Friday, 8 March 2013

Music For The Ears

Within a short period two main musicians of the 1950’s to 1970’s have gone.  Today there has been the news that Kenny Ball in the UK, who with his group was at the top of the traditional jazz charts with many hits for a long while.

Just a short time ago, Harvey Van Cliburn died; a top class pianist who once had the world as his audience.  In 1958 at a point of time when the Cold War was reality he had gone to Moscow and taken the Tchaikovsky Prize for the quality of his music. 

Then little known or appreciated in his country, the USA, who regarded him as a hick Texan less worthy than any of the Europeans or Russians he was playing to small audiences in the lesser venues.  This changed and on his return to America he had a ticker tape reception.

Too early in life the pace of it and all the expectations caused him to withdraw and then almost become a recluse.  So today, it is only the older generations who can recall what he was like and the contribution he made.

There is enough material on the web for me to limit outlining their careers or to say how good they were and the following they had.  To 21st Century audiences they may seem to be very apart and appealing to different people.

This was not the case over fifty years ago because there were a lot of people around who listened and hugely enjoyed many kinds of music, whatever and whoever.  We had not been segmented into marketing chunks for the benefit of the main media or the record companies in the way that had begun for teenagers. 

So I can recall being at live performances of both Kenny Ball and Van Cliburn within weeks as well as others of both the leading jazz and classical performers of the time.  In fact there were several live shows of Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen seen in different places, all great and a very good night out.

For Van Cliburn, only one was managed, but that was at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 7th June 1959.  The CD for this is available from Testament as a double disc remastered from the original recording.  It was a stunning event never to be forgotten.

Below are a couple of clips from Youtube as samples.

Kenny Ball

Van Cliburn

In May 1959 the FA Cup Final was won by Nottingham Forest who beat Luton Town 2-1.  Roy Dwight, playing for Nottingham, scored after ten minutes but was then carried off with a broken leg.  His cousin, Reginald Dwight today is better known as Elton John.  In 1959 he was still practising his scales.

Two days after the Van Cliburn concert the USA launched its first Polaris Nuclear Submarine, the “George Washington” and later that month The Queen and President Eisenhower opened the new St. Lawrence Seaway.

A month later Richard Nixon, Vice President, was in Moscow having public arguments about nuclear weapons and washing machines with Nikita Khrushchev.  Whilst it was not clear who had the best of the nuclear debate it was the USA who could field the better kitchen appliances.

On 7th July High Carleton-Greene took over as Director-General of the BBC and began The Long March to the Left of politics for the state broadcaster.  But first it had to go “popular” because audiences were in free fall with the coming of ITV and commercial television.  This meant cosying up to the record companies.

On 17th July, Billie Holliday, Blues singer extraordinary died aged only 44.  She left behind many recordings but precious little filmed material and a number of those had been done with poor sound.  The recordings were a rich legacy for the future.

In August the British Motor Corporation unveiled its new Mini cars, Austin and Morris.  Unluckily because of a top management decision to price it at £500 or just under despite its popularity it was a money loser and BMC soon became a liability.  At the time the average annual wage of a manual worker was £600-700 with food prices relatively higher and most people renting.

Early in October Harold Macmillan won the 1959 election against the odds and despite a substantial Labour lead not many months earlier.  He had turned opinion by budgets that increased spending and increased borrowing.  In the USA later JF Kennedy decided to run for President in 1960.

It was a world of secrets in many ways.  At Cheltenham we now know that the Colussus3 and Colussus4 computers from Bletchley, allegedly destroyed after the war were still working.  It was the UK hold on this which was a corner stone of the so called “Special Relationship”.

They were needed because the Soviets who had taken the German advanced Enigma system did not think that it had been cracked and that the West could not access their highest communications.

How much else do we not know and will we ever find out?

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