Have a Beer Instead

They say you should try any new life experience with the exception of incest and English country dancing, and that’s about the best excuse I can come up with for taking up the offer of a blogspot on this esteemed site. Does the world need another blog? Of course not. Feel free to log off and have a beer instead. But if you have any interest in an occasional glimpse at how the classical music world functions in London and the UK, I shall be doing my best to capture it in some shape or form.

The editor asks for something by way of introduction, so here goes. Having left school illegally early aged 15 to do a printing apprenticeship (which left me with an abiding love of typography and the smell of ink) I made the leap into the music business by way of the classical promotion department of Decca Records, then housed on the Albert Embankment with a fine view of Big Ben. (Well, the execs had the fine view; the rest of us watched the trains rolling towards Waterloo at the back.)

Decca was supposed to be a desk job, but with recordings being made just across Old Father Thames at Kingsway Hall and St John’s Smith Square it was not long before I started wangling my way into sessions, interviewing artists, turning pages, doing the kind of job that a 20-something couldn’t quite believe he was actually getting paid for. To have Pavarotti, Sutherland and Caballé belting out Puccini at very close quarters to an otherwise empty hall was the stuff that dreams were made of.

Back at the office, life was enlivened by unbelievably profiligate phone calls from Decca’s New York office, calls that would last for hours—tannoy messages would log the progress as New York made its way from one department to another. It seemed unbelievably exotic in a country that reckoned a three-minute call was just about affordable.

If that told me something about the way things worked in the American music business, there was another eye opener when Decca re-pressed the Solti Ring for the US market. The Ring took up a lot of vinyl, of course, but what captivated me was that for each of the operas, side one was coupled not with side two but with the final side. After a while the penny dropped: you guys played Götterdämmerung on an auto-changer!

That wacky discovery determined me to get across the Atlantic, and although Decca never sent me further than desolate seaside towns to give record recitals, my travel plans fell into place with subsequent jobs. A chance to edit the late lamented Music & Musicians magazine was followed by a spell at the BBC, before I ventured into Rhinegold Towers, where Classical Music magazine is published.

When I first climbed the stairs in the Theatreland building in Shaftesbury Avenue, I had little idea that I would still be tackling them 25 years later. A lot changed along the way. More magazines came along—Opera Now, International Piano, Choir & Organ among them—and while I have been editing Classical Music for 20 of its 35 years, for the last few I have worn an additional hat as managing editor of the whole bang shoot.

Then there was Musical America. I jumped aboard the website on set-up and have been scribbling for it ever since, finding myself volunteered to write for the directory too along the way. Over the years I got to meet up on both sides of the pond with the editors of website and directory, and I have to say, you are in very good hands, readers. Quite apart from their editorial skills, Susan Elliott wins my all-time prize for a sense of humor sharp enough to cut diamonds, and Sedge Clark is one of the most urbane and knowledgeable gentlemen I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with.

Visiting Ohai a few years ago I enjoyed meeting two music enthusiasts with 4×4 names—Alan Rich  and Alex Ross—both of them talking enthusiastically about blogging. If it was good enough for them, who am I to turn down the chance now that MusicalAmerica has come knocking?

The editor would like an idea of  what I’ll be writing about. So would I. At a time of deep recession, when Arts Council England has torn up the whole system and got everyone to reapply for funding, it seems a fair bet that arts cuts will be a recurring theme. With the 2012 London Olympics just around the corner there will no doubt be observations to be made about the associated culture programme (though given the state of the London Underground they would be wise to cancel the whole thing even at this late stage). And no doubt the realities of UK musical life will be popping up—it sent out quite a strong message when players from the troubled Scottish Opera orchestra started applying for cleaning jobs.

Beyond that, what pops up here is anyone’s guess. If it turns out to be a load of codswallop, let the editor know. I could always try English country dancing instead.

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