Given the opportunity, the wish list, the ability to mess about with the Space-Time Continuam like Doctor Who, and the skill to cook like Heston Blumenthal, who would you like to invite around to your place to enjoy a meal and chin wag with?
4BR started it all off a few days before Christmas 2007 with our 10 dinner guests, so we thought we had better ask a few more brass band personalities who would be on their all time dinner list too..
This time we have asked Howard Snell - who has simply come up with perhaps the best Chrsitmas Dinner guest list ever to join him and his delightful wife Angela around a pretty big table in France.
1. John Solomon
Starting where my professional career began, my first guest is John Solomon.
He was the first Principal Trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra, one of the four founders of the Orchestra and the dominant player of his day. A writer of the time called him ‘the infallible trumpeter’ - adding that ‘he knew it’ too.
He appears in the orchestra’s playing lists from 1904 up to 1933, when George Eskdale, later my own teacher at the Royal Academy, became Principal of the LSO.
There is little that musicians like more than talking shop to colleagues: conversation with someone so notable would be fascinating.
2. Carla Bley
While still at school, becoming absorbed by music (rather than schoolwork) via the cornet and the piano, I discovered jazz when we finally got a decent radio.
First it was the bolt from the blue of Stan Kenton and the big bands on the American Forces Network from Germany. When I became a student in London at the ripe old age of 16, one by one these great names appeared in person.
Dizzy, ‘The Duke’, ‘The Count’ and, as bebop gave way to cool, the era of Mulligan, Baker et al.
Now many years later there are not so many personality originals about, it’s all rather retro … but one bandleader I love to hear talk is Carla Bley, although not as much as to hear her play.
She writes for a motley crew of knock-you-over musicians, of which one is an Englishman, Andy Sheppard.
I want to question her about how she writes her anarchic gems, which is very nerdish of me I know, but the chance would be too good to miss.
3. Atul Gawande
Jumping to the present day my next guest is primarily a surgeon - but also an author, teacher and researcher.
Atul Gawande was born in the US of Indian immigrant parents. I want him at my dinner table on the basis of having read and re-read his latest book entitled ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ (my own ‘Book of the Year’ by a mile.)
I admit that while this is not a ‘whey-hey’ title for a book, it is one of the best written, and gives the clearest discussion I have come across of how to prepare to do one’s very best in one’s work - and the other way round: To be careful to have the best done to oneself, especially in the presence of a knife-carrying doctor.
To start, he gives the story of what really happens in surgery: That’s when your eyes are closed.
He then moves on to other topics that equally leap into life off the page, far away from medicine as you can imagine and which all develop the same theme.
I’d want to hear his best medical anecdotes and his advice about staying healthy - but not over the meat course, I think.
4. Lynda Nicholson
Back to brass …
I have always regarded Lynda Nicholson as remarkable: No instrumentalist has ever given a better audition in my presence, and I have heard some wonders.
But she is worth listening to because she did something that really matters … developed a Youth Band to a phenomenally high standard - the famous St Helen’s Youth Band, now in the talented hands of Anna Hughes.
It is relatively easy to conduct glamorous ensembles that hardly need a conductor, but to lead, step by step, in co-operation with many helpers, the creation and development of a far-ranging organisation of deep musical and social value, is the mark of real quality.
She knows how it is done and she has done it. These are the people to listen to for leadership.
5. Billie Collins
My next visitor is from a planet far, far away from ‘Planet Brass’.
A very patchy school education fitted me for not very much except music, but one particular teacher caught my attention and gave me a love of a subject that has never made me a penny but has been my companion all the way from the moment of discovery.
It was in a back-street Glasgow school in a class of fifty, circa 1951, that I experienced a special moment concerning … literature, and poetry in particular.
From that moment on, I devoured everything that came my way under the heading.
The name Billie Collins doesn’t sound poetic in the slightest … more like someone who’s from that Glasgow back-street … but I have wanted to talk to Billie ever since I came across one of his poems a few years ago that ended with the following musical reference:
“...the other musicians listen in respectful // silence to the famous barking dog solo, // that endless coda that first established // Beethoven as an innovative genius.”
His specialty is the unexpected humorous twist that lies in wait in most everyday situations. I hope he is as much fun in real life and that he wants to make the trip from the USA!
6 & 7. Marie Curie & Florence Nightingale
Ladies - don’t you just love them?
My next two guests are women who were not always loved to begin with - quite the contrary.
In very different fields they had to fight very hard in pursuit of their dreams, and what they felt to be right.
They were clearly not loved by the Mr Stupids who surrounded them (it may be embarrassing as a man to hear examples of our dimness, although my wife kindly keeps me supplied on a daily basis.)
Marie Curie together with Florence Nightingale, seem to me to be perfect examples of the grit and determination that women have had to show to force through progress and care from two ends of the medical spectrum for the benefit of … BOTH halves of humankind.
Both of these ladies share so much of the same territory that it would be a rare treat to hear them share their thoughts - although they might be surprised by how little some things have moved on.
There’s no doubt that were Florence Nightingale alive today the ‘health& safety’ of our troops in Afghanistan, for example, would be on a much higher plane.
8. Alexander Owen
Many famous names of the past grace the pages of our brass band repertoire - composers, arrangers and conductors.
The one that catches my attention remains though is a legend who, when required, could be both workaday and innovative.
Leaving aside his success as a contest conductor, when the subject of changing band instrumentation comes up, Alexander Owen’s name is rarely mentioned, but I have before me a Wagner manuscript of his in which he specified five cornet players to double on flugel horns.
Whether he had access to full scores or worked from piano reductions, his arrangements have a modern look about them.
I would love to know his working methods, but he must have used his travelling time between engagements very well as he jetted around England, Scotland and Wales on the steam trains of the day.
9. James Bennett
My next guest is not a legend in anyone’s storybook.
I never met him … he died a year before I was born … and I only have a few scraps of information about him.
Born in 1863, he started his working life down a tin mine in Cornwall (near Truro) aged eleven. When work dried up in his twenties, he walked up through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset as far as Gloucester, and then to Newport in Gwent, all the time looking for work.
He had heard that the coal and steel works in Monmouthshire and South Wales were looking for miners.
Walking up the Western Valley he fell in with an older man driving a donkey and a cart who gave him lodgings, and eventually gave him one of his daughters as a wife.
He was a sober, literate, religious man of perfect manners. They had twelve children, of whom five died as babies. He worked into his fifties in the local coal mines till he decided to seek work in the gold mines in South Africa.
He was gone for five silent years.
He returned to work again in the local open cast mines till his death aged 71.
I have so much to ask him - James Bennett, my maternal grandfather.
10. Groucho Marx
Finally - the Court Jester.
My final guest is someone who can be relied upon to keep the party laughing and to fill in any awkward silences.
I originally toyed with the idea of inviting the saxophonist, Michael Krein for this role. He ran his own well-known sax quartet … some might say that was a joke in itself … I wouldn’t, of course!
How we ached from laughter at his seamless joke-telling during session breaks.
However he had to give way to my irresistible top choice.
I sincerely hope this gentleman doesn’t end the party saying, as he once actually did: “I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”
You’ve guessed … yes, Marx. No, not Karl.
The intelligent one … Groucho.
Previous dinner guest lists:
Previous guests have included the 4BR selection; Chris Wormald; David Read; Pete Meechan; Alan Jenkins; Derek Broadbent; Philip Harper; Peter Roberts; Frank Renton; James Shepherd; Dr Roy Newsome; Paul Lovatt-Cooper; Bramwell Tovey; Kevin Crockford; Morvern Gilchrist and Lesley Howie; Richard Evans; Simone Rebello; Ian Porthouse; David Daws; Alan Morrison; Alan Wycherley; Mark Bousie; Steven Haynes; Simon Dobson; Ian Buckley;, John Roberts; Cai Isfryn; James Stretton; Harmen Vanhoorne, Bad Ass Brass, Lewis Musson, Tom Hutchinson, Jeremy Wise, Mark Harrison, Brett Baker, Ian Brownbill, Mark Wilkinson, Craig Patterson and Allan Withington.