This sweltering summer seems to have busier than ever, with the result that there has been less time to fire-up the Mac and fashion a fresh round of repartee. I’ve always thrived on the fact that meeting deadlines and staying busy can be stimulating. But the writing side of things has really started to gnaw away at the schedule of late. Apart from anything else, it’s the task of delivering obituaries for the rock biz press that’s become more demanding than ever. If this carries on, there seems little likelihood that the Monarchy will be sending out any Centenary Telegrams to our treasured musical pioneers.
I’m by no means an ambulance chaser, but I never imagined that one day I’d be authoring a tribute to my own musically-talented sister. Sadly, the prospect has become a reality, because my big sis, Sheila Mary, passed away last month after a brief spell in Harrogate Hospital. Putting modesty aside, she was a truly gifted classical piano-player, a fine orator and a doyenne of the Yorkshire dialect. We both attended the same school where we were tutored by the same music teacher, albeit several years apart. Sheila soaked up the tutoring far better than I did, and she impressed the heck out of the headmaster with her vast knowledge of Shubert, Scriabin and Serge Rachmaninov. Her brother, on the other hand, was given detention for daring to utter the words Rock & Roll during class time.
Our parents were well-known in the town, largely through church socials and concert parties. Dad would tickle the ivories, to use an expression of the time, whilst mum played to the gallery with a repertoire of inspired evergreens. But it was Sheila who’d bring the house down with her masterful monologues and piano duets. For this she deserves every credit, because her short-trousered brother was constantly trying to steal her thunder with a glissando or three on his concertina. Sheila’s profile as a piano-player was given a major boost in the early fifties when she represented Harrogate no less than three times on the BBC talent show, “Top Town”. And for good measure, she also appeared on “Children’s Hour” when the programme was broadcast from Manchester.
She eventually got herself married to a Squadron Leader in the RAF, and for many years her travels took her across the country and eventually to a posting in North Africa. Upon her return to Blighty, she made up her mind to set up shop as a piano-teacher. Determined to enter the profession with some glowing credentials, she studied at Trinity College of Music in Greenwich and ultimately graduated with an LRAM. The idea that she might pass some of her skills onto a younger generation suited Sheila down to the ground, and during her long and fruitful career she steered many a wide-eyed youngster through RCM exams and music festivals throughout the north. On top of that, she took over Dad’s long-established role of supplying the music for services and meetings at the local Methodist Church.
As with any conspicuously creative individual, eccentricity was a foregone conclusion. Just after I moved to the States in the mid-nineties, Sheila began sending me a monthly cassette on which she related all the latest news and gossip; an aural blog for want of a better description. When November 11th rolled around she was worried that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the sense of allegiance felt when the Queen laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. So, to alleviate the problem, she thoughtfully recorded the minute’s silence for me. All I can say is thank you Sheila for being my quirky, patriotic, piano-playing, lovable big sister. You will never be forgotten.