It’s been longer than I expected to listen to and review an unjustly neglected (by me) album of fanfares recorded in 2018 by my beloved John Wilson with the Onyx Brass, and since I’d like to do right by this collection—as it actually contains some nifty pieces—am taking my time. So in the meanwhile, here’s a song that came to mind when John nattered on to Edward Seckerson about his boyhood years back in the 80s in Low Fell in Gateshead, not “stoody-ing” music but “pleh-ying” with his bike. (“Play” and “study”are the two main words I use to get into John’s Geordie accent.)
Notes: The intro of “A bicyclette” was (still is?) the theme for Bouygues Telecom. And we all know who Francis Lai is, he’s that Love Story guy.
Quand on partait de bon matin Quand on partait sur les chemins A bicyclette Nous étions quelques bons copains Y avait Fernand, y avait Firmin Y avait Francis et Sébastien Et puis Paulette
On était tous amoureux d’elle On se sentait pousser des ailes A bicyclette Sur les petits chemins de terre On a souvent vécu l’enfer Pour ne pas mettre pied à terre Devant Paulette
Faut dire qu’elle y mettait du cœur C’était la fille du facteur A bicyclette Et depuis qu’elle avait huit ans Elle avait fait en le suivant Tous les chemins environnants A bicyclette
Quand on approchait la rivière On déposait dans les fougères Nos bicyclettes Puis on se roulait dans les champs Faisant naître un bouquet changeant De sauterelles, de papillons Et de rainettes
Quand le soleil à l’horizon Profilait sur tous les buissons Nos silhouettes On revenait fourbus contents Le cœur un peu vague pourtant De n’être pas seul un instant Avec Paulette
Prendre furtivement sa main Oublier un peu les copains La bicyclette On se disait: c’est pour demain J’oserai, j’oserai demain Quand on ira sur les chemins A bicyclette
If you remember viewing it first-run, as I did, you will recall that thrill of being in on the “joke”. And you will most definitely know that—as perfectly and wittily as it is tied to its time and place—this joke will never land ever, ever again.
A few notes on episode 1, season 3: This was filmed just before MI:OS, when G Morris was making the transition from LA disc jockey to actor. M Dillard was already a familiar face on television at this time. The episode was written by the great comedy team of B Persky and S Denoff, who went on to create the TV show That Girl.
Earle Hagen’s Dick Van Dyke and Lionel Newman(!)’s Dobie Gillis themes have got to be in my opinion the swingiest, finger-poppingest themes in the history of TV, topping even Mancini’s Peter Gunn, because of their superior melody lines. The version above is just okay, but I would looove to hear the snap and slide my beloved John Wilson would put into either of these short pieces like he did with his 2005 Grammy-nominated “Beyond the Sea”. Quel dommage, he’s on to finer things now, my bonny is.
By the way, I owe my interest in swing to London-based composer / Royal College alum (1991-93) / YT maven David Bruce—in particular his lecture on swing theory, which set my head back on straight. Thanks, David!
John! John! I FINALLY figured out why you blocked me on Facebook a year ago, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I saw you in your undershirt.
No, it’s because in that review I wrote on Amazon of your chum’s book (and it was an 800-word, favorable, 4-star review, let’s not forget) I made a casual reference to that classical music site, SlippedDisc. That was it, wasn’t it?
Okay, I’ll cop to the poor joke. Not to my valid assertion, but to the poor joke.
But honey, I got it. Your misunderstanding was entirely my fault. And I want to apologize—like I say, I finally realized that whiff of “scandal sheet” might have put you off. You see, about 12 years ago, after a certain personal relationship of mine had been exposed (never found out the rat) and cunningly misinterpreted by the burgeoning so-called i-press, besides having to deal with the fallout in actual life, I also got decorticated for 4 DAYS RUNNING (four horrible, horrible days) on that notorious site Gawker, which in its heyday was pretty much the Hollywood equivalent of SlippedDisc—only cruder, crueler and much more damaging—so I know what it’s like to be ducked in the swamp, so to speak. Would not wish that muck on my worst enemy.
But, my bonny, by the time you found out I had discovered your markedly public FB page, I had already fallen hopelessly in love with you and had already been blogging about you in, I think, the most charming and respectful terms for over a year (except for the times I occasionally, rightly, flailed you out of nationalistic and/or womanly pride). I am going to bet, though, you weren’t even aware of that when you decided to block me back in July 2019. You cowardy-custard. You could’ve just looked me up. There are places in the cyberworld where your name and mine are inextricably entwined like Boswell and Johnson.
Above John making namaste at the premiere of Cendrillon at Glyndebourne, 2019: “Marches des princesses” from Act I of Massenet’s comic opera and the most John-Wilsonish piece in the whole score.
But really, here’s how I know about SlippedDisc: About a year before I fell in love with you I had been following the story of the outrageously dishonorable firing of English, Oxford-trained conductor Matthew Halls up in the boonies in Eugene, Oregon, once a small mellow city where I had had a pleasant experience producing a San Francisco-based cabaret show, but has since fallen into disrepair and racially-underlined civic unrest. I was interested because I recognized Halls’s name from my album of the Goldberg Variations (Halls is also a world-class harpsichordist, and my ears have always perked up to the sound of an interesting harpsichord ever since Vic Mizzy first played his own instrument in his own famous composition) and became fascinated and disgusted. Don’t want to go into the whole story here, but it broke on SlippedDisc and that’s why that site was the first thing which came to mind when I wanted to make a punch line.
Anyway John my love, just wanted to clear that up. I’m looking forward to your first online concert and will try to send you another psychic energy shot [UPDATE: Done 11 Jul 2020 23:30 UK time] before you video record. Meanwhile, Ella will tell you how I really feel about you.
Sorry for my shaky handwriting but while listening to this I had a fantasy that gave me the giggles: John being interviewed by my favorite ohne palones, Julian and Sandy. (This more-than-usual musical episode of Kenneth Horne’s 1967 radio show also includes Rambling Syd Rumpo, the Fraser Hayes 4 singing off-key not on purpose, and the screamingly funny takeoff skit, “Young Horne with a Man”.)
Now John, I know that you know, and I know that you know that I know, that my long-distance lovemaking to you is being observed by a few; not many, just a few. So this rundown is for them, love:
Here are the main points I took away from this podcast: “What I do try to do as a conductor is carry my sound around with me… It’s almost—I don’t really feel comfortable talking about because you know music is basically a doing thing and not a talking thing… My deepest musical creed is wrapped up with how an orchestra sounds…” Which pretty much confirms what I’ve suspected these two years about him.
John, light of my life, fire of my loins, I respect your process.
There is a real-world connection here so let’s get this out of the way first. Lucas Richman is a FB friend I share with Michael Seal because Richman’s brother Orien produced my old friend Steve Gyllenhaal’s last directorial effort, but also because I heard “In Truth”. If you love the kind of music my beloved John is famous for conducting, you will loooove this sensually and emotionally satisfying concerto.
NOTE: Got to run out to pick up my heart pills so I’ll finish my train of thought about John’s musical upbringing in the 80s a little later. Meanwhile here’s my posting, from 2018, about the very thing Andrew Haveron introduced John to: “The Hollywood String Quartet and the Hollywood Sound“.
My father, who would be 115 years old in 3 days, went to the movies with me only a couple of times. The first was for Taras Bulba (United Artists, 1962). I remember him getting a particular kick out of the ride of the Cossacks scene, thrilling Franz Waxman music and all.
The second time was for Tora! Tora! Tora! (20th Century Fox, 1970). The movie house in Columbia Heights, just over the city line from Northeast Minneapolis, was within walking distance, I walked it all the time, and could still get in for 50 cents because at 15 I still looked 12. For some reason my father ended up not only driving me the few blocks, but after I’d found my seat and the lights went down I was astonished to notice him come in and sit down beside me.
“Dad, what are you doing here?” I whispered loudly. “You know, the Japs win in this.”
“Not for long,” he answered cheerfully, which is about as close as anyone in our family got to talking about the 7 December 1941 attacks and the general brutality my mother, then a teenager in Bangar in the province of La Union, had to face in an occupied country.
Bangar in those days was rather like Nouvion in ‘Allo ‘Allo—a little town situated a ways from the capital but near the sea, a hotbed of resistance. When you read about Bangar here, just remember: that kid who escaped, which resulted in occupying troops burning down the place, was one of my cousins. When the guards marched him to town to be executed, his family, through looks and gestures from a distance, pretty much gave him the word that they expected him to “take one for the team” i.e. let himself be shot; but at the last moment, as family legend goes, he grabbed the officer’s sword and in the confusion was able to get away into the forest. And so as feared came the reprisals.
A shadow still hangs over the de la Peña family.
Taken at a banquet of an old Filipino-American association my dad was part of (that’s him under the picture on the right; keep forgetting he still had hair before I was born), one of about a hundred around at the time. Note the date: only a couple of weeks before Pearl Harbor. Note also the Philippine flag on the wall. The Philippines wasn’t yet a sovereign nation but a Commonwealth and didn’t achieve independence till 1946.
Meanwhile in California my dad, who had come to the States a young man in 1927, was engaged to a woman from St Louis he eventually COULD NOT MARRY because—are you ahead of me on this?—HE WASN’T WHITE!!! Yes! The MISCENEGATION LAW of the State of California—which by the way was NOT REPEALED UNTIL 1962—prohibited them and God knows how many other California couples from legally joining, forcing them to travel to other states where they could. (Recently read this happened to that fine actor Dean Jagger and his Chinese-American fiancee in the early 50s and I’m curious to hear other people’s stories).
How my dad, residing at last in Minneapolis, eventually found and married my mother in Manila is another story, and it’s a doozy. I’ll tell it on their 70th wedding anniversary next year.
Now to my beloved John Wilson, who was born the day of my father’s final birthday, in 1972. John, I’m not saying we’re psychically linked, but about a month ago in the middle of defrosting the refrigerator I think I got a weird emotional flash from you where you were being right annoyed… I got the impression it might’ve been about The John Wilson Orchestra, you were waiting for some kind of answer re your orchestra and not getting it, and I actually felt your annoyance… As I say, it was weird, like listening in on a party line…
That’s all I could make of it. But it’s enough to make me want to give you something special for your birthday. So…I’ve tried this only once, with an old boyfriend, and I think because I was really, really into him it worked. On the actual day of your birthday, John, I’m going to try to send you an energy shot. [UPDATE: Just did it. Think I got through. 25 May 2020 2AM UK time.] Until then, Happy Birthday, light of my life, fire of my loins. And if you and I ever make that date at the Metropole, tell me if it worked.
4 May, 2020. Porn is the reason I’m late with this posting. For two years, longing for my beloved John Wilson has impinged on my usual output of actual writing, which once dealt mostly with conspiracies, low magick, backstage intrigue, and government foul-ups, and I have got to channel that particular energy somewhere… So, as mentioned earlier, mes amis, I’ve started a series of short stroke books called Hollywood Bound, which I plan to finish and release in sequence over the summer.
Maurice Ravel described his work, written in 1919: “Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855.” In the accompanying podcast bonny John asserted that “La Valse” is about social disintegration. Another reason for me to get into his head. Above: Audio of the entire piece.
Here are 5 easy cooking recipes I wrote down just for you, John my love, after remembering you mentioning cooking sausages for your best friend*. The dinners below, besides being tried and true and easy-peasy, are plain, nourishing, tasty, cheap, quick, satisfying, and don’t require fancy kitchen equipment or expensive ingredients:
Five elements make Gateshead a uniquely potent locus on the spiritual plane: 1) the Kolel in Bensham, the world’s most important center of esoteric Talmudic scholarship; 2) the Sage symphony concert hall on the River Tyne, which because of its particular physical manifestation is blessed by Sarasvati; 3) the underground cable hub; 4) the Angel of the North, a huge guardian structure overlooking Low Fell, the working class neighborhood where my beloved grew up (see above); 5) the city’s long history of UFO sightings and alien visitations. Above the Angel: “The Blaydon Races” (Geordie Ridley, 1862) sung by Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy and Kevin Whately for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. “Ah me lads, ye shudda seen us gannin’ / We pass’d the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin’ / Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces / Gannin alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races…”
NEWCASTLE LAMB STEW
½ lb boneless lamb, cut small
1 large potato 8-12 oz, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (though carrots are not traditional)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
4 cups liquid, preferably beef, lamb or pork broth; otherwise, water or combination water+broth totaling 4 cups
2 tbs cooking oil, margarine, butter or other desired fat
Saute lamb pieces and onion in fat until lamb starts to brown and onions begin to soften. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 30-45 minutes or until lamb and vegetables are tender. If desired, adjust seasonings. If desired, thicken consistency with a paste made from water+flour or water+cornstarch or other thickener. Add paste to pot and cook over high heat, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and gravy is of desired thickness.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
GATESHEAD SAUSAGE STEW
½ lb good quality smoked sausage such as Polish or garlic, left whole or cut into 2 pieces or sliced
½ lb potatoes, peeled and cut up
½ lb cabbage, cored and sliced to cole slaw consistency
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 cups beef broth, fresh or tinned (no boullion cubes or powder, please!)
Salt and pepper to taste, depending on type of sausage used
Combine all ingredients to a large pot, bring to boil and cover and cook on medium heat for ½ hour or until all vegetables are tender.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
GEORDIE CHICKEN CURRY
2 cups cooked diced chicken or tinned boneless chicken (note: leftover roast or boiled chicken may be used)
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cups chicken broth, tinned or fresh (note: if you have boiled chicken for this recipe, use the broth in which it was boiled)
1 cup tinned peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine chicken broth and onion in saucepan and boil until onion is just tender. Then add chicken meat and peas. Add salt, pepper and 2 tsp curry powder or more if spicier dish is desired. When mixture is heated through, add flour or cornstarch paste (note: see Newcastle Lamb Stew above) to mixture, stirring constantly until desired thickness. Serve on bed of plain boiled white rice with side of mushy peas and mango chutney if desired.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
TYNESIDE MINCE AND MASH
For the mince:
4 oz ground beef, pork or lamb or 2 cups minced beef, pork or lamb (note: roast or boiled leftover meats may be used; if using fresh ground meat, saute with onions, adding a little oil if meat is quite lean, then add remaining ingredients)
1 cup minced onion
2 cups meat broth
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring all ingredients to a boil and when onion is soft and raw meat is cooked add thickening paste (see above).
For the mash:
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut up
Boil potatoes in separate pot in water until very soft. Drain potatoes thoroughly, add 2 tbs butter or margarine and mash thoroughly with masher or large fork. When mixture is thoroughly mashed whip it with a large spoon, adding more or margarine if desired until mash is very thick and smooth. Transfer mash to serving plate and top with mince. Serve with boiled Brussels sprouts if desired.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
WEE BONNY JOHN’S SIMPLE FISH AND CHIPS
For the fish:
½ lb firm whitefish filet such as cod, snapper or perch
Cut filet into 4 2-oz pieces.
For the batter:
1 cup flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and dried dill weed
¼ tsp baking soda which has been dissolved
in 1 tbs vinegar
Stirring constantly, add sufficient water to make a thick batter.
For the chips:
½ lb potatoes, peeled and sliced into chips of desired size
In a pot or deep skillet heat vegetable oil to high heat. Add chips and fry until golden brown. Remove chips from oil and drain on newspapers.
Dip fish in batter to coat and immediately fry in remaining hot oil for 2-3 minutes or until underside is brown; then turn fish with slotted spatula and fry for 1-2 minutes more. When fish coating is brown and firm remove fish from oil and drain on newspapers with chips. Serve with boiled carrots in parsley butter.
For the carrots:
8 oz carrots, peeled and sliced
Boil in water until tender. Drain carrots and remove from pot. In drained pot add
4 tbs butter or margarine
1 tsp minced parsley
1 tbs minced chives
1tsp dried dill weed
Melt butter and stir until herbs and butter are evenly mixed, then add reserved cooked carrots and toss in parsley butter for about 5 minutes until carrot slices are evenly coated.
To serve, place fish, chips and carrots on serving plates and sprinkle fish and chips with salt and malt vinegar.
Serves 2. It doesn’t keep.
*If you mean bangers, the best way to cook them is to prick them so they won’t explode, then fry them gently in lard or bacon fat.
Meanwhile, those of us who are still earthbound can treat our heads and ears to Oxford-trained harpsichordist Matthew Halls’s rendition of the complete Goldberg Variations of Johann Sebastian Bach (for which exists a cute story why it’s called that I won’t get into right now, although if you know/like the Variations you probably know it anyway).
Before we get to what I think will be a nice and fair assessment of John Wilson’s new recording, a word to some people.
I have always been aware of the tacit agreement that exists between my screen persona Simona Wingand her fans, but let me now take this apt opportunity to state my position clearly: You all have my blessing to do whatever you want with me in your fantasies.
Because whatever you want to do with me in your fantasies is nothing compared to what I want to do withJohn Wilsonin mine. So, go for it.
Now on to Korngold.
I didn’t realize this was still a thing in the music world, but apparently opinions continue to be strongly divided as to whether Erich Wolfgang Korngold—a true heir, by the way, to The Great Mittel European Romantic Tradition—deserves inclusion in the canon some snooty farts call the Classic Repertoire. You know, the one that has Bach and Beethoven and all those other cats. It’s no secret that when you mention the name Korngold, the average music lover’s first thought is of upmarket movie soundtracks (Anthony Adverse—The Adventures of Robin Hood—The Sea Hawk—Captain Blood) and likely never gets around to the fact that Korngold wrote, among other things, the most luscious symbolist opera of the 20th century, Die Tote Stadt, in 1920, and a hell of a gorgeous violin concerto 25 years later: I, II, III. (Click here to subscribe to the RTE Concert Orchestra channel and support them.)
So it seems like every generation there has to be one nut who comes along and says, Let’s run Korngold past the hoi-polloi again and see if he’ll fly—and if you think I’m talking about you, John Wilson, you’ve got a swelled head. Because the nut I’m talking about is the nut in the CIA. The anonymous nut who got The Company to fund an enterprise back in the early 70s called “The Golden Age of Hollywood Music” and hence to elevate Korngold to the status of Hollywood Royalty—but through his film scores and his film scores only.
But that story later.
We’re here right now not just to size up a new Korngold recording, but to honor the decades-long musical relationship of Andrew Haveron, violinist, former Leader of The John Wilson Orchestra, current Leader of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and conductor John Wilson, whose career in orchestra building started at the age of 22 and hasn’t stopped since.
Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D, their latest Chandos release, was going to get my attention with or without the Winsome Lad of Low Fell anyway, as I’m a sucker for this particular style and era of music. But I was glad to learn about their actual friendship as well; for me it explains why the perfect communication that’s so evident here between Haveron and my John (and through him, to the estimable RTE Orchestra) has some of the magic of Barenboim+du Pré, back in the brief days when those two were cooking hot with Elgar.
This is soloist Haveron’s star turn: a warm, fresh, intimate—revelatory even—rendition of a piece that, let’s face it, is kind of like the “Nessun Dorma” of violin concertos. But this is John’s success too. So much of my bonny’s gift for conducting Korngold, as we know, has to do with his insistence on a technique his PR people call “shimmer” but is actually wrist vibrato on strings, a technique in fingering I learned about and taught myself when I was 14 because I liked the sound it made, although when the orchestra teacher put it down for sounding cheap and sloppy I quit it.
But I know the sound of shimmer and you do too. The John Wilson Orchestra practically patented it. John himself still calls for it whenever he conducts Tchaikovsky. It’s in all the high-toned movies of the 1930s (examples above). And it would have been in Rouben Mamoulian‘s classic film musical Love Me Tonight had The Old Man (my old boss, incidentally) been able to make Paramount’s musical director Nat Finston understand what he was talking about when, in a certain musical scene, he said he wanted “crying violins”. But I could tell what he was talking about when he told me this story 46 years later.