Sunday 22 November 2020

Skyline pigeon and the Liver Bird: fly to distant lands


Skyline pigeon is a song from the Elton John Empty Sky album, almost an antique since in appeared in 1969. The Liver Bird, which you can see if you look closely at the glass, is a mythical figure that really exists on key buildings on the Liverpool waterfront. Liver is pronounced like fiver, driver, arriver (?)

Listen here

So there we were, painting walls and ceilings in the family home we had just moved into and Radio City had a special evening or day or weekend, be patient this was a long time ago, when every other song they played was an Elton John song. Wow! Only nod wisely if you were born before Youtube and Spotify when you had to wait for your favourite singer at the mercy of the radio station planners, hang on until Top of The Tops on Thursdays at 7.30 or, painfully expensive, go to a shop and buy the record

So there we were, the most enthusiastic painters you could imagine: enthusiastic yes, fast no because we wanted to spin things out to be able to catch as many Elton songs as possible before lunch, supper, homework, bed or other interruption

And there it was, this strange song with unpop instruments including a harpsichord. I am not sure there even was a harpsichord in the whole of Liverpool in 1970, though the University Music Department might have had one very carefully locked away somewhere so that nobody could get to it.

I am resisting the temptation to retell the description of the sound of the harpsichord as per famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, which has something to do with a tin roof, skeletons and intimate physical activity. You can Google it and laugh. In 1972 Elton recorded the song again, with piano instead of harpsichord, so perhaps Sir Thomas’s was not the only one to think that about the skeletons

Never mind the strange instruments, just listen to the Bernie Taupin lyric: 

Turn me loose from your hands

Let me fly to distant lands

Over green fields, trees and mountains

Flowers and forest fountains

Home along the lanes of the skyway

Our Grandad, like many Liverpool grandads, had travelled to distant lands, sometimes on merchant ships and then on Royal Navy ships bravely risking their lives escorting ships which brought food supplies to under resourced UK families. But those days were going or gone, shipping was not what it used to be thanks to containers, and the chance of flying to distant lands seemed more of a relief of teenage angst, which we didn’t have in those days (!) than a real possibility

So here we are now, thanks to EasyJet, RyanAir and EU free competition rules, and members of our family have travelled the world, sometimes for trips and other times to stay and work

The only reason the Liver Bird has not flown away is because it’s held down by strong iron supports. Otherwise, I am sure it too would have followed us and soared away to fly to distant lands

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Monday 9 November 2020

Andrew Lloyd Webber: not a phantom, live and kicking


No need to detail the devastating effects of the virus on theatres around the world and the difficulties faced by performers, technicians and administrators

One of the bright spots for me has been to see how Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, aged 72, has been so energetic in his response to the situation. He has taken to posting numerous videos on Facebook, starting with responding to fans’ requests and playing his piano from home during the UK lockdown earlier this year, and then to mounting an online campaign to convince the government in London to take steps necessary to allow theatres to open, or at least have a reliable plan for reopening

One of my favourite clips   is from the original home of Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace in London. Sir Andrew has taken advantage of the shutdown to carry out some renovations to the theatre, and we see him in the hollowed out building, with a bare stage and numerous seats removed. He talks about Hal Prince, original director of the show, and how they used some of the Victorian era gadgets which they discovered under the stage in the production

He passionately argues for the importance of live theatre, the uniqueness of the moment, as he says Every performance is different

In another clip shows him promoting his new show, Cinderella, which was due to open this year and is facing a very uncertain future 

This is the label for the clip:

A little surprise for you all. Here is Far Too Late from my new Cinderella, performed by Carrie Hope Fletcher in an empty Her Majesty's Theatre. - ALW

This is a lovely song  where the rising, full of hope melody line seems to contradict the lyric, making the musical effect even more poignant Far too late to sing a love song, you’re in someone else’s arms

The singing is gorgeous, Carrie Hope Fletcher ’s pure voice soars wonderfully, and there he is, age 72, playing his own fabulous music at the piano and in a way that already helps you imagine the orchestral sound that will accompany the song when it finally appears on stage. It's so much more moving to see the performance taking place on this empty stage, bare right to the back wall, with rows of empty seats where an appreciative audience should be  

I am full of admiration for Sir Andrew, as a campaigner for live theatre and for musical theatre in particular, as a composer of some of the most beautiful music for the stage, as a performer, still superb, and most of all, as a decent human being, not only not a phantom, but very much live and kicking.

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Ed Sheeran: that’s exactly what I wanted

You could say that Perfect is a perfect pop song, it has everything. There’s the lilting, swaying rhythm that gives it a relaxing, almost lullaby effect, the arch shaped melody, in small phrases and over the phrase I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms, and the lyric which talks of long term commitment, making a home and having children together

Technically you could explain these points by talking about the 12/8 time signature and the octave   octave leap upwards followed by a return to the starting note, and so on. Probably better just to listen and enjoy

Of course the solo version is great, but I love the clip of  Perfect Symphony with Andrea Bocelli. There’s a look of admiration from the singer as he watches maestro Bocelli following his Braille score and another as he checks out the photos with personalities on the wall. At the end Sheeran thanks the team and says That’s exactly what I wanted  

This ambition to get what he wants is clearly part of Ed Sheeran’s success. You can see this tremendous desire to achieve the best result in the clip of Thinking Out Loud. When you see him with dancer  Brittany Cherry   you can see that there is real dancing going on here and the match of movements between the two of them is fantastic. In theory, Ed Sheeran is not a trained dancer but when you watch Thinking out loud  Behind the scenes  you can see his determination to get what he wants shine through

The choreography is not baby steps, it’s a real routine by two of the the world’s leading choreographers, as their representatives  say  

Married director/choreographer duo Tabitha and Napoleon, commonly referred to as Nappytabs, are two time Emmy winners (2011 and 2014) for Outstanding Choreography on So You Think You Can Dance

Watching the behind the scenes video you see Ed Sheehan take on a massive challenge and work away at it until he succeeds, brilliantly supported by dancer Brittany Cherry

So there you are, if you want to be Perfect, take a leaf out of Ed Sheeran’s book and work at it until you can say That’s exactly what I wanted

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo