Going to Cheltenham Jazz Festival had some unexpected benefits – one of them being a cheap CD of Frankie Laine’s Greatest Hits.
The sound of ‘The Kid’s Last Fight’ took me right back to Sunday mornings in the kitchen, mum peeling potatoes at the sink overlooking the garden while joining in with the chorus while through the open back door, Dad could be heard whistling along from the workshop end of the garage.
A chunk of happy carefree childhood, right there, back in the room with me.
Our house was rarely without music. It was almost all popular music Frankie, Doris Day, Jo Stafford, Frank Ifield, Cliff Richard, Elvis, Andy Williams with show tunes thrown in the mix – Mario Lanza singing the Drinking Song from the Student Prince.
It was only my father who had a some of the classics. I caught his affection for the drama of Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, the galloping excitement of Rossini’s William Tell and the wonderful oceanic swells of Fingal’s Cave by Mendelssohn.
Reading extracts recently from a speech by the artist Grayson Perry made me realise that perhaps, growing up in a working class household, I was lucky to have heard any classical music at all.
Grayson says that he didn’t have any classical music in his working class childhood home and has always felt it wasn’t for the likes of his family. He still feels, he claims, that he is pretending.
How could that be? Is that really the way it was in the early sixties and before? Was there really a divide between the ‘thick’ poor and the ‘cultured’ better off?
I heard less of it as I was growing up purely because Dad wasn’t as interested in music generally as my mother, so his records got played less. There was never any suggestion that it wasn’t “for the likes of us,” but neither was there any attempt to broaden my musical education.
That came via school music lessons – a marvellous music teacher who brought his favourites in and just let us listen – which seemed a tremendous privilege, at the time. Playing the piano and flute helped broaden the classical music experience too and lo, it came to pass that I became aware of the existence of that peculiar thing, Radio 3 and then Classic FM.
The other thing that struck me about Grayson Perry was the way he says when he listens to music, what affects him is not just the melody or the interpretation but the thought of all the hours of practice; he’s in awe of the rigour and dedication.
Curious. For me, music is not so much a listening process as an altering process. The sounds change how I am, conjure images, makes me feel different. I absolutely never even consider the mechanics of the musicians and the backstories of practice. If I’m listening to a Bach fugue, I don’t find myself thinking “God his fingers must have been sore hitting all those keys for hours on end!”
I don’t have that thing of the music of my youth still being my favourite. Memories flood back when I listen but it doesn’t make them better than some of the music I’ve heard since. Similarly, The Planets was the first classical record I bought for myself and it’s still up there in my top ten but it’s been usurped in my affections by other work that moves me far more profoundly.
It made me wonder what other people’s experiences of classical music are?
What age you were when you were first aware of classical music? Do you still have particular pieces that have been favourites from way back when?