Quo vadis ?

… as any well educated Roman was wont to ask the nearest oracle. With the Band’s 40th anniversary approaching in 2014, I have been thinking about that self same question, particularly as I’ve been looking into the Band’s long history of incarnations and name changes.

The earliest photo. East Grinstead Band on a hay wagon, c.1870.

Presumably these happy band of players, to misquote Shakespeare, would get to their immediate destination whilst still on the cart. Ahead of them lay the Zulu War and several other colonial skirmishes in places that most of them had probably never even heard of. Where, I wonder, did they fancy they were going, riding the crest of the wave of an Empire on which the sun never set?

East Grinstead Town Band marching past the Workhouse towards the railway station, c1905.

After the turn of the century, the passing of the Old Queen and in the most powerful nation on earth, in 1905 a prosperous town like East Grinstead still had its own Workhouse. The thoughts of the bandsmen must have been very different from those still within the Workhouse; they, at least, thought they knew where they were going, even if it was soon to be just to the station to catch the 1914-1918 express.

East Grinstead Town Band, smartly turned out in c1933.

In the footsteps of the previous generation: the uniforms are still reminders of Imperial greatness, possibly, although cracks had already appeared in that immortal facade. Most of them would probably soon meet the impending onslaught from across the Channel. Somewhere in the middle of the tide of greater things, they must all have wondered where they were going, even if they had a good idea of where they would like that destination to have been.

East Grinstead Concert Band leading the Queen’s Jubilee Parade through the town, 2012.

Today, in our high-tech world of push-button instant gratification, changing climate, increasing ineptitude and seeming loss of concern for most things that were, in the 140-odd years covered by these photos, held to be essential constituents of society and of being a good citizen within that society, do we know where we are going ?

At least the Band knows where it’s going next October. We have been invited to play at the Menin Gate in Ypres on October 11, just a few days before HM The Queen attends a ceremony there to mark the First World War. We are planning a couple of other concerts in Belgium and will do all we can to promote East Grinstead in the process. The Menin Gate is inscribed with 60,000 names of those from the First World War who have no known grave. It straddles the road to Passchendale, where some of the worst fighting took place. Every night at 8 o’clock the traffic is halted and the local firemen blow Last Post and Reveille. We will be part of that ceremony.

The Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

How sobering to stand under the Gate (the road goes straight through it) and ponder if any of 60,000 – from all parts of the Empire as was – had any idea where they were going.

The cover of the first in the saga of the Chamber Opera Group of Lucca, Tuscany.
The cover of the first in the saga of the Chamber Opera Group of Lucca, Tuscany.

On the writing front, book No.7, the third in the Rupert Winfield series, is very near completion. FATAL TEARS (Rupert Winfield No.1) has now gone electronic in all formats and has been listed with Barnes & Noble, the huge US distributor. The First in the AN ECCENTRIC IN LUCCA series is presently at the printers and will be out ahead of schedule towards the end of October. It’s all go this end…..

Let me leave you with a short video clip. We did know where we were going, because we had a very definite route to follow, mostly up the exhaust pipe of the leading police car !

The Passing…

… of all things is inevitable, be they empires, monuments of stone or ourselves.

This past week has been one of both excitement and of sadness tinged with the warm glow of fond reflection. Firstly came the sad news from my cousin Sally that Andre, her husband, had passed away after a very protracted illness. Sobering thought that now there are just the two of us left from the older generation.

My cousin Andre.
Rest peacefully.

A good friend of mine from my opera days in Cape Town, the tenor Anton Stolz, celebrated his 60th on the Sunday and joined the club of which many of us are already members. Then, on the following Thursday, he, too, passed away. I’m sure that Anton would have been chuffed at the many expressions of gratitude for his friendship and at the many warm memories that have appeared on Facebook. Still, the gaps are still there, despite the pleasant memories. The rest of us just have to carry on …

Anton in the centre with Henry on the left and myself. Cavalleria Rusticana, Cape Town in the early 1980s.

Last week’s excitement was a visit to the Book Guild in their new home in Hove. We had a very productive meeting and the exciting news is that FATAL TEARS is going to be an e-book; contractural negotiations are underway. The Book Guild have just signed up with a large distributor in this format, who cover all format of e-books as well as promoting same through Barnes and Noble in the USA. I also saw the finished dust jacket for ERRANT ANGELS, which is the first in the AN ECCENTRIC IN LUCCA series of music-based novels. It is due for publication on 27th November (hardback).

Thumbs up
Unsolicited thumbs up from another happy reader !

We also have the sheep back in the farmer’s field that borders our postage stamp garden. Funny things – they bleat constantly (including through the night) and I wonder if they actually say anything or if it is some sort of communal security blanket. For those of you of a musical disposition, they also seem to bleat in minor seconds a lot – enough to set your teeth on edge !

Is it not written that it is better to lead than to be led… Who’d be a sheep ? Unless, of course, you’re an animatedly smart one like Shaun the Sheep !

It’s in the Genes…

… or so we are led to believe, according to current research. Or is it ? If an immediate ancestor was a gifted thinker, does the offspring become a philosopher?; does a highly successful economist produce a millionaire?; would Dr Crippin’s offspring have followed in their father’s footsteps?

How do we differentiate between intellectual capacity and inherited, coded instructions as to what we look like or might eventually become? Answers on a postcard please, as they used to say on the wireless…

What’s brought this on is some research I’ve been doing into my maternal grandfather’s career. He was a pharmacist with the Royal Army Medical Corps, before ending up – by a circuitous route that I am still trying to discover – as the bandmaster of the embryonic Mauritius Police Band in the years before the Second World War. Of diminuitive size (so that, at least, I didn’t inherit!), Inspector Harry Stephen Rolfe built up both the band and his reputation on the island. I’d like to think that his music genes were passed on to me; can’t think of what other source pushed me in a musical direction …

This is the only photo I have that shows both him and the band:

MPB pre 1939
Bandmaster Rolfe and the Mauritius Police Band, c.1926 [?].

I have a baton that was presented to him in 1925 as a token of apprecitation by the residents of Port Louis. It is of ebony with decorative gold bands; he never used it to couduct, as he found it too heavy. He was very forthright and I can imagine his response when the suggestion to use it to conduct was made …

Nearly 90 years on and his grandson uses a much lighter wooden one:

EGCB baton
A lighter baton guiding the East Grinstead Concert Band.

And to finish off this time, a couple of before and after photos …

MPB marching
Band Master Rolfe and the Mauritius Police Band c. 1926
MPB today
The modern day Mauritius Police Band

It’s in the can…

… as they used to say on the film set or in the editing suite, once the movie was complete. Or, as in the case of the infamous CLEOPATRA [the Holywood one] it very nearly ended up in the pan. Hopefully, being lovingly produced on an extremely modest budget, my latest offering will not suffer a similar fate ! Desides which, these days it’s probably more appropriate to say its on the memory card … or on the disc.

Follow this link to learn all about being an archaeologist-tour guide on the Nile in the late 20s:

With the breadth of the African continent out of the way, Rupert moves into the geographically more concentrated, but no less dangerous, confines of Palestine in the early 1930s. Oh yes … and he crosses swords, in a manner of speaking, with Il Duce in distant Rome and meets Jewish aspirations head on in the Promised Land. And to think that it was all started by an innocuous professor in the vaults of the British Museum …

Apart from the proofing, this past week has been a good one for renewing broken links (to use modern parlance) with friends from the dim, but not too distant, past. It’s great to just pick up from where we left off some 30+ years ago (!!).

All that nostalgia got me scratching through my old photo albums … well, I say “albums”, but in reality a large shoe box … to see what was in there and what had been forgotten over the years.

In my younger days I was heavily involved in opera at the tip of the African continent. When I think back to the productions we mounted – when Performing Arts Council money was quite literaly no object -I remain in awe of the achievement. I found this picture of a production of Vedi’s OTELLO; appropriate, given the fact that it is Verdi bicentenary year.

OTELLO in Cape Town’s opera house.

And yes, the costume really was that grubby, although it had been “distressed” in the best possible taste ! Viva Il Leone di San’ Marco !

Capital, capital !

Another busy week, what with the end of the school term (for me, at least), proofing my second book, arranging some music and conducting perhaps our most prestigeous concert of the year. And then, of course, there was the heat…

We never seem to be content with the weather – too cold, too much snow, too much rain, too hot…

Introducing an item via a retro-microphone.

Sunday evening on the Eastbourne Bandstand. For a change the wind was not blowing a gale, which meant that we had an audience of around 200+. Everyone played on top form and the concert was a great success, to the extent that the audience wanted and received an encore.

In full blow… Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”. Viva Verdi !

My Year 5/6 class performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (drastically simplified !) to an appreciative audience of parents and fellow pupils. My class worked really hard and I would have loved to show you some photos, but – these days being these days – their efforts will also have to remain but a midsummer day[s]dream. Nevertheless, well done to them all.

This week my very dear friend celebrated being around for 65 years ! It was quite a party, surrounded by friends and colleagues – and isn’t that what it’s all about ?

Happy Birthday !
The 65-er before the party really got going !

Capital, capital, my dear fellow ! Good point. Have you ever come to grips with the correct usage of capitals in the wonderful English language ? King Henry is one thing, but the king had other ideas, even if we know it was Henry. The president is late, but President Obama’s car will be here shortly.The prime minister has lost his script for the welcome, but, it is to be hoped, Prime Minister Cameron or even the deputy prime minister will find something to say…

And on that illuminating point, that will do for now.


…in the middle of a heat wave!

Another reader begins Rupert Winfield’s first journey.

I spent a very pleasant day yesterday (over six hours) in the High Street, East Grinstead, seated at a table in the bright Sussex sunshine in what must have been one of the hottest days of the year. We haven’t had many of those so far this year, but yesterday went some way to making up for that!

My first novel, ‘FATAL TEARS’ is set against the vivid and often very hot background of 1920s Africa. It occurred to me during the course of yesterday that a certain High Street in West Sussex could well have been a deal hotter than some of the locations in the book. Despite that, there were intrepid shoppers about and it was a successfull day all round.

Members of the East Grinstead Concert Band kindly gave of their time in the afternoon and serenaded us with a selection of marches and other light music, which was much appreciated by both those who were passing by and by yours truly seated behind the table.

Members of the East Grinstead Concert Band

Isn’t it amazing how a welcome shadow gradually approaches, with the promise of relief from the sun, but never quite seems to reach where you’re sitting? Odd, that.

If anyone wants to find out more about ‘FATAL TEARS’, feel free to either check out my website, http://www.stuartfifield.com or e-mail me on mail@stuartfifield.com.

A big THANK YOU to John Pye and his staff at The Book Shop, 22 High Street, East Grinstead for hosting us and keeping us supplied with coffee and water. We’ll be back…

Tonight it’s off to conduct a Prom concert on the bandstand in Eastbourne.

I hope your weekend was as enjoyable as mine.