Question: What could be better than sitting outside on a summer evening having a picnic and listening to live music?
Answer: A leisurely walk around the East Front Gardens of Hampton Court Palace with your best friend: laying a rug on the lawn to picnic with a glass of Champagne, before listening to a world renowned musical performance in a magical setting.
Hearing John Wilson and his Orchestra playing during a televised performance of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, encouraged Paul to reserve tickets for their performance at The Hampton Court Palace Festival, this summer. Our 6 pm arrival allowed plenty of time to wander about the spectacular and historic East Front Gardens, appreciating the dry weather, beautifully planted flower beds and fountains, the iconic building and its exciting ambience.
Enough meandering, inclement weather had led us to forego bringing a picnic: the scent of Italian pizzas drew our attention as we spread ourselves and the travel rug over the well kept lawn. We were soon relishing the stone-baked pizzas that tasted as well as they smelt – delicious with glasses of champagne from the nearby tent.
Moving the large number of people from the outside grounds into the Palace took time and, by 7.45 pm the public was being urged to enter the Palace for the fifteen minute walk through to the Tudor Courtyard.
Tiers of seats faced the specially made stage while white clouds scudded over an atmosphere of anticipation. The players arrived, a few at a time; the familiar sounds of violins and other instruments tuning up encouraged latecomers to quickly find their seats. An air of expectation settled over the audience.
We were not disappointed. The repertoire included music by my favourites, Cole Porter and Gershwin, among other talented composers: Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Andre Previn. Special guest vocalists Anna-Jane Casey and Matt Ford added glamour to the occasion. The disappearing sun emphasised lights shining on the red walls: special musical touches and unusual fun sounds from percussion players brought gaiety, while blankets to cushion the hard seats and maintain warm legs, provided outdoor comfort.
As an internationally renowned conductor and arranger, John Wilson and his personally chosen ensemble were well able to turn what could have been a tricky situation into an amusing incident. Thirty minutes into the programme, a chilly wind whistled across the stage, lifting sheets of music without favour before depositing them willy nilly, around musicians’ feet. John Wilson made fun as the wind repeated its performance on several occasions: pausing the orchestra between arrangements, to allow one of the drummers to retrieve and replace the important musical scores.
By 10.15 pm the programme had reached its finale, drawing another special evening in the iconic Hampton Court Palace environment to a close.
Paul introduced me to The Hampton Court Palace Festival soon after we met. His favourite blues guitarist, Eric Clapton, was appearing with his band. Complimentary champagne in the Waitrose hospitality marquee, and the ‘Star Clipper’ bag purchased during a solo holiday to the Caribbean before I met Paul, encouraged lively conversation with other guests. Afterwards we set up our picnic on the lawn to consume smoked salmon, prawns, and our own special bottle of champagne, in the warmth of the June heat-wave. My first Festival – an introduction to Eric’s music in this spectacular setting – remains a special memory.