April 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
  books monthly
     A series of essays on growing up in the 1950s - 1960s


Previous "Growing Up" articles:

Episode 5

...Easter Sunday 1973... We walked a hundred yards or so from our house in Chertsey Rise Stevenage to Wendy's Mum and Dad's, with Martin, our six year old lad, in order to exchange Easter Eggs. And sat down to watch a special Easter Day broadcast from Ely Cathedral. It was a classical music concert, the like of which I had never heard before - The London Symphony Orchestra and a couple of massive choirs, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, performing Mahler's Second, Resurrection Symphony. At the time I didn't know anything about Mahler, probably hadn't even heard of him, if I'm perfectly honest. I had no knowledge of his religious beliefs, but the title of the symphony, The Resurrection, was fitting for Easter Day, and the music unfolded through majesty, to an overwhelming climax which still makes me cry (in my own way, with no tears) whenever I listen to one of the three versions I have on CD, and, of course, watch the magnificent DVD of the actual concert from Ely Cathedral, with the diminutive Bernstein on top form, conducting one of the greatest symphonies ever written.

It didn't matter that the symphony had nothing to do with Christ's resurrection from death following his crucifixion on what we now call Good Friday. The music had been written by someone who was in touch with God - there are a number of composers who, in my opinion, have drawn their inspiration from a close intimacy with the Almighty - that's what I believed then, listening to this most holy of music on Christ's holy day, and it's what I believe now - that Gustav Mahler, more than any other composer, had been in touch with God when it came to writing his music. Years of not bothering about religion brought my own personal beliefs flooding back. It's possible, of course, to enjoy the music per se, but for me, if it brings tears to your eyes (difficult for me at the worst of times, because I have tear ducts that produce no fluid whatsoever), then there is something special about it. And whenever I hear the Resurrection symphony, I think of all the people and dogs I have had in my life and who are no longer in it - they've passed away, passed out of my life, although never forgotten. My Dad used to say that when a family member died, it was usually because God needed them elsewhere, for some other purpose, and their time here on Earth was over. Sometimes it was cut short - he himself died very young, at the age of sixty-four, the result of overwork, sheer exhaustion and a weakened heart because of a lifetime of smoking. God definitely needed him somewhere else, that's for sure - but more than we needed him? Not sure about that. But back to the music.

I remember sitting in the little office that passed for the technical library at Hawker Siddeley Dynamics in Stevenage - Space Town as it was known - where I was the Technical Librarian, and listening to two senior scientist-engineers talking about classical music, about composers like Stockhausen and Hindemith. I knew nothing about them, and after hearing the hideous cacophonies that they had composed, I was pleased to let it remain that way, and managed to forget all about them. I had so wanted to join in with their conversation, but my classical music knowledge was severely limited back then. Now, in 1973, I had more knowledge of classical music than before, and could add Gustav Mahler to my list. I made a point of asking for Mahler recordings for every birthday and Christmas, but I didn't get round to the eighth until a few years later, by which time I was familiar with all of Mahler's work except for the "Symphony of a Thousand". When I eventually did listen to it, I discovered the other piece of music that always makes me cry. The eighth has a finale that to me sounds like the opening of Heaven and all of the choirs of angels begin to sing with a joy that is only described in music by that one composer, Mahler. I've seen it written by people that Mahler's music is sickly-sweet and "schmaltzy". I think those people are blinkered, and don't open their hearts to it properly.

I remember once, when Mum and Dad came to visit us in Stevenage - it would have been in 1980, the year Dad died, and I proudly showed him my LP recording of Mahler's Third, and started to play it for him, telling him how I had "discovered" something quite special in musical terms. Mahler's Third is a giant of a symphony, probably the longest of his symphonies, and contains some of the most glorious music ever written. Dad was totally unmoved by it, and I realised he was not interested in listening to it. His musical interests centred on Bach (especially his Brandenburg Concerti), and Beethoven. Nothing later than Beethoven. I realise now that he had closed his mind to the superb, mind-blowing beauty of Chopin's Second Piano Concerto; to Puccini's magnificent singing in Boheme and Turandot; to Wagner's Ring Cycle and Parsifal; to Bruckner's awesome Seventh Symphony; and to Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony and the Four Last Songs. I felt sorry for him, but he was unmoved by the romantic composers, and I never got the chance to discuss it with him, because later in 1980, he had a massive heart attack and died. Whilst his funeral was taking place, there was a concert on Radio 3 in which they played Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, which comforted me greatly, and I thought of Dad's journey to the great unknown, and sang the symphony to myself, in my head, as the service progressed. This is something I have in common with the great Liverpudlian conductor, Sir Simon Rattle - there is always music in my head, during every waking minute. It doesn't matter if it's Jeff Lynne singing "Midnight Blue", or Mahler's Resurrection Symphony - there is always music in my head, even while I'm talking to a family member or a shop assistant or a friend with a dog while I'm out with Skipper (who celebrates his fifteenth birthday today, April 15th, as I'm writing this piece. Update: Skipper sadly passed away the following day, April 16th after a gloriously long and happy life with us). But as usual, I digress. Mahler opened the floodgates to my classical music knowledge.

I discovered Shostakovich, Barber, the Chopin piano concerti, (as close to heaven as you'll get!); Rachmaninov (the slow movement of his second symphony is for me [and for Wendy, my wife of 55 years] the most romantic piece of music ever written); to Sibelius (his second symphony and violin concerto are unbelievable!); and when Classic FM started broadcasting, the floodgates opened even further. Nowadays, when I vote for the annual Hall of Fame, my choices are always Mahler's Eighth, Shostakovich's Seventh (of which more later) and Howard Shore's amazing score to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, other music than classical was still important to me. I never lost sight of my Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, or of Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France, for example. Again in the 1970s, it would have been 1973, I heard Kenny Everett (second greatest ever radio DJ, after the great Terry Wogan) playing Mr Blue Sky, and I got together enough money to buy the Out of the Blue album when it was released. In fact, being a friend of the manager of Stevenage Record Centre, I was lucky enough to get the point of sale material for Out of the Blue, which comprised a six-foot high stand and an enormous out of the Blue spaceship... Nowadays, Jeff Lynne is my top favourite popular musician. I should say here that the Beatles are in a league of their own, a bit like Blackadder when it comes to situation comedy. It goes without saying that I worshipped the Beatles, back in the early 1960s, and still do. Jeff Lynne was the natural successor to the Beatles and for me he can do nothing wrong; the same goes for Bobby Darin, Gerry Rafferty, and Harry Nielsen. Out of the Blue was nothing short of brilliant. And the genius of Jeff Lynne still shines today. For me, popular music stopped dead when ELO stopped playing, and started again when Jeff Lynne resurrected ELO in the noughties.

It was on this day, the day I was writing this piece for the nostalgia page, that my best friend, my gorgeous tricolour border Collie Skipper passed away, and I haven't been in the mood to carry on with it yet, because my waking hours have been all about coming to terms with his passing, with looking through the thousands of photos I've taken of him (and Holly) through the years, and of thinking about him and how he and Holly brought so much joy into our lives. I will be carrying on with my musical reminiscences in the June issue of Books Monthly, and once I've finished that, I have some pieces planned about the books that shaped my life back in the 1950s and 1960s... If you haven't yet got round to reading my piece about Skipper on the front page of this issue, then you won't know how much I've been affected by Skipper's passing... It's knocked me for a loop, to borrow a phrase from Stephen King, but my memories of the fifties and sixties are as sharp as ever and I'll be back with more reminiscences next month - promise!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.


  In this issue:

  The Front Page

  Children's Books

  Fiction books

  Fantasy & Science Fiction

  Nonfiction Books

  The Silent Three

  The Four Marys

  Living with Skipper


  Acker Bilk Sleeve Notes

  Pen and Sword Books

  Sundays with Tarzan

  The Back Page

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