It may be true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but when it comes to publicity shots we’ve all seen some horrors in our time, haven’t we? So when I decided I needed some new pictures for my website, Facebook page, Twitter account, Preview CD and promotional literature I knew it had to be Gemma Williams behind the camera .
I first met Gemma two years ago when she was photographing a wedding I was singing for at Parkfields Country House. She took this wonderful, candid shot of me then and I’ve been a fan of her work ever since.
The choice of venue for the shoot was an easy one too. Swinfen Hall Hotel is a beautiful eighteenth-century manor house just a few minutes drive from my home city of Lichfield in Staffordshire.
Gemma is so much fun to work with, but all the time her brain is whirring away to ensure she gets amazing results. In the hotel’s ballroom, working with only a couple of flash guns mounted on tripods, she turned this…
Outside, the hotel terrace provided another great setting.
When I’d talked to Gemma before the shoot about what photos I hoped to get out of the day I’d mentioned the work of George Hurrell. If you don’t know the name you’ll certainly know his work. In the 1930s and 40s Hurrell was the Hollywood photographer and his trademark use of lighting and shadows became the archetype for photographs of that era. I told Gemma that I would love my own Hurrell shot.
I knew it was a lot to ask. Hurrell, after all, worked in a studio with a custom lighting rig, numerous assistants and as much time as he needed to get his results. Could Gemma do the same on location with limited resources? Of course she could!! She worked her magic and produced some outstanding pictures that any Hollywood star would be proud of.
I love the way Gemma has used the natural light and my reflection in this shot.
There were plenty of laughs too…
The results are everything I’d hoped for and more.
There are far too many fabulous photos to include in one post so I’ll share some more soon. In the meantime you can see Gemma’s pictures on my website www.simonpartridge.com and find out more about her work by visiting www.gemmawilliamsphotography.co.uk.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of singing at The Vintage Wedding Fayre in Worcester. Organised by the utterly splendid Hayley Turner, the venue was the Guildhall in the heart of the city.
The fayre was spread over two floors of the magnificent eighteenth-century building. I was upstairs in the Assembly Room which no lesser personage than King George III, on a visit to the Guildhall in 1788, pronounced “a handsome gallery”. I think George was being a little ungenerous in his praise – the Assembly Room is, frankly, stunning.
The ceiling of the Assembly Room is something of a hidden gem as the room is not ordinarily open to the public, but the painted plasterwork is really something to behold.
The room provided the perfect setting for me to serenade visitors to the wedding fayre with songs from my extensive repertoire of vintage songs.
The next Vintage Wedding Fayre is in Gloucester on October 20th and I will be singing there all day too.
To find out more about The Vintage Wedding Fayre visit their Facebook page here.
The question I get asked more than any other when I’m working is, “How on earth do you remember all the words?”
There are over seventy songs on my repertoire. That’s maybe ten thousand words in all. Obviously some lines and phrases are repeated within a song so the total number of different words is smaller, but even so, I admit it still seems like an awful lot to carry around in your head, available for instant recall.
The honest answer to the question is that I don’t know how I remember them. I’ve always found learning the words to new songs relatively easy. The key for me is making sure I really understand a lyric fully. If you don’t understand a song you might just as well be trying to memorise a list of random words, but once you have that understanding the words connect together properly and those connections make the song much easier to remember. After that it’s really just a matter of repetition until the whole thing becomes second nature and you stop thinking about it; somehow the words are just there when you need them.
Forgetting the words is the ultimate nightmare of any performer. Most actors and singers have had the dream where they’re standing on stage in front of an expectant audience, paralysed with terror, unable to recall a single syllable.
There are many famous examples of “drying” as it’s known. One of my favourites was attributed in the version I heard to the great actor Dame Edith Evans, best known for her portrayal of Lady Bracknell in the 1952 film version of “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
Onstage with her fellow actors the dialogue suddenly ground to a halt and a deathly hush ensued. The prompt whispered the next line from the wings, but was met with silence. The prompt repeated the line, slightly louder, but the silence continued. The prompt offered the line a third time, now clearly audible to the whole audience, but still none of the actors spoke. Eventually Dame Edith turned to the wings and said, “We know what the line is, dear, we just can’t remember who says it”.
Sometimes, forgetting the words can lead to something extraordinary. Have a listen to Ella Fitzgerald performing “Mack the Knife” live in Berlin in 1960.
At 1m 40s you hear her sing, “Oh, what’s the next chorus?” having, clearly, forgotten the words. Then, displaying a confidence that most singers would give their right arm for, she goes on to give a live masterclass in jazz improvisation. The show was being recorded for an LP release and the decision was taken to leave the “mistake” on the album. That version is now regarded as a jazz classic.
So have I ever forgotten the words? Well, that would be telling. Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure none of my audiences have ever suspected a thing! I only hope that if, one day, I do have a major memory lapse I can carry it off with Ella’s style and panache.
Now, where did I leave my car keys…..?
Now that the weather has finally got its act together and nudged the mercury above freezing I thought today would be the perfect time to share a Christmas wedding with you!
Kyle and Alexandra married last December at Stancliffe Hall , a fabulous old house nestling in the heart of the Peak District with over fifty acres of parkland. Its transformation from delapidated former school to stylish wedding and conference venue is all down to owner Deborah Fern.
Stancliffe Hall is full of fabulous features and some splendid artworks.
Being Christmas, there were also some delightful festive touches to the decor too.
I sang during the post-ceremony drinks reception, serenading the guests from the balcony of the building’s central hall.
It was a pleasure to have been part of such a wonderful day at a marvelous venue like Stancliffe Hall.
Congratulations to Kyle and Alexandra and I look forward to singing again at Stancliffe Hall very soon.
Someone once said to me, “Every day is a day at school”. The phrase has stuck with me ever since. The idea that we never stop learning is a potent one and although the job that I do is, largely, a superficial one it takes me in all kinds of directions, both literally and metaphorically, and I’m constantly surprised by the things that turn up.
Take nineteenth-century paint magnate Charles Benjamin Mander for example.
I came across him when I was booked to sing at Rachael and Tom’s wedding last December at The Mount Hotel near Wolverhampton. Mander made his fortune as a paint and varnish manufacturer and The Mount was formerly his lavish family home.
Rather than be content to sit at home counting the loot generated by his highly profitable paint business though, Mander was notably progressive and public spirited both in thought and deed. He established the first publicly funded British art school in 1852 and, as a town councillor, oversaw the installation of public water fountains and the setting up of a free library in Wolverhampton.
You have to love Victorian philanthropists like Mander. In our world of colossal bankers’ bonuses and self-indulgence it’s heartening to remember the wealthy industrialists of the nineteenth century who used at least part of their wealth for the betterment of their fellow men and women.
As well as his legacy of good deeds Mander left behind The Mount. The Grade II listed building is now a hotel and conference centre.
The interior has changed very little over the years as these two pictures of the hotel’s reception area show.
Which in 1919 looked like this:
The Mount is a popular West Midland wedding venue and Rachael and Tom had chosen it’s romantic refinement for their late-December wedding. The marriage ceremony took place in the hotel’s wood-panelled Great Hall.
I was set up in the adjoining bar area and serenaded the newlyweds and their guests during the post-ceremony drinks with songs from the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
I had first met Rachael and Tom at The Vintage Chic Wedding Fair over a year before their wedding and it was an absolute pleasure to be part of their special day.
I like to think that Charles Benjamin Mander, with his altruistic leanings, would thoroughly approve of his old home now being the centre of so much fun, love and laughter. I certainly look forward to singing at The Mount again soon.
The history of popular culture is littered with dance crazes. Most shimmer briefly in the spotlight of public attention then vanish, forgotten, never to be danced again, replaced by a new set of moves.
But occasionally a dance takes on a life beyond its fifteen-minutes of fame and becomes a form of cultural shorthand for a particular era. The dance that typifies this more than any other is the Charleston which is now seen as the embodiment of the spirit of the 1920s.
The precise origins of the dance are unclear, but it was brought to public attention when the song “Charleston” was included in the 1923 Broadway show, “Runnin’ Wild”. The Charleston’s infectious rhythm, wild abandon and the fact that it could be danced without a partner made it the dance of choice for young people around the globe.
It later developed into part of the Lindy Hop and nowadays the dance is a popular feature of the BBC television show “Strictly Come Dancing” which introduced the Charleston in 2009 despite it not being an “official” ballroom dance (as defined by The British Dance Council).
I’m excited that I’ve been able to add a Charleston song to my repertoire. ”I’d Rather Charleston” was written by George Gershwin and Desmond Carter for the 1926 show “Lady Be Good” although I first came across it when Kenneth Branagh used it in his 2000 film version of William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”.
Having it in my repertoire of songs from the 1920s, 30s and 40s is something of a coup. I don’t know of anyone else in the UK currently singing “I’d Rather Charleston” as part of a self-contained act and I’m confident that it adds further authenticity to my performances. It means that those people who have already booked me for their “Great Gatsby” themed weddings and parties this year will certainly be getting some bone-fide 1920s entertainment.
Ninety-years on, the Charleston doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of flagging and I for one am delighted about that. You can keep your latest dance crazes, I would definitely rather Charleston!
We’re always hearing tales of “the death of The British High Street” and the evidence of our own eyes as we walk through the towns and cities where we live would seem to support the stories. So it’s nice to be able to tell you about someone who is bucking the the trend.
In November 2011, when so many others were literally shutting up shop, designer Sheena Holland took the plunge into retail and opened her own chic, independent boutique in the East Midlands city of Derby.
Having worked for fashion designer Katherine Hamnett in the 1980s then as a freelance florist (creating floral displays for the Queen Mum, Elton John and Michael Jackson amongst others) Sheena began making one-off vintage headbands in 2003 and now makes headbands, bridal tiaras, jewellery and hats using vintage materials including re-worked leather, antique and vintage jewellery and feathers.
The shop is (almost literally!) a goldmine of treasures, all displayed with singular style.
It’s heartening that in a climate where so many small businesses are closing down or, at the very least, retreating online to sell their goods, there are still people like Sheena Holland who are prepared to make a stand on the high street and help keep independent retail alive.
When the first anniversary of the shop’s opening came round in November 2012 Sheena asked me to perform at a party for her friends and customers. The party was held in the shop itself which meant I found myself performing in a shop window for the first time in my career!
It turned out to be a very special evening. Sheena has some very loyal supporters who made a very appreciative audience. My repertoire of songs from the 1920s, 30s and 40s was the perfect fit for Sheena’s vintage boutique and I had a wonderful time that ended all too soon. Luckily I managed to grab a quick photo with Sheena at the end of the evening.
A very talented designer and a lovely person to boot, I wish Sheena ever greater success in the years to come.
Find out more about Sheena’s unique creations and how to buy them by visiting her website www.sheenaholland.com
And if you have a shop window that needs a singer you can book me via www.simonpartridge.com