Finding a voice

Having spent the majority of my life in music, I was discussing with a good friend and colleague the wherewithal of rehearsing a well known and famous theatrical piece and how in said friend’s opinion, the conductor was making something of a mockery of the work. The piece in question being Lucia di Lammermoor, beloved of soprani and tenori throughout history as one work which is a great vocal challenge – indeed, gives every voice type and chorus a jolly good sing!

We then spent a happy hour or so listening to the famous, or perhaps as they might have said one hundred years ago, the ‘celebrated’ sextet from this opera, starting with the great tenor Enrico Caruso and the soprano Luisa Tetrazzini. The familiar scratchy ‘eggs and bacon’ sound of an old recording, and through the murk came the very present voice of Caruso in duet with baritone Pasquale Amato. What is at once interesting is how modern Caruso sounds in comparison with the softer grained Amato, who is still demonstrating the ‘bel canto’ tradition of the Victorian era now gone. As the other singers take up the sextet with Madame Tetrazzini some distance away from the recording horn, we were at once struck at what a jumble it all was, with everybody out for their own musical style and no coherent whole at all. It was, as my friend observed, rather like the music call for the production he was in. Caruso and Tetrazzini finished, we listened to probably seven or eight versions, ranging from the archaic recordings from the 1900s to our modern day operatic superstars, Callas & Sutherland, Pavarotti & Carreras. Of course, the modern day recordings mean better sound, but certainly with a youngish Jose Carreras we can hear a similarity between his and Caruso’s hefty tenor.

When our interest had diminished and switched to other subject matter, it occurred to me how individual all of the voices from the past, and up until perhaps twenty years ago, actually sounded. You could in no way confuse Tetrazzini with Melba any more than you can Callas with Sutherland, and how much more interesting the voices are. I am not going to pretend that there are not wonderful voices still present. There are of course, but for the most part there seems to be, as the great music comedienne Anna Russell might say, a certain amount of the homogenous about the professional human voice. In the same way as one hundred bottles of milk!

It seems to me as someone who teaches singing to various folk from the world of opera and music theatre, that the coaches and other teachers out there have jumped on a ‘one size fits all’ jargon and style. This is at once both stulifyingly boring and horrifying. How many performances I have been to in my lifetime I cannot hazard a guess – thousands, but I have never been more disappointed in the live human voice as I am at the present moment. Whether the vocalist is of operatic proportion, of musical theatre leaning, or the heady world of pop, it is very difficult to determine who might be singing. There is an inherent laziness in the vocal production, with much of the time devoted to singing on the back end of the beat if you’re in pop, or sounding like a circular saw if you’re involved in musical theatre, or just the worst thing possible as far as I can tell, blandness and no connection in operatic or classical music. I will, as best I can, make some sort of observation about these three very distinct styles.

I am not someone who likes to pack box and sort into neat piles my students of singing. All voices are different as are all personalities, so why should the music profession at large try and do exactly that? With the event of big star names such as Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Lily Allen to name but three, we now have any number of female pop stars who are as indistinguishable from each other as is possible to humanly be. Why has this happened, and when? I cannot profess to be any sort of expert on history, but I do know my subject, and I call it the ‘X Factor Syndrome’. And, dear reader. It has to stop! Today’s modern music stars are all about imitation.  You hear the story of the hapless girl or boy who is trying to be a pop star; tells their story to the ‘expert’ panel of how “Music is my life,” without ever having tried to write a song, made a rock group in the garage, joined a music club or drama or operatic society or (Heaven Forfend!), actually study and go to a college of music or performing arts? No, they just want their fifteen minutes of fame. There is nothing wrong with that. The X Factor is a popular light entertainment programme not the Leeds International Piano Competition, but it does, as far as I can comment, give the wrong signals to these young hopefuls. The modern musical world is not for the faint hearted, and even having cut a record and climbed to the heady position of chart topper, you can quickly be on the scrap heap as has been seen many times before. Why is that I wonder? Of course, the moguls who hire these inexperienced and infantile sounding artists are not in any way interested in art, only money, and why should they be? That the poor little girl from Blackpool with the big voice is now working in a supermarket check out is of no concern of theirs and again, why should it be? The Blackpool lass with the big voice, has no real talent. She just sounds a bit like Diana Ross, for want of a better name, and that is not enough

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that may well be so. But you will never stand out from the crowd. You will be one of Anna Russell’s homogenous milk bottles. Listening as I do to young pop singers who have got themselves into a pickle by singing badly, and then telling me that their voices won’t respond to my exercises, because, “You know, I’m individual I am.” Well, why are you trying to sound like Amy, Adele and Lily then. Why not sound like you? I can’t believe you actually listen to your own voice and think that constipated, constricted, thin and out of tune din is anyway worthy of the greatest of all the instruments. Sing with your own voice, not someone else’s. The human voice can be so incredibly beautiful, why wouldn’t you want it to be? It isn’t really their fault . It’s the devious tricksters who con them into thinking they’re something they are not. “Go and listen to Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey, Lulu, Kiki Dee, Tina Turner. Do they sound like anybody else? No. They sound like the person we think they are. They don’t imitate anyone. They just sing and have learnt their craft over many years of apprenticeship, doing grotty clubs and tours, long before they had recording contracts in many cases. Long before the heady days of the No. 1 venues around the world. Why is that? Because it’s a long ladder to climb to the top, and if you want to stay at the top, you’ve got to have not only staying power, but a technique to get you out of trouble, and the sense to manage yourself well, which only experience can give you. That’s why.”

Then we have the musical theatre brigade, who are often in their way, quite as ignorant as the aforementioned pop lot. They’ve never heard of My Fair Lady or Carousel, but of course know Rent and Wicked and the new successes from across the pond, Book of Mormon and Waitress. Again, there is good reason for this. Their method of vocal production is so jammed up and hideous that you wouldn’t want to hear them in a more classically oriented score such as Carousel as they wouldn’t be able to give the musical phrases the breadth of sound required. Indeed, without a microphone, you wouldn’t hear most of them at all. Which would be a blessing, frankly. I blame it on the wonder technique, ‘Estille’. Any sort of method for teaching singing should be abandoned at any cost. You cannot teach every student in the same way as everybody is not only physically, but mentally different of course, and to each and everyone there are hurdles of various size and difficulty. Estille will only make you sound like a rat in a trap with some very badly phonated vowels and a trip to Harley Street in the future. Aided and abetted to which, it just sounds horrible. I always equate it to old East End pub singing, and thankfully most of that has disappeared too!” Have a listen to Gordon Macrae.” Blank look and “Who?” “Howard Keel?” “No, a bit before my time.” A bit before my time. If I had a dollar for every student that uttered that line, I would be living in Bermuda. It is perhaps one of the most disheartening and ignorant things a student could ever say to me. Are you really just interested in your own little world and not in the whole wide world of music and drama? A great and bleeding shame.

The opera singer is invariably quite different from our other selections. Mostly well schooled in not only voice and the music they have to perform, a goodly amount are good pianists which is very beneficial for obvious reasons, and you’d think that this group would stand above the rest wouldn’t you? Well, I would say they used to, but not anymore. The bottle of milk syndrome affects even the opera singer and especially the soprano. There used to be a game we played when I was a student which was to put a tape in the machine of various singers and you had to identify the artist giving forth. I was pretty good at this game, but it has to be said it was much easier to do forty years ago, because you simply couldn’t mix them up. When I think of the roster of singers that were at the Coliseum and Covent Garden. Valerie Masterson, Janet Baker, Kenneth Woollam, Alberto Remedious, Rosalind Plowright, Dennis Dowling, Eric Shilling, Gwyneth Jones, Joan Sutherland, Stuart Burrows, Placido Domingo, Robert Lloyd et al, you could never ever mix up the voices and not  know who was singing instantly. The voices were big, some were extremely beautiful, some astonishing, but all were interesting. I cannot profess to have liked everyone – who could as we thankfully cannot all like the same things, but by God it was sometimes mind blowing. To be in a seat high in the Gods when Joan Sutherland’s enormous outpouring of voice made you  feel your seat was actually singing to you was something very special indeed! I remember being right royally told off a few years ago by an early music artist who had been at a performance I was attending, taking exception to a comment I made in the interval about it being a bit on the dull side. “It’s not all about loud noise Ian,” quoth she. Sadly, she was sorry she had spoken to me as I told her in no uncertain terms that in this particular piece yes it is! I want to feel as if that singer on stage is punching me in the head with her high C, that’s what makes it exciting! It is true that voices are getting smaller than our colleagues of forty years ago. Why this should be I am not sure, but I suspect it’s to do with the age of the microphone – indeed, some houses have amplification which the likes of Nellie Melba would not have approved. However, noise is all around us. The hideousness of the mobile phone and the imbecile who answers on the crowded train and thinks that his conversation is of the least bit interesting to the assembled throng, over amplification in big block buster musicals, and very hi fi television sets have made us forgotten the art of listening. It’s certainly a shock to go to Covent Garden and find the young artists unable to get past row C of the Orchestra Stalls. Go back eighty years and Gracie Fields could do it with ease!

But now, one operatic soprano sounds much like another. Baritones of the calibre of Bruno Caproni, properly Italianate in sound and commanding of timbre, are sadly not easy to find – they all sound rather like drawing room voices. All well produced, but tight arsed. No danger at all. In short, dull! Poor old tenors who seem to be mostly what is called the B flat tenor, so music gets transposed to accommodate the uncertain top notes. Where is the bass that can out trill or cadenza a coloratura soprano? Most of them sounding like they’re under water, and again, all sounding alike. This, dear reader, may have put you off ages ago! Me droning on about my dislikes of this particular period in the world of music, and if it has, I apologise! Whilst writing this I found myself remembering my own student days, when it was considered I was actually a tenor – a proposition I considered horrifyingly inept, not to say down right stupid, but the very fact that coaches one worked with would suggest things that perhaps Hermann Prey or Fisher-Dieskau, those great German baritones might have done. My voice wasn’t so removed from Herr Prey, but I stopped short one day and said to the coach who was adamant about a vocal colour or some such, and said, “The reason I do it like that is because that is how I do it, and nobody else does. My voice is mine and I certainly don’t want to sound like anybody else, so if you don’t mind, I’ll do it my way. Not because it’s the best perhaps, but because it’s how my voice wants to do it, and if it’s good enough for me, it’ll be good enough for the audience we’re singing to.” I have always kept that thought in my head, especially when teaching. One of these days, the singers will wake up to the fact they’re all erring a bit on the wishee washee, and then maybe we can get back to some lovely games on the cassette player. Guessing who the voices are. . . .

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A Life Spent In Hotels & Pensions

Sitting rather mournfully and gazing out of a window in an hotel on the borders of Eccles and Salford, it dawns on me even more mournfully, that the British really don’t ‘do’ hotels very well. Of course, we have some magnificent ones; The Savoy, Dorchester and Ritz all spring to mind, but sadly, these are in the minority and are usually prohibitive of price. Can it really be so difficult to muster up a good establishment to stay in? What does a good hotel or boarding house need? Ideally, it should be friendly; that is, the host should be welcoming. The room should naturally be clean and tidy, not too much furniture, but what is there should be good quality and well thought out. Certainly no chintzy, suburban-ness, every space adorned with some knick knack or other, all harbingers for dust and dirt. Repulsive! I wouldn’t say my hotel, which shall remain nameless is the worst I’ve ever been in, but I can’t help thinking that it’s recently been taken over. For instance, in the bar area (not open so far which is irksome) there are any number of photographs or the great and the good of Manchester United football club, from slightly misty late Victorian prints, to the celebrated heyday of the fifties and sixties, when Busby’s Babes were the toast of the game. Familiar faces such as Bobby Charlton, George (ie) Best and Nobby Stiles look down implacably from their privileged positions as part of that stock as I munch on my toast, which is not as described as being as much as you can eat, but rather disappointingly rationed to two cold pieces (I hate cold toast!)
Surely, having the bar open in the evenings must be a good thing? Especially if one, being the hotelier, provides some light bites, such as good old Manchester fare, maybe meat and potato pies, but done as delicate finger food, or some retro cheese straws – anything that might encourage the patrons to relax, and when you have relaxed patrons, they’re much more likely to spend more money which is beneficial all round I’d say!?
I have been indeed fortunate to have stayed in some marvellous premises around the world on my work and pleasure trips. Particularly wonderful was the arrival in Hong Kong about to board The Seaborne Sun for a work cruise and staying the night in a magnificent hotel, the name of which escapes me for the time being.
Complete in its elegance, spick and span and glamorous, the tired souls who arrived in a jumble from a packed flight from Heathrow airport were delighted to be treated, for once, like stars! This was a memorable trip in every way and we set sail from Hong Kong harbour at night, which I might suggest is even more impressive than Sydney by day, for a three week cruise taking in Pattaya , Cochin, Bangkok, Singapore, and Rangoon,  before arriving at Mumbai, and there were many delights along the way. Of course, The Seaborne Sun and any other large cruise ship is in reality a luxury hotel, and certainly being onboard this fine vessel and then transferring onto QE2 in Mumbai was extremely exciting, not to say glamorous! On arrival in Mumbai we had a night in the Oberoi Towers Hotel, magnificent in furnishing and cuisine and sadly set on fire by extremists some years ago. One of the highlights was the enormous swimming pool in the shape of a rather flat kidney on the roof of the lower part of the hotel. Mumbai was extremely warm and the pool ice cold. Fantastic and invigorating. Mumbai was, like many of these Asian cities, a place of enormous diversity and culture. Three streets away from the stunning Oberoi and its inclusive/exclusive clothing shops, one found the most appalling poverty; fascinating and terrible all at once to behold (I will certainly never complain about my homeland again!) and somehow inexplicably cheerful. A rather sage taxi driver took us on a tour in a rather derelict cab, and the enormous railway station built by British architect Claude Batley was an incredible place – people even live on the concourse! I can’t see that ever happening at London’s Victoria Station!
An old-fashioned weighing machine had to be investigated and caused great consternation and amusement to the general populace. I was on this expedition with two colleagues, Joe Shovelton and Stephen McGlynn, and we were encouraged to try our weight. Stephen on first, and the machine calculated your weight and then gave you a ticker tape of the result, but not before pronouncing in trumpet tones what you were. Stephen was “Middle Fat” (he isn’t fat at all!) Joe was “Little Fat” (a lathe is Joe) and I was “Big Fat”. I shall say nothing. . .  After that. . . well, embarrassment, we boarded the taxi again to be shown the railway lines in action. I was astonished to see not a door on the carriages and passengers hanging on for grim death as the trains hurtled along tracks that had clearly never seen a track gauge corrector. It was a mystery how the carriage bogeys stayed on the tracks at all. Some trains slowed down to negotiate points and then swarms of people would launch themselves onto the track like some misguided fledgling birds, as I suppose the trains had no intention of stopping at all? Forwards then to the outdoor laundry, where men and women sat diligently pounding their poor cloth with rocks and clubs in water that was rat infested and filthy; the single-mindedness of the work to be done seemed to have a trance-like state on the people, who were for the most part oblivious of the rats running over their feet, indeed, some of the cheekier vermin pausing to sniff about to see if any of the rags were worth chewing! Our last port of call was, for want of a better description, the red light district, which was unbelievably squalid, and the poor women who perused the shabby, dusty pavements hoping to make enough money for their numerous mal-nourished children were not only a sorry sight, but a thoroughly unpleasant and degrading one too. I suppose prostitution at any stretch is any of the above descriptions, but it somehow seemed even worse here in this city where one hundred yards away, elegant courtesans were being treated to dine by their many suitors at elegant establishments such as the one in which we were staying.
After our stay in Mumbai, we were flown to Singapore to join QE2 who was awaiting our arrival in the docks, and my goodness, what a wonderful sight was she! Everything an ocean liner should be, and full luxury and cuisine that was simply out of this world! We embarked on the next leg and our last three weeks across the Indian Ocean stopping at The Seychelles and Mauritius, before arriving in Durban and finally Cape Town. A great deal of personal excitement ensued on this leg of the cruise as it was discovered that the headliner star entertainer who would be giving two concerts was Petula Clark, and as a lifelong fan of Pet, I couldn’t have been more delighted. Miss Clark proved to be a most attractive lady in all respects and not only did she tear the place to pieces with her two excellent sets, she was a congenial and entertaining lady to talk to. She had just arrived from Liza Minelli’s wedding to David Guest, where she was, inexplicably, as she put it, one of the flower maidens, all dressed in black. “It was highly Wagnerian”, she quipped with a twinkle!
There is not much more one can add to that!’

Listening With Your Ears

I suppose this might seem an odd title for a blog. ‘Listening With Your Ears’. Well, what else do we listen with? I suppose you would have to ask a profoundly deaf person that as we know there are other ways of ‘hearing’. The most obvious example is the percussionist Evelyn Glennie who claims to feel the vibrations of the music through her body and able to interpret them into some sort of sense. This maybe more common than we perhaps think. I mention this in a blog not written for some time, as I have just been listening with interest to a new arrival of some re-mastered recordings of the great Australian Prima Donna Dame Nellie Melba. The are many recordings and re-issues of Melba, most of them difficult to assimilate as the sound quality is often less than splendid, and indeed, I have all of Melbas issued work, both on original shellac 78s, and various CD compilations. What attracted me to this new disc, released on the Australian branch of Decca records – their Eloquence label, (which for the most part it is) was the fact that the re-mastering has been adjusted to French pitch around 420hz which Melba apparently favoured, that being slightly lower than our standard A 440hz that modern orchestras tune to.
This, at first thought seems spurious. Melba had great power and sway in her peak of fame, but it seems highly unlikely the pianos and orchestras across London would be re-tuning just for the great diva. In any case pitch in different countries was mostly variable, and London  between the 1890s to the early part of the twentieth century was invariably higher than European counterparts in Paris or Milan for example. Indeed, pitch wasn’t made uniform until 1939 when A was set at the familiar 440hz. The very fact the modern orchestra tune to A440 is not because it suite the oboe who sets the A for the orchestra, but because A 440 is the resonance produced by the human voice at that pitch, and that hasn’t changed since the larynx first came to be!

I remember when I was very obsessively collecting 78s and finding Gramex, a wonderful emporium in Waterloo of 78s, vinyl and compact disc run by eccentric and brilliant proprietor Roger Hewland, who’s knowledge of his stock, artists and most importantly the matrix recording numbers is quite extraordinary. He is a very forthright character, and quite happy to expound the virtues of his opinion, which is for the most part most entertaining. I took a pile of rare Melba to the counter and was peered at austerely.
“I don’t like Melba, I prefer Tetrazzini” (Luisa Tetrazzini was an Italian coloratura soprano and great rival of Melba. Melba won every one of their operatic battles!)  Anyway, Roger continued, “Still, it’s not for me to decide what my customers should buy, so let’s see what you’ve got,” and with that he whisked the discs from my arms and at once started looking at the matrix numbers and then scribbling on the cardboard covers like a mad accountant.
“What are you doing Roger?”
“Marking the correct speeds for these discs” I looked puzzled and he replied, “Most of Melba’s discs shouldn’t be played at 78, mostly they were recorded in the region of between 70 and 72.” I continued to look puzzled and he rolled his eyes Heavenward. It makes the pitch more acceptable as Melba didn’t record well at 78 rpm you see? I did see and that explained why there could be a somewhat tinny and thin sound to her tone, which in the theatre was legendary for its clarion quality, beauty and flexibility. Armed with my precious discs, I boarded a train home as quickly as possible to test this theory out for myself. Disc on the turntable, spring motor wound, I sat to listen to the great Nellie with the new speed set at 72 rpm. The sound that greeted me nearly knocked me over. There was a vibrant soprano filling the room and I at once understood something of the mystique of her legendary tone. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying my new found sounds. No longer did Melba sound like a twittering soprano a la Snow White! Now, listening to my new and very enjoyable disc, I am delighted to hear a similar quality, but it does occur to me that the recording boys at Decca have got their facts slightly askew. I would suggest that the original recordings were made at the speeds Roger set for me, and the piano and orchestra was tuned to whatever the pitch was at that particular time – London was invariably a half tone higher than the continent, and there would be no need to alter the original masters still further. However, that is only my slant on the whole endeavour, and of course, recording companies are always trying to gain more income via this means of ‘new realisation’.
Having spent half of my life listening to ancient and scratchy recordings (eggs and bacon we call ’em!) I am always irked when people are desultory about them, with such quotes as “Of course, if they were around now, they’d get nowhere, we wouldn’t put up with such sounds”, or “They all sound so thin and so out of tune”. These of course, are the ramblings of the ignoramus. Puccini called Melba the ‘Mimi of my dreams’ when she appeared as the heroine of La Boheme, and she was on friendly terms with Verdi, Saint-Saens, Gounod, Massenet, Thomas, Sullivan & Tosti, and it’s unlikely they would have tolerated anything than the best. No dear reader, you have to listen through the murk. It takes time, but the rewards are manifold, and I almost feel like I shouldn’t be eavesdropping on the past. I am glad I do, as it’s invaluable as any sort of reference for modern singing, which is so often about shouting rather, and not having any style whatsoever. In Melba’s day even the basses had enviable trills and cadenzas at their disposal. As to singing loudly, all of these ‘Golden Age’ singers knew whether they were in Grand Opera, Light Opera of the Music Hall, the importance of allowing the voice to just be as it is, freely produced and then filling the auditoriums; something our erstwhile modern counterparts should take heed of. You can bark your head off onstage at Covent Garden, and close to would sound a large and magnificent sound no doubt. But does it get further than the back of the Orchestra Stalls? I very much doubt it.
So, ‘Listening With Your Ears’ may not be such a strange title after all. How many of us actually listen to the person they’re talking to? I should hazard a guess that not one in fifty really listen. Do try! It’s one of our greatest sensual attributes, and without it, the world would be a much duller place.

A Life Spent In Hotels And Pensions

Sitting rather mournfully and gazing out of a window in an hotel on the borders of Eccles and Salford, it dawns on me even more mournfully, that the British really don’t ‘do’ hotels very well. Of course, we have some magnificent ones; The Savoy, Dorchester and Ritz all spring to mind, but sadly, these are in the minority and are usually prohibitive of price. Can it really be so difficult to muster up a good establishment to stay in? What does a good hotel or boarding house need? Ideally, it should be friendly; that is, the host should be welcoming. The room should naturally be clean and tidy, not too much furniture, but what is there should be good quality and well thought out. Certainly no chintzy, suburban-ness, every space adorned with some knick knack or other, all harbingers for dust and dirt. Repulsive! I wouldn’t say my hotel, which shall remain nameless is the worst I’ve ever been in, but I can’t help thinking that it’s recently been taken over. For instance, in the bar area (not open so far which is irksome) there are any number of photographs or the great and the good of Manchester United football club, from slightly misty late Victorian prints, to the celebrated heyday of the fifties and sixties, when Busby’s Babes were the toast of the game. Familiar faces such as Bobby Charlton, George (ie) Best and Nobby Stiles look down implacably from their privileged positions as part of that stock as I munch on my toast, which is not as described as being as much as you can eat, but rather disappointingly rationed to two cold pieces (I hate cold toast!)
Surely, having the bar open in the evenings must be a good thing? Especially if one, being the hotelier, provides some light bites, such as good old Manchester fare, maybe meat and potato pies, but done as delicate finger food, or some retro cheese straws – anything that might encourage the patrons to relax, and when you have relaxed patrons, they’re much more likely to spend more money which is beneficial all round I’d say!?
I have been indeed fortunate to have stayed in some marvellous premises around the world on my work and pleasure trips. Particularly wonderful was the arrival in Hong Kong about to board The Seaborne Sun for a work cruise and staying the night in a magnificent hotel, the name of which escapes me for the time being.
Complete in its elegance, spick and span and glamorous, the tired souls who arrived in a jumble from a packed flight from Heathrow airport were delighted to be treated, for once, like stars! This was a memorable trip in every way and we set sail from Hong Kong harbour at night, which I might suggest is even more impressive than Sydney by day, for a three week cruise taking in Pattaya , Cochin, Bangkok, Singapore, and Rangoon,  before arriving at Mumbai, and there were many delights along the way. Of course, The Seaborne Sun and any other large cruise ship is in reality a luxury hotel, and certainly being onboard this fine vessel and then transferring onto QE2 in Mumbai was extremely exciting, not to say glamorous! On arrival in Mumbai we had a night in the Oberoi Towers Hotel, magnificent in furnishing and cuisine and sadly set on fire by extremists some years ago. One of the highlights was the enormous swimming pool in the shape of a rather flat kidney on the roof of the lower part of the hotel. Mumbai was extremely warm and the pool ice cold. Fantastic and invigorating. Mumbai was, like many of these Asian cities, a place of enormous diversity and culture. Three streets away from the stunning Oberoi and its inclusive/exclusive clothing shops, one found the most appalling poverty; fascinating and terrible all at once to behold (I will certainly never complain about my homeland again!) and somehow inexplicably cheerful. A rather sage taxi driver took us on a tour in a rather derelict cab, and the enormous railway station built by British architect Claude Batley was an incredible place – people even live on the concourse! I can’t see that ever happening at London’s Victoria Station!
An old-fashioned weighing machine had to be investigated and caused great consternation and amusement to the general populace. I was on this expedition with two colleagues, Joe Shovelton and Stephen McGlynn, and we were encouraged to try our weight. Stephen on first, and the machine calculated your weight and then gave you a ticker tape of the result, but not before pronouncing in trumpet tones what you were. Stephen was “Middle Fat” (he isn’t fat at all!) Joe was “Little Fat” (a lathe is Joe) and I was “Big Fat”. I shall say nothing. . .  After that. . . well, embarrassment, we boarded the taxi again to be shown the railway lines in action. I was astonished to see not a door on the carriages and passengers hanging on for grim death as the trains hurtled along tracks that had clearly never seen a track gauge corrector. It was a mystery how the carriage bogeys stayed on the tracks at all. Some trains slowed down to negotiate points and then swarms of people would launch themselves onto the track like some misguided fledgling birds, as I suppose the trains had no intention of stopping at all? Forwards then to the outdoor laundry, where men and women sat diligently pounding their poor cloth with rocks and clubs in water that was rat infested and filthy; the single-mindedness of the work to be done seemed to have a trance-like state on the people, who were for the most part oblivious of the rats running over their feet, indeed, some of the cheekier vermin pausing to sniff about to see if any of the rags were worth chewing! Our last port of call was, for want of a better description, the red light district, which was unbelievably squalid, and the poor women who perused the shabby, dusty pavements hoping to make enough money for their numerous mal-nourished children were not only a sorry sight, but a thoroughly unpleasant and degrading one too. I suppose prostitution at any stretch is any of the above descriptions, but it somehow seemed even worse here in this city where one hundred yards away, elegant courtesans were being treated to dine by their many suitors at elegant establishments such as the one in which we were staying.
After our stay in Mumbai, we were flown to Singapore to join QE2 who was awaiting our arrival in the docks, and my goodness, what a wonderful sight was she! Everything an ocean liner should be, and full luxury and cuisine that was simply out of this world! We embarked on the next leg and our last three weeks across the Indian Ocean stopping at The Seychelles and Mauritius, before arriving in Durban and finally Cape Town. A great deal of personal excitement ensued on this leg of the cruise as it was discovered that the headliner star entertainer who would be giving two concerts was Petula Clark, and as a lifelong fan of Pet, I couldn’t have been more delighted. Miss Clark proved to be a most attractive lady in all respects and not only did she tear the place to pieces with her two excellent sets, she was a congenial and entertaining lady to talk to. She had just arrived from Liza Minelli’s wedding to David Guest, where she was, inexplicably, as she put it, one of the flower maidens, all dressed in black. “It was highly Wagnerian”, she quipped with a twinkle!
There is not much more one can add to that!’

More ‘Artistic’ Thoughts

It occurs to me, as I sit in the industrious hub-bub that is the Dance Attic rehearsal studios in Fulham, how very like rehearsing a show is to painting. The show, which is in this case, The Gondoliers for Opera della Luna under the redoubtable Jeff Clarke is now into its second week of rehearsals as I write and, as we know, it is not a particularly easy piece to mount. Now, if you’re thinking this is going to be an article on my life in the operatic world and of course that of Gilbert & Sullivan, you will, dear reader, be quite wrong!
I suppose it is well known that I am a singer and performer, but many people have expressed surprise to learn that I also am a painter; this shouldn’t be so mysterious and unexpected, as many creative people have this particular gift – certainly it is well known that Kenneth Sandford was a member of the Royal Academy and a wonderful portrait artist, and John Reed was a painter of some brilliance. Jeff Clarke also takes out his brush on occasion! Some of us use it for relaxation, others as a side line, and in my case, a parallel career.
When I first started singing lessons at the age of seventeen whilst at school and having trouble with the high tessitura of Capt. Corcoran, my head of music and conductor John Howells, having lost his temper in a rehearsal and suggested, née, demanded I should get some lessons to try and temper  my unwieldy tones!
Whilst at my first lesson, Madame Laura Harding, a small, steely martinet of a woman; of whom I was at once terrified and instantly adored, enquired what I was going to do after my ‘A’ Levels. I told her that I had secured scholarships to two art colleges and would be pursuing a career as a stage designer. Her retort was short and concise. “Nonsense! You will be going to the Guildhall School of Music.” I was somewhat surprised, but found that she was entirely right – that is what I did!
All of my life I have been a performer. Desperate to be a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, I had an audition for the director of music at Rochester Cathedral, but failed, being told that although I could sing, I didn’t have the requisite tone for a boy soprano. That is, indeed, was an understatement! My tones at the time were more akin to Shirley Bassey, so it was no surprise to find me on a variety bill starring Harry Corbett and Sooty sometime later! I said at the top of this paragraph, that all my life I have been a performer which is true as far as it goes, but I had also developed a fast and lasting talent for drawing – I always say I could draw before I could tap dance, and apart from honing my singing skills, I would always be found beavering away with a sketch pad, drawing, drawing all the while. At my young age, I didn’t yet know that drawing is the basis of all good art, and painting at any cost, and although I seldom do say, a charcoal or graphite drawing as a finished piece. I am much more interested in the development of paint and the textures one can experiment within this medium. So I was doing myself a favour that would in the end pay dividends! In the meantime, singing would occupy the next thirty three years…
I don’t think I ever thought about painting throughout the first years of my singing career. Occasionally, if I was free, I would go back to my old school and paint a backcloth for Pirates, or some angels and swags and flowers for Christmas, but that was about all there was to my artistic endeavours. In 1998, during my time at Her Majesty’s Theatre in The Phantom of the Opera, I befriended a tenor whom I had known in passing for some years through a mutual friend, but now had the chance to make his acquaintance properly. Brendan MacBride was possessed of a very beautiful lyric tenor voice, and he really was a philanthropic creature in every way. It seemed there was nothing Brendan didn’t know or have some sort of interest in. He was also a geographer, a teacher of philosophy, and in every way he had perhaps one of the most profound effects on me of anybody I had known.
One evening, sitting in the local hostelry, we were expounding the virtues of the Renaissance, which is one of my favourite periods in art and like a bolt out of the blue, he said, “That’s it Nell! (Nellie is my nickname for many of my theatrical cohorts – after the great diva Dame Nellie Melba!) that’s what you must do! Get back to painting.” I demurred, suggesting it was far too long since I’d attempted anything, but he was having none of it and very quickly decided he needed a large portrait for the drop of his stairwell. After pulling myself back off the floor I protested. A portrait is arguably the most difficult thing to pull off with any success, and it is a daunting task to say the least. However, I like a challenge and so accepted with some trepidation, and arranged an evening where Brendan would sit for me where I could get some sketches done and take some photographs. The digital age is very useful for artists as the results are of course instantaneous and a handy tool for checking colour and form. It occurs to me that if they came back to life, Leonardo and Michelangelo may well have been as much photographers as artists!
Then the process starts. The process of staring at a blank canvas and wondering what to make of it all. As I said at the top of this article, how like a rehearsal is the task of creating any sort of art. You have ideas, you have some sort of talent, some sort of memory for detail and then you try and get the melting pot to produce something that is palatable, attractive  and at the very least,  interesting. A blank white canvas is, as far as I am concerned, one of the scariest things to deal with – much worse than opening night, but tackled it has to be if you’re to produce a painting. The first thing I do is to get rid of the white with a wash of paint thinly applied, usually as a base colour for whatever goes on top. For instance, Brendan is Scottish Irish, so autumnal browns and oranges were in my mindset. I am a painter who paints an impression. I am not a realist at any stretch. I find these portraits that could be a photograph depressing things to look at. They are wonderfully painted of course, but somehow soulless, turgid affairs, and if you’re painting a portrait, you’ve got to have soul. There must be something that makes the observer become engaged with the experience of looking through the paint and into the psyche of the sitter.  There we find another parallel with any kind of performing. The best singer or actor may not move the audience as much as an artist who might be described as scratchy perhaps, but does something in the performance that is ephemeral and other worldly. That may well be what a ‘star’ possesses above all other?
Anyway, I digress! I found the painting of Brendan took shape very easily and I was pleased with the results. Then there comes the most nerve wracking moment of all – the unveiling. I am not a nervous performer at all, I seldom suffer from nerves; adrenalin yes, but I could not function if I was nervous before a show. I agree wholeheartedly with Ethel Merman who said, “Why should I be nervous? I know all the notes and my lines. The costumes fit. What have I got to worry about?” Fortunately, the unveiling was a great success, and with that accomplished, I started to paint in earnest. The question often is in mind, what should I paint? I am interested in the human form beyond all other and am attracted to buildings, especially those of a theatrical nature. Frank Matcham, the famous theatre architect who produced more buildings of entertainment than any other is represented up and down the country by still a goodly amount, and one of my tasks will be to paint all of his auditoria – this, I have no doubt will take the rest of my life! I am a fast painter. I don’t like to hang about as I have a very low boredom threshold and invariably, once the painting is commenced, I cannot let it rest until it is complete. There are exceptions, but generally the way I work is to draw it up first, then almost before I’m satisfied that the drawing is up to scratch, I have to put some colour on the canvas to give me some sort of idea where we will go with it. I am a firm believer that the painting paints itself in any case. You apply the paint under some sort of illusionistic haze – well, in my case anyway!
As to subject matter, I am most interested in portraiture, and I especially enjoy painting buildings, but I do practically everything from landscapes, to perhaps my own favourite genre, abstract impressionism. I certainly am not interested in painting what is ‘there’, but rather, what I think there is to see.
It also depends if you are working to commission when you will have a discussion with the person commissioning the work, which will obviously influence the end result. I like to work in oil or acrylic as I feel they give the most interesting textures and colour definition. I am mildly attracted to water colour and is something to be investigated in the future. I am not particularly good at it, but I will persevere! If one is commissioned to paint something, this is indeed a great honour, but can sometimes be difficult; you are somewhat at the mercy of your commissioner. You have to paint something perhaps you may not care for – someone’s dog perhaps, but that is the nature of the game. Some of the most successful paintings I have produced are ‘pop art’ representations of famous professional singers and actors. These sell well, and I have also had one stolen! This is perhaps an even higher honour than a commission, as the person who stole it wanted it so badly, they simply had to take it! Thankfully, the piece was recovered and now resides in its correct home!
Recently I have been painting a number of D’Oyly Carte artists in this style and they have been a great success. It isn’t a style I find particularly interesting to do, but if they are thought to be likeable, then who am I to disagree?
As I look back on a very enjoyable forty three years in show business, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had such a diverse singing career, appearing in major theatres and concert halls in the UK and around the world, I am now at a definite fork in the road. I could never give up singing, and now I have been painting in earnest for the last seven or eight years, I could never give that up either. It interests and puzzles me that I neither find singing easy, nor do I much like the process of singing. It’s something that is deep in my soul and must come out, and it is  the same with the painting. We do not choose these professions or pursuits; we are merely the tools for music and art to be brought to life. Not a day goes by when I am not doing some sort of research into a new work or a style of art – again, not a very pleasant experience but something that must be done, as important to me as breathing. A lot of people comment that it must be very relaxing to paint? Far from it. I find it intensely difficult, demanding, frustrating, but in the end immensely satisfying.
There are times when either rehearsing music or painting away, the whole lot has gone lock, stock and barrel out of the window, only to be recovered when this particular bête-noir is exorcised! The two now run in parallel with equal importance, and will likely to so until the day comes when I hang up the vocal folds for ever.
Then, the art will come into its own once more –  triumphant!

An Artistic Thought

‘……It has been suggested to me that I write a blog – “What for?” I hear you cry, and I cannot say that I am entirely sure, but anyway, here goes…
It occurs to me, as I sit here diligently tapping at lightning speed on my laptop’s long-suffering keyboard, that the effects of the local hostelry; delightful though it may be, is probably not the best preparation for writing something lucid or indeed, interesting. It is something I have never fully understood or managed to work out in my head. That being, the feeling that catches you unaware from too much alchoholic imbibing. Sometimes I can sit in the pub from the middle of the afternoon until closing time and have no ill or lasting effects. On other occasions, a couple of pints is enough to send me to bed in a state of rabid torpor and practically comatose! Not only do I consider this to be completely unfair, but it also means that, rather than avoid the inevitable consequences, I go back time and time again, with the excuse ringing in my ears that I know completely what I am doing, and it will all be ok. I speak as a complete buffoon!
This sudden bit of writing is also an excuse. As I have remarked, I was feeling less than brilliant on waking, and have a large and complicated canvas to finish which has only six days before it is unveiled. I peered at said canvas and was at once fascinated and repulsed by the whole thing. Painting is not something I find particularly easy or enjoyable. It is something that is inside me and must be done – it’s comparable to singing. I don’t much care for the process, but I do like the end result. I suppose this is the outcome of yesterday’s drink-fest? That was an excuse to escape from the canvas that wasn’t behaving as I wanted it to, and with a muzzy brain this morning, applying paint to canvas just isn’t going to cut it. Thankfully, there are always other chores I can do to put off painting, but will in due course realise that I must give myself a jolly good talking to and a ticking off, and get back to the job in hand. If I am honest with myself, I can see the painting is going well, and I think will be a success. There is, of course, the lurking doubt at the back of any creative person’s brain that one is a failure, and the piece of work, be it painting, sculpture, composition; whatever it may be, will not be worthy or worthwhile.
That is the dichotomy of such tasks I suppose.

Sitting rather mournfully and gazing out of a window in an hotel on the boarders of Eccles and Salford, it dawns on me even more mournfully, that the British really don’t ‘do’ hotels very well. Of course, we have some magnificent ones; The Savoy, Dorchester and Ritz all spring to mind, but sadly, these are in the minority and are usually prohibitive of price. Can it really be so difficult to muster up a good establishment to stay in? What does a good hotel or boarding house need? Ideally, it should be friendly; that is, the host should be welcoming. The room should naturally be clean and tidy, not too much furniture, but what is there should be good quality and well thought out. Certainly no chintzy, suburban-ness, every space adorned with some knick knack or other, all harbingers for dust and dirt. Repulsive! I wouldn’t say my hotel, which shall remain nameless is the worst I’ve ever been in, but I can’t help thinking that it’s recently been taken over. For instance, in the bar area (not open so far which is irksome) there are any number of photographs or the great and the good of Manchester United football club, from slightly misty late Victorian prints, to the celebrated heyday of the fifties and sixties, when Busby’s Babes were the toast of the game. Familiar faces such as Bobby Charlton, George (ie) Best and Nobby Stiles look down implacably from their privileged positions as part of that stock as I munch on my toast, which is not as described as being as much as you can eat, but rather disappointingly rationed to two cold pieces (I hate cold toast!) Surely, having the bar open in the evenings must be a good thing? Especially if one, being the hotelier, provides some light bites, such as good old Manchester fare, maybe meat and potato pies, but done as delicate finger food, or some retro cheese straws – anything that might encourage the patrons to relax, and when you have relaxed patrons, they’re much more likely to spend more money which is beneficial all round I’d say!? I have been indeed fortunate to have stayed in some marvellous premises around the world on my work and pleasure trips. Particularly wonderful was the arrival in Hong Kong about to board The Seaborne Sun for a work cruise and staying the night in a magnificent hotel, the name of which escapes me for the time being. Complete in its elegance, spick and span and glamorous, the tired souls who arrived in a jumble from a packed flight from Heathrow airport were delighted to be treated, for once, like stars! This was a memorable trip in every way and we set sail from Hong Kong harbour at night, which I might suggest is even more impressive than Sydney by day, for a three week cruise taking in Pattaya , Cochin, Bangkok, Singapore, Rangoon, and Cochin before arriving at Mumbai, and there were many delights along the way. Of course, The Seaborne Sun and any other large cruise ship is of course a luxury hotel, and certainly being onboard this fine vessel and then transferring onto QE2 in Mumbai was extremely exciting, not to say glamorous! On arrival in Mumbai we had a night in the Oberoi Towers Hotel, magnificent in furnishing and cuisine and sadly set on fire by extremists some years ago. One of the highlights was the enormous swimming pool in the shape of a rather flat kidney on the roof of the lower part of the hotel. Mumbai was extremely warm and the pool ice cold. Fantastic and invigorating. Mumbai was, like many of these Asian cities, a place of enormous diversity and culture. Three streets away from the stunning Oberoi and its inclusive/exclusive clothing shops, one found the most appalling poverty; fascinating and terrible all at once to behold (I will certainly never complain about my homeland again!) and somehow inexplicably cheerful. A rather sage taxi driver took us on a tour in a rather derelict cab, and the enormous railway station built by British architect Claude Batley was an incredible place – people even live on the concourse! I can’t see that ever happening at London’s Victoria Station! An old-fashioned weighing machine had to be investigated and caused great consternation and amusement to the general populace. I was on this expedition with two colleagues, Joe Shovelton and Stephen McGlynn, and we were encouraged to try our weight. Stephen on first, and the machine calculated your weight and then gave you a ticker tape of the result, but not before pronouncing in trumpet tones what you were. Stephen was “Middle Fat” (he isn’t fat at all!) Joe was “Little Fat” (a lathe is Joe) and I was “Big Fat”. I shall say nothing. . . After that. . . well, embarrassment, we boarded the taxi again to be shown the railway lines in action. I was astonished to see not a door on the carriages and passengers hanging on for grim death as the trains hurtled along tracks that had clearly never seen a track gauge corrector. It was a mystery how the carriage bogies stayed on the tracks at all. Some trains slowed down to negotiate points and then swarms of people would launch themselves onto the track like some misguided fledgling birds, as I suppose the trains had no intention of stopping at all? Forwards then to the outdoor laundry, where men and women sat diligently pounding their poor clothes with rocks and clubs in water that was rat infested and filthy; the single-mindedness of the work to be done seemed to have a trance-like state on the people, who were for the most part oblivious of the rats running over their feet, indeed, some of the cheekier vermin pausing to sniff about to see if any of the rags were worth chewing! Our last port of call was, for want of a better description, the red light district, which was unbelievably squalid, and the poor women who perused the shabby, dusty pavements hoping to make enough money for their numerous mal-nourished children were not only a sorry sight, but a thoroughly unpleasant and degrading one too. I suppose prostitution at any stretch is any of the above descriptions, but it somehow seemed even worse here in this city where one hundred yards away, elegant courtesans were being treated to dine by their many suitors at elegant establishments such as the one in which we were staying. After our stay in Mumbai, we were flown to Singapore to join QE2 who was awaiting our arrival in the docks, and my goodness, what a wonderful sight was she! Everything an ocean liner should be, and full luxury and cuisine that was simply out of this world! We embarked on the next leg and our last three weeks across the Indian Ocean stopping at The Seychelles and Mauritius, before arriving in Durban and finally Cape Town. A great deal of personal excitement ensued on this leg of the cruise as it was discovered that the headliner star entertainer who would be giving two concerts was Petula Clark, and as a lifelong fan of Pet, I couldn’t have been more delighted. Miss Clark proved to be a most attractive lady in all respects and not only did she tear the place to pieces with her two excellent sets, she was a congenial and entertaining lady to talk to. She had just arrived from Liza Minelli’s wedding to David Guest, where she was, inexplicably, as she put it, one of the flower maidens, all dressed in black. “It was highly Wagnerian”, she quipped with a twinkle! There is much more one can add to that!

It occurs to me, as I sit in the industrious hub-bub that is the Dance Attic rehearsal studios in Fulham, how very like rehearsing a show is to painting. The shows, being rehearsed in various higgle-de-piggledy studios and rooms are as variable as the rooms themselves. Some large and open, like the opera I can hear being routinely trotted out, and small music rooms, where eager students are put through their paces with scales, trills and fioratura to rival Dame Joan Sutherland! Now, if you’re thinking this is going to be an article on my life in the operatic world and of course that of Gilbert & Sullivan, which, has taken up a great place in the majority of my singing career; you will, dear reader, be quite wrong! I suppose it is well known that I am a singer and performer, but many people have expressed surprise to learn that I also am a painter; this shouldn’t be so mysterious and unexpected, as many creative people have this particular gift – certainly it is well known that Kenneth Sandford, the wonderful principle baritone with The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, was a member of the Royal Academy and a wonderful portrait artist, and his colleague John Reed was a painter of some brilliance. Jeff Clarke one of my bosses, and possibly in that rarefied level of genius, also takes out his brush on occasion! Some of us use it for relaxation, others as a side line, and in my case, a parallel career. When I first started singing lessons at the age of seventeen whilst at school and having trouble with the high tessitura of Capt. Corcoran, my head of music and conductor John Howells, having lost his temper in a rehearsal and suggested, née, demanded I should get some lessons to try and temper my unwieldy tones! Whilst at my first lesson, Madame Laura Harding, a small, steely martinet of a woman; of whom I was at once terrified and instantly adored, enquired what I was going to do after my ‘A’ Levels. I told her that I had secured scholarships to two art colleges and would be pursuing a career as a stage designer. Her retort was short and concise. “Nonsense! You will be going to the Guildhall School of Music.” I was somewhat surprised, but found that she was entirely right – that is what I did! All of my life I have been a performer. Desperate to be a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, I had an audition for the director of music at Rochester Cathedral, but failed, being told that although I could sing, I didn’t have the requisite tone for a boy soprano. That is, indeed, was an understatement! My tones at the time were more akin to Shirley Bassey, so it was no surprise to find me on a variety bill starring Harry Corbett and Sooty sometime later! I said at the top of this paragraph, that all my life I have been a performer which is true as far as it goes, but I had also developed a fast and lasting talent for drawing – I always say I could draw before I could tap dance, and apart from honing my singing skills, I would always be found beavering away with a sketch pad, drawing, drawing all the while. At my young age, I didn’t yet know that drawing is the basis of all good art, and painting at any cost, and although I seldom do say, a charcoal or graphite drawing as a finished piece. I am much more interested in the development of paint and the textures one can experiment within this medium. So I was doing myself a favour that would in the end pay dividends! In the meantime, singing would occupy the next thirty three years… I don’t think I ever thought about painting throughout the first years of my singing career. Occasionally, if I was free, I would go back to my old school and paint a backcloth for Pirates, or some angels and swags and flowers for Christmas, but that was about all there was to my artistic endeavours. In 1998, during my time at Her Majesty’s Theatre in The Phantom of the Opera, I befriended a tenor whom I had known in passing for some years through a mutual friend, but now had the chance to make his acquaintance properly. Brendan MacBride was possessed of a very beautiful lyric tenor voice, and he really was a philanthropic creature in every way. It seemed there was nothing Brendan didn’t know or have some sort of interest in. He was also a geographer, a teacher of philosophy, and in every way he had perhaps one of the most profound effects on me of anybody I had known. One evening, sitting in the local hostelry, we were expounding the virtues of the Renaissance, which is one of my favourite periods in art and like a bolt out of the blue, he said, “That’s it Nell! (Nellie is my nickname for many of my theatrical cohorts – after the great diva Dame Nellie Melba!) that’s what you must do! Get back to painting.” I demurred, suggesting it was far too long since I’d attempted anything, but he was having none of it and very quickly decided he needed a large portrait for the drop of his stairwell. After pulling myself back off the floor I protested. A portrait is arguably the most difficult thing to pull off with any success, and it is a daunting task to say the least. However, I like a challenge and so accepted with some trepidation, and arranged an evening where Brendan would sit for me where I could get some sketches done and take some photographs. The digital age is very useful for artists as the results are of course instantaneous and a handy tool for checking colour and form. It occurs to me that if they came back to life, Leonardo and Michelangelo may well have been as much photographers as artists. Then the process starts. The process of staring at a blank canvas and wondering what to make of it all. As I said at the top of this article, how like a rehearsal is the task of creating any sort of art. You have ideas, you have some sort of talent, some sort of memory for detail and then you try and get the melting pot to produce something that is palatable, attractive and at the very least, interesting. A blank white canvas is, as far as I am concerned, one of the scariest things to deal with – much worse than opening night, but tackled it has to be if you’re to produce a painting. The first thing I do is to get rid of the white with a wash of paint thinly applied, usually as a base colour for whatever goes on top. For instance, Brendan is Scottish Irish, so autumnal browns and oranges were in my mindset. I am a painter who paints an impression. I am not a realist at any stretch. I find these portraits that could be a photograph depressing things to look at. They are wonderfully painted of course, but somehow soulless, turgid affairs, and if you’re painting a portrait, you’ve got to have soul. There must be something that makes the observer become engaged with the experience of looking through the paint and into the psyche of the sitter. There we find another parallel with any kind of performing. The best singer or actor may not move the audience as much as an artist who might be described as scratchy perhaps; but does something in the performance that is ephemeral and other worldly. That may well be what a ‘star’ possesses above all other? Anyway, I digress! I found the painting of Brendan took shape very easily and I was pleased with the results. Then there comes the most nerve wracking moment of all – the unveiling. I am not a nervous performer at all, I seldom suffer from nerves; adrenalin yes, but I could not function if I was nervous before a show. I agree wholeheartedly with Ethel Merman who said, “Why should I be nervous? I know all the notes and my lines. The costumes fit. What have I got to worry about?” Fortunately, the unveiling was a great success, and with that accomplished, I started to paint in earnest. The question often is in mind, what should I paint? I am interested in the human form beyond all other and am attracted to buildings, especially those of a theatrical nature. Frank Matcham, the famous theatre architect who produced more buildings of entertainment than any other is represented up and down the country by still a goodly amount, and one of my tasks will be to paint all of his auditoria – this, I have no doubt will take the rest of my life! I am a fast painter. I don’t like to hang about as I have a very low boredom threshold and invariably, once the painting is commenced, I cannot let it rest until it is complete. There are exceptions, but generally the way I work is to draw it up first, then almost before I’m satisfied that the drawing is up to scratch, I have to put some colour on the canvas to give me some sort of idea where we will go with it. I am a firm believer that the painting paints itself in any case. You apply the paint under some sort of illusionistic haze – well, in my case anyway! As to subject matter, I am most interested in portraiture, and I especially enjoy painting buildings, but I do practically everything from landscapes, to perhaps my own favourite genre, abstract impressionism. I certainly am not interested in painting what is ‘there’, but rather, what I think there is to see. It also depends if you are working to commission when you will have a discussion with the person commissioning the work, which will obviously influence the end result. I like to work in oil or acrylic as I feel they give the most interesting textures and colour definition. I am mildly attracted to water colour and is something to be investigated in the future. I am not particularly good at it, but I will persevere! If one is commissioned to paint something, this is indeed a great honour, but can sometimes be difficult; you are somewhat at the mercy of your commissioner. You have to paint something perhaps you may not care for – someone’s dog perhaps, but that is the nature of the game. Some of the most successful paintings I have produced are ‘pop art’ representations of famous professional singers and actors. These sell well, and I have also had one stolen! This is perhaps an even higher honour than a commission, as the person who stole it wanted it so badly, they simply had to take it! Thankfully, the piece was recovered and now resides in its correct home! Recently I have been painting a number of D’Oyly Carte artists in this style and they have been a great success. It isn’t a style I find particularly interesting to do, but if they are thought to be likeable, then who am I to disagree? As I look back on a very enjoyable forty six years in show business, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had such a diverse singing career, appearing in major theatres and concert halls in the UK and around the world; I am now at a definite fork in the road. I could never give up singing, and now I have been painting in earnest for the last years or so, I could never give that up either. It interests and puzzles me that I neither find singing easy, nor do I much like the process of singing. It’s something that is deep in my soul and must come out, and it is the same with the painting. We do not choose these professions or pursuits; we are merely the tools for the art of music and art to be brought to life. Not a day goes by when I am not doing some sort of research into a new work or a style of art – again, not a very pleasant experience but something that must be done, as important to me as breathing. A lot of people comment that it must be very relaxing to paint? Far from it. I find it intensely difficult, demanding, frustrating, but in the end immensely satisfying. There are times when either rehearsing music or painting away, the whole lot has gone lock, stock and barrel out of the window, only to be recovered when this particular bête-noir is exorcised! The two now run in parallel with equal importance, and will likely to so until the day comes when I hang up the vocal folds for ever. Then, the art will come into its own once more – triumphant!’