Song from My Soundtrack: Dominic Baker and The Last Night of the Proms
My Grandfather absolutely loved his classical music. He was reserved and quirky in many ways, never outspoken and often seeking solitary moments to indulge in his pleasures – he’d sit in the car outside of the house to savour a cigar in the evenings for example. He always ate after everyone else, even when the whole family was present because he preferred his dinner cold. Whilst the rest of the family were chatting away in the living room, he’d finish up his plate, clear it into the kitchen and then head over to his classical LP collection to choose his evening’s listening.
After flicking backwards and forwards through his collection, pausing to contemplate at regular intervals, he would eventually settle on his chosen piece. Picking up his record player from the floor on the living room with LP under arm, he’d head back to the dining table and sit in exactly the same seat he’d been sitting in to finish off his cold roast. The record player had separate speakers, so a return journey later and he was ready to install himself.
My Grandmother wouldn’t let him play his music loud, the dining area opened out onto the living room. She preferred jazz anyway. So he’d push the record player out into the middle of the dining table, set the speakers a head’s width apart facing each other and lean forwards resting his chin on his hands to immerse himself in the splendour of the great composers. It must have been quite a wonderful listening experience, engulfed in the orchestra between a giant pair of "headphones" (speakers).
Before I’d really discovered music, well before my teenage years and my first LP purchase, he started taking me once a year to "The Last Night of the Proms" at Bristol’s Old Vic. The Proms, derived from Promenade Concert’s that were originally held in London’s gardens and where the audience were free to roam around, lasts 8 weeks over the summer. But the final night, ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ is quite different and it was I’m sure a calculated choice of my Grandfather to introduce me to classical music with such an event. The Last Night was very light hearted, with popular classics played in an up-beat fashion, almost pop-classical and the crowd cheered and shared glasses of wine around in celebration. Many came in fancy dress, ranging from punk hairstyles to period costume. Union Jacks were constantly waved as the second half built into a colourful display of British patriotism.
The finale was always an explosive version of "Rule Britannia" by which time the crowd had been in full song for some time. All would be on their feet and the ambiance was more carnival street party than classical concert. Couples would hug and friends shake hands on a wave of euphoria as the concert ended. Over the years my Grandfather took me I was 8-11 years old and this event left a mark on me, like going to your first rock concert.
I am sure that these unique concert experiences had an influence on my passion for music. Around about the same time my father was starting to hand-down pieces of stereo equipment, reel-to-reel tape recorders with built in amplifiers and speakers, record players and so on. I quickly turned to dismantling them in an attempt to understand their workings, which later developing into tweaking and improving them in the quest of reproducing the excitement and energy of a live event such as "The Last Night of the Proms."