Tuesday, 14 September 2010


I missed my chance with The Beatles. In the days when Brian Epstein's musical empire was a trestle table in his dad's Liverpool furniture store, my chum Allan Williams was their booking agent. That was in the days when they were all hair, adenoids and sweaty T-shirts. Allan was a diligent Atolycus snapping up trifles which have become a golden pension. Another pal, Gordon Vicars, appalled by their long hair, barred The Beatles from his River Park Ballroom in Chester. Had I only thought, I could have cut their hair, saved the discarded locks, collected their cigarette ends and sold them all for a handsome profit.

I spent a very enjoyable evening with the Rolling Stones when they played a Chester cinema. Trouble was their conversation on the American Civil War was so stimulating I forgot to ask for their autographs.

No souveniers either, beyond a mention in his book, of a Welsh choirboy call Aled Jones who worked for me on my radio programme. I took him on at the request of his dad, a chum of mine, as a junior reporter when his voice broke.

When I sold my picture collection Bryn Terfel was one of the interested viewers. In the Fifties my drinking companions included the American bandleaders Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Armstrong and singers like Frankie Lane and Guy Mitchell who played Manchester when restrictions on American artistes were eased.

I spent a golden morning in a suite in the Adelphi whilst Hoagy Carmichael plied me with whisky and played the piano. Didn't even keep the label of the bottle we emptied.

Not going to make the same mistake again.

I have asked The Head Ferret to get the autograph of her 12-year-old cousin and to keep her eyes open for any old broken Barbie dolls or plastic ponies.

The cousin on whom I am pinning my hopes of fortune is Isabel Suckling, a chorister at York Minster, who is the youngest ever solo classical artist in history to sign for a major record label.
At the beginning of the year Universal Music sent talent scouts round the British cathedrals to look for new stars. York put forward Isabel and the moment the scouts heard her they made an offer which would bring your eyes out like chapel hat pegs. As I write, she is promoting her debut album and rehearsing for the Classic FM Live Annual Concert at the Albert Hall on 30 September.
She was on Daybreak on ITV yjis morning and when Classic FM played the first recording on Monday the presenter forecast she would be Number 1 in the Classic chart by Christmas. On "Daybreak"that idiot Chiles (4 million quid?) had great fun with her surname "Suckling". It is of course the family name of Lord Nelson of Trafalgar, of whom he has probably never heard, from whom Isabel descends. In my day when programmes were still employing professionals a golden rule was never to mock guests)

Isabel moved to Italy with her parents and three-year-old brother Jack before she was two months old. For the next six and a half years the family lived in the depths of the Tuscan countryside, about 50 miles south of Florence. Her American father (who writes about wine) is still based there today.
Isabel started learning the piano when she was four and sang along to CDs on daily drives through the Tuscan countryside. Among them was a compilation of Anglican hymns, bought not out of religious fervour but her mother's vague feeling that the children should not grow up completely ignorant of their English heritage. From a very early age Isabel was chirruping along to the likes of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and "Onward Christian Soldiers". The "Battle Hymn of the
Republic" was another favourite.

She seemed to pick up the words quickly, her mother told us, but it never struck her unmusical
parents that she had any particular talent for singing. Her grandmother doubted Isabel had a single musical bone in her body!
Within a year both Isabel's grandparents died, her parents separated and Isabel moved back to the UK with her mother and brother. York seemed as good a place as any in which to settle, although the family knew no one there. Isabel's piano teacher suggested she try for a scholarship at York Minster School and, to the family's astonishment, she won the most valuable girls' choral scholarship in the UK, with the church paying 80% of the school fees. Jack (who by then was too old to be a chorister) was also awarded a music scholarship at another school. He is now an accomplished pianist.

Isabel spent a year as a probationer, during which she and three other girls had daily singing lessons before school and learnt how to process and behave in services. In September 2006, at the age of eight, she became a full chorister and took to it straight away: up at 6.30am every day, generally two choir practices a day, at least four services a week, no free weekends during term time, singing through Christmas and Easter and for two weeks during the summer holidays. The girls sing in English, Latin and German; are expected to behave and perform as professionals; sight-read everything from Byrd to Britten; are unfazed by live broadcasts and visiting grandees; and most play instruments to a high standard (Isabel is currently preparing for her Grade V11 piano and cello and Grade VIII singing).

Isabel began singing short solos at the age of nine and now is often treble soloist in major works (recently, for example, in the haunting Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor,which she has sung three times since Remembrance Sunday 2009).

Her debut album with Universal, "The Choirgirl, Isabel", comes out on November 22 under the Decca label. She has already recorded duets with Bryn Terfel and Aled Jones, who with characterstic kindness has agreed to be her mentor.

The first time I heard Aled sing was in the kitchen of my home on Anglesey. The moment he opened his mouth I felt my back hair rising because I realised I was in the presence of a God given gift. I have never felt that with any other singer until I heard Isabel on this video clip


"Tens of thousands of pilgrims in Glasgow will have to get to next Thursday's event at Bellahouston Park on public transport after their private coaches were cancelled.
Umbrellas have been banned, there will be no seating provided, and pilgrims will have to stay in the pens provided ."--NEWS ITEM
A friend of mine, a priest, took his congregation to share the last Papal visit. Each priest was given an umbrella in the Papal colours. My friend was so taken with his that he didn't give it back. He was stopped by his Bishop as he sneaked off the ground.

"My son, I am ashamed of you," said the bishop. "Don't steal one. Steal six. They will think you are collecting them."


ian skidmore said...

Balmer was a thief taker and bloody good ast his job. Anyone can sit in his chair and ponticate on fairness and justice.He was a servant of his mileu Bert was a member of the Press Club because we proposed him and were glad to have him in our home. Its more than half a century ago so I cannot remember what he sounded like but he did not have a high pitched voice

Sir George said...

So now the former journalist of the Free press is now in the censorship business!.

Sir George said...

Just for the record. I welcome criticism - constructive or negative - on my blog.
I hate censorship and all the vain, egotistical, parochial minded species who practice it!

ian skidmore said...

Your comment appears in my blog. There is NO censorship. Feel free to bore away. I have,however blocked you on my email because I dislike being bored on a daily basis. We differ in our views of Bert and you have made yours clear. Enough already. By the way the Post column was a retirementjob. I worked for the BBC,ABC, Mirror, Sunday Mirror, People News of the World and subsequently free lanced for The Express, the Nail, The Times,The Guardian and the Telegraph. They had an anti-boring policy tooi