The Food of Love

During the 50s and 60s, if you wanted to go to the pictures, you could read through a long list of cinemas in The Sheffield Star” and see what’s on.  Today, you would look for a specific picture but this had diminishing returns when you went to the pictures more than once a week! There were loads of cinemas in Sheffield in those days and to cut to the chase, I’ll mention one, Studio 7.

Studio 7 was on Wicker, for those who know Wicker, it was where Derek Dooley Way crosses the river.  It seems it was the type of cinema that featured, ahem, adult films.  I suppose fathers might have taken their sons along.  Mine never did, except once!

I was probably about 12 years old and I can’t say I was terribly keen.  I had seen and heard this type of thing before and had not been terribly impressed.  But my father insisted and what can a dutiful son do?

What I saw there transformed my life!  It was my introduction to the delights of … Gilbert and Sullivan and classical music in general.  We saw “The Mikado” and although I feared being bored, it was a revelation. 

As ever, science fiction led me deeper into classical music.  A few years later, the film 2001 A Space Odyssey came out and I bought an LP with The Blue Danube and the introduction to Also Sprach Zarathustra.  I later became more familiar with my father’s passion, opera.  By the time I went to university, I was listening to Wagner, Verdi, Rossini and many others.

I’ve never bought a recording of Puccini’s La Boheme, it always seemed to be an opera to be heard in the opera house.  I remember seeing it live in Leeds on 1 February 1996.  I can be precise about the date because I looked it up.  It was exactly 100 years since its first public performance.  It always makes me choke up, even if I’m explaining the story.  That moment when Musetta enters in Act 4 and announces that Mimi is dying.  It’s so embarrassing if I’m with someone!

But by 1996, I had found another love besides opera.  I was always aware opera was a passion I shared with my father.  But I realised as I got older that I owed just as much to my mother.  Simply because she listened to the radio.  She listened to the light programme and then Radio 2 mainly.  And so I grew up with the likes of Children’s Favourites (Frankie Howard: Now swim said the mama fishie, swim if you can and they swam and they swam right over the damn), Housewives Choice, the Billy Cotton Band Show, Two Way Family Favourites.  Most of these had famous signature tunes; for the latter “With a Song in My Heart”. 

So we were immersed in not so much classical music as what is now called Easy Listening.  In the early 90s I started to wonder where all this music came from.  I knew some of it was musicals and popular music from the 30s and 40s.  We had records we played over and again but they were eclectic and mostly non-classical.

As a result I subscribed to part work about jazz.  This led me to evening classes and contemporary jazz in Radio 3.  This in its turn led me to discover music from the Great American Song Book and the British equivalents such as Noel Coward and Gracie Fields (I’m dancing with tears in my eyes, ‘cause the boy in my arms isn’t you).  

We were immersed in music most of the day at home.  It was the ever-present backdrop to our lives.  It still is for me.  I love these old songs – rough and respectable – popular and classical.  As I walk around the city, old tunes come back to me and I march along or sometimes almost dance, if no-one’s looking,

So, if you’ve read so far, here’s my gift to you.  Look on YouTube for Gracie Field’s “Sing as We Go”, get it in your head and then go for a walk.  “A song and a smile making life worthwhile, so sing as we go along.”

Day 12/21 of my writing challenge. Every weekday, I publish a short piece of writing on my subject, solitude. The writings are based on a daily prompt from Megan Macedo, who leads the challenge. These are all first drafts with minimal revision. Please comment if you find these posts helpful. Previous: Immortals. Next: A Question of Sport.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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