Sunday 19 January 2014


In 1968 I was very lucky because I lived within walking distance of a pub that had a folk club every Thursday and a blues club every Saturday. Both clubs had the same format - two halves with locals having varying amounts of talent doing one or two songs each and then a professional act would play for up to an hour. This was in a very basic hall behind the pub with room for maybe a hundred people in the audience. At the interval and at the end the professionals would usually mingle with the crowd, it was that laid back. When I say professionals many of them were just starting out and later went on to make records and play much bigger venues. I remember Jake Thackray and Jeremy Taylor doing sessions on Thursdays. I met both of them - both ex-teachers so maybe that was a resonance since I am part of a family of teachers!



I bought Jeremy's first album which he signed. 45 years later I showed it to him when he turned up in Ackworth to talk and play for our Sixth Form.

Joan Armatrading and Jethro Tull were two of the most memorable from the Saturday nights. Joan came on stage on her own with the biggest steel guitar I have ever seen. There was a microphone but even so she spoke so softly we could hardly hear her as she told us about the first song she had written so we were all leaning forward to hear. I will never forget the shockwaves as she hit the strings and launched into an amazing, rocking blues song. 20 years later I saw the same shock in the faces of the whole school when I finished my first assembly and hit the play button for "I'm Lucky". The theme of my reading was that however fed up any of the members of the School might feel because of looming exams, broken relationships, etc, if they were in that hall then compared with most of the rest of the world they were lucky! It got a really positive reaction and the following year I had so many requests that I played it again - and again every year for the next 22 years! Jethro Tull were spectacular and we all knew we were listening to the kind of musical perfection that had to go on to become legendary. 15 years later I saw them playing to a crowd of 15,000 in the Frankfurt Messe and they held that massive number of people in the same mesmeric grip that they held the hundred of us!


Ian Anderson in Jethro Tull

When I went to college I had amazing friends in my yeargroup with great musical talents. I always stayed in the student halls rather than out in 'digs' and the corridors were always full of music - and most often it was live music! One guy could sit down at a piano and make up music and lyrics as fast as he was playing them (in the style of the then new Elton John) and we would sit around him in awe. Two other guys had low-number Martin guitars - they had never met before so that was an incredible co-incidence in itself but both played wonderful music (you have to hear a Martin to know what a lovely sound they produce - ) We also had incredible bands coming to play at college - and I got involved with the committee that organised these and ended up in charge of sound and lighting for gigs by bands like Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. Steve was very complimentary about what I did!

Cockney Rebel

Then I started doing the college disco - my favourite lighting coup was a huge green image of the Incredible Hulk which I projected onto a big bare wall over the door to the bathrooms - so that the door fit between his legs! :-) A couple of other guys would start the music going while I got all my lights doing what I wanted and then I would take over and I am very proud that I could always get take the population of the floor from the 20% when I hit the decks to 100% within 3 songs!!

When I started teaching at Ackworth I enjoyed the system where each teacher would be in charge of whole school assemblies for one week each year. This meant doing 3 assemblies during the week because Wednesday mornings were House Meetings and Thursday mornings were Silent Meetings. Unlike most of my colleagues I looked forward to this duty and always used the combination of a short talk and a music track. Making the two fit together was very satisfying and judging by some of the feedback from years down the line - memorable! A few samples here -  
Ackworth used to have a very strong music department and I used to record pretty much every performance. I remember at one concert counting 185 pupils either playing instruments or singing as part of the show - truly remarkable for a school with a population of just over 500! Every year there was a drama competition between the Houses and also a music competition. These were also remarkable in that all of the structure was organised by the students.Staff would help when asked - but they really were student competitions! One year I was enchanted by two girls with angelic voices in different Houses and all at once a dramatic possibility occurred to me. We also had a young man who could listen to a piece of music once - then pick up his guitar and play it back perfectly. The Meeting House where we held Morning Meetings has a u-shaped gallery - but it is never used for these assemblies. I recruited Joe and Charlotte and Amy and introduced them to a wonderful song from a (rather obscure) band called Vinegar Joe. As I finished my reading I said "Now I hope you will enjoy this music" and sat down. Joe stood up next to me and started playing his guitar. Then the two girls, who were hidden upstairs, started walking forward along the sides of the gallery singing alternate phrases back and forth. I had hoped to watch the School's reaction but when I sat down a beam of sunlight hit me full in the face and I was unable to see anything - but I COULD hear the angelic music! Sadly I didn't record it - but here is a bit of a rehearsal - I broached the idea with them about 6 weeks before the assembly. They jumped in and used up lots of their spare time to get it right. I had thought of it as a one-off and had two CD tracks (including Lucky!) for my other two assemblies. But when they had nailed it they turned around to me and said "So what are we going to sing for the other two days?" In case you are wondering, yes! they did do a live version of 'Lucky'! And so began about 5 years of magical live music in all my morning meetings. I am hugely grateful to these young people - and the others who followed them - for giving up so much time so willingly and for enriching my life so much!

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