Month: September 2013

Blog No. 10: Mike Gray


Hello to everyone in Blog Land. I am Mike Gray and I play violin with the Scarborough Spa Orchestra. I was originally a member from 1996 to 2001 and then left to do other things. I now am a violinist with the BBC Concert Orchestra and have been very lucky that they have given me the time off to come back to the Spa for the last three seasons. Contemplating a season with the SSO is not something one does lightly. It is an exhausting/rewarding/difficult/uplifting/exasperating/joyous cavalcade of music, put together on very little rehearsal for an audience that are happy to tell you exactly what they think of it! It is, in short, WONDERFUL! It’s a job like no other and I always feel lucky that I’ve been a part of it. So here is my week…

Thursday nights Gala featured the works of Ivor Novello, my absolute favorite tunesmith of all time. A busy night for the Trio in particular, and quite tricky because although not the most difficult of music, perhaps, one wants to get it ‘just right’. Enough portamento but not too much, rubato that serves the melody but is not too romantic, restrained passion even. For me, violin playing is a largely instinctive affair, but when it comes to Novello, a little extra attention is required. I think it went well, and our soloists were wonderful. Alison Hudson sounded glorious in ‘Rose of England’, and I am happy to admit that Marilyn Hill-Smith made me cry with ‘Waking or Sleeping’. A trip to the Valley Bar was needed; they do a very nice Mango Floris beer.  A slightly blurry Friday morning followed, I think I sang a couple of songs, and then I was free! This year the Schedule has changed so that for the first time we had a two and a half day weekend! For those of us who normally live out of town, this means we can either relax and enjoy the many delights of Scarborough, or get back home. This weekend I had planned a trip back home to London to go to Proms in the Park. So, I boarded the 6.48pm train from Scarborough on Friday and got to York in plenty of time for the 8pm train for London. When it arrived, my seat was already taken!


The dog.

The dog was actually very well behaved compared to the man in front of me, but that’s quite enough of that.  So off we set. Hurrah for East Coast Trains who wisely ignored the optimistic arrival time of 10pm and plopped us into kings cross at 1.15am. They did give us a free cup of something and the opportunity to buy a healthy snack. I was in coach B, and the buffet car was in coach J, so by the time I got there I was able to get a cup of tea and a limited edition Haribo Starmix. What a treat! I do hope that the lovely lady that had travelled from Aberdeen that day(!), had a wonderful time at the wedding of her good friend’s son on Saturday. I don’t really know her but you get chatting when your stood for half an hour on Retford platform don’t you? I’m told that the local river is called the Idle, mmm… East coast did get us all cabs home, so I eventually got to bed at 3am.

Saturday afternoon, one of my section was having a picnic at his place, near to Hyde Park, so I had a lovely time catching up and trying all the treats he had prepared, (Who knew I would like a vegetarian sausage?) and then on to the concert. It was a great night watching my colleagues at the BBC. Terry was great and Dame Edna was brilliant as always. Other than that, I got to sit on a blanket with 10 friends, quaff Champagne and eat quail scotch eggs (Delicious).


Proms In The Park

Got back quite late and so had a rather quiet Sunday. The journey back was uneventful, so arrived in Scarborough at 11pm. I was just getting back and ready for a good nights sleep when Chloë texted to say she was in the Lord Nelson pub on the seafront and did I fancy a nightcap and maybe a song as the Karaoke was still going? Well, what could set me up for the week better?

Most mornings I enjoy my walk down to the Spa with a cappuccino from Luca at La Piazza and my iPod playing some of my favorite music. On Monday it was the Carpenters so arrived in fine mood for the morning’s work. We have three fab deps on this week, Tony (Tromboney), Alex (Trumpet) and Lisa (Bass). I remember some discussion in the talk through about the Russian Rag by Cobb, as the Trombone has a prominent part with many glissandos. Well, Tony really went for it. I guarantee you havnever heard anything quite like it, what a triumph! The rest of the programme was filled with Ancliffe, Holzman, Srauss, Ketelby (Hooray!), Gershwin, Berlin and others, finishing with ‘There’s no business like show business’. No indeed!

I won’t go through everything in all nine concerts, but to give you an idea of the week: –Tuesday morning included ‘Puffin’ Billy’ by White and ‘Down the Mall’ a great march by Belton. We seem to be forming a bit of a fish finger sandwich club at lunchtimes with Me, Chloë, Lisa, Tony and Alex, so off we went to Farrers. It seems to be a scones with jam and cream club as well. Time for a snooze, then back for the evening. Ruy Blas Overture, Danse Macabre (eek!), Deep River and Petite Suite de Concert by Coleridge-Taylor. All great.

Wednesday morning – Running off the rails by Richardson, Barwick Green (the Archer’s theme tune) and Everso Goosey, a novelty number sung by yours truly! Do you get the wind up when the organ plays? Of course you do!!! Spent a lovely afternoon with Chloë seeing the film ‘About time’ and having tea at the Oasis Café on the North Bay. The evening included ‘Adoration’ by Jack Byfield, a wonderful pieceoriginally written for the Max Jaffa Trio, Stranger on the shore and Schindler’s List. After the Wednesday night concert I try and support the Jazz club at the Cask pub. Tonight was Jim Birkett and the JM3. I couldn’t stay for long, but really enjoyed his guitar playing. Beautifully smooth. After that, how else to finish a night of high culture but to meet the guys down the Lord Nelson for Karaoke! Followed by a late stop at Chubbies!!



For our Thursday Gala, we teamed up with members from the Scarborough Area Youth Symphony Orchestra (SAYSO). They joined us for three numbers at the end of each half and did a fantastic job. They only had one rehearsal and some really tricky music but they sounded great! I hope they enjoyed themselves. On Friday morning we had more young people! We have been trying out a morning concert for Dancers since August, and I for one really like the atmosphere it creates as well as being able to watch some really good dancers in action. This morning we were visited by 29 children form St. Martin’s School. Their teacher, Alison Logue, had taught them the moves to the Cha Cha Cha and the Waltz only the day before, but they loved it. It was wonderful to see these 8-9 year olds concentrating on their steps and making it fit the music. Brilliant work Miss Logue! I often sing a number in these concerts and really loved singing ‘Always’. It’s about caring for someone and being there for them when things don’t go to plan. A nice sentiment for a child I think.

This year I have been selling CD’s in the concert intervals with our cellist, the generally wonderful Diane Stewart. Di recorded a lovely ‘Cello CD last year and we re-released a Trio recording from 1997. We have, therefore, had quite a bit of contact with the audience, some of whom will happily stand by you all break and tell you all about themselves. There are great stories like the couple who were childhood sweethearts in the fifties, he goes overseas for two years, she marries someone else, so he goes to Australia for thirty years, marries as well, but due to personal circumstances comes back to England, single, they meet up after all that time and are now together, or the gentleman who will be 102 next birthday (you know who you are!) who had been coming since the days of the great Max Jaffa and wanted to meet us because he thought it was all still so wonderful! Sometimes it’s lives in a nutshell, other times its a window through which you glimpse people going through difficult times. When you are chatting and people say “When I listen to the music, all my worries seem to fly away” you can see that these are real concerns and that music really provides some sort of escape for them. It also gives people access to emotions they may not normally feel, or memories that they havn’t explored for a long time. It’s a huge privilege to not only provide that for people, but also to have them share their experiences with you. They all come for the music, it helps.

I think I’ve prattled on quite enough for now. It’s Sunday night and we approach the final week of the Season!

Monday night is Melodies for you – The orchestra’s choice, so expect a real mixed bag but some wonderful pieces. Tuesday is the Top Ten Tune as voted for by the audience. Wednesday is Orchestra Solos Night (No pressure there then). Thursday of course is the Grand Finale. (There is no Friday concert). It will be a week of amazing music and that’s just the evenings! If you have read this far, thanks for sticking with it, and if it’s encouraged you to come to a concert, come and say hi, I’ll be the violinist in the loud tie. Bye for now.


Showtime! (Photo Michael Harper)


Blog No. 9: Graham Quilter

tbp gq

Hi everyone, it’s my turn to blog… should be interesting ‘cos I’ve never blogged before and didn’t even know what one was until Mike suggested that we each do one throughout the season.
In case you don’t know who I am, I am Graham Quilter, I play the clarinet and sax, and this is my 26th season in the Spa Orchestra (I’ve done 6 weeks more than Kathy, which I never let her forget…!)  Anyway, my week started by waking up on Monday morning with a very sore back. Why? Because for most of my spare time this summer I’ve been rebuilding a collapsing garden wall that had been badly damaged by ivy growing over it and eating its way steadily through the pointing. Kathy said don’t you think that wall looks dodgy, do you think you could do something about it? It won’t take long. So I took the ivy off and the wall nearly fell down, that was 8 weeks ago and I’m only just finishing off pointing the neighbour’s side now…

So back to Monday morning – up nice and early and down to the Spa by 9ish to set the stage out for the morning concert. I do this as orchestral stage manager – before every concert I check music stands, seats, wind irons (for the suncourt), and even clothes pegs! I usually get it right, but if I forget something, the band doesn’t hesitate to remind me…Then to Paul’s room to get the clothes rails for the girls and boys dressing rooms as we had to clear everything out for Postman Pat to do his show over the weekend! Then to the stage in the Grand Hall to make sure that’s set up for us in case it starts to rain in the morning concert. But today is a really sunny day, which is great as it means this afternoon’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic will be outside too.  Finally to the band room, to get my pad of music and practice it. All this, before our ‘Talk Through’ at 10.30am.


The gig finishes at 12.30, and today we had to play ‘Jumping Bean’ by Robert Farnon, always a tricky number, as you could tell if you were sitting right next to me. Fortunately for me, you’re not!  Then to the car to unload all of Kathy’s instruments and Teddy Bears, go to see Mark one of the sound technicians, to organize a radio mike for Kathy. Meanwhile the Suncourt is filling up with families, 150 people in by 1pm, when we start again.
In the evening concert we played Poet and Peasant Overture in the evening concert – as always a great cello solo from Di. This was Rick and Steve’s last concert before they left to rejoin Northern Ballet for the Autumn tour. Wonder how they’ll find it, less variety for sure and no morning concerts (bliss!)?!

Tuesday was an even earlier start as Daniel had his first day back at school, now in Year 11 it’s GCSE year… Adam and Ben start back tomorrow, Year 9, not so much pressure.
For me the usual setting up, but today, for what seems like a whole new band, with 3 excellent deputy players in – David on percussion, Tony on trombone and Lisa on bass. David and Lisa have played with us before, but this is Tony’s first time. His face was an absolute picture in his first Talk Through, as 13 pieces of music, lasting a total of an hour and a half, were discussed and put to bed, ready for the concert in about 20 minutes. But talk about professional, he was brilliant, as were Lisa and David, all of them slotting in to our team with ease. Thanks guys!
Tuesday afternoon was spent repairing woodwind instruments, including finishing off a flute that had been quite poorly and required taking every single key off and rebuilding it from scratch. Just as well I finished it, as the owner left a message wanting to pick it up that evening. The evening concert was Classical night, which always includes 3 or 4 solos and it’s always interesting to hear the player’s choice. Quite often pieces I’ve never heard before – as I said to Di, I’d never heard that before and she said ‘Yes you have – I played it last season!’ Sorry Di, it’s my age you know. But it was lovely – Chopin.  Mark followed up the success he had with Spanish Flea, by playing ‘You are the Sunshine of my Life’, Stevie Wonder, certainly a classic. Mike played some Billy Mayerl and Chloe played Elgar with maturity (her teachers had said she was too young to play it!). Talk about variety on the Spa stage.

Wednesday and Thursday were just a blur, because apart from 4 concerts and a rehearsal, I spent hours sorting and sticking all the music together for 26 or so, students from SAYSO (Scarborough Area Youth Symphony Orchestra) who will be joining us for next week’s Thursday gala, Young Musicians at the Spa. They all need their own pad to practice before the big rehearsal.


On Wednesday morning I played ‘Summer’ from the Victorian Kitchen Garden (by Paul Reede) for Ray and we also played Mischief by Frederick Curzon, that’s another one I’m glad you’re not next to me for!  Thursday’s requests included me to play Aria made famous by Acker Bilk (love putting on the vibrato…), Kathy to play Annie’s Song (again!) and Mike Gray to play Gipsy Carnival and also to sing A Nightingale Sang in his own inimitable fashion!
Despite needing to prepare some more music, Kathy insisted that I stop and join the band for lunch in the suncourt. Good idea Kathy!

Then a 3 hour rehearsal with the lovely Marilyn Hill-Smith, Alison Hudson and Owen Webb, ready for one of our most popular galas of Ivor Novello’s music. Didn’t manage to get home in between because of the afore mentioned sorting and sticking, it’s tough at the bottom!
The gala was great. The soloists were superb, the orchestra was legendary and Ivor? – boy, could he write a good tune!


Friday finally the weather closed in and we were up in the Ocean Room. This means that all the gear on the Grand Hall stage has to be moved. And with the help of our trusty crew, Chris, Mark and Graham, everything is sorted by 10am. We go to the Ocean room on Fridays if wet, because we’re trying to see if people would like to come and dance to our music, and the Ocean Room has a good floor. Unfortunately, today only one or two couples danced.
After the concert, lunch with Stephen and Judith, our music librarians and good friends, and all hands on deck to finish preparing the music for the students next week. We finally finished at 4pm. Phew! Mustn’t leave it so late next year.
Just a jazz rehearsal to get through tonight (Friday) for 3 hours, ready for our Glen Miller tribute on Sunday evening with another band, The Northern Showtime Orchestra .
Then 2 days off on Saturday and Sunday to finish the wall ready for a sore back on Monday (again!).
I haven’t even talked about reeds – maybe next year…


Blog No. 8: Mark Addison


It was April five years ago when I got a call from Rick. “What are you doing next week and for the next 14 weeks?” Me : “well, I am in Aberdeen right now doing west side story then was going to stay on for a few days with the family, why?” Rick “Do you want to come and do Scarborough Spa orchestra?”  So, I finished the show on the saturday night, packed up the car and family, dropped them in Edinburgh around 1am and carried on to Scarborough, catching a few hours sleep in the car. I got to The Grand, desperately tried to learn the pad for that first sunday morning and its felt like that rollercoaster ever since. My eyes were bloodshot for the first 3 weeks from staring at music I was trying to learn and even now I still take home the music to play through before each concert.

I have to say, for me, this is the hardest gig I have ever done. I started my freelance career while still at college in Manchester, playing with the Halle, RLPO and others. Playing Mahler and Bruckner symphonies, not as hard! I did 3 years in London’s west end doing a show, including a 3 show matinee day, not as hard. The amount of actual playing required in one concert here is highly demanding on the tiny amount of lip tissue a trumpeter uses and unlike any other instrument, a brass instrument only makes a sound if you drop it, it is the lip buzzing the lips that creates the note, the trumpet is purely an amplifier, similar to a vocalist. Imagine singing for an hour and a half , you soon get a sore throat.

That said, it is also a fantastic job. The versatility of music means you learn to play many different tunes in many styles. I can try and create something new, alter vibrato or articulation. Playing next to Rick is a real joy as he is always willing to adapt and try new ways of playing.

And the setting of the venue is always special, the commute to work, seeing the sun twinkling off the sea, has to be one of the best in the world.

So, the week started with a call from Michael at 11 on sunday night telling me he was going to A+E at Scarborough hospital!!  He had fallen badly off his mountain bike and hurt his wrist and although at first seemed fine had gotten worse and suspected it could be broken. Sadly, A+E closes at midnight (please write to your local MP about this shocking discovery), so he came back to our shared digs still in agony. I gave him ibuprofen and an ice pack and hoped for the best.

Not sure how he did it but the brave little soldier got through monday morning, by now hoping it was just very badly swollen, and thankfully that was all it was.

Some concert highlights for me this week: Rick’s solo on tuesday night, Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Beautifully melodic, with an elegant soft tone and incredible lip trills.

Diane proving a woman’s work is never done on thursday morning, firstly duetting with Steve in his solo spot , then funking it up on the tambourine in Herb Alpert’s Spanish Flea, then back to cello for her own solo, As I Sit Here, sublime.

Thursday evening Graham gave a magnificent performance of the Artie Shaw clarinet concerto, the best I have heard him play it.

Rick again with another flawless Bolero solo, it has to be one of the most difficult orchestral solos for trombone, at the very top of the range.

A great audience for our ‘Orchestral showstoppers’ gala, they were very appreciative that evening, it makes such a difference to our spirits on stage when we all work so hard.

And sorry but you again Rick with Moon River on friday dance morning, this man is CAPTAIN CHOPS, he never tires!!!

Then the week was over so quick and I went home to nurse another bruised and battered lip with ice and ibuprofen.

In fact this whole season seems to have gone by very quickly. I was very grateful to have my two daughters, Lilia, 6, and Sofia, 16 months, and their mum Nina down for a week, Lilia loved the park concert, sitting gnome like at the waters edge conducting and pretending to be an opera star. Sofia, however, was not so keen, crying both times she came along! Could be because Lilia played the trombone very loudly to her as a baby?

pic2 pic3

I was also lucky to get a week off and go to Singapore with my great mate Alex, who will be here depping for me in a few weeks. A week of John Williams music, lots of trumpet and lots of laughing.


One of the great things about being a musician is getting to work with many different people and consequently you make many good friends. Some you never see for years but when you meet up again its like a day hasn’t passed. Some of these friends have had this job at the Spa and I got in touch with them to add some comments to this blog.

Richard Wood: still living in Ayton being a very successful photographer and website designer, “I completed 10 seasons with the Spa orchestra leaving to concentrate on my photography business, ( in fact I was photographing Rick this week for the 2014 Scarborough, Whitby and Filey tourist guide). I was lucky enough to sit next to some great trombone players and became good friends with Russell and Rick in particular. I will be competing in the Great North run soon and have my first marathon coming up in October.”

John Blackshaw: now a member of the BBC Concert Orchestra.

“I really enjoyed my time at Scarborough, it was highly beneficial to my musicianship and it was also lovely to see the effect the spa orchestra had on the life of the people who enjoyed the performances.”

Others you may remember are Dave Carstairs, now sub-principal trumpet at the Royal Opera House, and Brendan Ball, Co-Principal trumpet at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

One more thing before I leave, I love cycling around Scarborough and into the countryside, a trip to Ravenscar on weds was fantastic, however, car drivers do seem to try and knock me off quite frequently so please please please watch for bikers, it could be me, Michael or Steve.


Me at the end of the week.


Take care all.