13 6 air Lyndhurst Studios

Air Lyndhurst studios in Hampstead was the last place I worked. That was back in September 2003. I finished with some film sessions. I had survived the summer when the heat, as ever, had wiped me out.

Gavin Wright had phoned offering me the sessions –two days that week. I explained the situation. Gavin said ‘ just smile and take the money’. The FILM was to take 5 days. I was to do day two and day four. Doing just the two days suited me fine, I needed the rest between the days.

The bass section was really helpful . Simon Benson collected my bass from my flat. Being still on two sticks and driving I made my own way to the studio. Someone unpacked my bass. I sat on my stool and was then handed my bass. All went well to start with. However as the day went on It became increasingly difficult for me to lift my bow on to the string in a natural easy manner. It was becoming difficult to even look as though I was playing the bass.

I was sharing a stand with Paul Morgan, the resident jazzer In the section. Sometime in the afternoon Steve Henderson, the percussionist, came and stood behind us. We were playing very long notes with very slow bows, something that is not easy but that I was still able to do. Steve joshed Paul who, though a top class jazzer, was not quite so comfortable As the rest of us when doing these long bows.

Running for the teas in the break was out of the question for me walking , as I was, with two sticks dragging my left foot. Fortunately being next to the door There were no mike cables for me to trip over. So come the break I handed my bass to Paul and made my way to the canteen which was just across the foyer.

It was clear to me that this was the end as far as bass playing was concerned. I had finished at the top. I never played again.

Air Lyndhurst studios had opened in the early nineties just when other studios were beginning to close. Sir George Martin, of Beatles fame, converted a church close to the royal free hospital. Being in Hampstead the studio was very convenient for me especially as there was parking for the heavy instruments Right outside the studio door.

I had been a big fan of Sir George Martin ever since the Peter Sellers records came out in the late fifties. It wasn’t just the content of these records it was their warm and clean sound. The studio had that warmth built into it.

The Tracks on those Peter Sellers records included ‘Balham –gateway to the south’ with its skilled craftsmen specializing in ‘toothbrush-holemanship’.

There was the ‘party political speech’ which included the phrase ‘I do not consider existing conditions likely. ‘ .

I have listened carefully ever since for such phrases from politicians of all hues.

Robin McGee Was part of the bass section on those last sessions. I had first met Robin when he had turned up in Bristol in 1967 to coach the bass section . Stuart Knussen had briefly taken over from Eugene cruft who had retired. Robin had been a pupil of Stuart and then become the number two in the LSO next to Stuart. Robin first deputised for Stuart and then became our regular coach visiting us once a month.

Both robin and Stuart played the bass using all four fingers in the left hand, something which was unusual at the time. Having just switched to the bass from the cello, I thought of four finger playing as a version of extended Fingering On the cello. Accordingly I placed my thumb opposite my third finger and extended backwards with the first two fingers. Stuart and robin placed their thumbs opposite their second finger and extended forwards. I persevered with this fingering until I joined the BBC concert orchestra in 1971. There I found myself playing Octaves and fifths a great deal which was awkward on the larger bass I had soon acquired. One day I just stopped using four fingers.

Robin was a highly influential bass player. As the principal and often solo bass player in the London Sinfonetta for over 20 years He played in the first performances of most of the late 20th century classics. It was Robin’s Sound that composers had in their heads when they wrote their music. Yet Robin was a reluctant bass player. His principal interest was playing the piano On which He was one of the finest Piano accompanists for the bass repertoire.

In Bristol Robin taught us what to think as we played. If we were Playing an ‘exposed’ passage We learnt to play differently from when we were playing an octave below the cello line. We learnt how to count out complex rhythms. We learnt how to make awkward passages ‘work’. We also learnt how to take the business of bass playing seriously while still laughing.

One of the themes of my autobiographical writings has been to show how individual bass players have been important influences on composers. Dragonetti is one such example having had a profound influence on Haydn and Beethoven. The bass solo in Beethoven’s ninth symphony was written for Dragonetti and performed by him in the first performance – apparently Dragonetti wished he had asked for a bigger fee.

In my life time Adrian Beers had a clear influence on Benjamin Britten. Robin McGee, I suggest, influenced many of the late 20th century composers not only on his own with the London Sinfonetta but also as part of the bass section on countless film sessions.

I make no claim that I was individually an influence on any composer. I was though a junior member of the bass section on around 300 films from around 1980 to 2003. It was our sound that composers wrote for – and returned again and again to the studios in London. Chris Lawrence, Mike Britten and Robin McGee were the key members that the rest of the section was built on for most of those years.

13:6 Salisbury Cathedral -Two Tales with Plainsong

A storm in the cathedral.

One dark and stormy November Friday Evening in the late 1950s we were singing unaccompanied plainsong at Evensong in Salisbury cathedral. I was a small chorister standing second from the alter end of the row on the Cantoris side of the choir. The cathedral was empty. Only the choir, the organist, and a couple of cathedral clergy were present.

The thunder of a storm raging outside was coming ever closer until the storm seemed to be stationary directly overhead.

The windows lit up with flashes of lightning. We sang on.

Suddenly a streak of lightning flashed down one of the pillars on the inside of the cathedral just in front of us and to the left. The chorister next to me on the end of the line fainted. He fell over the small curtain at the end of the row hanging there slumped over the wire like a casualty on the Somme.

As always the music continued even though there were so few of us present.

Now, when I now look at the different versions of Constable’s famous painting, ‘Salisbury cathedral from the Meadow’s’, I hear the thunder of the storms that Constable depicts so tellingly in these paintings. Truly thunderous and dramatic. Scary.

A Christmas ghost story.

In the late fifties we choristers stayed on at school after the term time finished in order to sing the services in the cathedral. These ‘choristers hols’, as they were called, lasted two weeks. We had complete freedom during the day. We were able to roam around the city of Salisbury as we wished. Sometimes at Christmas time parties were organized for us.

One such party was given by the organist, Christopher Dearnley and his wife, Bridget.

At the party, After we had had some food and played some music, we gathered round the fire while Christopher Dearnley told us a ghost story. Was it really a ghost story or was it true…?

One quiet still evening in the summer, Christopher Dearnley, as was his wont, went over to the empty closed cathedral to practice the organ.

He entered the cathedral through the small Dean’s door on his side of the cathedral.

As he walked behind the altar on his way to the organ loft be heard the sound of singing coming from the far end of the cathedral. An unaccompanied unseen choir was singing ancient plainsong. Yet there was no choir.

With the singing continuing, he made his way, walking quietly, into the organ loft, climbed the stairs, and slid onto the bench in front of the organ keyboards.

When he pressed the button to start the organ, the wind pump with it’s quiet hum, the singing stopped. Switching the organ off, the choir started again. He switched the organ on and off a few times. The mysterious unseen choir was heard singing only when the organ was switched off.

After a while the sound of the choir faded and was heard no more. Had the conditions in the cathedral been exactly right to bring to life the centuries old echo of the choir?

As choristers we were aware of the echo of the cathedral as every note we sang came back to us after its journey around the cathedral. How long did that echo really last?

As choristers our connection with the past was tangible in all kinds of ways, not only from the music we sang, and the building of the cathedral . Foe example there was the stone tomb just inside the Dean’s door. Near the corner of the tomb there was an open crack. The dare was to put your arm inside the tomb to see if there were any bones within reach. No one I knew had the courage to take up the challenge. However every time we walked past the tomb we saw the open crack and wondered…

The stones were full of memories, real and imagined…

13:4 Abbey Road music.

13:4 Abbey Road music.

Despite the advice ‘it is not a good time’, leaving the BBC to enter the world of freelance music making in London in 1979 worked out OK.

Abbey road in those days was but one of many busy large studios. Being the in house studio for EMI all kinds of music was recorded there. Later on I was fortunate enough to record original John Barry scores with the ECO. John Barry himself was of course conducting in his unique style involving considerable movement of his shoulder blades.

Here are a few examples:

Cry beloved country.

I was particularly interested in John Barry’s score for this film as I was familiar with Kurt Weill’s play which I had performed live with Robert Ziegler’s matrix ensemble.
(The excerpt below was performed recently by others in French: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtuFIuk2T0E .)

Other John Barry scores recorded at Abbey road where I was part of the ECO include:
Out of Africa:

Somewhere in time:

Beyondness: note the bass line pizz on the back of the note giving a spacious feel: there were probably four of us playing this line.

Then and there was a nervous sounding Sarah Brightman singing Pie Jesu in front of Marsel, Domingo, us, and her husband Andrew Lloyd Webber. Despite everything she hit her top notes every time, no mean feat. For the film of Evita, another score written for Sarah Brightman, Madonna had some songs transposed down a semitone.

The first time Michael Kamen http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Kamen appeared in front of us was at Abbey road: the Pink Floyd film, The Wall.

This time Sid Sax was the fixer. Dennis Milne was sitting next to me in the bass section.
Multitalented Dennis not only played the bass but he composed and, he was very proud of this, was a fully qualified Master of Wine. He was killed in a car crash in Arizona. He was setting up his own vineyard there as well as organizing chamber music concerts as in London. A great loss.

Then there was the original score to Showboat. The London Sinfonietta was the orchestra. http://www.londonsinfonietta.org.uk/. John Mcglinn the conductor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McGlinn.


Earlier we had recorded Kern overtures and excerpts from the film Swing Time: again with John Mcglinn conducting from the original scores. This time since Sax was the fixer.

There were many films at Abbey road throughout my time, some 25 years, as a freelance bass player in London. Towards the end, when I was walking only with the aid of sticks, Chris Lawrence arranged for me to be able to park just in front of the studio. All I then had to was to wobble down the slope into the studio. Having a wheel on the end of my bass provided support as I walked. Parking in front of the studio was a great honour – it saved money too.

12:4 Principal Audition

By the 90s I had become a sufficiently experienced principal double bass player to be accepted for an audition as principal bass for the BBC Symphony Orchestra. All the work I had done preparing for the finals day of the Chicago bass audition that had tidied up my playing was paying off.

Gerry Brinnan, the retiring principal, had been principal bass in the BBC Symphony Orchestra for as long as I could remember – back to the late 60s. Gerry had for years tried to fill his bass section with bass players using the German bow. Some players, cynically seeking work, switched to the German bow.

Gerry’s section included one of the few lady bass players, Juliet Cunningham. A good lady who was an asset to the section in all kinds of ways – including keeping the peace. Playing year after year in the same orchestra, in mainly the same building, and playing a great deal of rubbishy music could, and did, drive people mad. Juliet’s role as peacemaker was therefore very important.

Gerry Drucker, the previous principal, and now the retiring principal in the Philharmonia was brought in as the outsider to oversee the audition. Gerry Drucker included a rare study in the set list for the audition. This study consisted of two pages black with semi-quavers covering the whole range the double bass. I set to and learnt the study.

When the audition day arrived, sadly Gerry Drucker was in hospital having a bowel cancer operation. Kevin Rundell, the principal bass in the LPO, was brought in as the replacement outsider.

When my turn came in the audition I played my pieces and then the entire study from top to bottom. Quite a workout. Then came the sight reading. I don’t remember how well I played or how badly, I do remember though that it was not that good an audition. I was not surprised to go no further.

Soon afterwards I visited Gerry Drucker in hospital. The operation had gone well. Gerry said ‘it is all about what goes in the bucket’. Stark reality. Gerry was cheerful as always. Perhaps it is part of being a bass player that being cheerful whatever is going on is part of the package. Certainly Gerry had had deteriorating eyesight for years, yet was always cheerful – busy.

On this visit I asked Gerry about the study. Gerry told me that rather than play the whole thing he would only have asked for a short excerpt.

Paul Marion was given the job and duly moved over from the LSO where he had been co principal, a most suitable appointment.

Being principal bass in a set piece orchestra such as the BBC Symphony requires skills which are not part of any audition. The principal bass has to handle not only his own section, but also have a working relationship with the conductor and the office, as well as the rest of the orchestra. It helps if the conductors already ‘know’ the principal bass. Paul, as a member of the LSO, clearly knew, or at least had a reputation with the BBC Symphony conductors.

My working relationship as principal bass was well established with a different set of conductors – also with a different set of bass players. I was at home in the freelance world – the full-time orchestras were altogether different, and as such an intriguing an interesting challenge for me.

I am told that Paul was given the job with BBC Symphony without doing any audition at all. This was no surprise to me, rather by then I knew that if you had to do an audition it was unlikely you would be given the job. The audition process was there to give others an opportunity to show what they could do – and maybe be offered a trial.

In 1996 I was asked to do a weeks work as principal bass with the RPO. No audition for me this time. The first part of the week was a concert in the Barbican. A rich amateur conductor had hired the RPO and the Barbican in order for him to conduct a Mahler symphony. Mahler symphonies go on for a long time offering lots of opportunities for the conductor to ‘emot’ while the orchestra plays away happily. As someone used as I was to playing in chamber orchestras, with lots of room for individual expression, playing a big Symphony in a large orchestra is a whole different experience, involving sheer hard work and less individuality. However I set to with a will. Conductor conducted and we played.

At the end of the Symphony I noticed a few ladies in the most expensive seats leap to their feet applauding while trying to catch the conductor’s eye. Wives? Girlfriends? Employees? I don’t know. However they made for an impressive sight and hopefully impressed the conductor.

The second half of the week was a concert at the Royal Albert Hall they coincided with VJ day. Included in the programme was Dvoraks New World Symphony. This was a pleasant and telling coincidence for me. It was the opening of the Largo from this Symphony that the ladies in my mothers Jap prison camp arranged for women’s voices and sang at risk of their own lives in two concerts in the camp. Highly atmospheric it must have been.

This Largo has a number of passages that feature double basses. All went well, particularly the last two chords which th basses play entirely on their own. On this occasion after we finished playing the chords the audience burst into applause. Was it us? I like to think so.

These final chords are of four notes. Sometimes the chords played with one double bass player on each note. Played in this way the chords can, in some acoustics, sound thin. Also with just one double bass for each note the courts can be ‘pearly’, that is very nervy indeed. On this occasion I used all eight basses. The eighth bass played the lowest note down an octave and I played the top note on my own. The other six divided the notes up with two bass players on each note. This produces a good warm sound that everyone is comfortable with and works, especially in a large acoustic like the Albert Hall.

The top bass player has the third note in the scale, the melodic note, and so plays with a telling vibrato. Everyone else might look as though they are vibrating however they keep the sound straight and true.

Finally to complete the effect: the placing of the chord. The idea is to play chicken. The last person to dare play. Conductor beats his beat. Then sometime later the section plays the chord. Before note is played there is always an imperceptible scratching sound when the hair starts to bite the string. By listening to the scratch the section can play together as one.

On this occasion the conductor knew his part and beat his beat early thus getting out of the way. We then played the chords in our own time. It worked wonderfully.

As a result of playing with the RPO proper, I was then offered plenty of work with the RPO pops orchestra. Which suited me fine. I was by now walking with sticks and it was increasingly obvious that holding down a regular job was just not possible for me. I had run out of road – almost.

12:3 Evita

The last session for Evita was recorded in a small studio there was part of the BBC Maida Vale studio complex. Not only was this the last session for Evita, but the studio, the last one that Bing Crosby recorded in, was about to be decommissioned – may be turned into a storeroom.

There were four basses on the Evita sessions, myself, Alan Walley and two others. Unusually the sessions for Evita had been spread over the period of filming. Normally the music is added to the film once the film has been made. In the case of Evita, the film being a musical, the music was recorded first in stages as the filming continued.

The first sessions for the film had been recorded at CTS Wembley. The fixer had employed a very good orchestra. However there were all kinds of ‘waves’ going on. It seems the film producer owned the rights to the music. Also the film producer had a reputation of disliking composers, something that was not unusual for all kinds of reasons. It might be that we were not acting, we were not pretending to do something, we were actually doing it. As music came at the end of the process of filmmaking and we were paid on the day, there was the issue of parting with real cash before any money was earned. It might be that adding music to their beautiful film brought the film to life in ways they did not always envisage, but they could not help but admire.

With Evita, Lloyd Webber was present and was not someone to be pushed around – his musicals made more money than films and all around the world. The difficulty for Lloyd Webber was that the scores were arranged for performance in theaters where small numbers of musicians could be beefed up with sound systems. For a film a much larger score and orchestra was required – sometimes over 100 musicians. A Symphony orchestra was normally around 80 musicians. Accordingly that the score had been rearranged for a film orchestra.

Another difficulty was that Lloyd Webber’s musicals were played over and over again night after night, the theater musicians knew how to make these theater scores work. The first fixer employed musicians who did not normally play in Lloyd Webber’s pits and were thus not delivering the sound Lloyd Webber expected.

Some sort of deal was done. The producer brought in his own conductor from Hollywood, Lloyd Webber brought in his own fixer – Sylvia, Dickie Addison’s wife. The new orchestra turned up the next sessions: I was one of the few people who played in both orchestras, having worked for Sylvia on many of Lloyd Webber’s recordings.

The new conductor from Hollywood knew that the producer was a person employing him. Accordingly on every possible occasion the new conductor rubbished the music he was conducting. The previous conductor was confined to a small glass doored room just off the main studio where it was his job to conduct Madonna who was singing in that room separated from the orchestra. Madonna who at that time had a raunchy public image was wearing a twinset and pearls – very much the country lady.

With all these hassles going on around us we just played away. Here is ‘don’t cry for me Argentina’ from the film and sung by, down a semitone, Madonna.

Here is the complete film: Evita.

listen to the final credits with the orchestra plays on its own. I am particularly proud of the last note where the four double basses are playing a low B natural. We hit the note just right: the difficulty was tuning down, for our normal lowest note is a C. Winding the string down does not always work perfectly it is necessary to go below the note and then tuneup, hopefully stretching the string evenly. In the original key the lowest note is C natural, the same note as in the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra, used as the opening of the film 2001. Seems to me that the low C has a particular feel, the universe, that a low would B does not. However low B is what was required for the film.

12:2 Maida Vale studios

BBC Maida Vale studios occupy much of one side of Delaware Road in Maida Vale London. Originally, I am told, the land the studios occupy was a waste pit into which London rubbish was thrown – dead horses and the like – indeed all kinds of rubbish. Houses were not built on top of this waste pit because the ground was considered too toxic. Instead a skating rink was put up. This skating rink was then turned into BBC studios.

The main entrance into the studios was at one end of the building. Uniformed concierges sat at a desk just inside the door. Straight in front of you was the entrance to the canteen. On the left once past the desk with steps down to studio one, called Maida Vale one. MV1 was the main studio and the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. There was room in the studio for a complete Symphony Orchestra and an audience.

The whole building was half underground with passageways leading along the building to more studios. A warren worthy of any rabbit or badger. Some of the rooms along the passageways contained the radiophonic workshop and were full of strange machines with ancient dials and knobs making ‘interesting’ sounds.

Peter Holt, the fixer for the unit, used to book me at the last minute, on the day, to stand in for Paul Cullington. Whenever the phone call came I knew there was a big bass solo in the programme. The unit recorded in Maida Vale 2, a smaller studio than Maida Vale 1.

MV2 had a dry and uncomfortable sound. There had been a fashion for this type of sound when the studio was set up. The idea was that the sound engineers were able to tweak the sound with their equipment – being the BBC the equipment was the best, and often ancient. Of course having uncomfortable musicians does not make for a good recording however good the equipment. However once in place, being the BBC, mistakes are rarely altered.

So I would turn up not knowing what to expect and find myself playing one of the orchestral bass solos.

Part of the fun of playing in Maida Vale one was going along a corridor and peeking through the door at the BBC Symphony in Maida Vale one. What a relief I felt that I was not a regular member of either the unit or BBC Symphony.

A couple of nights ago I saw a televised excerpt of the BBC Symphony playing some ‘squeaky gate’ music in the early 70s. The orchestra was going through a hot period at that time being full of good musicians. On this TV excerpt these excellent musicians were laughing openly about what they were being expected to play. Of course their self-respect demanded they play impeccably even if they thought what they were being asked to play was rubbish. The voice-over on this recent TV excerpt said the musicians were laughing openly because they were enjoying playing the music so much.

Actually some 40 years on the dross, the music that was rubbish, is falling away to leave the good pieces. So maybe it might be said that back in the 70s when the BBC Symphony was playing all kinds of rubbish as well as good modern music, it was not so easy to distinguish between music that would live on and music that would hastily and fortunately be forgotten.

Further on down the corridors was a small studio with a plaque on the wall saying that this was the last place that Bing Crosby recorded in. It was in this studio, which was just about to be closed, that we recorded the last session for the film Evita.

12:1 many auditions.

auditions are a completely separate world. I embarrassed myself and audition panels many times during my career. However the process of preparing for an audition I found most positive and helpful, for preparing for an audition concentrated the mind wonderfully. Auditions are stressful in the extreme.

Back in the 70s my friend from Bristol days, the bass player Eric Whitaker, was to come down to London from Manchester, where he was well established in the Halle bass section, to do an audition with the BBC concert Orchestra. The day of the audition came. Eric arrived  with his double bass at the Manchester  railway station by taxi. Eric unloaded his bass from the taxi then walked into the station. In the station Eric tripped and falling on his bass smashed the bass to pieces. With his bass still in it’s bag, but now with the bag hanging limply over his arm, Eric returned to the taxi rank. There at the head of the queue of taxis was the same taxi he had arrived in – together with a bemused taxidriver who proceeded to drive Eric home. Clearly Eric was not meant to leave the Halle.

On another occasion a pupil of mine set off an audition in Cardiff, Wales, with the BBC Welsh orchestra. Missing his train at Paddington he took a taxi the whole way to Cardiff at a cost of, perhaps, £300. It turned out that if he had waited for the next train he would have arrived in Cardiff earlier than he actually did travelling by the taxi – at great cost.

Things go wrong at auditions.

The first professional audition I did was for the orchestra in Bristol. As was to become my custom I played the first movement of the Eccles sonata which I followed on this occasion with a quick movement from a Vivaldi sonata. The excerpts were standard ones all being in the back of Simandl book one.

Then… I was asked to play a three octave scale. I started off the scale of F with my first finger on the lowest string. With one bow per note I slowly climbed step-by-step first across the bass and then up the first string. When I reached the top note I still had quite a length of string to go and had lost count of how many octaves I had played. I proceeded to play a fourth octave right into the resin close to the bridge.  Having made the top, and with my fingers now covered in sticky resin,  I started down again slowly step-by-step. Eventually, some minutes later, I finally came back to the note I had started with. I breathed out with relief. As I did so I noticed members of the panel also, good humouredly, breathing out with relief – some even wiping their brow. ”Phew”.  I got the job and was on my way.

While in Bristol I did two auditions before successfully auditioning into the CBSO. The first of these auditions was for Covent Garden. When the bass solo in Mahler one was put up, as a smart aleck 21-year-old I asked the principal whether I should play the solo with the commas every two bars as was sometimes written. Before the principal was able to answer, the manager told me off,   ‘ how dare you ask someone earning £100 a week such a question’ , or something similar. Despite this I was told later that I had made a good impression.

My second audition in those Bristol days was for the BBC Symphony in Maida Vale 1. Here I was marooned in the middle of the brightly lit large studio with the panel sitting in the distance at one end of the studio at a table. I began to sweat. The beads of moisture covered my glasses. The distant panel became lost in the mist. A week or so later the message came to me that I needed more lessons. This message was probably kindly meant as I had only had 12 lessons in my one term at Guildhall on the bass, though I had previously done two years at the Guildhall on the cello. However I felt deeply insulted as only a 21-year-old can.

I successfully, though very nervously auditioned, into the CBSO, and after a few months there auditioned, again very nervously, a second time to become sub principal, sitting number four in the section.

While changing for a CBSO concert in Newcastle, the manager of the Northern Sinfonia came into the changing room and asked to see me. I was offered a trial with the Northern Sinfonia. No audition this time. During the week’s trial, which included a tour of Scotland, it was clear to me that I was not yet ready for such a job. It was clear to the orchestra as well. Fortunately for everyone David Munro, the co-principal bass in the CBSO,  a good friend and golfing partner, was given the job. Playing golf with David was fun. David hooked and I sliced. So our drives took us from the tee to opposite sides of the fairway. We would meet again on the green.

My audition for the BBC concert Orchestra was probably my best ever. I had arrived nervously as always at the Camden Theatre in Islington. I played through my piece with the piano player in the warmup room. My piano player said ‘you can do better than this.’ She insisted on playing the piece again. ‘ They can wait’, she said of the panel.

 Thus quietened down, everything went well in the audition and I was given the job. Of course once I started the job I realised that playing light music with its frequent starts and stops with no rehearsal was much more difficult than playing long symphonies. I struggled to cope at the beginning, however in time I learned to relax and enjoy the stresses involved in live performance on the radio, sometimes to millions of listeners.

My next  audition was in my last months at the BBC concert Orchestra. David Jones the principal was leaving to join the Philharmonia. I did a terrible audition for David’s job. Leaving the hippodrome in Golders green I drove up to the pond at Hampstead and stopped for a weep. After a short weep I decided it was time to leave the BBC and go freelance. Which is what I did.

A year or so later I did an audition for the LSO. I played the Capuzzi bass Concerto starting on the open G string which, I am told, is the original key. Paul Marion and Bruce Mollison. Were the only two people present. I told myself that neither of them were able to play this Concerto in this key – I am probably doing them both a great disservice however this was my ego survival technique for coping with doing a poor audition.

Sometime later and this time an audition for the LPO. In the car park afterwards one of the bass players on the panel knocked on the window of my car, in which I was sitting somewhat disconsolately. when I wound down the window he asked me why I put myself through such torture. Few people kept doing auditions once they had a job.

As well as the audition in Chicago which I have already written about, I also auditioned one-to-one with Bramwell Tovey to go to play principal with the Winnipeg orchestra. This audition went well with Bramwell playing the piano for the Koussevitzky Concerto. The deal was arranged that I would turn up in Winnipeg for the opening couple of weeks of the season at which time I would do an audition with the orchestra. Accordingly I played the first week of the season in Winnipeg. On the Monday morning of the second week  I realised in the first half of the morning rehearsal that this job was not for me. Shelley was expecting a baby any time so I made my excuses and left. The orchestra was very kind to me and I was most grateful for the experience.

I did another audition in Canada in the middle of winter: this time for the Québec orchestra. Again a total disaster.

At some point I did a second audition for Covent Garden. On the way from the warmup room to the audition room I passed the black door and the black steps down into the pit. I knew at that moment that whatever happened in the audition I had no wish to go through that door into the pit every day. Fortunately I didn’t have to make the decision.

I also had a second audition for the LSO. Shelley came with me. In the warmup room the piano player did a great job: I was looking forward to this audition. However in front of the panel, friends and colleagues all, the piano player changed and drowned me out. Another embarrassing debacle –  I wondered whether the piano player had been ‘fixed’ – active and advanced paranoia being an essential tool for any musician.

My final audition was yet another disaster. Hearing that the principal of the BBC Northern had retired I thought a week or two playing there as a deputy guest principal might be fun. When I put myself forward it was suggested I did an audition. Never one to turn down an audition I agreed.

As it happened I was offered on the same day as the audition a TV session for songs of praise in Newcastle. Although I never did songs of praise it is a program I would have enjoyed playing on. However I stuck with the audition and never did play on songs of praise.

On the morning of the audition I had a session at the Angel Studios in Islington that finished at 1 o’clock. The audition was in Manchester at 5 o’clock. At a 4:45 I was outside the BBC studios in Manchester looking for somewhere to park. Missing the deadline for the audition the panel kindly agreed to hear me later.

After a short rest I found myself in the warmup room with a Russian piano player as my accompanist. I was told that my accompanist was the wife of the lead fiddle player. Whatever: we just did not get along. It was open warfare. She played and I played. Separately.

On entering the audition room, the main studio, I saw in the distance Jeff box, the retiring principal, and someone I took to be the lead fiddle player, having a heated discussion toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball.

I took my place in front of the music stand. The piano player sat down at the piano. And away we went completely at odds with each other  – neither of us was going to give way . Mike Escreet, a bass player I knew from Bristol days, sat hunched up in his chair with his head in his hands.

By the time I came to drive back to London having been up since before 7 o’clock that morning, I missed the turn at Birmingham and found myself driving past the exit to Worcester. Eventually I made it home.

My conclusion from all of this was that when I was in for a job that was meant for me I played okay. Otherwise, fortunately for me, I failed abysmally. But the process of doing and preparing for auditions was good enabling me to advance my playing. I did gain some kudos from actually being prepared to stand up and deliver at auditions.

I am of course writing about my own perceptions: I have no idea what other people actually thought. Certainly doing auditions, however badly, never seemed to do me any harm.

I probably  would have done better at auditions if I had had a regular piano player to practice with. As it was I didn’t.  The only time I played with a  piano player was at the audition itself .


13:3 Abbey Road studios

It was a Joe Campbell’s 60th birthday. Joe Campbell is the genial proprietor of Joe & co, a company which puts the music on jingles.


Paul Hart, Joe’s partner at Joe & Co, had arranged happy birthday for 60 double basses. So one evening 60 double bass players turned up at Abbey Road studio one. It was to be a surprise birthday party for Joe.

Imagine the sight of 60 bass players of all different sizes, shapes and ages turning up one by one, all carrying their double basses and stools. Some carried their double bass slung over their shoulder with a strap. Others wheeled their bass on a wheel that slotted into the hole for the spike in the bottom of the bass. Others had converted golf trolleys. Individuals all in everything they did

At the appointed time we all drifted into the studio from the canteen – talking all the while. As well as us sixty bass players there was a red hot big band that was to play after us.

We all took our places and played through the piece once with Paul Hart conducting. As always the first play through was the best. Paul Hart did not like rehearsing so that was that – just one play through.

Word came through that Joe was in the building. We went silent, not easy for there were many old friends who had not seen each other sometimes for years – or earlier that day.

Joe had arrived expecting another session – not a birthday party.

When Joe entered the room we struck up with happy birthday – all sixty of us in harmony – Paul Hart’s arrangement. I am told the recording had to be heard to be believed. It was the only occasion when I felt an extra play through would have been of benefit. However the effect was amazing.

After we finished we sat back, Chris Lawrence moved over to the big band, and we enjoyed some good Jazz. Very good jazz.

Then it was back to socialising. A great evening.

On another occasion in the early eighties there was a meeting of the session musicians and fixers in the same studio. The meeting began at midnight because that was the time everyone was free. We felt the union had not been representing our interests: one issue being that producers, encouraged by PACT, http://www.pact.co.uk/home/, were being actively encouraged to record music in Eastern Europe at rock bottom prices – never mind the quality.

The end result of this meeting is that the union founded a special section for session musicians. The film rate was to stay the same for the next 20 years or so.

Abbey Road Studios are probably the most famous music studios in the world – and probably the most profitable.


So profitable that in 1979, the first year of the link up between EMI and Thorne electronics, it was said that Abbey road studios was the only part of the combined group to make a profit – we were busy recording film soundtracks in studio one.

Of course as musicians we were unaware of the financial goings on above our heads – literally, in the offices up the stairs on the ground floor. We were too busy working; those were the days when there were a number of fixers all hustling for work, there still were plenty of studios to work in, and plenty of experienced musicians to choose from – all with very good instruments. The whole business of recording music was a well oiled machine.

On one occasion during a session in 1980 at Abbey Road, the bass player Arthur Watts, pointed out to me that there a number of musicians in the room earning more than the prime minister of the time. This was before buy outs were invented and when the different parts of the music industry were completely separate: TV, films and recordings all worked to different contracts and often using different technology to record with. TV was particularly profitable thanks to repeat fees. Film sessions and record sections attracted similar fees. A 1 hour jingle was similar to a 3 hour record session.

I was doing films and recordings tagging along on the end of this section. The studio orchestras in those days were mainly the top players of the time: orchestral leaders, quartet players, and professors at music colleges – mainly male – often only male. I felt very honoured to be there at all.

I was 32 in 1979, still living in a rented flat. My BBC salary in the seven years before had been hit by inflation so that buying a property was completely out of reach for me. Within months of leaving the BBC I was earning sufficient to make it necessary for me to register for VAT. By 1981, with Shelley’s salary as well, we managed to scrape together a deposit for a property. In those days we needed three years’ accounts and savings in a building society to qualify for a mortgage. With the necessary paperwork in place we were able to borrow 2 ½ times my income and move into a small house in mill hill near the gasworks. There was no central heating in this house consequently that first winter we froze as I struggled to make the payments. Fortunately inflation came to our rescue. With the rapidly increasing inflation our mortgage payments became more manageable on my one income.

My session work made all this possible. If I had been playing in a set piece orchestra fulltime my income would have been much less. However as sessions came in at the last minute it was a highly risky way of making a living. There were no guarantees of being employed.

Fortunately in London in the early eighties there was no shortage of work in the studios. Also there was no shortage of studios to work in. Abbey road became a regular workplace for me. Outside tourists came and went, often having their photo taken outside the studio, or crossing the road as on the Beatles record sleeve.

In the canteen just next to studio one we mingled with the pop guys who were often dressed ‘in character’ – rather a strange sight to me.

As always parking cars was an important issue. At Abbey road we parked our cars temporarily outside on the yellow line to unload our double basses, and carry the basses into the studio.

The entrance to studio one was down the slope at the side of the main building. We did not use the front door. Once in the studio I used to Put my bass down on the floor behind the music stands and mikes set up for the bass section. Not knowing who was on I did not know where to sit. After a quick look through the music on the stand I then went off to find a parking space before the traffic wardens came by. The traffic wardens knew when sessions started and often lay in wait.

Having parked I then returned to the studio for a coffee in the canteen: the canteen being on the same floor as the studio. By the time the session was due to start the canteen would be full. The fixer would appear and we would make our way into the Studio.
Placing my stool in the appropriate place, as far back in the section as possible, It was time to unwrap my bass and sit on my stool ready to play. No one was late – being late was a sure way of an early finish to a promising career.

The first thing you had play on a session was the balance check. ‘Now we will have the basses on their own from bar number … ‘. Off we would go with the rest of the orchestra sitting listening – wondering what might happen as bass sections can be variable. For players not used to playing on their own in front of the rest of the orchestra this balance check at the start of the session was stressful. To make things more difficult for new players, on sessions, unlike regular orchestras, tuning the bass was done quickly and quietly without an A from the oboe.

After the balance was complete the first cue (piece of music) was played through, and then played again to be recorded.
When the cue was recorded the composer/Conductor went into the box to listen to the tape while we put our instruments down and chatted. As the music might be listened to a number of times, we spent a great deal of time chatting. With everything right we went on to the next cue – and so on until the film was finished . This stop start way of playing took getting used to.

13:2 Olympic Studios, Barnes.

Living in north London meant that driving to Olympic Studios in Barnes was a complex affair. The main roads were generally blocked up. Fortunately, thanks to the advice of David Jones, I knew a cross country route that involved travelling through a maze of roads at the back of shepherd’s bush.

The route emerged just west of Hammersmith bridge. Then it was over the bridge and straight down, turning right at the traffic lights to the studio on the right. In the early eighties it was still possible to park outside the studio, soon though it was unloading outside the studio and then free Parking in the streets at the back.

For any musician parking was important, as was the sound of the studio, and good food nearby.

In those days before speed cameras driving through London was very different to driving on the motorways. On motorways it was important to watch the driving mirror at all times: even driving at 85 to 90 miles an hour, there were cars speeding past. In London the opposite was the case: never look in the mirror, only look for gaps in the traffic in front.

Olympic studios had a special magnificent warm sound. So good was the sound that Barbra Streisand, amongst many others, came to London in order to record at Olympic.

Nat Pec, fixing orchestras for his French connections, often used Olympic. Barbra Streisand’s film, Yentyl, with music by Michel Legrand was recorded at Olympic.

Keith Grant was the sound engineer. Like all the regular sound engineers he knew as all – what we sounded like. He knew how we played, and what to expect.

The room was rather dishevelled and used looking. On entering the screen was on the left and the recording box at the opposite end. The window of the recording box extended a little into the room. The basses sat under the shelf just below the window. This meant we were in full view of the recording box. Visible at all times. We still chatted between takes, perhaps however a little more circumspectly than usual. Being under the shelf made for a great bass sound.

For YENTYL Barbra Streisand recorded in a separate room with a glass door through which she was able to see Michel Legrand and the orchestra playing while she sang. As usual we had only the clicks in our earphones.

Stars who had a reputation for being ‘temperamental’, were always very different in the studio. Barbara Streisand was no exception, there was mutual respect amongst everyone present – not just respect but razor sharp ears were everywhere. The soundtrack was to be listened to over and over again, not just by those making the film, but all around the world – for posterity.

Net Pec knew all the angles. So when Michel Legrand, who was going through one of his quit smoking periods, said ‘cigarette me’ as he peered intently at his score, Nat Pec was immediately beside him handing over a freshly lit cigarette. Without looking embarrassed Nat Pec then walked past the basses to the recording box. However we knew, and he knew, that needs must.

At the far end of the studio from the basses there was a severed head on the tallest mike boom. This head had been rescued from Denham studios when the studios closed. Some years before there had been experiment to place microphones the same distance apart as a human head. I have no idea whether the microphones were still being plugged in, however the head was a familiar sight that made us all feel at home at Olympic.

Such was the special sound of the studio that, so it was said, it was thought important to safeguard the studios future. Accordingly the studio was sold to Richard Branson and virgin on condition the studio was preserved.

The agreement was not kept. Builders moved in even while we were recording sessions which had already been booked. The entire interior of the building was gutted and rebuilt. Even the stairs up to the studio were changed. I never did like the new studio. I felt that history had been destroyed: rather like trashing a Stradivarius.


13:1 CTS studio

Back in the eighties London was full of music studios both large and small. All were busy. Other than Abbey road these studios were unknown to the general public, a hidden world. Indeed many of the studios were unknown to most musicians – for the world of sessions was a closed world.

At the time the orchestras were busy making classical music records: Henry wood hall, Watford Town hall, Kingsway, Walthamstow town hall, as well as Abbey road, were the places these classical recordings were made. Rosslyn hill chapel in Hampstead was used for chamber orchestra recordings. CTS meant films and commercial recordings of all types, sessions which the London orchestras did, do so CTS was ‘known’ amongst musicians and associated with making money.

My first visit to CTS was sometime in the seventies. I don’t remember playing there at that time, I was just dropping something off at the desk in the entrance foyer. Standing in the foyer I remember being impressed by the line of clocks on the wall opposite the door. The clocks showed the time all round the world – where sessions were held. London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, and the like. This was a place that the whole world came to – the film music world that is.

CTS was situated just behind Wembley arena and close to the Wembley stadium. The building had been converted from being the high diving pool at the 1949 Olympics. There was car parking all around the building, good car parking was most important for session musicians dodging around between sessions.


Nowadays CTS is no more: just an empty building site. Yet this was the place where some of the great musical masterpieces of the late 20th century were recorded. The sound of this studio and the musicians who played in it, was the sound that composers had in mind when they were writing music. This was the time of the big orchestral score, where the musicians were close miked capturing the grit and presence of the resined bow hair on the string. There was no hiding place for the musicians – no rehearsal either. Just straight in after one play through – and not always that. This was music being played for the first time.

I have little record of the films that I played on at the beginning of the eighties. I do remember one of my first films being ‘Gandhi’ with the wren orchestra. Keith marjoram and myself were the bass section. When Sid Sax started to put films my way I remember doing ‘the elephant man’ and ‘flash Gordon’ amongst many others.

One of the early films was ‘roar’. I remember this film particularly well because of the enthusiasm of the cast who turned up for the music sessions. They had been Filming with life animals such as Lions, the shots were shown on the screen behind us. The first score was too realistic, too scary, so we recorded a second score, bland this time. The film was apparently not a commercial success, however the animals were founder members of a zoo in California.



This was the thing about doing for music for films, everything was new. The filmmakers might have spent years on the project. We came in at the end of the process bringing the film to life in just a few days with the addition of the music. During a session, one minute we were standing around chatting, then the conductor came down from ‘the box’, we sat down, picked up our instruments and with intense concentration, an intensity we took for granted, we played the music, music which had never before been heard.

There are some phrases that I associate with CTS. ‘Dick the click’ was one. Dick was the house sound engineer. Dick was like a photographer, except in sound. At the start of every take the click track was activated. We heard the clicks through the earphones that we all wore. We played in time to the clicks – there was a great deal to concentrate on.

So Jerry Goldsmith would come down the steps into the studio. We would go to our places. When all was ready, with Jerry Goldsmith in position at the conductor’s desk with baton in hand, silence, absolute silence wound descend on the studio. Jerry Goldsmith would say ‘Dick the click’, the red light would go on, the click track would start, and we would be off.


(Some tracks from the the soundtrack of the film ‘the Russia house’ : the Jerry Goldsmith score that we recorded, with Jerry Goldsmith conducting of course, at CTS. This score is said to be Jerry Goldsmith’s favourite. In the actual film I can be seen miming just behind Sean Connery)

At the end of a take it was important to be absolutely silent. Any noise after we stopped playing spoiled the take. Many people are not used to complete silence. For a musician to function in a studio means been able to find absolutely the right note noiselessly – there is no trial and error.

Another phrase was ‘keep the noise down to a roar’. This was Nat Peck at the start of a series of sessions, telling us to keep the chat down between takes.

Then there was the good-humoured groan which arose when the fixer stood up at the first session and said ‘I have spoken to the union… ‘. This meant there was probably some tricksy deal involved that required union approval.

The end of CTS came suddenly. Apparently a man from Wembley Stadium walked into CTS and offered £2 million for the studio. Take the offer or have the studio compulsorily purchased. The studio was sold – but not the equipment . The new £2 million mixing desk was moved to Watford town hall.

I was very upset about the sale of CTS. I wrote to a prominent sports journalist on the Daily Mail to see if I could find out the name and contact details of the person responsible for the purchase. Did they really know what they had bought? The journalist came up with the phone number and I spoke to the gentleman at Wembley Stadium.

My impression from my phone call was that the people at Wembley Stadium had no understanding at all of what CTS was about. They had no idea of the famous recordings and film tracks that had been recorded there, music listened to by countless millions. Instead of profiting from CTS the building was to be bulldozed down as part of the Wembley Stadium redevelopment.

What was particularly galling was that the gentleman from Wembley Stadium had a close relative that was ‘musical’, in this context a dreaded word, for his relative being ‘musical’ meant that he had a valued opinion about professional musicmaking… As if… .

CTS joined the list of closed music studios. The studio itself has being filled in, with the building demolished, and the site left empty.

For an example of what was lost consider:

Gorecki Symphony No 3 – London Sinfonietta


We turned up at CTS, the London Sinfonietta this time, as always not knowing what we were to record. The music we recorded on this occasion in three, or was it four, three-hour sessions, the Gorecki Symphony, made so much money that this particular recording was mentioned in EMI’s annual report showing how well the company was doing. Being the London Sinfionetta not all of us were regular session players, however the quality of musicians was, as ever in London, very good.