"I Was Swallowing The Piano Whole": Stephen Hough On Life As A Prodigy And Playing For Jimmy Savile (2023)

norte94 Chester Road, Grappenhall. Probably 1966. Where and when did I first play the piano. It was at Uncle Alf and Aunt Ethel's house. Alfred Smith had a Lancashire accent as flat on the vowels as the cap on his head had no crown. The right index finger was also flattened, deformed into a spatula shape by an accident at work. He was kind, modest and cheerful, unlike his wife, who always struck me as rather bitter. Or maybe boiled, like tea that has been steeped too long.

It was the tea that brought us together, as we used to go to his house and drink it in the back room. These visits bored me, but on the wall to the right, in that back room, there was a brown piano with yellow keys. A four-year-old boy came face to face with the teeth of those keys and gently, hesitantly, pressed down on some of the ivory tabs. My father said he would play chords, not single notes. The hammers hit the strings, the strings vibrated inside the box, and the most incredible sounds entered my ears... and my life. Nothing would satisfy me now but having my own piano and learning to play it.

“No, we are not going to buy a piano. You'll get bored and then we'll be stuck with a useless piece of furniture at home." I must have mentioned this constantly (I can be persistent), and in the end my parents bought me a toy piano, smaller than my baby shower tray. Aunt Ethel. You can't put a real piano under your arm or lift it up like a cookie tin. This tinkle and jingle box was definitely not what he had in mind. It was a tea bag for the plantation of a real piano in the mountain. So I destroyed it. Disassembled is perhaps a better way to describe the process. I played with a screwdriver, poking with my fingers, pulling and pressing until it fell apart. "Please, please Please can I learn to play the piano Please can we buy a suitable piano!

They got the message, and one day a van pulled up on All Saints Drive and delivered a German rosewood upright piano with 85 yellowed ivory keys and brass sconces. It costs £5 and another £25 to fix it. My mother opened the yellow pages to "P" and on the same page as "plumbers" was "piano teachers". Miss Felicity Riley seemed to live closer, a village far away in Lymm, so she was hired and I started lessons.

Miss Riley drives up to our house, parks, and I stand at the window in feverish anticipation, my eyes glued to the stopped vehicle. She is applying a smudge of lipstick on her lips in the rear view mirror. Orange. Glossy lips that Emil Nolde would be delighted to create with one of his most intensely vibrant tubes of paint. The car door opens and slams and a gray tweed skirt is propelled by the slender legs of this thin, powdered old lady through the driveway and a half car and through the glass doors of the 1990s. 1960s. , but I remember his Fiat 500 and especially its color: light blue.

"A glass of water please." My mother would attend to him and Miss. Riley would add two bubbly aspirins (maybe stomach issues?). After the 30-minute class, she got paid and left, but as I watched her from the front window walking down the driveway, she begged my mom, "Can I have another class?" I had already memorized the pieces that Ms. Riley had left me for a week of work, and she wanted me to retrace her steps from the car to the front door. But the engine was always running and she was always racing to the top of All Saints Drive, turning left onto Stockport Road. Although my classes with Ms. Riley were short-lived and we found a better teacher and, later, a better piano, it was through those fluorescent orange lips that I first learned that every good boy deserves a favor.

Miss Riley came to teach me for about six months. She practiced endlessly and had a small repertoire of children's plays, but she was a local piano teacher, used to dealing with reluctant children and aggressive parents. I, on the other hand, was swallowing the piano whole.

My father was in hospital in Clatterbridge, sick with consumption, and on Saturdays my mother would take me to see him and then, as a treat, we'd go to the big music store in Liverpool to have him play the grand pianos. The Crane brothers started their business on Hanover Street in the years before World War I: a five-story building selling sheet music and instruments with a small concert hall above the shop. This performance space became the Crane Theater in 1938 and is still there, renovated and renamed the Epstein Theater, in honor of the Beatles' manager.

One Saturday, I was sitting at one of the grand pianos in Crane's main hall, mesmerized by the sounds it made, happy as could be, when a man walked into the shop. He listened from afar and then went to my mother. “Your son is very talented. Take him upstairs to my office. The teaching spaces hosted by Crane as well. We go up in the elevator and enter this large room with another grand piano.

He was excited, but also a little uneasy in a way he couldn't understand. I played my pieces again and the man gave me some listening tests. "He certainly has talent, but he's being taught very poorly." My mother was shocked and confused. I knew I liked playing the piano ("It'll come in handy at parties, you can play all the old songs"; smoke rises in your eyes as midnight approaches and you open another pack of Benson & Hedges), but the The idea that it was more than that had never occurred to him. "I'll have to think about it, Mr. Weaver, but thank you very much for listening to Stephen."

“I'm going to call Joan Slade,” my mother said. "He has two daughters who study piano." I have no idea how my mother met Joan (“I think she used to go to your grandfather's pet store”), but that phone call turned out to be one of the most important calls of my life. Hi Joan, I'm Netta Hough. Can I take Stephen to play with you? We were at Crane's the other day... I need some advice.

A few days later we were on Dovedale Road in Hoylake, a short walk from the pet shop; and there I was in Aunt Joan's living room playing my ditties on her beige Rogers grand piano, and there with us were her daughters Jennifer and Heather. Later my mother told a friend that the sisters were fighting over who would teach me and that, like Mr. Weaver, both thought I had unusual talent. It was decided (I don't know how, except that Heather was always a more driven and ambitious person than her sister) that I should study with Heather.

"I Was Swallowing The Piano Whole": Stephen Hough On Life As A Prodigy And Playing For Jimmy Savile (2)

Asoon after his death,jimmy sabilehe went from being the BBC's secular saint to the very symbol of depravity. "He's gay, isn't he?" commented [my then piano teacher] Gordon Green's wife, Dorothy, in the mid-1970s. Maybe he saw something malevolent behind the screen and gay was his response to something sexually unpleasant.

While I was at the Chetham School of Music, I was invited to participate in two Savile shows. Clunk Click was the first (named after the TV seatbelt campaign ad: "Clunk click every ride") and there I was, 1970s, in my school's Tudor uniform, cassock wearing bright yellow socks, playing thePaganini/Liszt study hunting. “Why did you choose this piece, Steve?” he asked the resemblance to Liszt (both had long white hair and large, prominent moles). "Because you're always chasing, Mr. Savile." Neither foxes nor skirts were on my innocent mind, but it made the studio audience laugh.

"I Was Swallowing The Piano Whole": Stephen Hough On Life As A Prodigy And Playing For Jimmy Savile (3)

A year or two later, my school got a call from the producer of Jim'll Fix It, Savile's later and best-known show in which young people wrote for Savile to fix a dream they had: hang gliding or riding dig it a joke, or any number of things. Savile wanted a Chets alumnus to appear at the show and duet with pianist John Lill. I was a stranger from the beginning because I had to pretend that I had written to request this "conserto" and, where I knew,AI was unaware of the story behind the request to fulfill my dream.

“What do you like so much about my playing?” John asked during lunch with my dad and me. A reasonable question, given the circumstances. "That's your interpretation, Mr. Lill," replied the gangly boy from the north in the pimple-stained bell-bottoms. we played theArthur Benjamin's Jamaican Rumba, and then Savile leapt to the piano, smiling, waving his cigar. "So what do you think of our boy Steve?" “It's very promising,” Lill replied. And as if to prove it, Savile placed a new sheet of music on the music stand.

"Let's see how you two read this." The arrangement continued because this well-worn copy of Bizet's Le Bal, now smelling a little like Havana cigars, was actually mine, I took it with me on the train to Euston that morning, my master's pencil marks quickly erased (" firm knock, don't rush, don't force your tone.") We stopped at Le Bal and that was it. I think that was the same day I met Gary Glitter backstage, which Savile had arranged for someone else.

"I Was Swallowing The Piano Whole": Stephen Hough On Life As A Prodigy And Playing For Jimmy Savile (4)
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