In November 2012, I was invited to the annual festival of the British Horn Society that took place, this year at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. Now that I have a claim to being an elder statesman of the horn fraternity, I was asked to take part in an interview with Tony Catterick, the Society’s historian and archivist, in front of an audience of mostly younger players.
I awoke on this lovely morning, enjoying an unusual calm and composure that allowed me to lie for a while in the warm bed, and to summon gratitude for not being in a hotel or guesthouse with the breakfast prospect of budget sausages and instant coffee. These memories come less frequently to me now, and are not nearly as troubling, as they used to be. Though it has taken a long time, for the spectre of the eternal solo to leave me in peace.
We have all trudged the streets of an unfamiliar town, aware and weary of this ominous presence, like some distant relative you had come across unexpectedly and were not too sure about. Frightened to take him anywhere lest he embarrass you, but anxious to keep him entertained in case he were to spoil the party in the evening. He doesn’t follow me any more. I’m almost sorry for that. I feel as if we would perhaps be on better terms now. I feel a certain pity for him too, when I think of his habitual loitering at stage doors or lurking in a hotel lobby as you arrive after a long journey, but I feel at the same time, a huge gratitude that his dubious attentions have been directed elsewhere.
My old friend Pat Vermont, a West Indian violist, who enriched the lives of all who knew him, and was blessed with a glorious, glamorous, androgyny, would often entertain the LSO on its world travels with his pre-concert monologues, referring theatrically to our labours and peregrinations as — “all this”.
“When ‘all this’ is over”, he would declare to the little band-room theatre,”I’m going back to Jamaica to live with my auntie!”
It is ‘all over’ for me now, that is to say my days of playing the horn for money and touring are behind me, and the chicanery of management, mendacity of critics and the shameless public and pecuniary auto- eroticism of conductors are all but distant memories.
Tony’s thoughtful interview was a world away from any of those irritations, and was an unique experience, conducted in such a calm and collected way, enabled I suspect, by years of practice, and bolstered by the comforting fact of our more than forty years of friendship
The memories of past events returned with ease, but although of course familiar, they seemed in these circumstances, to assume a mysterious separation from reality.
I thought later, that the interview had resembled one of those “out of body” experiences one reads about, that is to say, it seemed to be completely detached from any worldly feelings of anxiety or sense of time, seen from a neutral place of safety, and bathed in ethereal white light, rather than stumbling over electric cables in a dingy theatre pit.
My only moment of discomfort in an otherwise perfect day, came from the sudden thought that “The Catterick Interview,” is of course reserved only for the few, and it was that unfamiliar and disquieting circumstance that provoked a strong and unfamiliar feeling of seriousness inside me, that seemed quite inappropriate when in the company of a room full of horn players!
When I released my honorary membership of the British Horn Society from its purple ribbon, not in Cardiff where it was ‘conferred,’ but here beside the waters of the Forth, I saw that it made reference to “The world of horn playing”, to which I felt my own contribution had been made the more insignificant and humbling by the profusion and greatness of its distinguished population. Have there been so many unsung heroes in other ‘worlds?’
Where would Beethoven, Strauss, Wagner, Mahler and John Williams have been without the likes of us? Would Siegfried, Robin Hood, Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker have lived so vividly in the human imagination without such noble accompaniment to their exploits? And where would our British orchestral life be today without the real life heroes from our ranks such as Barry Tuckwell, Keith Whitmore, Jim Brown, Nick Busch and John Bimson who chaired the boards, and steered the London orchestras through their never ending difficulties, while peering at times into the abyss of bankruptcy and annihilation, but always leading the cavalry charge on the concert platform against the critics, who at that time almost to a man, supported the Arts Council view that there were too many orchestras in London.
“The world of horn playing” has given a great many gifts to a lot of people and for my own part it has given me a rich and meaningful life that has been endowed with countless good companions and many lifelong friends, the labours and achievements of whom, amplify this honour beyond measure to me.
Thank you all