Described as both a ‘national and international treasure’, Jamaican-born British R&B and soul singer, songwriter and actress Ruby Turner returned to the equally legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Soho earlier this month for a sold-out run. In recognition of her 30 year career the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors presented her with its prestigious Gold Badge for her contribution to British music in 2009. Over the three decades she has released twenty albums, including her 2007 double album ‘Live At Ronnie Scott’s’. Apart from her music, Ruby is also a very accomplished actress, with an impressive list of stage and screen appearances, including A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, CARMEN JONES, SIMPLY HEAVENLY and FAME in theatre and films LOVE ACTUALLY, JEWEL OF THE NILE and HOTEL BABALYON.
Ruby signed a profile ink portrait I sent to her when she performed at the Auckland Town Hall in New Zealand way back in 1995, which I posted in December 2013. This is my updated 4B pencil sketch, which Ruby kindly signed for me at Ronnie Scott’s on 6 February.
“Her technique and command over the instrument are breathe-taking, her playing being fully devoted to the music”, is how the German newspaper Nene Westfalische described Korean violist Hyeyoon Park.
Born in Seoul in 1992, she began to play at the age of four and made her orchestral debut five years later in her hometown with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. During her teens Hyeyoon emerged as one of the most promising violinists of her generation and an artist of outstanding style and virtuosity, winning the prestigious London Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award in 2011 and First Prize and two special prizes at the 58th ARD International Music Competition in Munich as a 17 year-old, the youngest person in the history of the competition.
Hyeyoon signed my portrait sketch after a recital at London’s Wigmore Hall a couple of weeks ago.
Robbie Williams reunited with his former TAKE THAT band mates, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald for a rare, one-off performance on the opening night of Tim Firth’s jukebox musical THE BAND, which features their songs, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 4 December last year. The evening was a Charity Gala where they raised £500,000 for Sir Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Christmas appeal.
TAKE THAT had 12 singles and eight albums reach number one in the UK, winning eight Brit Awards. The musical tells the story of five women who were best friends as teenagers and huge fans of THE BAND. Twenty-five years later four of them reunite to see their favourite group perform. After its world premiere in Manchester in 2017 and a UK and Ireland tour the musical took up residency in London’s West End over the festive season.
Robbie left the band in 1995 to launch his hugely successful solo career, becoming the UK’s best selling solo artist. All but one of his 11 albums reached number one in the UK, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame after being voted the ‘greatest artist of the 1990’s.’ He has received a record 18 Brit Awards. Robbie briefly returned to the band in 2010 for a stadium tour. Their subsequent album ‘Progress’ became the second fastest-selling album in UK chart history and the fastest-selling record of the century at the time.
Robbie signed my drawing for me at the Theatre Royal’s stage door after they had rehearsed late in the afternoon. He popped out for a ciggy and a siggy.
Hans Zimmer was listed as one of the Top 100 Living Geniuses by the Telegraph in 2007. Since 1980 the 61-year-old German composer has created the scores for over 150 films, including RAIN MAN, GLADIATOR, INCEPTION, the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series and THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, earning 11 Academy Award nominations and winning for Original Score for THE LION KING in 1995. He has also collected four Grammys, three Classical Brit Awards and two Golden Globes. He has been nominated for another Grammy at this Sunday’s ceremony for his BLADE RUNNER 2049 score.
“My father died when I was just a child and I escaped somehow into my music and music has been my best friend,” he said in an interview with the German radio station ZDF in 2006. His work is notable for integrating electronic music sounds with traditional orchestral arrangements. Hans is head of film music at the Dreamworks Studios and collaborates extensively with other composers through his own company and studio based in Santa Monica, California. In November 2017 a mainbelt asteroid discovered by Polish astronomers Michal Kusiak and Michal Zolnowski was named ‘Hanszimmer’.
Hans signed for me at the BFI London Film Festival’s Gala Screening of WIDOWS at the Cineworld’s Empire Cinema in Leicester Square last October.
Widely considered one of this century’s greatest violists, in fact one of the greatest from any century, Julia Fischer returned to London this week to perform with ‘the crowning glory of Russian culture’, the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall.
Not content with being a world-class violinist, Julia is also an outstanding concert pianist.
Born in Germany to a very musical family, she began playing the violin at the age of three and gained international recognition at a young age, winning a number of prestigious competitions including the 1995 International Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition and the 8th Eurovision Competition for Young Instrumentalists the following year. Julia played a Stradivarius, the 1716 Booth, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation for four years before changing to her current instrument, a 1742 Guadaguini. She also has a violin Philipp Augustin 2011 and usually uses a Benoit Rolland bow.
In 2018 she was listed by Classic FM as one of the twenty-five greatest violists of all time. When not performing she teaches in her hometown at the Munich University of Music and Performing Arts. In his review for the Evening Standard, Nick Kimberley wrote, “… a very mobile player, (Fischer) almost dancing round the stage-captured a free wheeling, improvisatory quality: in the third movement, the interplay between her and the wind players was delightfully fresh and frisky. Amazingly enough Fischer returned after the interval, not as a soloist, but as one of the galley slaves in the string section. Few superstars are willing to do that… and seemed to enjoy it.”
Julia signed and returned my drawing for me after I left it at the Artists Entrance.
The band AMERICA, formed in London in 1970 by high school mates Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and the late Dan Peek, sons of US Air Force personnel stationed in the English capital, returned to the city for their only UK gig last month at the London Palladium. It was one of the best live concerts I have ever seen. Their music was a big part of my teenage years.
Managed by the legendary George Martin, AMERICA, known for their close harmonies and light acoustic folk rock sound had a string of hit albums and singles throughout the 70’s culminating in one of my all-time favourite records, which instantly went platinum, HISTORY: AMERICA’S GREATEST HITS featuring their first international number 1, “A Horse With No Name” and “Tin Man” written by Dewey and Gerry respectively, along with “Sister Golden Hair”, “Sandman”, “Daisy Jane”, “Ventura Highway” and Dan’s “Lonely People.” In fact the albums pretty much made up the set list for the Palladium gig plus their great cover of the Mammas and the Pappas classic “California Dreamin'” and a salute to George with the Beatles cover of “Eleanor Rigby”.
I left this quick sketch of Gerry and Dewey at the Palladium Stage door and was very happy to receive it back signed. A very nice memento for a very memorable evening.
Nana Mouskouri returned to London last month for a special concert at the Royal Festival Hall. The 84 year-old Greek singing legend and global music star was celebrating sixty years as a performer with her recently released album ‘Forever Young’, featuring covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Amy Winehouse and many more.
Because of her varied and multilingual repertoire, being fluent in many languages, Nana has become one of the biggest-selling female recording artists of all time, often called Europe’s answer to Barbara Streisand. Her distinctive voice is a product of having only one functioning vocal cord, ranging from a ‘ husky dark alto to a ringing coloratura mezzo’. Nana is also a UNICEF ambassador and from 1994-1999 was an elected member of the European Parliament.
I left this sketch at the Royal Festival Hall for Nana to sign and a few weeks later it arrived back from Greece, signed and dedicated. Bravo!
The first time I met French composer Alexandre Desplat was at the opening night of fellow Parisian Michel Legrand‘s THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG at London’s Gielgud Theatre in 2011. I asked him for an autograph and he was apologeticly reluctant to oblige because of the highest esteem he held for the legendary Michel, who was also in attendance and signing only a few feet away. He waited until Michel had gone into the theatre and then was happy to my accommodate my request. I admired his class and courtesy.
Since then Alexandre has gone on to establish his own niche in the history of film composition. After his Hollywood breakthrough in 2003 with the musical score for GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING, he has won every accolade going, including two Academy Awards for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) and this year, THE SHAPE OF WATER. He was also nominated for THE IMITATION GAME in 2014, so the odds of winning his first Oscar were greatly enhanced. He repeated his success at the BAFTAs as well as THE KING’S SPEECH in 2011 and has also added two Golden Globes and two Grammys to his awards cabinet.
I think it won’t end there. Alexandre was part of the industry programme at this year’s BFI London Film Festival. I was lucky to meet the charming Frenchman afterwards at the Picturehouse Central Cinema earlier this week, where he signed my portrait.
In musical terms there are few bigger names than Michel Legrand. The celebrated Frenchman, known for his ‘often haunting, jazz-tinged film music’ has composed nearly 200 movie scores, winning every accolade going, including three Academy Awards, 5 Grammys and a Golden Globe.
One of my favourite songs, ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ from THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and sung by Noel Harrison, won the Best Song Oscar in 1968. He seems to have worked, at one time or another with practically every figure of consequence in popular music and film since the end of the Second World War. His theatre work has also been recognised with a Tony nomination for AMOUR and he even has an asteroid – 31201 michellegrand – named in his honour.
The 86 year-old performed for the first time in the UK last month at the Royal Festival Hall, when he conducted and played the piano with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, or as it was dubbed on the night, the ‘Michel Legrand Big Band,’ celebrating 60 years of his most cherished film scores.
In his review for London Jazz News, Andrew Cartmel summed up the experience in one paragraph, “ICE STATION ZEBRA demonstrated the mastery of film composition that Legrand had achieved as early as 1968. The pointillist mystery of the introduction, comprising cross-hatched strings and glockenspiel, yielded to supple shoots of wood winds springing up, subtly and adroitly conjuring the mood before the brass section injected a stab of menace… Legrand’s music remains compelling, absorbing and masterful.”
It was an honour to have Monsieur Legrand sign my drawing at the venue.
Spandau Ballet bassist and actor Martin Kemp made his West End debut early last month, taking over from Cuba Gooding Jr as the nefarious lawyer Billy Flynn in the London revival of CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre. No stranger to the stage, Martin was last seen in the capital as the legendary record producer Sam Phillips in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at the Royal Festival Hall in 2017.
While discussing his CHICAGO gig in an interview Martin said the playing the West End was always on his list of things to do. “It’s nice to be in the centre of town”, and it’s the first time he’s sung in character on stage. Did Cuba give him any advice? ” Yes , he said,”watch it as many times as you can.”
Although Martin’s ‘Billy’ is a little different than Cuba’s. “That’s the beauty playing Billy Flynn, we all interpret it differently and agrees it’s such a great part. “Billy commands the stage and everything’s in my key. He’s the devil that gets the girls to sell their souls.”
I met him arriving at the stage door on Saturday, where he signed this sketch. “Thanks man,” he said. Martin is scheduled until early September.