Music, plays etc 1

Music seemed a major pastime and more accessible than television.

Angus Willson: With the hype over the Osbourne family ‘soap’ and the Ozzy’s appearance at the Jubilee concert, I couldn’t help think of the darkened fifth-form common room with Black Sabbath’s first album blasting out. Maybe it should not be the foremost recollection of music at Friends’ School, but early seventies heavy and ‘prog’ rock did figure importantly in our lives. Like many others, my CD collection has included some of those re-mastered compilations from Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, amongst others. And the other day I heard Hawkwind’s Silver Machine on Radio 2 (yes, I know!) in the early afternoon.

Cello class
School report

On a slightly different tack, I remain envious of those whose musical abilities included playing various instruments. From my pathetic efforts I remember the loose parquet flooring in the practice rooms being a distraction and yet only partly responsible for the achievement of a ‘black cross’ on my first year report.

Helen HoughtonHelen Houghton [Burgess].
Photo by Jo Jones [Atkins].

David Stuckey: I remember the first thing I got was a violin to scratch and everyone was making a horrible noise except for one boy who used to practice daily in Gibson House at the end of his bed. He made me kind of sad because he was too good and I realized that it was not for me. So practically speaking that was the end of any serious musical education I had at Saffron Walden. Later on we got singing lessons or piano from a young man in a green velvet jacket, I’m not too sure what it was supposed to be. We all stood around the piano but I don’t think we even tried to sing. It ended up in a riot with Joy Worrell taking his jacket and trying to wear it while he was chasing her trying to retrieve it. I think the girls kind of liked him.

As a musical illiterate I did manage to join the choir and we sang Handel’s Dettingham te Deum (something like that) in Thaxted Church. I pretended to read the music but really didn’t have a clue. Anyway that was a kind of uplifting moment for me with all the parents coming to hear.

Of course as a guitarist I found that smoking hash made me play better or at least propelled me forward. It’s a shame that in those days popular music was frowned upon in the musical curriculum and there was very little other way forward unless you could convince your parents to pay for expensive lessons. If you were lucky enough to join a group it was about bashing your instrument as hard as possible, and being a rebel as if we were in a prisoner of war camp. Ginger Baker (drummer) says that now he doesn’t need even a drink to make him play better because he knows he is now good enough not to need any props. With the right opportunities young musicians nowadays should be able to get the right support structures and confidence building programs so they don’t have to rely on such unreliable inspirational props.

I play guitar still and got lost to the music (caught in a trap) and got into West African music, Jazz, Cumbia, Muerengue, Andean panpipe music, Ragas, bhajans, as well as Hare Krishna devotional music. Strange mixture I suppose but you can keep them separate and blend them in later, like cooking… a subji (vegetable dish) you can choose any vegetable (after frying the cumin seeds, ginger, coriander powder, mustard seeds and turmeric) and this will make you a nice dish.

Shân Lancaster [Poynder]: Sitting on a first floor windowsill in a red grandad t-shirt listening to Court of the Crimson King (fourth year I think). Seeing the boys affecting black armbands the day Jimi Hendrix died. Giles Norton being the star of some play about Antrobus? Watching flickery films like The Red Shoes, which had to have reel changeovers, sitting in creaky flip-down seats in the hall.

Angus Willson: The school plays did get us involved. Directed by Mark Miller, the cast of Zigger Zagger was spread around the edge of the hall like a football crowd. Alongside Geoffrey Barnard we played two camped-up roles – very non-PC, I’m sure. The plays were always well-documented in the school magazines. I do remember The Red Shoes, probably our first year, and the pretence that boys sat on one side and girls on the other! There was a classic moment in To Kill a Mockingbird when spit had been used to ease a squeaky gate hinge and then, on Boo Radley’s veranda, a floor-board creaked. Stuart Fell’s, brother Nick, called out ‘Spit on it!’. Collapse of suspense.

Gill. Helen, Julienne
Gill Farrer [Seaman], Helen Houghton [Burgess], Julienne [Little]. Photo by Jo Jones [Atkins].

Jo Jones [Atkins]: Listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” every single Sunday evening with the housemistress in Hillcroft (Mrs Goldspink, was she?).

Peter playing chessSimon Colbeck: I don’t remember playing chess much (Peter Gaussen, left. Photo by Simon Colbeck.) but the common rooms will always be associated for me with loud rock music and particular albums defining each year.

Okay then……Led Zeppelin and King Crimson in the 4th year, Grand Funk Railroad (?!) and Jesus Christ Superstar (a potent combination) in the 5th, Highway 61 Revisited and Sweet Baby James (Taylor) in 61, Actually I cant think of anything in particular for 62 and, by the way, was anything by Grand Funk ever released on CD? Not that I’d dream of buying it of course. But like everything else about living (mainly) at FSSW for seven years it all seems to have been even more ‘formative’ than the school experiences of normal people who had the more typical socialisation of family, neighbourhood etc to prepare them for the unreal world.

I was crap at any sort of ‘performance’ music at school and envied David Stuckey’s ability to teach himself the guitar – still do as I’ve struggled to master a few chords in recent years. But I used to sing all sorts of stuff almost constantly until I was cured of it (only temporarily) by peer group ridicule. Rogers and Hammerstein are particularly culpable and it is my solemn duty to remind Paul Brewster that he was similarly afflicted by The Sound of Music before progressive rock blew it all away. Huw’s reminiscences reminded me, among other incidents, of a ‘musical incident’ in the first year. I was in that classroom (near the pet shed) at my desk singing current pop songs to myself before lessons started in the morning. The only other kids in the room were a group of girls who didn’t seem to be paying any attention to me. But as I uttered the immortal words “Lets spend the night together” one of them loudly exclaimed “No thank you Colbeck!” at which the rest collapsed laughing and I spent the next 24 hours wishing I was dead.

A minor humiliation and one I can laugh about now but there were many worse that I suffered, witnessed and probably inflicted. Continues… in Mulligatawny.

Angus Willson: My nomination for the album for 62 is the double ‘Exile on Main Street’ by the Rolling Stones. This was introduced to us by Geoff Barnard. The whole album now fits on a single CD. ‘You’ve got to scrape the sh*t right off your shoes.’ I saw the Rolling Stones live a few years later.

This reminds me that I went with someone at school to the Melody Maker Poll Winners Concert at the Oval in 1972. Emerson, Lake and Palmer, with the Moog synthesizer and classical pretensions, have not really passed the test of time.

Tim Watts: I have an almost Proustian memory of listening to the Beatles White album in the back of the third form classroom where I also recall pitched battles with those rubber things from the bottom of the chair legs. They really hurt when they hit you, didn’t they?

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