SLEEPING BEAUTY UNDER A MUCKHEAP
How closely Lanzarote might resemble the desert island for which BBC Radio 4 castaway Sir Ernest Hall once selected his musical and literary preferences with Kirsty Walk is hard to say. Certainly, he brought music with him to this island when he bought and renovated his home here in Macher. With a labyrinth of rooms that all previously served a different purpose, he has created a hideaway that is perfect for players and creative souls to ponder life and the purpose of art. During the programme, first broadcast on April 26th 1998, however, Sir Ernest barely hinted at the renovations he would subsequently render on a new Lanzarote home.
His choice of music nevertheless revealed an eclectic, restless but receptive mind, with Sergey Rachmaninov´s piano concerto number one in F Sharp minor being chosen to open his selection on a recording by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
He closed his selection with one of the lesser known tracks recorded by Steely Dan. Their commercial ´pop´ music hits such Haitian Divorce and the wonderfully addictive Reeling In The Years were always of an elevated level for the pop charts.
My own favourite of their tracks was Rickee Don´t Lose That Number, which I included in my book, Name Check, looking at songs that reference other songs and singers. This track was initially thought to have been written as a response to songwriter, Rickie Lee Jones, who had a hit with the wonderfully quirky Chuck E´s In Love, which also made it into Name Check. This was about a musician called Chuck E Weiss who happened to be a friend of Tom Waits, then Rickie´s boyfriend. She was with Tom one evening when Chuck phoned Waits, raving about a girl he had met while Waits turned to Rickie and mouthed ´Chuck E´s in love !´ Song written.
However, Rickie Don´t Lose That Number was actually written for another female musician called Rikki Ducornet, a new York artist and writer to whom Steely Dan member Donald Fagen once gave his phone number at a party. Further adaptations on this theme can be found all over the internet.
Meanwhile, on-line sites categorise Steely Dan music as jazz rock, soft rock, yacht rock and pop rock and there is no doubt that their abilities sometimes confused even the critics who raved over them and the public seemed to determine which of their works and styles they found most accessible and acceptable.
For the main part, though, his desert island discs reflected Sir Ernest´s love of classical music. He chose Schubert´s Piano Trio, for example, played gloriously by Alfred Cortot, Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals. He also included Ferruccio Busoni´s Piano Concerto Opus 39, performed by The Royal Philarmonic Orchestra with John Ogden at the piano.
A work not so well known to me, and perhaps to other listeners, was the 1st movement of the Lulul Suite composed by Alban Berg and played by The London Symphony Orchestra. There was a piece, too, from The Satin Album, Jazzizit, recorded by The Vienna Philarmonic Orchestra.
Sir Ernest Hall´s penultimate choice was Scherzo in C Sharp Minor Opus 39, performed by a certain Sir Ernest Hall, revealing himself as not only a lover of classical music but also a fine performer of it.
There was also one other surprise inclusion in his selection, with the choice of I´m A Fool To Want You by Bobby Wellins.
This was one of the relatively few songs written by one of the world´s great singers, Frank Sinatra. He and Jack Wolf and Joel Herron co-wrote the lyrics and Sinatra released the song as a single on Colombia Records and for more than sixty years the song has been considered a pop and jazz classic.
Sir Ernest Hall chose a pretty heavy tome as his preferred reading on his uninhabited island though The Complete Works of William Blake, with its beautiful lyricism and poetry offset by its nightmarish visions would likely have kept him awake at night.
Still, he would have been able to soothe such terrors by playing peacefully at the piano he asked for as his luxury item. There is a song by Tom Pacheco about a broken piano in an empty desert somewhere that I must look up again. It seems apt, somehow.
The Yorkshire Post once headlined an article about Sir Ernest Hall as The Scared Boy Who Dreamed,…. And the Man Who Triumphed.
The piece was published in 2008 and the headline succinctly told the story of a boy who overcame the unpromising circumstances he was born into, and who in adult life became a successful and wealthy businessman, subsequently received a knighthood and in his later years was able to fulfil some of his childhood dreams.
His parents felt secure with what some would have thought of as the constraints of a northern working class background, and perhaps feared that any ambitions Ernest may have had as a child to better himself might have led to pain and self-recrimination.
I However, the boy would proceed as a man to make his first fortune from the Yorkshire textile industry, and to enhance his wealth then from property development. On selling his businesses, twenty five years ago, he founded Dean Clough, now a highly regarded arts and businesses complex. This model of a regeneration project grew from the derelict former Crossley Carpets Mill in Halifax in Northern England.
I know many friends who have benefitted from its affordable space and meeting place for like-minded creative artists, and all would have proudly themselves presented him with the knighthood those achievements earned him. That same year of 1993 saw The Sunday Times Rich List estimate his family wealth at fifty million pounds.
Whilst he acknowledges that he eventually became a success, it was, he says because he was so driven by his self-perceived failure to chase his life-long dream of becoming a full time professional concert pianist.
There are life-shaping moments in all our childhoods, though, and it was no different in the nineteen thirties Bolton area in the North West Of England where Ernest was born. His parents worked in local mills before subsequently running a pie shop but Hall´s memories of his childhood years are that he was ´a child full of fear.´ He recalls that he was afraid of other children, of school and all forms of authority, ´but most of all, of death.´
He occasionally found moments of refuge and respite however, and has an abiding picture in his memory of walking out towards the moors around the town and stopping at an old stone house, open to the public. He was enchanted by its white walls, tall pillars and timber roof supports that criss-crossed the ceiling high above. To this day he can remember thinking of the house as ´Paradise. A house for the angels.´
He replicated that image, perhaps, when purchasing and renovating what is still his holiday home on Lanzarote, which is spacious enough to feature a small concert hall to which he invites brilliant musicians from around the world. In what is effectively an artist´s retreat they deliver a concert which Sir Ernest advertises around the island, attracting indigenous islanders, new residents from other countries and even holiday visitors who have been lucky enough to stumble on such an advert during their stay.
He has presented several concerts now at what was once was a seventeenth century vineyard, including piano recitals by respected players like Arsha Kaviana and Lilian Akapova.
The venue is now called The Camel House and the its eponymous occasional concerts are firmly established on the Lanzarote Arts scene. It offers expansive and colourful grounds for the audience to explore when at a concert with all sorts of courtyards and hidey holes in which to enjoy a quiet glass of wine and watch the sun set over the sea a mile or so down the hill. The back drop is of grand mountains and (mostly dormant) volcanoes and blue skies and black lava fields. It is, indeed, paradise. We might all find our own words to express the thought, but when we see this wonderful property, we all think, as Sir Ernest did of the country hall near Bolton he loved as a child, that ´this is a house for the angels.´
On the web site at www.TheCamelHouse.com Sir Ernest calls this property in Macher his favourite house but freely acknowledges that it was in ruin when he bought it, and what we now see with its high wooden ceilings, cool courtyards, thick walls and shady terraces were designed by his project manager, Heidi Hupe, the owner of Casa Tegoya, another house on the island that had much impressed him.
The concert hall itself he acquired when purchasing a neighbouring property, which although buried in debris he could see had high ceilings that would be perfect for performing musicians. The rest of the building turned out to be old but beautiful and Sir Ernest says it was like discovering ¨Sleeping Beauty Under A Muckheap.´
So, he ended up with a theatre and two houses on the one site. This offered public spaces, like a bar and a lounge, and one for visiting artists.
Despite his yearning to have been a concert musician, Sir Ernest has enjoyed two massively successful careers and has subsequently facilitated several young musicians in chasing their own dreams, and has shared his own love of music with a massive audience, many of whom will be hearing his wonderful guest musicians for the first time.
He seems to have the soul of a poet and has certainly followed the road less travelled and certainly even my less than extensive research for this article shows him to have a great ability to coin a phrase. There is something poetic about his description of ´a house for the angels´ and I wonder how many of the artists who have so benefitted from what was built from the rubble of that Halifax carpet factory have felt that they, too, had discovered ´Sleeping Beauty Under A Muckheap.´
As recently as September 2019 Veronika Shoot, who had first performed there in 2015, gave a superb performance that she called Baroque To Rock in the glorious, high ceilinged, sun-lit and wonderfully acoustic music room that comfortably seats almost a hundred people. We enjoyed a beautiful recital at The Camel House by this Russian-born pianist and carried a review and an interview with her on these pages.
Insert photo 6 Sir Ernest Hall´s next presentation will be on 15th February 2020 when renowned classical pianist Murray McLachlan introduces his audience to the entire McLachlan musical Family. They promise an exciting program that includes a recital of an American classic, the Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin.
We shall, of course, post a review of their concert here on Sidetracks And Detours.