It has been another busy year for Debbie Wiseman, what with Channel Four’s The Promise, a third series of Land Girls, not to mention a top ten album in the shape of ‘Piano Stories’. My part in the latter has certainly made 2011 a year to remember; it’s always such a pleasure to work with Debbie, so when she called early in the Summer to ask if I’d put some programme notes and a script together for ‘The Magic of Christmas’ at Cadogan Hall, I of course said yes.
The concert, in aid of the brilliant Breast Cancer Campaign, was a sequel of sorts to ‘The Pink Ribbon Gala’ which Debbie presided over in November 2009. Once again Cadogan Hall and the RPO played host to Debbie, who called in support from wonderfully talented artists, and friends, to make music, a little magic and raise vital funds for a very worthy cause.
Smooth Radio’s Simon Bates brought his legendary voice and easy charm to the proceedings, introducing the afternoon’s festive programme. Magic and Sparkle was the order of the day, with Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ the perfect opening, followed by the likes of selections from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ – including the twinkling ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, somehow so suited to the season.
Stories really were the order of the day though and the audience was urged to step back into their childhoods, snuggle down in their seats and listen intently. The first half was dominated then by Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’, which was read by Cheri Lunghi. It was a captivating performance, helped along beautifully by Debbie’s own original music. The tears of the lady in the row behind me said it all, not to mention the reaction of one small child half way through which put the orchestra of its stroke somewhat…
With part two came another fine actor, Robert Powell, who delivered the deliciously grizzly poem ‘Jim’ by Hilaire Beloc. The poem, about a little boy who leaves his nanny’s care only to be gobbled up by a Lion, was given suitably plucky accompaniment by Debbie and RPO, who performed Benjamin Britten’s ‘Playful Pizzicato’ beneath Powell’s perfectly pitched delivery.
The afternoon also saw a couple of firsts. Debbie herself made her Cadogan Hall debut as a soloist performing a solo piano piece. ‘Isolation’, written for the film The Hide, is the opening track of the ‘Piano Stories’ album and made a great opening to the second half. Though hidden away over to the right of the stage, the pianist’s debut went off really rather well and the piece itself never fails to cast a spell.
Perhaps even more spellbinding was the second ‘premiere’, George Layton’s ‘The Fib’. The story itself is one I remember from school – indeed it cemented my own fear of the football that was to come in ‘big school’ – and it’s a real treasure. Wearing both his actor and writer hats, George himself read to us his tale about a young lad whose embarrassment at a hand-me-down football kit leads to a cracker of a playground fib. George delivered his prose with warmth and humour and Debbie Wiseman and the RPO underscored with an arrangement of music by the composer, largely made up of selections from her score for Tom’s Midnight Garden. It was a good fit and the highlight of the afternoon, made even more special for everyone concerned as the story’s hero, Bobby Charlton, was in the audience. Now ‘Sir’ Bobby, the legendary footballer travelled down from Manchester especially and made it onto the stage to thank George and Debbie and say a few words. Magical.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a song or two and providing the necessary vocals was the velvet-voiced James Loynes, who is certainly one to watch. ‘Nothing Grows on Gold’, an original song by Debbie Wiseman and Don Black, was premiered at ‘The Pink Ribbon Gala’ in 2009 and is a real winner. Don himself flew in from New York to be at the event and hear his song; it would certainly have been worth it as James truly did them proud.
Rounding off the generous concert was the quintessential Christmas song, Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’. James Loynes did the honours once again, helped along (I think) by the audience; a fittingly festive and uplifting end to a very successful event.
I was honoured to be able to play a small part in ‘The Magic of Christmas’ and Debbie and Friends can rest in the knowledge that they pulled off a cracker of a show and through ticket sales, book and CD sales on the day, added much needed funds to Breast Cancer Campaign’s piggy bank.
The concert was the icing on the cake this year for Debbie Wiseman, though there’s more to come. The cherry on top? Lost Christmas, which premieres on BBC One on Christmas Eve… Don’t miss it!
If you’d like to know more about Breast Cancer Campaign go to breastcancercampaign.org
Debbie Wiseman’s Piano Stories is available on CD, or to Download, now courtesy of Warner Classics. Go to Amazon.co.uk for more information!