My close encounters with several music legends in one day!
BLOG NO.18 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ PART 4 OF THE CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FIRST, CLICK HERE
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First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.) There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….
In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 5 of those encounters….
In 1988 I got my second tv series with the Jim Henson Company: The Ghost Of Faffner Hall. (The first being Jim Henson’s Mother Goose Stories.) I was doubly excited because this was an educational show about music, and we were going to have a great many musician guests, from the famous to the not-so. The one downside was I landed the job of puppeteering Farkas Faffner (pictured left), the owner of Faffner Hall, who hated music! In fact, he even had trouble saying the word. This meant I wouldn’t get to meet half of the guest stars, like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. But there were times when I would get the chance, either through being asked to perform a secondary character, or standing in for one of the other performers who couldn’t do their character that particular day for some reason. This last reason gave me the chance to meet and hear the amazing South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo; used by Paul Simons on his Gracelands album. I was standing in for the lovely Mike Quinn performing his character, Riff. (See video below.)
As Farkas, I did get to work with the amazing trumpet player, Dizzy Gillespie, and when Farkas got a bump on the head, which changed him to loving music for one episode, I got to perform with the incredible Danish recorder player, Michala Petri. The most memorable Farkas/musician encounter was probably with violinist Nigel Kennedy. Mostly memorable because it was hard to get through a take without him swearing.
The other great thing about doing this show was that it was a co-production with Tyne-Tees-Television and we recorded most of it in the town where I’d started my acting career 14 years earlier: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. My wife, Fiona, and our two young sons, Ben and Toby came up to stay in a rented cottage for a while, which was not far from the town I grew up in. This meant I could also get to see some of my family.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THREE KIND
So, how did these particular close encounters come about you ask? (You may not have asked, but I’m going to tell you anyway!) Well, George Martin (producer of The Beatles) had composed a tune for a Riff dream sequence, which he was going to play on an upright piano, as Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) played guitar and Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains) played the penny whistle. Several of us puppeteers would be performing Muppet monsters playing violins and a cello – me on the cello – stood next to George Martin. (See video below.)
I’m sure many of you will not have heard of any of these particular gentlemen of music, but they are all legends in their own ways. I have to admit, I’d forgotten who George Martin was until I was reminded on the day. It was he who did the amazing and groundbreaking arrangements and orchestrations for The Beatles on albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Mark Knopfler I knew of well, partly because I liked his band, Dire Straits, and partly because he was from Newcastle and a fellow Geordie. But, for me, the biggest treat was actually getting to work with Paddy Moloney of the Irish folk band, The Chieftains. Not only had I many of their albums at the time, but my first date with the woman who would become my wife was at a Chieftain’s concert in the Town Hall, Birmingham.
About 15 years later I would get the chance to visit George Martin’s AIR Studios in Hampstead, London, as Brian Henson was there recording the score for a tv mini series he had directed and I had both puppeteered and been CGI animation director on: Jack and the Beanstalk – The True Story. What a wonderful experience that was! I love recording studios anyway, but that was something else. Funnily enough, both Brian and I had another connection to this building before it was the studio, when it was the unused Lyndhurst Road Congregational Church, because the Jim Henson Company – which was based in Hampstead at the time – used it for rehearsals and auditions, and I auditioned there for Faffner, and (possibly) Labyrinth.
If this day wasn’t thrilling enough, two more amazing things happened. After we’d finished recording, George Martin turns to us Monsters and asks if he can have his photo taken with us? Us? We all thought it should have been the other way around. Of course we obliged, although we never did see that photo.
Then, to really cap this incredible day off, our writer and producer, Jocelyn Stevenson, knowing I was a huge Chieftains fan, asked me if I’d like to go out to dinner with her and Paddy Moloney. Well, I nearly fell of my chair! So it was that I sat in an Indian restaurant in Soho, London not only listening to Paddy Moloney tell some wonderful anecdotes, but he then gets his penny whistle out – which he carries everywhere – and starts playing along to the Indian music that was on the tannoy, saying how like Irish music it was. Wonderful! BUT…the most amazing part of the evening was Paddy’s story about his old friend Peter Sellars. He told us that one night, at about three in the morning, he was suddenly awoken by the sense that someone was standing at the bottom of his bed. There was, he said: Peter Sellars, smoking a cigar. He simply smiled at Paddy, said, “See ya Paddy”, then disappeared. Paddy then told us he went back to sleep, if he wasn’t already asleep already and this had been a dream. The next morning, however, he turned on the radio only to hear the news that Peter Sellars had died. This is when it really hit him. Dream or not, it was either an incredible coincidence – which do happen – or Paddy’s mate had come to say goodbye. Make of it what you will.
That was the end of an amazing day, and working on The Ghost of Faffner Hall was pretty incredible all around. It had its problem and faults and, unfortunately, ITV didn’t want to take the risk of a second season with, what was in children’s television terms, an expensive show. So that was that.
I AM NOT WORTHY
If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 5 will be my Close Encounters with ‘Elvis’, ‘Michael Jackson’ and ‘Bono’. (You’ll discover why their names are in inverted commas.) Before that, Blog. No.19 will cover tracks 5 to 9 of Part 3 of A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham.
Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rate at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,