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A Phoenix Rises in The Secret Courtyard

February 22, 2014

I know the title of this post sounds like an episode of “Game of Thrones”, but the story I have to share with you could easily come from the pen of a television drama writer.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter or Facebook may already know a little about vintage headband and tiara maker Sheena Holland and the grim saga that her life became towards the end of 2013.  For those unfamiliar, here’s a quick “Previously On…”

Sheena Holland has worked for fashion legend Katharine Hamnett and as a professional florist (providing flowers for HRH The Queen Mother, Elton John and Michael Jackson).  She’s even sung at The Brit Awards (backing Sting and M People).  In 2003 she began making one-off vintage headbands and spent the next decade building her business.  Clients included Alan Carr and singers Pink and Lily Allen.  Having latterly taken the plunge into high street retail with her own shop on Queen Street in Derby, in early 2013 she moved into larger premises where she expanded her stock range to include all manner of exquisite vintage goods.

Sheena Holland's scaffold-enclosed shop in Derby

At the beginning of October 2013 the building housing her shop was encased in scaffolding.  The motives of her landlords, Derby City Council, were laudable – to renovate the building, including offices above, for creative start-up businesses to use – but their execution left a lot to be desired.  And I mean a lot.

Sheena’s shop was almost entirely hidden from view to customers and trade plummeted.  I can’t say much more because there may still be further legal wrangles to come, but in spite the incredible efforts of Sheena and her many supporters the situation became untenable and Sheena was forced to close her shop just before Christmas.  In less than ten weeks, all that Sheena had worked so hard to build up had been razed to the ground.

Well, I’m delighted to say that, like the proverbial phoenix, Sheena has risen from the ashes and opened a new shop in The Old Blacksmith’s Yard, Derby and I went to pay her a visit last week to find out how she was getting on.

Sheena Holland's new shop in Derby

I say “new”, but this shop is actually 600-years old, or, at least the front of it is.  It was a merchant’s house and stood originally in the city’s market square, but had been hemmed in and hidden away over the years by neighbouring buildings.

The half-timbered merchant's house in Old Blacksmith's Yard

It was revealed in 1977 during demolition work to make way for the new Assembly Rooms and was meticulously dismantled, brick by brick and put into storage for twelve years before finally being reconstructed in 1982 in what became known as the Old Blacksmith’s Yard.

Old Balcksmith's Yard sign

Blacksmith anvil

Sheena’s new shop looks fabulous in this splendid “secret courtyard” just off Sadler Gate in the heart of Derby’s Cathedral Quarter.  The interior is just as charming as the exterior.

Vintage sheet music wallpaper

Sheena Holland's shop in Derby

Antique headbands

Antique and vintage jewellery shop

Vintage Oertling display cabinet

Vintage mirrors

The shop is packed with vintage loveliness and Sheena’s beautiful handmade tiara’s and headbands look great in their new home.

Sheena's wedding headbands

Sheena Holland's feather side tiaras

Vintage pearl side tiara headband

handmade wedding headbands by Sheena Holland

Feather headband side-tiara

Sheena has really made the shop her own – I love the vintage sheet music adorning the wall behind the counter.

Vintage sheet music decoarating the wall of Sheena Holland's shop

As if bouncing back from her previous woes to open a new shop in the Old Blacksmith’s Yard wasn’t enough, Sheena is now aiming to completely revitalise the fortunes of the whole courtyard by running a Vintage, Arts and Food Market there.  The first is on Saturday March 1st and Sheena is planning to make it a regular fixture.

I’m so pleased that Sheena has managed to find another outlet for her work.  Independent makers and sellers on our high streets are to be celebrated and encouraged and I look forward to seeing her business go from strength to strength.

Find out more about Sheena Holland by visiting www.sheenaholland.com.  Her new shop is at 10 The Old Blacksmiths Yard, Derby DE1 3PD and is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10am til 5pm.

Elegant Focus – Part 2

December 18, 2013

As promised, here are some more photos from the shoot I did with Gemma Williams.

Stunning flash photography by Gemma Williams

Singing songs from the 1920s 30s and 40s

The style and feel of the pictures is exactly what I wanted to referesh my website and advertising literature.

Singer with vintage microphone

1920s wedding singer

Moody usee of shadows in this composition

Gemma loved picking up on the details which was nice because I’m so particular about things like that myself (some may even say obsessive!).  These cufflinks were a gift from my wife and are a treasured possession as well as completing my look perfectly.

Art deco design cufflinks

George Hurrell photography

Gazing out from the hotel terrace

1930s vintage microphone 1940s

Special thanks must also go to Swinfen Hall Hotel for letting us use their wonderful hotel as our shoot location.  We were spoilt for choice when it came to photo opportunities and the hotel’s elegant Georgian grandeur provided numerous beautiful settings.

Vintage wedding singer

Relaxed and dapper gentleman

The steps down from the terrace of Swinfen Hall Hotel

This was the last picture that Gemma Williams took on the day.  It rounded of the day splendidly as well as echoing the photo that had turned me into such a fan of Gemma’s work (see Part 1 for that).

Profile shotof wedding singer Simon Partridge

Elegant Focus – Part 1

December 2, 2013

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.

Photographer Gemma Williams' picture of wedding singer Simon Partridge

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.

Swinfen Hall Hotel, Lichfield, 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…

Herefordshire photographer Gemma Williams at work

…into this…

Vintage wedding singer Simon Partridge

Weddings singer Simon Partridge

Outside, the hotel terrace provided another great setting.

Simon Partridge on the terrace at Swinfen Hall Hotel

Gazing into the middle distance

Staffordshire wedding venue Swinfen Hall Hotel's terrace

With roman-style goddess statues

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.

One of my George Hurrell shots taken by Gemma Williams

A fun, relaxed, smiling portrait

George Hurrell shot in full colour

I love the way Gemma has used the natural light and my reflection in this shot.

Singer reflected in polished grand piano lid

There were plenty of laughs too…

Messing about during the photo shoot at Swinfen Hall

The results are everything I’d hoped for and more.

Singer posing with vintage microphone

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.

A Worcester Source of Vintage Inspiration

October 2, 2013

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 eighteenth century Guildhall in Worcester

The Vintage Wedding Fayre in Worcester at the historic Guildhall

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.

Vintage wedding singer's view of The Guildhall in Worcester

The ceiling of the Assembly Room at Worcester's Guildhall

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.

Painted plaster on the ceiling of the Assembly Room at the Guildhall in Worcester

The Assembly Room upstairs in Worcester Guildhall

The room provided the perfect setting for me to serenade visitors to the wedding fayre with songs from my extensive repertoire of vintage songs.

Vintage wedding singer's banner

Simon Partridge singing at The Vintage Wedding Fayre in Worcester

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.

Thanks for the Memory

May 12, 2013

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.

Ah yes, I remember it well...

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”.

Dame Edith Evans

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.

Ella Fitzgerald -Ella in Berlin

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…..?

A Ghost of Christmas Past

April 25, 2013

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!

Stancliffe Hall, Derbyshire wedding venue

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.

Entrance to Stancliffe Hall. Peak District wedding venue and conference centre.

Stancliffe Hall is full of fabulous features and some splendid artworks.

1920s bronze sculpture of dancer

Art Deco bronze sculpture

Being Christmas, there were also some delightful festive touches to the decor too.

Giant nutcracker drummer boy Christmas decoration

All you need is love! With silver Xmas baubles

I sang during the post-ceremony drinks reception, serenading the guests from the balcony of the building’s central hall.

Singing from the balcony at Stancliffe Hall

My view of the wedding guests below

It was a pleasure to have been part of such a wonderful day at a marvelous venue like Stancliffe Hall.

Kyle and Alexandra with Simon Partridge

Congratulations to Kyle and Alexandra and I look forward to singing again at Stancliffe Hall very soon.

I Second That Emulsion

March 15, 2013

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.

Charles Benjamin Mander photographed by Oscar Rejlander

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.

Charles  Benjamin Mander's blue plaque

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.

The Mount Hotel, Wolverhampton

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.

entrance to The Mount Hotel

The Mount Hotel's terrace

Octagonal domed ceiling at The Mount Hotel, Wolverhampton

Victorian stained-glass window at The Mount Hotel, Wolverhampton

The interior has changed very little over the years as these two pictures of the hotel’s reception area show.

The Mount Hotel reception today

Which in 1919 looked like this:

The Mount Hotel reception area in 1919

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.

The Mount 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.

My view of Tom and Rachael's wedding

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.

Wedding singer Simon Partridge with Tom and Rachael

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.

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