Forgotten Albums Goes To The Movies

I mentioned in my review of 'Sincerely Yours' about my first experience of listening to The Malcolm Wilce Duo.  However, I feel that I didn't do it justice, so have lovingly recreated that moment using the original cast and made a short film about it.  A very short film.  About 40 seconds kind of short.  Short.  It's short.  Watch it.  It's very short.  Thank you.

 

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Interview with Mark Helmore, the beat of The Malcolm Wilce Duo

Older readers of Forgotten Albums will know that I like to try and do what I laughingly call 'research' on the albums I feature here.  Of course, what that really means is that I do a quick google search and hope for the best, regurgitating any tasty morsels that I find.  And yet 'The Malcolm Wilce Duo' remained a bit of a mystery for me.  Most of the results I could find were catalogue entries listing a whole career's worth of albums, but no hard facts about the Duo themselves.

 

Ah, but then, but then, nestling amongst the text under the link on the final page of my search were the words 'former drummer with Malcolm Wilce Duo'.  Hope bursting in my heart, I clicked on the link to MTH Dancing, and there on the front page was the man from the cover of 'Sincerely Yours' looking back at me.  Older, wiser, but unmistakably the same man.

 

A couple of e-mails and a few texts later, I found myself on the phone to Mark for in interview to try and find out more about The Malcolm Wilce Duo, and Sincerely Yours....

 

(All photos are ©Mark Helmore 2017, and taken from his website - link below)

Forgotten Albums:

 

Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.  First things first - how did you get involved in the Malcolm Wilce Duo?

 

Mark Helmore:

 

My dad was a dance teacher in Banbury in Oxfordshire, and I was in a band playing in the General Foods Sports and Social Club.  The organist who was in that band, my Dad asked him if he'd be interested in playing for Sequence Dancing.  He thought he'd give it a go and we started playing as the band - it was just the organ and drums then for the dances.  But then he got ill and needed a kidney transplant, so he was laid up just as my Dad had a big dance we needed to play for.  Malcolm's name was given to my Dad, so he called him and explained there was a big dance coming up, and asked if he'd be willing to play with a drummer. Malcolm said yes and that's how it all started.

 

FA: After that start, how long was 'The Malcolm Wilce Duo' out gigging for?

 

MH: We were operational from 1982 until, 2014.  That was a long time!

 

FA: And in that time, how many gigs to you think you played?

 

MH:  Crikey!  I wouldn't like to say to be honest.  I mean, we did so much it's unbelievable.  I mean not only did we do one night gigs, but we also did weeks away, fortnights away for dance holidays. We literally covered the length and breadth of the country in the early days.

 

FA:  Forgive my ignorance, but is this Ballroom Dancing, old time dancing, or is there a different terminology for what you do?

 

MH:  No, the recordings we did with Maestro [the record label] are what you would class as 'Modern Sequence'.

 

FA:  Modern Sequence?  And is that for a group, for couples, individuals?

 

MH:  Basically, it's ballroom dancing, but for Modern Sequence the dancing, the steps are put into 16 bar sequences.  So in other words people will dance 16 bars of a sequence, and repeat that all the way through until the sequence stops.  And they name them, so rather than say you're going to play a waltz, you'd announce it's The Waltz Catherine, which is a particular dance made up of these 16 bars which are repeated.

 

FA:  My only exposure to ballroom dancing while growing up was 'Come Dancing', and that seemed to belong to my parents or grandparents generation.  I got the impression that in English culture it was tailing off, but obviously from what you're saying, there was still a demand for the music you play.

 

MH:  That's right, and there still is today to a certain extent.  There's been a bit of a resurgence recently since 'Strictly', but more for the Ballroom side of it as opposed to the sequence.  What tends to happen from our experience is that people have perhaps learned to do Ballroom, and then they look at the Sequence.... a lot of people don't like Sequence, they're brought up with Ballroom and Latin and they stick with that.  But then there are another group of people who enjoy the Ballroom and Latin, but like the fact they can put their steps into certain dances and enjoy Sequence as well. It's quite a mixture right across the board really.

 

FA:  And it feels very much like a community thing, that people are going for the social aspect.

 

MH:  That's right, it is a social evening really.  

 

FA:  I've listened to the album a few times now, and from my experience drummers are people who like to have a bit of freedom, to improvise and hit things hard.  Your style is very different - very precise, very controlled which goes with needing to keep a tight beat for the dancing.  But did you ever feel restricted in your drumming by the style of music you played?

 

MH:  Yeah, you do find with that side - Ballroom or strict tempo you are restricted with what you can do.  But as I said, with my Dad being a dance teacher, that's what I was brought up with.  And obviously when I was younger in bands that were more than just keyboards and drums, like a five piece band or something playing for a dance, I'd always sit there with the drummer and they'd let me have a go sometimes, and that's how I learned.  I'm self taught, but I have played everything - Jazz, Pop and Rock, I've done it all. It's always good to let your hair down a bit!

 

FA: And are you still playing now?

 

MH:  I still play now, but not touring so much now, not since I stopped playing with Malcolm.  But there's a keyboard player called David Last who plays the same sort of thing that Malcolm and I did, and I play with him, but it's not so much touring now as one-night bookings.  I've also done a few recordings with him too.

 

FA:  So are the records, the recordings made for people to play at their own dances, or were they made as merchandise, giving people a reminder of a night out.

 

MH:  Maestro, the record label are specialists in strict tempo dance music, and the records and cds are designed for people to have their own sequence dances, and they still produce all that kind of music.

 

FA:  I did find a flaw though - my copy of the album was well played, and skipped in places.  Surely that would have caused problems.

 

MH:  Yeah, that would put them out of sequence!

 

FA: My copy also has a sticker on the front, as it was previously owned by Brenda from Barrow-in-Furness.  Is sequence dancing a peculiarly British thing?

 

MH: No, not at all. In Australia, they have sequence dancing too, but the CDs go all over the world. (side note - I've since noticed a lot of sellers on eBay have copies of Malcolm Wilce Duo CDs on sale from the USA....)

 

FA: I have to ask you about the sleeve notes - they were written by Terry and Ethel Grundy, who I see are still active and running their own tea dances in Cannock.  How did you know them?

 

MH: Well, they used to run their own dances in Birmingham, and they had all the records that we'd recorded.  In the early days, what we used to do was ask someone we'd worked with and who'd used our music in their dances to do the write up for us.  But Terry and Ethel we met at Butlins when we used to do the dance festivals, mainly at Bognor Regis & Minehead and they were the MCs there.  We run dance holidays ourselves now in places like Bournemouth, Paignton, Dawlish and so on.

 

FA: So there's still a large enough following for the Sequence Dancing movement

 

MH: We're well placed here (Weston super Mare) as people aren't that willing to travel more than an hour or so, plus we have the ballrooms down here.  You wont find so much as you travel north.  But I think we had the best of it.  There are still people playing this music, but a lot of the sequence clubs aren't around any more.

 

FA: Do you think that's a demographic problem, with this being an older person's social activity?

 

 

MH: Yes, that's right.  A lot of people have passed on, and there's nobody coming up to replace them.  But there is a future, as I said, it is going more to social dancing, which is what you'd class as ballroom, latin and social sequence which is the easy sequence dances that people know.  You combine it all in one evening now, whereas when we used to play for a sequence dance, everything was sequence all night so everybody would be doing the same thing at the same time.  Whereas by the time we finished we were playing more social dancing where you'd be doing a mixture of ballroom and sequence and latin, so right across the board.

 

FA: It sounds to me that there is a similarity between the idea of sequence, and that of line dancing.  Did line dancing have any impact on the world of sequence do you think?

 

MH: We do incorporate that as people enjoy line dancing, so we've brought that in to the social side of what we do.

 

FA: If I can ask about the album sleeve, I've noticed that almost all of your other album covers are very formal, with you and Malcolm in suits or DJs, but this was taken in a park in Weston.  Was this a deliberate change of style?

 

MH: That's right, we came out of the dickie bows and the dinner jackets, to go for a more casual look.  I look a lot younger in that photo, and I had more hair!

 

FA: So, the big question.  Do you dance yourself?

 

 

MH: I do, after a fashion!

 

My massive thanks to Mark for his time and patience.  You can find out more about his work (and I would encourage you to do so) at www.mthdancing.com

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Self promotion - pimping the vinyl

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Passive Aggressive Artistes, and a hint of a comeback....

Shhhh.... whisper it quietly. It seems that one of the Artistes featured here took exception to my review of her album. Enough exception in fact to write me the most passive aggressive e-mail I have ever received. Which was fun.

I replied courteously and honestly defending my position, but I received no reply. Therefore 6 months on I feel no guilt in relaying that e-mail to you, gentle reader. No editing or grammatical clean-up have been applied.

Enjoy!

"I laughed till the tears rolled down! What a HOOT!! OK - I’ll answer some of your observations/accusations/criticisms/assumptions. 1) The “up-to-date” lyrics WERE as such then in the ’70’s - we even sang for universities. 2) We have covered a very wide range of audiences in 40 countries. 3) I have my A.R.C.T. degree from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Torornto in piano and voice, and an Artist Diploma from the University of Toronto Faculty of music in voice and violin/viola. merv has his Bachelor of Music at the same university, and has taught band in several high schools as well as in Jerusalem. Having developed from a child prodegy, I’ve been a professional musician since I was 15 years old. The reason why I’m holding a guitar in the album photo AND playing it is because at that time folk music was vogue and I could scarcely accompany myself when I was singing on a violin!! If you send me your e-mail address i will send you our bios - just for fun, and maybe as a sideline to keep you on track. 5) We decided purposely to put my name last, simply because it SOUNDS better - you were right the second time! it was MY idea! 6) That WAS a harpsichord in the one or two selections - not a guitar. As to the music flavour, I was never trying to be like anyone else - just myself - and all the types of music I had been introduced to. Now my hand: - I am still playing, even after my horrendous accident - at 72 years old - and often professionally in symphony orchestras and string quartets- and still singing with my husband - and both our voices have shown no typical wobbles. The song “Time of the Singing of the Birds” - this was for kids primarily. Sorry you thought it was for you! Guess you’ve past that age though. huh? We’ve been called a lot of things - but “freakish” evoked a mad chuckle! We now have about 15 albums, and they sell all over the world - so one of us is wrong, nu??

Visit our web site and do view our photos button where you will see us as we are - only 2 years ago. Not bad for two old cronkers!!

Merla"

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Enjoy Your Slimming with Eileen Fowler

Label / Cat. No: BBC Records & Tapes REC 284 
First Released: 1977 

What The Album Blurb Says...

I say "enjoy your slimming" because it is much more successful if you do. It is a bore to be forever worrying about strict diets and complicated calorie counting. It can be just a simple "way of life". Regular exercise and sensible eating will keep your weight where you want it. It works for both men and women, as my husband could tell you. Cut down on fats, starches and sugars, exercise regularly and you are on the way. To help you to select the non-fattening foods there are two lists. Plan your meals around the first and try to avoid the second. Don't deny yourself all the foods you really like even if they are on the fattening list because this way leads to tension and you won't enjoy your slimming. Just reduce the quantities and include small amounts in a balanced eating programme.

For a really spectacular loss of weight, say six to seven stone, then I would suggest group therapy - Silhouette Slimming Club have wonderful results, which I have seen for myself, that is why I sought their advice with this album for those of us who wish to lose a lesser amount and to stay slim throughout our lives.

Don't forget the bathroom scales, these play a major part in our slimming plan. Decide on a reasonably weight for you height and work for that. I find at 5ft 2 1/2ins, eight and a half stone is about right and easy to hold, but bone structure can make a difference of several pounds. Weigh yourself once a week minus clothes and look for a gradual but steady weight loss - 2lbs a week adds up to nearly four stone in six months. Don't be disappointed if after losing weight at first - nothing happens for a time. This is quite normal while the body adjust to its new exercise and sensible eating pattern. But watch that fattening list! My own personal best hints are these: BUY THE RIGHT FOODS. If you have got them in the house you will eat them. If you haven't you will eat what is there, and they may be on the wrong list!

Finally, get out and walk. Carry nothing but yourself but carry yourself well - and don't worry. If you slip up today, there is always tomorrow.

Best Wishes,

Eileen Fowler

SLIMMING FROM THE MAN'S POINT OF VIEW

In a man's world a light-hearted approach to slimming is more likely to be successful than serious denial, as sensible eating and exercise are not usually his favourite subjects. he will joke about being overweight while fully realising the importance of keeping it down. Long hours spent sitting in an office chair or other sedentary occupations tend to tire the brain and exhaust the body, leaving him disinclined to take kindly to anything but the food and drink he likes in order to relax.

The pace of life today with its attendant stresses and strains can have a lasting effect on the way we look and feel and it's essential to counteract this in the best way we can. If overweight and the ensuing lack of vitality and energy is a problem , what better way than to Enjoy Your Slimming. Near starvation and tiring work-outs are out of date, and the more relaxed and healthy way to combat spreading and tension is in. It's a question of application. When eating out, study the menu carefully and choose as far as possible according to the suggestions given on List 1. If you really want Ma's apple pie, have it - not too much and not too often, and you won't feel deprived. of course you will want a drink, but the odd tomato juice can be useful. Drink, if and when you need it - or the occasion demands.

Figurewise - take a look at these diagrams and cut this exercise bogey down to size. concentrate on two areas - chest/shoulders and back for good posture, and you will never walk head first, but stay straight and tall. Work on the tummy muscles for control and you will look and feel better. try the following three exercises - Side 1. The Wall Game, Hairpin Bend and Arm Circling, Touch Toe. With a bit of help from the family regarding food, you will be slimmer and fitter and it's quite painless.


What I Say

I have this indistinct memory of seeing black and white footage from the early 50s of pert young girls in pointy bras and gym knickers doing healthy, wholesome exercises - presumably to keep them sound of morals and fit for whichever young buck they might marry, settle down with and make a home for. Assuming that this isn't just some figment of my fevered imagination, the work presented here by Eileen Fowler would be the perfect soundtrack to such a film.

Eileen is a no-nonsense woman. Oh, she seems friendly enough with her occasional chuckles and chummy manner, but the authority in her voice commands you to follow her instructions immediately and to the letter. There's a schoolma'am quality that marks her out for an ideal P.E. teacher in Malory Towers.

It turns out though that Eileen was a very sensible woman who spent her life crusading to get people fitter and eating more healthily. Perhaps it is this campaigning zest which fires the authority I mentioned. Yet that is forgiveable when you realise that what she's trying to do is improve people's lives. If there had been more people spreading Eileen's message a bit earlier, we might not be facing the supposed 'obesity crisis'. What's more important is that we might have been spared endless fitness DVDs of pneumatic 'lovelies' in lycra.

This album clearly focuses on the exercises - simple things that you can do at home. No equipment is needed, just a willingness to obey Eileen's commands at a moments notice. She whizzes through the exercises, and leaves it a bit late with the instructions. I have to admit, I haven't actually tried any of the exercises, not least because I know that a combination of my unco-ordinatedness and her late instructions would lead to an unsightly tangle. However, this isn't just about exercise. We are handily presented with two lists in the sleeve notes - food to eat lots of and food to avoid where possible. Unsurprisingly, the former is full of fruit, vegetables, fish and Ryvita whole-grain (OK, that last bit's a lie, but you get the picture), and the latter list seems to be a foretelling of my diet - chocolate, fried foods, biscuits, alcohol, and really anything that makes life worth living.

I would have assumed that this was common knowledge, even in 1977, but I really don't know. But that's the main feature of this record - it seems anachronistic, even for such unenlightened times as the late seventies. If this album had been produced in 1954 it would seem perfectly natural, but to think that it was produced in my lifetime makes it seem alien. To be fair, this record was a tie-in with Eileen's series of the same name on Radio 4's "Today" programme. I suspect that those listening to Radio 4 in 1977 thought it was still 1954.

As with that Peter Powell exercise album, it's hard to pick out any individual tracks, so instead I've compiled just a few of my favourite soundclips. I'm very pleased to know how to avoid a 'Dowager's Hump' thanks to Eileen's sound advice. Now, can anyone tell me what a Dowager's Hump actually is?

 


Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. The "Wall Game" For A Slimming Stretch 
2. "Hairpin Bend" For Tummy Muscles
3. "Circle Touch Toe" For Arms, Chest, Shoulders and Back.
4. Sequence - Repeat all three exercises linking them together 

Side 2

1. See Saw Stretch For Waistline And Knees
2. "Roll And Reach" For Tummy, Seat And Hips
3. "Rolling Pin Roll" To Fine Down Your Figure (sic)
4. Sequence - Repeat all three exercises linking them together and improvising to the extra music

Final score:

1954 out of 10

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McDingo's Miracle

So, I finally got around to reading my copy of 'Merla's Miracle' which some lovely person on Amazon sold to me for a ridiculously cheap price. With all the sense of moment that I could muster, I opened the cover (featuring the grisly, gruesome and graphic photo of Merla's mangled mitt), and found this...

Isn't that the most wonderful thing you've seen today? OK, probably not actually, but look. There. A proper, signed by the author autograph. Merla has touched this book. She has written in it (with her good hand, of course...) and now it's mine, all mine.

Am I the luckiest man alive?

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Keep Fit and Dance with Peter Powell

Label / Cat. No: K-Tel INTL ONE1167
First Released: 1982

What The Album Blurb Says...

An Album to help you take shape and have fun while you’re doing it.

Exercising to your favourite music has proved to be one of the most successful and enjoyable ways of keeping fit.

Feel better and look good.

Keep Fit and Dance is precisely what it says. This album will give you a range of exercises you can do easily in your own home – either by yourself or with your friends or family.

The dance steps are fun to work out and you’ll find when you’ve learned them you can use them to very good effect in the disco or at parties.

One word of advice – don’t overdo it! Gradually build up the exercises as you feel fitter and more supple. Only do what you feel capable of doing.

Enjoy yourself.

*If you are in any doubt about your health or ability to do these exercises, you should consult your doctor before commencing the exercises.

What I Say

1982. What a heady year that was. E.T., The Falklands 'Conflict', The Commodore 64, Come On Eileen, T.J. Hooker, and, most importantly, Jane Fonda's very first 'Workout'.

Naturally, on this side of the pond we needed to find a British answer to this American type, trying to tell us how to exercise. A home grown role model to knock Hanoi Jane into a cocked hat. Who had the necessary gravitas, the long history of keep fit and the engaging personality to take on the future heavyweight of workout videos? Peter Powell, will you please step forward.

Yes, Peter Powell. That Peter Powell. It's sad to think that a man who was once one of our most highly regarded radio stars will forever be remembered as the man who married, and was left by, Anthea Turner...

 


...but we won't dwell on his marriage mistakes when we have this record in front of us. Oh no, we'll focus on his career ones. I think the problem here is that 'generally being a bit matey' isn't quite enough to compel people to start exercising. There is no authority from the man - he cajoles in a quaintly cheesy way, but there's no way you're going to listen to him and think,"oh, well I'd better start exercising then". No presence, you see.

Equally, I'm not convinced that Peter Powell at this point had ever been anywhere near a gym. His photo on the cover of him in a sweatshirt and wearing a towel casually round his shoulders isn't enough to convince me that he's a regular aerobics aficionado.

Speaking of which, it's interesting that this album (which only achieved number 13 on the British album charts for just the one week) was also released in America. Taking on La Fonda on her own turf, eh? I have no idea how well it did, but there is one interesting addition to the album:-

...it features the words 'Aerobic Dance Program' on the cover. Clearly the word 'Aerobic' hadn't made it to the UK at that point, but was a major selling point in the USA.

Anyway, as I was saying, I have no belief whatsoever that Peter Powell had even thought about joining a gym before this album, so his sports clothes and fake involvement annoy all the more. He's clearly in a sound booth, probably sitting in a nice comfy chair, telling the listeners 'I know it hurts' and then scoffing like a schoolgirl into his sleeve. The barrage of 'terrific's and 'great's really.... grates. The whole thing is so contrived.

See, at least with a video, you can see that the instructor / celebrity is actually doing the workout, and therefore has some kind of a bond with you. Having just a disembodied voice which, for all you know could be sat within reaching distance of a plate of doughnuts and a trifle, just doesn't inspire.

To make up for this lack of visuals, there is a free poster included which demonstrates all the moves that you should know for complete involvement with this record. Is it Peter himself, photographed in the various stages of exercise? No it sodding isn't. It's the same leotard-clad lovely who graces the cover in a range of clothes and hairstyles to try and convince us that K-Tel weren't so cheap that they would only pay for one model.

I'm not sure how helpful the static images are in getting you to do the right exercises, but here are the moves to the first routine.

 All in all I found this record fairly confusing. I've never indulged in 'keep fit' products in my life, and if this is in any way representative, then there's no chance of me ever getting involved. The instructions are confusing, they come too fast, Peter, for all his DJ skills seems to have little sense of rhythm or timing and the whole thing just seems a bit rushed. I imagine the results of trying this at home would be akin to something from the golden age of 'The Generation Game'.

I know we all need to exercise in these post-holiday girth-widening times, but take it from me, this album is not your friend.

As a final point, as the songs are secondary, with the exception of the 'Can-Can' which demonstrates the bizarre pace, nasty matiness and general weirdness of this album, the soundclips are just some of my favourite Peter Powellisms from this record. I'm sure they'll become your favourites too.

Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. The Shakedown (‘Use It Up and Wear It Out’) – A general warm up and de-tenser. A preparation for the exercises to come.
2. Firming The Body (‘Isn’t She Lovely’) – Firming exercise for the stomach and thighs.
3. Firming The Legs (‘Physical’) – Leg kicks and ‘bicycles’ for firm shapely legs.
4. Body Stretches (‘Body Talk’) – Let’s tone up some of those muscles that don’t get used too often.
5. Looseners (‘Ai No Corrida’) – You’ll be amazed what you can do with just the back of a chair for support!
6. Troublespots (‘Young and Beautiful’) – Waist, bottom, bust – you know the spots that need a little extra attention.

Side 2

1.The Energiser (‘Hooked on a Can Can’ – specially edited version) – A lighthearted track to ‘get some energy into your body’ – when you’re feeling very fit, play this track twice!
2. Absolute Collapse (‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’) – Rest for a few moments after the exertion of the last track and take a few deep breaths.

Now learn four simple dance sequences:-

3. The Strut (‘D.I.S.C.O.)
4. The Wrap (‘Celebration’)
5. The Rotor (‘Cuba’)
6. The Slice (‘Hands up’)
7. Danceability (‘Dance Yourself Dizzy’) Put all the steps together and enjoy yourself.

8. Relaxation (‘The Canon Suite’) – After the exercises a special time put aside for you to relax your body and mind.

Final score:

3.25 out of 10

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In A Change From Our Usual Programme.....

On Tuesday 4th December 2007, Forgotten Albums ventured into new territory. In an exciting development, the chance acquisition of an album to review for this journal has led me to meet the man who recorded it, and have a fantastic night out.


Ladies and Gentlemen, together for one night only, Forgotten Albums and Tony Best.  Together at last!



(I'm the one on the left, by the way....)

Allow me to explain. As you will no doubt recall, I was delighted to find that Tony Best was a local artist, based in a neighbouring county. When reviewing albums, I like to do a bit of online research to try and place the artists in context. I knew nothing of Tony when I bought the album, but very quickly discovered that he runs Tony Best Leisure, an organisation dedicated to bringing people and country music together.

I also discovered on his site that he runs and hosts the 'Lazyacre Country Music Club', which meets every Monday in the Lord Hill Hotel, Shrewsbury. I know the place well, having had more than one work meeting there. The calendar of events told me that there were two Christmas events coming up on the 3rd and 4th December. And that Tony would be compere.

This was all I needed, and I resolved to go. I phoned the number on the site to order tickets, and left a message. I was called back within the hour, by Tony himself. The man on the front of that album was on the phone. To me! I managed to order 3 tickets (as I was taking two friends along on this quest), and was about to complete the transaction when Tony asked me how I had come across the Lazyacre Club.

Well. I had to tell the truth didn't I? So I explained about this journal, and the rationale behind it, and that I would like to come and meet him, get a photo of him, me and the album, and post my thoughts here.

The speed with which he then finished the conversation and put the phone down made me realise just how much of a stalker I must have sounded. So it was with some trepidation that last night I made the trip up to Shrewsbury to meet the man in question.

Walking in to the venue, everyone was greeted by Tony on the door. Obviously he's aged a bit since the album that I'd got - after all, that was 28 years ago, but this was definitely our man.

I wasn't going to launch straight into my schtick straight away - after all, this was a man with a show to do, and I didn't want to scare the living bejaysus out of him before having to entertain. But on collecting our tickets, he had clearly remembered my name, and asked me to explain the backstory again. He was clearly interested, amused, self-deprecating and very, very charming. We met his wife, Jean who is also very involved in the club, and when we tried to pay for the tickets, Tony insisted that it would be his treat. A very kind gesture, and one that was much appreciated.

I have to admit that we were amongst the youngest people there, and I'm no spring chicken myself. But Lazyacre Country Music Club has been going for 30 years. These people have grown up with the club, and there was clearly a real community there. They have notable members, in-jokes, and a distinct sense of humour. People have been coming back year after year after year because they are being entertained. And what more could you ask for.

The evening was clearly a club night - in addition to the musical acts, there was a raffle, the club sweepstake, and notices and announcements, all done seamlessly by Tony who seemed to know everybody there. I don't know how many members there are in the club (at least 259, because member 259 won the sweepstake), but he certainly seemed to know them all.

To kick the night off, we had Country Company, a husband and wife vocal harmony pairing, described on their leaflets as 'Wales' Premier Country Music Duo'. They certainly knew their audience, played to their strengths, and were thoroughly enjoyed.

But after their set came the main attraction as far as we were concerned. Tony himself came out and did about an hour's set. This is an increasingly rare occurrence as he is now retired and infrequently performs. Had we gone at almost any other time in the year, we wouldn't have heard him sing. How lucky are we?! So we had a set of just Tony and his accordion doing a number of standards, mixing it with a fair few jokes, banter, and a bit of audience participation.

Clearly these are Tony's people. He knows who they are, he knows what they want, and he delivers it by the bucketful. The audience were onside from the word go, and lapped up every morsel he fed them.

The biggest surprise of the evening for me is that unlike on 'Tony Best - By Request' where his voice sounds at times hesitant, almost nervous, last night there were no such signs. His voice was loud, clear, confident but still in that unexpectedly high register with the clarity of tone (if you'll pardon the pun...)

After Tony's set, Country Company came back for a second round, and did a number of standards and more Christmassy type tunes, and then they were joined by Tony, and the three of them finished off the evening. Full audience participation was required for a raucous version of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' which nearly fell apart a number of times.

And then it was over. On the way out I found Tony to ask if he would mind if we took the photograph. We got the snap, had a chat and just as we were about to leave, he presented me with a copy of one of his CDs - A Golden Hour of Tony Best. I had arrived there because of his debut album, and left with his most recent. It seemed a fitting way to end the evening.

And, do you know what? I had a fantastic evening. Despite being a relative Country novice, despite being in a room with strangers much older than me. Despite not knowing most of the songs or any of the in-jokes, I, we, all had a really enjoyable time. Last Sunday I went to see a band I've been following for 24 years, had clear, high expectations and was disappointed at the end of the evening. Last night I went to a Country Music evening on a whim, based on some foolish idea to follow up one of the albums on this site. I had no expectations, and was thoroughly entertained.

And Tony himself, who could so easily have been dismissive of some bloke off of the internet who wanted to meet him because he'd picked up an album second hand was instead warm, funny, interested, and above all generous. And if you ever find yourself in Shrewsbury on a Monday night with nothing to do, you could do a lot worse for yourselves than head down to the Lazyacre Country Music club.

Normal programming will resume next week!

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