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On Vernon’s birthday. Extract: his musical education

Vernon's last birthday. 2018On Vernon‘s birthday, Vernon's 73rd Birthday with friends, Sue & Jane I am publishing here an extract from his “Youth” on his musical education. Doing it my way may prove to be a more effective strategy than the one he used when trying to teach me about music… 😉 The links will no doubt help!

I invite you to listen to some of the music that moved Vernon and find out about his favourite composers and musicians.

My musical education

Father’s influence

Piano lessons from 12, by sixteen I could already knock off a few Beethoven sonatas, Schubert impromptus, Mozart rondos, Debussy’s easier pieces. Father, being a music buff, took me to gramophone concerts (78 r.p.m) at the local library. There I heard Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Brahms, Beethoven.

My music teacher got me platform tickets

At school, the music teacher got me platform tickets for the Hallé Orchestra at Sheffield City Hall. Occasionally we’d get a treat –City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, with its deep, velvety string sound. I sat on the cold stone floor of the platform all the way through Brahms Symphony No. 1. I cared not a jot. Great works of art give me the sensation of a long, important journey, somewhere in a distant galaxy. I was hooked, a music buff like my father before me.

at Sheffield City Hall

At the City Hall, I heard Benno Moiseiwitsch playing all Chopin ballades and scherzi. Duke Ellington, Errol Garner, Ella Fitzgerald. Other memorable performances were Rossini’s Semiramide Overture and “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Karl-Maria von Weber” by Paul Hindemith. Long title, delightful music.

All this served to isolate me from my contemporaries

“Classical music? How can you listen to that shit? You’ll poison your brain.”

So, I’m isolated from the working class because of the grammar school system. Separated from half of humanity (females) by having to go to a single-sex school, and from my classmates for choosing Spanish.

“Bloody Spanish! What possible use is that?”

I’m a loner, but I’m a lone romantic. The grammar school system was socially divisive while the single-sex school system produced a generation of sexual obsessives. My friends who went to co-eds were so much more laid back. I was once invited by them on their daytrip to Blackpool. Girls and boys all together on the same bus like in the real world outside, living naturally.

On that trip, I realised what a good idea choosing languages was.

There was one girl sitting alone   ̶ The French exchange student. Why alone? She was a looker. Because nobody could be bothered to talk to her ̶ except me! I sat beside her and chatted to her in French all the way to Blackpool. This went no further  ̶ maybe she wanted to practice English or she simply didn’t fancy me.

I had the power of communicating not just in English

The important part of this encounter was the realisation of the power I had. I could do something the other boys couldn’t. I could communicate with foreigners. The power to get me closer to my dream.

And to those who ragged me for doing Spanish, the so-called “Layabout’s subject” a few facts:
  • Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese. English comes third.
  • Spanish has around 500 million native speakers. (And the best of it all for me: one of the 500m would, much later on, become my dearest wife and business partner, Paloma. But this is another story)
How could well-educated grammar schoolboys be so ignorant?

I put it down to “Post imperial trauma syndrome”: British is best. Up with the British and down with the rest.

They still sing “Rule Britannia” with gusto at the Last Night of the Proms. Nearly all foreigners find this laughably quaint. “Jerusalem” doesn’t annoy me so much because it’s kind of socialist and I lived near the densest concentration of “dark satanic mills” in the country.

From classical music to rhythm’n’blues and rock’n’roll

To get some pocket money I had become a paperboy. Talking to other paperboys I noticed they were obsessed with a fellow named “BERRY”. Confusing as there are two “BERRYS”: Chuck Berry and Dave Berry.

“You should hear this stuff”

“Could you lend us a few records?”

“Yeah but you must bring them back. Cost a fortune. Specially imported from the US of A.”

I put on the records. “Bye Bye Johnny” “Johnny B. Goode” “Sweet little sixteen.” Recordings sound as if made in al old tin shed. “Reeling and Rocking”, “Maybelene”, “The Jaguar and the Thunderbird”.

Although Father doesn’t like it…

Enter Father.

“Turn that din down!”

“It’s the latest craze among the initiated. Direct import form America.”

“Should send them back there!”

… I’m in raptures

Then came Ray Charles. “ The Genius sings the Blues.” I’m in raptures.

Back at the newsagents ̶

“How was it?”

“I’m hooked”

“There’s Dave Berry on at Frecheville Co-op on Friday. Like a ticket?”

“I’m game.”

Saw Dave Berry and the Cruisers. Real earthy rhythm’n’blues.

“This band is better than the ones you see on telly.” I particularly liked “Diddley Daddy” with guitar solo from Frank Milesand and Dave Berry singing “Memphis Tennessee” just like Chuck Berry.

Sweet sixteen…

In 1961, on my sixteenth birthday, I sold my bike and with the proceeds bought a natty charcoal grey suit. Armed with my plain, no pattern bright yellow tie I was elegant ***.

***Paloma’s note:

I wish I could’ve found a picture of Vernon’s wearing that suit…I might not have agreed with him concerning that yellow tie. But the only picture I’ve been able to find which may be from around that time is this one with his brother Nigel and mum Mind you…at around that time I was all but elegant… Paloma in c.1961 For some reason, Vernon was particularly fond of this picture when he first saw it at my mum’s, even when the glass got cracked. But my brother made an everlasting frame, the only breakable part being the glass protection.

From the ballroom

Enrolled for classes at “Constance Grant’s Ballroom Dancing Academy” on Fridays where I quickly learned to waltz, fox-trot, cha-cha-cha and twist. Plenty of talent but predominance of broad Yorkshire a bit of a turn-off.

to the Minerva Tavern

In the interval, we went to the Minerva Tavern to hear Johnny Hawk and the Falcons. Loved their rendition of “Shakin’ all over” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. I was now a rock and rhythm’n’blues buff.

I abandoned the dancing classes and went to the Minerva every night.

(On the next episode, Vernon meets Joe Cocker and joins his band)

Apasionada de la lengua inglesa y sus múltiples matices, mi objetivo es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que nuestros alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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Comments (2)

  1. martin brindle
    Nov 26, 2019

    Wonderfully insightful comments from Vernon about how well-educated grammar schoolboys could be so ignorant. I immediate thought of that blustering clown Bojo as I read his comment below.

    “I put it down to “Post imperial trauma syndrome”: British is best. Up with the British and down with the rest.”

    I’ll raise a glass to Vernon tonight, for sure.
    “Ron negrita con Schweppes de limon“ was his tipple back in ‘92 and it’ll be mine tonight!

    • Nov 26, 2019

      Thank you, Martin! Ron con limón was always his favourite and tonight I’ll join you in the distance to have one on him.So sweet of you and Mark to remember Vernon after all these years.

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