Some Extracts from my Life Story
“My pro stories are on this page“
A very brief autobiography
“I was fortunate in some ways to be brought up in a relatively poor family. For a while all four of us in the family shared a single upstairs room, so when we eventually moved to a tiny house (with one cold tap and a netty shared by 3 other terraced houses) my father, who had enjoyed piano lessons as a child managed to acquire an instrument for the princely sum of £2.00 He then proceeded to offer his children the opportunity to learn to play this huge upright coffin with teeth. I didn’t need any persuasion. The combination of the feel of the keys – full rich tones which magically pulsated and swam around the room, and even the fusty old smell had me hooked forever. The only conditions my father insisted upon was regular daily practice and any future reneging from the decision was out of the question once lessons had begun, until I had reached Grade 5 at least.This, however, did not prove a deterrent. (nowadays this would be an abuse of a child’s rights but in truth I would never have continued lessons beyond grade 2-3 if it had been my choice) (eventually my Father managed to study his way out of poverty and become a civil engineer.)
The teacher (amazingly) lived in the same street in a small terraced house identical to our own. Her name was Miss Agnes Boulangier and she turned out to be an eccentric 84 year old French lady. My memory of the initial interview was almost Dickensian, however my expectations were great. The room contained only the basic piano and stool, an old table, a few chairs a fireplace and peeling wallpaper. This brilliant woman was even poorer than we were. The picture (right) of me playing in the back yard explains somewhat how my formula 1 career didn’t quite have enough capital to fund the technical side.
During the next 5 years she managed to transform an untalented inarticulate under-achiever to the threshold of a professional career in music. (in those days repeated wrong notes were punished with a sharp crack of a ruler on the knuckles) More important though was the lifetime of joy and appreciation the divine gift of music brings. The thing that spurred me on was the alternate depressing destiny that awaited at the black smoky factory round the corner. This was the working-class fate of most of the dads in the street as they all trundled off on their cycles with sandwiches in khaki shoulder bags, demob overcoats and berets. All this before the sun had risen to the sound of a deafening hooter at 15min intervals the first of which was designed to wake us all from bed.
The lessons were on Mondays and Thursdays after school for a half-hour costing 4/- a week. On lesson days practice would often be undertaken before school. My first piano lesson is still engraved within my memory and I use the outline and structure for my own pupils. After Agnes died I studied with Mr. Derek Hill who gave me considerable help with jazz and Boogie piano and the importance of timing. (I had for many years a problem with maintaining a steady speed when performing solo due to nerves and heartbeat control)
The best musician in my family by far was my Grandfather. (Frank Snr. Father’s side) Grandpa had a wonderful tenor voice being blessed with perfect pitch and played the banjo, mandolin (basically anything with strings attached) and also played a mean harmonica. He played in several big-bands during the 20’s & 30’s and fronted his own smaller combo’s too. My Father (Norman) played exclusively from the printed copy and his preference in music was mainly Popular music from the Forties, songs from the musicals and light classics. My Fathers brother (Frank Jnr.), however was more inclined toward Jazz and improvised music. One day he arrived and on being invited to play the piano suddenly launched himself into this wild and exciting ‘Boogie’ style which he had cultivated in Army NAAFI’s during the war. The value (or dangers) of inspiration couldn’t be more evident because that moment undoubted changed my life. Within a couple of years (age 16) I was recording music for DECCA & POLYDOR records, and at 17 I had left home and was making a living playing piano and organ every evening with a jazz trio at a local night-spot. This played havoc with my formal classical studies but provided me with many unforgettable years living in different lands, meeting and working with well known vocalists and entertainers, and enjoying and sharing music to the full. These experiences have subsequently helped me to achieve a successful teaching practice in my local community for several years in Cambridgeshire and now in Teesdale. I have 2 sons Craig – plays piano professionally throughout the world on cruise ships and in clubs and top hotel venues, and my youngest son Mark is a talented guitarist.
The following was more or less my music career
This is really a brief synopsis of the more detailed recollections I put together on my ‘Life-Story‘ page.
Over the years I enjoyed performing extensively throughout the UK & Europe as Pianist, Organist/Keyboard player (sometimes doubling guitar & vocals) for over 20yrs in various formats – Bands Groups/Trio/Duo/Solo etc.
I have also accompanied many well known T. V./Radio/Recording Artistes in Theatre & Cabaret venues. Occasional and seasonal M.D. engagements with artistes such as Ike & Tina Turner, The Drifters (USA), Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, Chris Farlowe, Danny Williams, Iris Williams, Guys & Dolls, Buck’s Fizz, Brotherhood of Man, Bert Weedon, Michael Barrymore, Cannon & Ball, Lenny Henry, Gary Wilmot, Mike Harding, Paul Shane, Jim Bowen, Ted Hockeridge, Tom O’Connor etc. I also provided backing for several top Country Stars at Wembley.
I worked in Session gigs in London/BBC & provincial studios also as rehearsal and audition pianist in various genre (West-End/Ballet/Opera)
I have extensive “Live Gig” and Seasonal experience with Mecca, Butlins, Pontins, Warner (overseas), Tiffany’s; also major Hotels and Shipping lines and have been lucky enough to play jazz piano in many London clubs including Ronnie Scotts.
I have also composed various original music scores including a ‘Pantomime Musical’ for Local Radio and a ‘Rock Musical’ performed at Theatres in England and at the Edinburgh Festival. I once composed an Irish musical and was interviewed ‘live’ on BBC radio Belfast – the musical never took off though! Nominated for Joan Bakewell’ best original music award by ‘The Scotsman’ newspaper for music to ‘Beyond the Mirror’…Commendation for Independent Radio production ‘Alice’…I have also worked as Musical Director for several professional Theatre and Panto’ productions. I have also published the One-2-Five music theory E-Tutor (which I have now withdrawn).
As a qualified music teacher have set up and supervised teaching studios for Baldwin Piano and Organ stores in the U.K. and worked as demonstrator for Organs and Keyboards. I also managed a recording studio for some time and became familiar with many aspects of Music Technology. I have, and still do teach music privately, entering candidates for all the major boards often more than 100 entries per year, many acheived grade 8 and even diploma level. I have taught successfully piano, organ, keyboard, guitar, flute, singing & music technology but now specialize mainly in piano/keyboards. (UPDATE 2015 – I have retired)
All this wide experience has hopefully furnished me with an almost unique range of Keyboard & Piano styles, including a large classical repertoire of the most popular piano music e.g. much of the beautiful music of Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven & Debussy including recital favourites such as the Warsaw Concerto, Rustle of Spring, Clair De Lune, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ & ‘Waldstein’ Sonatas also, when using my own Digital Keyboards I am able to perform various arrangements of Popular music using the latest orchestral sounds and effects. (even though at heart I would personally rather listen to authentic, acoustic musical instruments).
I also played Lounge & Cocktail music, Blues, Ragtime, Stride, Jazz, Boogie & popular music to a high professional standard and these days and enjoy playing background piano music in quieter venues and ‘theme’ occasions.
I have recently retired, still married to my wonderful Jane and have grown up children and 7 grandchildren. I have enjoyed a lifetime of performing, composing and teaching music and have always delighted in passing my knowledge and skills to others but now I have finally submitted to Arthritis and Braniac arrest and given in to a wonderfully glorious twilight of marmalade sessions (instead of ‘Jam’ sessions) in my little beige bungalow comforted only by my rapidly decaying brain synapses.
N.B. Jane’s Dalemain Marmalade takes a bit of beating!