  Cue laughter all round, and an easing of tension.  It was all downhill from there.

And as a final laugh out loud memory of this concert, I come to Ruth Carlisle, a member of Fenham Ensemble and a gifted piano teacher and player.  Ruth had the undoubted pleasure of accompanying me on piano, whilst I sung Cicely Fox Smith’s poem, The Mouth Organ.  The last verse took on a pace all of its own, much slower than the previous four verses, which I thought, whilst singing it, to be really effective, and told myself at the time, to thank Ruth afterwards for this slice of inspiration of slowing the tempo.

Which, afterwards, I did.  She smiled at me and said “No, Rob, you slowed down and I followed suit.”  “No, Ruth, you slowed down and followed suit!”  Cue lots of laughter – but whichever, it did sound most effective.

How lovely to be able to play this all out on one of the most auspicious days in our recent history.  The other plans that the venue had for a street-party and a film showing never materialised, so we were the only performers at Sage Gateshead on that memorable Sunday 11 November 2018, Remembrance Sunday, ArmisticeDay100, in Sage Two, bathed in a poppy red hue for the occasion.

As I said before, memorable, so memorable – everyone played their part magnificently.

I have a full recording of this performance but have not found the need to go back and listen to it, as the memory I have is so strong and positive, that I have no need to revisit it.

 

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But I’m underplaying both the significance and the sheer pleasure in being able to both curate and to perform in such a tribute to all those involved in the Great War – at the Front or behind the lines, in whichever theatre of war.

It was one of those rare occasions where I had the distinct feeling we were waving goodbye to that part of the lives of many of us, which can relate to the grainy photo of a person in the frame on the shelf.  Yes, we do have to move forwards, but it should never be at the expense of losing sight of our roots, and the people and actions of those who went before to help create the world in which we now live. 

“When you go Home, tell them of us and say,
For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today”

John Maxwell Edmunds
1916

A Story of the Great War – Part 1 of 2

It was when I was in my early teens that I first picked up the hardback volumes of Mr Punch that lined our bookcase at home.  These books were identified by subject matter – Mr Punch in London, Mr Punch on the Links, Mr Punch in Wartime etc, each filled with humorous stories, cartoons, and poems, and published in the period 1900-1930.

I could write a book on the joy which these literary gems have brought me over the years, but, cutting to the quick, it was Mr Punch in Wartime which really fascinated me – and, in particular, the many war poems of Cicely Fox Smith (hereafter CFS), who had the double distinction of being a lady – and hence a non-combatant – and a real expert on the world of seafaring, ships, and coastal communities.  How come she knew so much about the man’s world of war and the sea?

She never went to the Western Front, but she interviewed those who had been there, either when on leave, or in hospital in England recovering from wounds.  She turned their experiences into the most wonderful rhyming ‘stories in verse’, both humorous and harrowing.  My interest was piqued.

Whilst happy to run seminars and other events when in business, running theatrical events was not something I’d ever considered doing.   But, as the WW1 centenary period commenced in 2014, I had the twinkling of an idea, that it might be a great chance to bring CFS’s long-forgotten war poetry to a wider audience – and where better to do it, than at the National Centre for the Written Word – known as The Word – in South Shields.  With my friends Julie Gill and Jonathan Rew, on 22 April 2017, we presented Cicely Fox Smith – a War Poet who Never Went to War – to a very receptive audience.  I had also written musical settings to some of the poems for variety.

Heartened and informed by this experience, we talked about how to expand this into a full concert featuring stories, poems and songs from differing sources, all related to World War 1 – so, Songs and Stories of the Great War (1914-1918) was born, and, 11 months after the South Shields gig, was performed one snowy night in March 2018 in St James’ and St Basil’s Church, in Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne.  A full 2 hours’ worth, with an interval – and, in spite of losing a percentage of our audience to the adverse weather, we raised enough to fund a new bench for the church’s Memorial Garden (now in place and both comforting and comfortable).

We featured the Fenham Ensemble choir together with singers from Dame Allan’s School, as well as some solo speaking and singing performances, and the services of Kathy Palmer with her Northumbrian pipes – always guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye.

From the reactions to what we had put together and pulled off so successfully, it was quite clear that this was not just entertaining and innovative, but had ‘legs’ – and, as the centenary of the signing of the Armistice at the end of the Great War, was only 9 months away, if only we could perform it on November 11…but where?

Read on in Part 2….

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Julie Gill, Rob Barnes, and Jonathan Rew outside the Word, in South Shields

 

 

 

Ma-Ma Belle

OK, so it’s one ‘Ma’ short of the 1973 Electric Light Orchestra track title, but it will serve my purpose in pulling together the initial letters of two belle English towns/areas where I have holidayed many times.  Yes, this is an undisguised advertisement for the joys of spending holiday time in your own country, rather than fighting with airports and cultures that may not be familiar.  It must be said that the British traveller, humoured for so many years by the more refined cultures of most European countries, due to the amount of tourist money that he brings in, is now regarded in many places increasingly as an unwelcome pariah, who may be tolerated, but only just – and Brexit will not have helped to smooth choppy waters.

So we shall relax into a more traditional, quiet English holiday, in both Ma-tlock and Ma-lvern, which I heartily recommend you visit to sample the very best of an English holiday.  Give e other or both of them a go.

Firstly do they have anything in common part from being a long way from a sandy beach?

Indeed they do:-

  1. They both owed their initial prosperity to the fad for healthy water (hydrotherapy as a rest-cure) in mid Victorian times.  Both towns have natural springs, which were ‘borrowed’ by the entrepreneurs and snake-oil salesmen of the time, and marketed as giving you the healthier life.  With most town water being of dubious quality at the time, it was an inspired move which made many men rich on the proceeds of….clean water
  2. They are both set on the hills from whence the waters flow.
  3. Their architecture and their town parks are of that famous, classic Victorian type – mature and well-maintained.
  4. They both have classic Victorian railway stations – Matlock’s being at the end of the line up from Derby, but Great Malvern being a ‘two track’ station on the Birmingham to Hereford line.  The stations are worth a visit on their own merits.

Matlock is set amongst the hills of the Peak District of Derbyshire, with much to do in the town itself, and even more within walking and cycling distance on specific trails (former railway lines).  Great pubs and villages abound.

Part of the Cromford Trail, a former railway to the south of Matlock (it’s actually steep downhill in this photo.  The trains were dragged up the incline by an ingenious system which is well worth investigating)

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Great Malvern is set on the eastern slope of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, with the flatlands of the Severn Valley in front, and the rolling Herefordshire countryside on the other (western) side.  Again, great walking and cycling country, with villages galore in easy striking distance, but the range of hills have a magic all of their own, and are c 10 miles long in a north-south line, and it makes for a great walk.

You need to go to appreciate the places – lots of different styles of accommodation, from hotels , b&b, to airbnb, depending on your pocket.  You won’t be disappointed with either, and you can do your homework on the places before deciding.

Sue atop North Hill in the Malverns.  The Severn Valley is behind her.

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New York City…with Patricia Beard and Kevin Kline

You will all know something about NYC and probably something about the actor Kevin Kline, but maybe know little – if anything – about Patricia Beard.  She is an internationally-acclaimed American author – perhaps best-known for her two books about Wall Street – Blue Blood and Mutiny – the Fight for the Soul of Morgan Stanley and After the Ball.

She lives in upstate New York with her husband, and they were on their way back there from London in November 2007, on the same flight as me – and not just the same flight, but in the adjacent seats to me.  They were reading through and commenting on some book reviews, and something she said triggered a comment from me (without being seen as an eavesdropper).  She introduced herself as the published author and I confessed that I didn’t know of her work.  She minded not at all, and my abiding memory of her at that moment was of a thoughtful, interested, and most interesting lady.  Delightful company.  Her husband was equally delightful, and we took a standup break talking ‘soccer’ for a good 20 minutes.

We said goodbye in the security queue at JFK airport, with Mr Beard wishing Sue good luck in her endeavours.

Sue was not on the ‘plane with me, as she was running the New York Marathon that day, and I was due to join her, as pre-arranged, in a bar on Broadway that evening.  If that ain’t romantic, what is!!

I took the train from the airport into central NY, alighting at 46th Street, coming up to street-level, and looking up to see some real skyscrapers.  Wow, just wow!!!  My lodgings (unlike Sue’s swanky hotel) were a 5 minute walk from there.  I had time to check in, do a quick change, let Sue know that I was in town, and walk back onto Broadway to locate the pre-arranged bar.  En route, I passed a theatre at which Kevin Kline was taking the lead role.  I stopped to read the billboard, and who should walk past me at that moment, but…..Kevin Kline.  I said ‘Hi’ (as you do), and he wished me ‘Good evening’.  So, the one and only time I met KK, was one early November late afternoon in 2007, in NYC.

The reason that Sue was staying in a swanky hotel, was because she had gone out there with a group of runners organised by 209 Events, a few days in advance of the run, to acclimatise.  I followed on run day itself, with a view to spending a few days seeing the sights together.

Walking into a bar on Broadway, and seeing Sue looking animated with a glass of Guinness in her hand, and that smile as she saw me – well, just one wonderful and unforgettable moment.

We walked and walked for the next few days, the length and breadth of Manhattan, taking in Central Park, Bleecker Street, Ground Zero, and climbing (via the high-speed elevator, to the ‘Top of the Rock” – the roof of the Rockefeller Center.  We ate American portions.  It was balmy late autumn weather – we were truly blessed.

Sue ran the marathon in 4 hours 54 minutes, thereby getting her name in the New York Times for her sub-5 hours finish.

A great experience all round, and a visit which we must repeat at some point.

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And with daughter-in-law Nataly, who had met Sue at the finish line…

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Hi-Viz and a Hornit

I can still remember that sensation of grounded free-flight when my Dad took his supporting hand off the back of the saddle, and I coasted off on two wheels under my own balance and power.  Fortunately, I instinctively seemed to know what to do when I had to come to a halt – put a foot down to prevent the rest of me going down in a heap.

And from that point in my early youth, it’s been difficult to keep me away from a bike for long.  Now in my 70th year, I am cycling more than I ever have – c70 miles per week, and enough to give the lungs and legs a good workout.

There are a greater number of active cyclists now than there ever have been, with great bikes available at great prices and all manner of kit, clubs, and opportunities to cycle, not just in our country but across the world.  France is my favourite – a country that reveres cycling, with motorists knowing how to act when sharing road space with them – quite unlike in the UK, where motorists have a different sense of priorities, i.e. they think they have the right of way even when they don’t, and brook no interruptions to their journeys.

Which is not to say that cyclists are always in the right – far from it.  Think how many times you’ve seen cyclists pedalling gaily through red lights, or careering thoughtlessly down pedestrian areas and pavements.

After the Welshman Geraint Thomas won the Tour de France in 2018, he embarked on an ‘always wear a helmet‘ campaign.  Something of a waste of effort in my book, as most already do, and those that don’t are probably past convincing.

But he could have brought his considerable influence to bear on what I think are two far more pressing problems in the cycling world.

Firstly, Geraint, call on cyclists to wear hi-viz clothing at all times, and NOT black-only, which is very much de rigueur amongst the faster-cycling male fraternity, together with their black bikes.  I’ve always thought cyclists to be a cut-above in the intelligence stakes, so this ought not to be a huge leap for them.  They are extremely trusting, expecting motorists to see them in all circumstances.  I have good eyesight, and I don’t always see them soon enough.  Many drivers have eyesight so bad, that they are a liability to all other road users.  Common-sense ought to rule the day here.

Secondly, I know that a bell is a compulsory fitting on any new bike, but how many resist the temptation to take it off straight away on the grounds of unnecessary additional weight?  I keep a keen eye open for bells, and people who use them.  There are barely any.  I have a gizmo called a Hornit, which is ‘the world’s loudest cycle horn’ according to their website.  I have to say that it’s brilliant and it’s loud, warning other cyclists and pedestrians of my presence.  It has the desired effect of making people look round to see what the noise is – and it inevitably raises a smile and a thank you, (yes, really!)

Go on, Geraint, I dare you to use your influence to good effect – and, in case you’re wondering,  I always wear hi-viz clothing, and whilst I know it doesn’t guarantee being seen (as I know to the personal loss of skin and blood), it gives me a far better chance of staying alive and uninjured – and I happen to think that mine looks rather cool.

Here I am, somewhere on the North Devon coast, looking bright…

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150 Part 2 – The Journal Reviews

‘The Journal’ has been Newcastle upon Tyne’s daily morning newspaper since its first publication in 1832, and well in excess of 50,000 editions to date.  Its readership is predominantly middle-class and professional, and it will come as no surprise that it has had a thriving Culture section – theatre, music and the arts in general –  most notably in recent years under David Whetstone as Culture Editor – at least until 2018, when the Culture department was disbanded and those in it made redundant.  I’m not sure what this says about newspapers and the North East in particular.

In those halcyon days, only a few years ago, I was asked to join the Culture team as the classical music reviewer, and this is the story of how this came about, and some subsequent highlights.

The reason for the title ‘150 Part 2…’ is that the closure of the Journal’s Culture department came about after I’d had c150 reviews published.  It seems a popular number in my recent past.  Maybe I’ll live to be 150….

When I had started Classical NE1fm (see the ‘150 Part 1’ post), I had put some posters up in places where classical music fans might see them – Sage Gateshead and the JG Windows music shop in Central Arcade, Newcastle, amongst them.

I received an email from one Robin Seaman, who said that he had seen my flyer on a recent visit up North, and wondered if I would mention an upcoming concert which he was organising.  Robin helps run the Hertfordshire Chorus (north of London), and they were coming to perform in Gateshead.  He also promised me two tickets for the concert, which would of course in no way influence my decision to mention the concert (really!)

I duly mentioned said concert, went to see it at the Sage, met up with Robin and his wife Rachel, and thoroughly enjoyed it all.

Subsequently, I had another message from him, saying that he was coming up to the North East on a scouting mission for a further concert, and would we like to meet for lunch at the Pitcher and Piano (Newcastle Quayside), and he would be with conductor David Temple (now MBE for services to music in the 2018 New Year’s Honours), and would I mind if David Whetstone (DW) joined us as well, being the Culture Editor of The Journal.

We all met up – DW arriving late due to an overrunning previous meeting – and enjoyed a convivial lunch, with David Temple remarking how unusual it was to talk football at a music meeting, with a glint in his eye.

The conversation moved around, with DW remarking how much he had to do, as he couldn’t find someone ‘suitable’ to write on/review classical music.  Robin Seaman said quietly to me after the meeting had concluded, ‘I think he might have been making a play for your services.’

Whilst not being sure if that was the case, I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I thought ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, and I sent DW a short email, expressing my potential interest, and asking what was involved.

He suggested I have a go, and ‘here are two upcoming concerts – either the King’s Singers or a performance of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony – choose one and I shall arrange tickets, and write me c350 words as a review.’  I chose the Mendelssohn on the basis that I could add little to the bible of glowing comments and reviews about the King’s Singers.

I wrote a non-too serious or erudite view on proceedings and sent it in.  I had a mail straight back from DW, commenting to the effect that I must have done this sort of thing before, and it was more than fine.  Would I like to do more?  “No pay but a couple of tickets for each concert, and you can choose what to review.  Please submit a monthly list of those you want to cover for an OK.  Nothing out of the area, unless there was local relevance for the North East readership.”

So, over 4 years later, and approximately 150 concert reviews published in the Journal and online, I am back to the first paragraph of this little story, when I was told that it was all coming to an end, due to redundancies at the Journal.  A huge shame…

I think that I had settled well into the role of reviewer, and ended up covering much more than just classical music along the way, and even writing an occasional article for the Journal as well.  I struck up (mostly online) friendships with some of the personalities whose work I covered, such as Gateshead’s conductor par excellence, John Wilson.

Some review highlights from the 150 (mostly at Sage Gateshead, except where noted):

John Wilson Orchestra – any of his Hollywood soundstage tributes to the memorable, such as MGM and Cole Porter

The Simon Bolivar National Youth Choir of Venezuela – sheer class and enthusiasm for singing

James McCarthy’s Codebreaker premiere (at the Barbican), and his 17 Days (at Sage Gateshead)

Rowan Pierce (Teesside-born) soprano walking down the aisle of Durham Cathedral at a stately pace to Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’

Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour – immaculately presented and performed at the Newcastle Arena

Barbara Dickson and her a cappella solo of MacCrimmon’s Lament to end her concert

The Bratislava Hot Serenaders and their evocation of ’20s and ’30s hot jazz and dance band music, including the original jazz band setting of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue

Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Newcastle Arena

Voices of Hope – winning National Choir of the Year in Cardiff

Handel’s Theodora – set in 1950s USA, including the messenger cycling on stage at the Sage (Handel would, I am sure, have approved)

The Wipers Times – on stage at Northern Stage

Georgie Fame – at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival with the Guy Barker Big Band

 

So much music, so much joy, so many great memories…….

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