Marquess of the Gardens of Aranjuez, His Finest Work in the 1995 UK Film, Brassed Off

As I once pledged, I will go almost anywhere my beloved conductor John Wilson leads me; and so it was a remark of his that led me to this movie, which in the mid-90s was an estimable hit in the UK, though not so much here in the States. When asked by The Telegraph about his early musical influences, said John, “Brass bands. Coming from a working-class background, the tradition of amateur music-making was important to me…”

brassed-off.jpegIn this scene where the ensemble plays the famous Adagio of the Concierto, Tara Fitzgerald shows the lads her superior proficiency on the flugelhorn, inspiring their conductor, played by Lancashire-born Peter Postlethwaite, to consider taking the band on a competition tour and win some desperately needed prize money for their out-of-work members. Above: Joaquin Rodrigo’s entire Concierto de Aranjuez (1939), Richard Gallen, guitar, Moscow 2012.

There’ve been a couple of other, better known (in the US) British films, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, which also address the economic/unemployment crisis in Britain that, back in the 80s, did its part to whittle away at arts education throughout the country, particularly in the north. Like I said, my beloved conductor’s remarks in recent interviews about his early influences started me thinking not only about his musical but general education growing up in Gateshead in the 80s. I’ll take this on in an upcoming post. The contrasts / similarities between his musical influences and school training—as a northern Brit through most of the 80s—and mine—as a midwestern American through the mid 60s-early 70s—I find worth examining, and not just because I’m hopelessly in love with the bloke.

For now, this is what I take away from anecdotal evidence like Brassed Off and John’s childhood memories: The British, in general, seem to be more used to the sound of brass ensembles than Americans. Now, we like to think we know all about brass ensemble music because, being Americans, military marches and Sousa seem to stalk us everywhere we go in this great land of ours. But really, it’s not the same kind of music. I’ll discuss this in my review.

But let me just say this here: I will try to cut John a little more slack when it comes to his choices in orchestration for The Great American Songbook. I mean, if that’s really the way he hears it in his head…

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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Things I Did for Love, 1: Watched Get Carter (British MGM 1971, Mike Hodges Director) and Sarah Millican; and Listened to, But Didn’t Watch, The Orville

This is all bound up with my beloved John Wilson, Conductor being from Gateshead, of course. Even that Seth MacFarlane show.

Sarah Millican first. I swear, I tried listening to this fast-talking comedienne from nearby South Shields the middle of last year but could not keep up with her pace or her accent. Later I started watching old episodes of Auf Wiedersehn, Pet and Our Friends In the North but they’re just so…masculine, you know? Which I suspect pretty much defines Geordie culture anyway… So I started alternating watching that show with When the Boat Comes In, which was more successful for me, as the estimable Northumbria-born actress Jean Heywood provided a good model of what a feminine northeast accent sounds like. After her it was a snap to follow Millican.

Second, The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek-like TV series. Like the 70s folksinger says, “I’m a stoner, I’m a trekker, I’m a young sky walker…” So yeh, I’d be interested in watching this show just to see if it measures up to the standards of my youth. Unfortunately, none of MacFarlane’s projects (except for pre-2013 Family Guy) ever sound interesting enough for me to overcome my intense personal dislike for him. So…maybe later. I did, however, listen to the show’s theme music, which was written by Andrew Cottee, the same young man who wrote some arrangements for The John Wilson Orchestra over in England. The theme does everything expected of it.

Third, Get Carter, 1971, starring Michael Caine and the City of Newcastle. Made this movie last on my list because it deserves two paragraphs, being the British noir classic that it is…

Sidebar: As we all now know from film school, existentialism is the engine of noir, which means that petty details like Michael Caine speaking in a thick Cockney accent* when his character’s supposed to be from Newcastle-upon-Tyne oughtn’t to matter to the sophisticated auditor. But I had a problem. I’m sorry. A year and a half ago I wouldn’t have cared, one Brit being the same as any other. Then I fell in love with John, Low Fell lad, and individuality suddenly became a very important thing to me.

The Movie Overall: Not quite sure why the filmmakers transplanted novelist Ted Lewis’s story from his original setting in Lincolnshire (Lewis’s birthplace), to Tyneside, but since it’s the classic story of the Anti-Hero’s Revenge, which works anytime, anyplace, it does fine here. Michael Caine’s a little podgy but quick with his reflexes and still a treat for the ladies. Lots of sex and violence, lots of local atmosphere, local faces, and landmarks like Tyne Bridge, the Newcastle Racecourse and, of course, the carpark across the Tyne River.

The Carpark in Gateshead Scene: By a stroke of luck Get Carter was just streamed on Criterion so I watched the entire movie, then to make sure, watched the carpark scene twice more in order to understand why it so sticks in the mind. Because it does, you know, even though I’m not a fan of movies like this. I guess it’s because there’s rather a high elegance to this scene that contrasts with all the mundaneness and phony poshness around it… Very arty, but a genuine statement. Or maybe it’s just because I like watching Michael Caine get all riled up.

Get-Carter-1971-Behind-The-Scenes-Michael-Caine-Brian-Mosely-Trinity-Square-Car-Park-Gateshead-2The now torn-down carpark at Trinity Square in Gateshead in this famous scene was a dreary piece of English Brutalist architecture that, according to its creator Rodney Gordon, was never meant to stand the test of time anyway. That’s the theme to The Orville above.

*I understand that a stage version of Get Carter was recently performed in Newcastle, with Carter’s accent spoken correctly.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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“We Can’t Let Those Hands Go Down a Pit”: Jean Heywood (1921 – 2019) in When the Boat Comes In, Episode 7, BBC 1976

Of course it’s not Bella Seaton (Jean Heywood) speaking that line, it’s her daughter, schoolteacher Jessie, pleading the case of an artistic young pupil doomed to work down the coal pit in Gallowshields, a post-WWI fictional town—a composite, I believe, of all the little towns along the River Tyne in the north near Newcastle (you know, that place in the phrase “Selling coals to Newcastle is like selling ice to Eskimos”) including the town where my beloved John Wilson was born and bred, Gateshead*.  Bella is the strong-willed matriarch, as we Yanks would say, of the Seaton family, so she gets a lot of scenes, which is great because I pick up the Geordie accent from Northumberland-born Heywood more easily than from anyone else in the show.

As I might have mentioned a few postings ago I did three of my flicks speaking in a foreign accent: one in French, one in Cuban, and one in Malaysian, which I actually did in Filipino but no one could tell the difference. I like to practice the Geordie accent during off moments, you know, because it reminds me of John, and so it gives me pleasure.

Jean Heywood When the Boat Comes In.jpgAmerican audiences will probably better remember Jean Heywood, who died in September at the age of 98, as the grandmother in another classic story about artistic aspirations in the north, Billy Elliot. Above Jean: Neighborhood lad Alex Glasgow singing the show’s theme song “When the Boat Comes In” with the backing of the (now Royal) Northern Sinfonia.

*Low Fell, to be precise.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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A Great American Songbook Song for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor: “Where Or When” by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart from Babes In Arms (1937)

When you’re awake
The things you think
Come from the dreams you dream
Thought has wings
And lots of things
Are seldom what they seem

Where or When

Another love song to you, John Wilson my darling, my bonny, my Tyneside lad. In Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Warner Bros 1974), Scorsese’s fourth feature, my favorite actress in the world Ellen Burstyn plays Alice Hyatt, a New Mexico housewife suddenly widowed and left without means of support, who decides to try to return to her childhood home of Monterey, California and make a go of it again as a professional singer.

Weak and breathy as her voice is, she keeps the tune and the beat throughout the entire song—Scorsese has her sing the entire song, with intro—and something about the way Edna Rae (Burstyn’s original name) sings (imitating Peggy Lee above) appeals to me so much I come back to this scene again and again. Maybe it’s that her through-line is surprisingly strong. By the way, you do notice the sheet music for Oklahoma! on the piano…

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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My First Music: Friday Night Is Music Night with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Conducted by the Oh-So-Kissable John Wilson, August 2005

At around the same time of life the oh-so-kissable John Wilson was a wee bairn in Gateshead falling out of his high chair in excitement over the brand-new BBC news theme, I was in my crib in the living room of the old one-bedroom apartment in South Minneapolis jumping up and down in excitement to the theme of Captain Kangaroo on TV.

Now here we are with my darling 33-year-old (in 2005) lad on the podium in the first televised broadcast of this longtime radio fixture, and I get to find out the titles of all those excerpts and show themes I’ve heard on the Beeb for years.

A Little Light MusicI will never understand the English tradition of drag. Now, the American tradition of drag, like future husband Mister Grumble doing his Twiggy impersonation at a gay revue in Dallas back in 1964—THAT’s hot.

The program: “The Devil’s Galop” (Dick Barton Special Agent, Monty Python) / Charles Williams; “Portrait of a Flirt” / Robert Farnon; “The Lion and Albert” (comic verse) / Marriott Edgar; March from “Little Suite” (Dr Finlay’s Casebook) / Trevor Duncan; “Barwick Green” (The Archers) / Arthur Wood; “The Typewriter” (The News Quiz) / Leroy Anderson; “Roses of Picardy” / Haydn Wood; “Calling All Workers” (Music While You Work) / Eric Coates; “By the Sleepy Lagoon” (Desert Island Discs) / Eric Coates; “A Canadian in Mayfair” / Angela Morley; “In a Party Mood” / Jack Strachey; “Sailing By” (The Shipping Forecast) / Ronald Binge; “Charmaine” (Monty Python) / Erno Rapee; “Puffin’ Billy” (Captain Kangaroo!!!) at 47:00 / Edward White; “Birdsongs at Eventide” / Eric Coates; “The Dam Busters” March (from the 1954 film) / Eric Coates. Janis Kelly, soprano. Roy Hudd, host.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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Bradley Creswick, Leader of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Discusses Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”

This is the group my beloved John Wilson wished a happy birthday to, and it’s a truly worthwhile one: The Royal Northern Sinfonia has an outstanding record in community outreach in the northeast of England. It’s pleasing to think that bonny John had a childhood filled with such musical memories—makes me recall my girlhood days hanging around Northrop Auditorium and the Minneapolis Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra. (Will tell all about my Vietnam War-era music school/protest days sometime.)

Royal Northern Sinfonia Leader Bradley CreswickBradley Creswick at the upstairs hall at The Sage, the Royal Northern Sinfonia’s permanent home in Gateshead, on the south side of the river from Newcastle. That’s the Tyne and the Tyne Bridge out the window.

Royal Northern Sinfonia is a British chamber orchestra, founded in Newcastle upon Tyne and currently based in Gateshead. For the first 46 years of its history, the orchestra gave the bulk of its concerts at the Newcastle City Hall. Since 2004, the orchestra has been resident at The Sage, Gateshead. In June 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title “Royal” on the orchestra, formally naming it the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

The vid above doesn’t have the entire Vaughan Williams, so here’s my Tyneside lad conducting this exquisite piece:

The Lark Ascending”
Made in Britain, album
Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
Avie Records, 2011

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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John Wilson, Conductor Wishes the Royal Northern Sinfonia a Happy 60th Birthday, 3 December 2018

John Wilson and Royal Northern Sinfonia

Oh John honey. You’re a sweetheart to do this when you’ve barely unpacked.

John conducted Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No 5 in D major with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage in his home town of Gateshead 1 March 2019.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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At the End of the Year 2018: While I Still Have Conductor John Wilson In My Head

I’m still finding it mighty strange that John was born on the same day as my father’s final birthday, in 1972—on the 25th of May, which would make them both Geminis—but somehow it starts to make sense: There’s John of the BBC and Eric Coates and Ralph Vaughan Williams and the tra-la-boomy-boom that makes up English music; and then there’s John of the big-shouldered swaggering sweating bombastic vibrant American tune book. One (when he plays it well) makes me want to cook him a nice lamb stew with pearl onions swimming in the rich gravy; the other (again, when he plays it well, which is almost always) makes me want to—well, I was in The Business, you know, use your imagination.

John Wilson Album
Low Fell Lad Makes Good. Above: the Arlen-Kohler standard “Get Happy” was was written for Ruth Etting but popularized by Judy Garland in the film, Summer Stock (MGM, 1951).

Only don’t be too sure which is which. Like I said, John almost always plays the music of his own country and heritage well, with a deep feeling that’s irresistible; whereas when he works out the great American tunes it turns out more often to be hit-and-miss, with many many many more misses than hits.

But oh! When he does hit!

When bonny John and his orchestra play “Get Happy” or “The Trolley Song” or “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” or the MGM Jubilee Overture—or the absolute best of the lot, “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue“—it’s total heaven, and I’m not the only one to say this. Subtlety is not this lad’s forte when it comes to the American popular repertoire. But when John goes big, bright, busy and loud when the number actually calls for it, screams out for it, it’s so damn satisfying when he does it and does it brilliantly that I want to—how can I put this?—do something for my darling in gratitude…make him a nice meal…fatten him up a little… (Ess, kind, ess!)

For right now, though, I’ll settle for a natter on a quiet afternoon, rather not in London, maybe when you get up to Gateshead again, back to The Angel of the North

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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The Police Perform Ghost In the Machine at the International Stadium, Gateshead, 31 July 1982

If I hadn’t fallen so fierce hard for Geordie-born-and-bred John Wilson, Conductor I’d never have been delving into All Things Gateshead and I never would have stumbled onto a bootleg recording of this show by English progressive rock group The Police, which was the very show Mister Grumble and I missed in New York when we were just setting up household and I was heavily pregnant. Great music, great energy, and the sound is impeccable.

The Police, Gateshead, England, 31 July 1982It was touching to catch a (private?) glance at Sting—another Geordie, by the way—crossing himself before taking the stage. Above Sting: The entire audio of the concert.

For more on The Police’s drummer, go to my posting below, “The Equalizer Theme by Stewart Copeland“.


Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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Conductor John Wilson, Filipino Hero Jose Rizal, and the Coates Connection

Since at least the age of 25 my beloved John Wilson has been associated with the prolific, ubiquitous English composer Eric Coates (1886-1957). In Town Tonight…Desert Island Discs…Music While You Work…The Forsyte Saga…all these BBC programs’ familiar signature tunes were taken from original works by Coates; while his most famous film music score, The Dam Busters, is well-known, and not just to British concertgoers or aficionados of British WWII pictures.

Rizal by Austin Coates (Oxford, 1968)

In fact, John just conducted Eric Coates’s short orchestral piece “Dancing Nights” not too long ago. He’s also supposed to be somewhat of a collector of Coates memorabilia and Coates triviabut I’ll bet my beloved Tyneside lad had no idea that Coates’s son, Austin, was a government expert on Asian Affairs; that, like Mister Grumble, he worked for military intelligence; and that, in the 1960s, he wrote for Oxford University Press the definitive biography of physician, poet, novelist, Freemason, Jack the Ripper suspect (very briefly), and intellectual José Rizal, the martyred hero of my people, and probably the most fascinating, charismatic human being to walk the earth in the last one hundred and fifty years.

Will continue with this posting after I read Coates’s book, which might take some time, as I have to buy it first and it’s not cheap. But I do want to get the British take on Rizal.

For my review of John’s just-released recording of Eric Coates’s “Knightsbridge”, click here.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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