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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND (APRIL) (article first published : 2008-05-11)

You know how there are times when a song you’ve maybe not heard in a while will vividly recall a memory – perhaps of a person, a place, an occasion? Well, in SABC2’s May line-up of Monday Night Movies there’s a gem not to be missed (if you didn’t catch it on the big screen) and that’s the bio-pic of Cole Porter’s life, called De-Lovely, where the talents of contemporary pop singers have been employed to re-create those highly memorable tunes from a bygone era, and it’s wonderful to SEE as well as HEAR them do so.

We’re talking about recording artists such as Robbie Williams, Alanis Morisette, Mick Hucknall (from Simply Red), Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow (her delivery of Begin the Beguine is the finest I’ve ever heard) and then, the highlight for me, Lara Fabian performing a duet of So In Love with my musical icon, Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis. (And, for your information, this particular Belgian-born young lady also sings in Spanish, Italian, and of course French, and has also recorded another terrific duet - The Alchemist - with British tenor Russell Watson.) Do yourself a favour and watch out for this film in the 22h30 time-slot, or set your video machine!

There’s also been a particularly memorable stage play that’s featured in my life – and this awakened in me a fondness for drama - and that was when I saw Noel Coward’s Private Lives in London way back in 1971, with Maggie Smith playing the female lead. I was a tender 24 years of age and this was my first time out of South Africa – where, you will recall, we had not yet been exposed to the delights of television, so that radio was the medium of entertainment in most homes.

It was thus a big thrill for me that the radio folk who so kindly gave of their talents to perform a few sketches at the memorial service of John Simpson recently (the 84-year-old ex- RAF pilot who came to South Africa and eventually became an actor and a household name in the world of radio) chose an excerpt from this piece of theatre (evidently it was John’s favourite play, too!) with which to bring the tribute to his life to a close. Caroline Smart and Roger Service, both household names in radio in this country and dear friends of John’s, did a mighty fine job of the balcony scene from Private Lives - which Caroline and John normally performed together in their candlelight shows. The dialogue reminded us of John’s quirks and traits which made him such a unique and well-loved individual.

Another play that has featured significantly in my life is Wuthering Heights, which I first heard back in the 1970s on Springbok Radio, and was absolutely stunned by Don Ridgway’s performance as Heathcliff. I’d just had the day from Hell in the office (I was Personal Assistant to the Managing Director of a British engineering company based in Pinetown at the time) where the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when the transcription of my shorthand notes taken earlier in the day was rudely interrupted by a telephonic request to enter the Directors’ Dining-Room in order to slice a lemon for the ubiquitous Gin-and-Tonic each of them would enjoy as a precursor to their Friday luncheon!

I was still feeling highly indignant by evening and as I listened to the Anne and Harold Freed production on the wireless I became more and more riveted not only by the tale being told but enthralled by the overwhelming charm of the lead actor’s voice, and thus I made the decision that first thing next morning I was going to telephone the South African Broadcasting Corporation and find out exactly how this stimulating medium worked, and whether my secretarial abilities (after all, I’d won the Pitman’s Award for Shorthand at the Witwatersrand Tech in 1964, attaining a 100% pass!) could be employed in a more enjoyable manner! Just a matter of a few weeks later I found myself Assistant to the English Programme Organiser (ex-BBC announcer, namely Humphrey Bradshaw-Gilbert) and there followed a highly enjoyable 21 years on the full-time staff and a further six years working from home on a sort of semi-retirement basis, transcribing programmes for their website. And, apart from the fact that I met and worked with dozens of highly talented individuals, first in a secretarial capacity but later managing the SAfm office in Durban for a short spell, guess who I worked with closely? – none other than Drama Producer for English Radio, one Don Ridgway, with whom I am still in contact to this day, albeit by e-mail to London! (And that’s not to mention the delight of making the acquaintance of the aforementioned John Simpson, who’d entertained me in my teens when the family tuned in together each Sunday evening to catch The Men From the Ministry.)

But back to Wuthering Heights… You may recall that Kate Bush’s pop tune using this title had quite a bit of fame many decades ago, but her high notes were just a bunch of screeching to me then, the words quite indistinguishable. However, when the song was featured on one of my most favourite female classical singer’s first album, Pure, I was finally able to figure out that Hayley Westenra was re-enacting poor Cathy wailing at Heathcliff that she was cold out on the moors and to let her in!

Hayley first entered a recording studio at age 12, and initially restricted herself to classical pieces and show tunes, but since then she’s added more strings to her bow, and now often writes and arranges some of the material she records. This young New Zealand lass has Welsh and Irish ancestry and recently joined the all-female group known collectively as Celtic Woman, but she still records solo albums and I can’t recommend highly enough her latest offering in the form of a CD which is appropriately titled Celtic Treasure.

And I’ve probably taken a sort of Ronnie Corbett route to get to the final point this month (i.e. the diminutive British comedian who sits in that huge armchair and sets out to tell ONE joke but meanders along so many side-paths that he manages to include many more before delivering his punch-line) but this album truly lives up to its name and if you purchase it you will indeed have invested in a treasure which is certain to bring much listening pleasure! - Bev Pulé




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