Life Notes

Some Extracts from my Life Story

“I am presently collating some stories from my life (in music) after finding a bunch of photos in the loft. My memory is becoming dodgy these days but a few pictures and scraps have helped me look back on some of those happy (and some not so happy) days
My pro stories are on this page

A very brief autobiography

mel_stallwood_small“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 Formula1-223x300stool, 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 Dad-Craig-Mark3had 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.

Mel-El-ToroI 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)

Mel-La-ScalaI 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.

Mel & Jane's Wedding 1988I 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!

Religion

I was born in the late forties in England to a very poor family and for a while we lived in a one room bedsit (4 of us) I doubt their was any real hardship because my Mother had always had the ability to conjure food out of thin air. My Father used ride his bicicle for miles looking for work and eventually succeeded in landing a job with British Railways. We then moved to a cottage in a small town (actually a terrace of four) and all four dwellings had to share one brick ‘dunny’ a hundred yard away or so. (essentially a wooden seat over a hole in the ground with newspapers on a spike) We also had a tank to collect rainwater to boil on the fire for washing etc.
Fast forward to my education. I can confirm I hated school and learned very little and without having my head bashed daily and all the corporal punishment of the time I thankfully gained a reasonable command of the 3’r’s. I remember thinking that monkey science was the most stupid thing I had ever heard (still is). Luckily my family for several generations was very musical and I soon developed a talent for the piano and on leaving school at 14 yrs with no qualifications at all I was soon making money secretly playing piano in pubs and night-clubs (I looked older). By the time I was 16 I was working for Decca and Polydor in London for people like (producer) Jonathan King and met all the ‘stars’ of the day going to parties in property owned by sheikhs and oil magnates in Knightsbridge with The Walker Bros. PG Proby, Jimmy Saville, Rolling Stones etc. etc. I am not name dropping because this scene is all CRAP. Many of these people are satanists and pedophiles and anyway 2CALSS I was completely burnt out by the time I was 20 and after surviving a bad drug OD I had a serious nervous breakdown and ended up spending 6 months in a secure hospital facility being forced to endure high grade ECT twice a week plus other abuse.
When I was about 21/22 I went through a bit of a ‘hippy’ phase and had desperate yearnings to find the ‘truth’ about life, the universe bla..bla! Well, I looked into Buddhism, Hinduism, The Mormons, in fact anything apart from the established churches that had shaped my early life and seemed steeped in hypocrisy. This culminated in one night of horrible darkness when I prayed and prayed and begged God to lead me to the truth. The next day when I was at my most bewildered a little old lady knocked on my front door one morning (I was living on the Norfolk coast) and showed me a picture of the Earth restored to it’s natural beauty featuring happy people of all races enjoying life in peace. The lady’s name was Edith Game, and she had a smile to match the folks in the picture. This idea of the Earth being restored to paradise and the inhabitants learning real love could only be achieved after wickedness and greed (and the governments that sponsor or allow the conditions we all have to live our lives in) have been removed. The Bible actually prophecies these very things and I was intrigued by this. Edith’s son Derek (who unfortunately has now died) came along on a subsequent visit and managed to answer all my questions one by one using Bible scriptures, Why are we here? Why does God allow wickedness? Where are the dead? Why are there so many religions? Who is God? etc. etc. Anyway I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years but now in my old age I just cannot believe (and I once really believed) in a loving God that is planning to destroy forever billions of people and save a few of his favourites! The judgemental, vengeful, jealous, murdering God of the Hebrew Scriptures does not match up to the perfect, forgiving, loving Father of Jesus Christ.

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