As a child of the early forties, it was the norm for girls to receive piano lessons whilst boys go out and play with their mates, I was therefore left to my own devices but, like my dear old Dad, who could always strum out a tune on a piano or ‘mouth organ’, I decided to learn the harmonica by ear and play for my school chums. At the age of nineteen, I joined the Royal Marines and whilst standing on the parade ground as a raw recruit suddenly heard this wonderful sound of live music played by one of the finest military bands in the world – it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The first time I’d heard real live music (as opposed to the local Saturday Hop). Sometime later, whilst crawling through the undergrowth with a rifle on my back, I thought “I must learn to play an instrument”. Fast forward to my 50th birthday and my wife bought me a dear little Yamaha Electone ‘Electronic’ Organ with its coloured buttons and levers. A local piano teacher proceeded to teach me the basics assisted by the Kenny Baker series of organ books. After a year or so she handed me over to a more specialised teacher who was, at the time, the head of music at the local college and really pushed me to try much harder pieces – a very friendly young man who sadly moved away to a new school after a couple of years. During this period I had upgraded twice to the Technics GA series of organs. For some unknown reason I then allowed my playing to lapse for a while (regretted ever since), but eventually regained the ‘bug’ and restarted only to suffer a major and catastrophic electrical fault with my Technics. I eventually tracked down the repair agent for the South West who sadly told me that repairs would be completely uneconomical and that he didn’t even want the instrument for spares! However, he did recommend that I consider switching to the Yamaha keyboard range as they were fully supportable and likely to remain so.
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During this period local organ and music shops were disappearing in this area and as my sister lived near Banbury I decide to approach One-Man-Band (OMB – now ePianos/Whitley Bay Organs) and shop manager, Chris Hammond. Chris assessed my level of playing and recommended a PSR 750 keyboard with its advanced features and sounds, all at a reasonable price. After a few months of fiddling with the slightly different chord settings, I really began to appreciate the very accurate sounds (eg. Shadow Guitar, Allegro Strings etc.). It also came with a free expansion pack and I selected ‘Cathedral Organ’, in my humble opinion still one of the best church organ sounds available on keyboard. Like most players, I eventually felt the urge to upgrade and once again approached Chris at OMB deciding on the excellent Tyros 5. By this time I’d joined the very active and friendly Bideford Organ & amp; Keyboard Club, regularly playing with other members, many of whom were also playing Tyros 5 plus EL90 and other makes. This also gave me access to regular concerts listening to top professionals and eventually, when Genos came on the scene, some of the top Genos players (eg. David Harrild, Rod Pooley, Ian House, and more). I was so impressed by these new Genos sounds that I arranged to attend the OMB launch and demo by Ian House in Banbury. We stayed with my Sister and Brother-in-Law just a few doors down from Chris – very handy! After the demo, I was convinced and placed an order with OMB incl full delivery and setup. It was about this time that I was approached by my Wife’s Chapel and asked if I would play background music for their monthly coffee mornings’ which I was more than happy to do. However, although the standard Genos speakers are good, they are not really up to a full-size chapel for projecting the sound right up to the coffee area so once again I approached Chris who recommended the Yamaha Stagepas system which I now use for all other venues than home. Shop owner David Cooper was very helpful in showing me how to make all the correct connections and settings. At the same time, I also purchased a spare ‘used’ Genos stand, I find it much better than the scissor-type when using more than one pedal, although not as portable.
I was then asked if I would play in our village hall during VE Day afternoon teas while a friend and fellow club member played (Tyros 5) covering the evening dance (he’s a semi-professional with full stage setup). However, lockdown sadly scuppered that plan and instead, the village decided to hold a ‘distanced’ street party that afternoon where I set up Genos at the end of our drive and played WW2 hit tunes throughout. It was all very successful helped by lovely sunny weather. A couple of pub questions: did you know that during WW2 the King’s favourite song was Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer (great on ‘Organ Swing’ 143bpm) with the Queen’s favourite A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square (vg on ‘Dreamy Ballad’ 76)?
All was going so well until the dreaded Covid and successive lockdowns. I then decided to approach our village hall committee to ask if, for a donation, I could use the (excellent) facility for private practice on a fortnightly basis whilst fully complying with their local Covid regs. Their kind agreement has enabled me to use my full Stagepas setup within the excellent acoustics of the hall. As a Christmas present, my Wife agreed for me to purchase some expansions packs for my Genos. I’m now just beginning to tease out some of the new sounds which are great, but I keep forgetting to use the freeze button to retain my chosen style whilst using the new voices, plus I like to use the L/H pedal for fills which also has the same problem unless frozen. But all very much a challenge and enjoyable. My latest challenge concerns our current Chapel services, all conducted on Zoom, whereby an order of service sheet is produced the previous week listing the hymns to be played (recordings). I have promised all that I shall valiantly try to learn at least one of them each week. I already have the full-size Mission Praise music hymn book and have just purchased Singing The Faith (generally used within the Methodist Church). I know that playing hymns is definitely not the first choice for most keyboard players but, although reading the arrangement can be quite difficult, matching some of the lovely hymn tunes to Genos voices and styles can be very rewarding. And BBC’s Songs of Praise always tend to use a strong beat/base to carry the singing along – so I follow their example! If really stuck I follow the sheet music/book whilst observing how it’s performed on YouTube. Hopefully, within the next few months, our club concerts and member’s nights can restart and we can all get back to the full enjoyment of playing again – plus gaining inspiration from listening and watching our favourite artists in concert. I’m sure that David and Chris will be only too keen to update us on all the latest innovations and products emanating from our music industry and continue providing their usual level of friendly support and advice.