I've never been in any doubt about the power of music. The shiver up the spine at the climax of a Mahler symphony, the profound solemnity of a Bach Passion or the memories stirred up by association of a particular piece in time. We often talk of music bringing people together in music marketing, but the true story below is personal and true. It involves my father and an LSO friend who we discovered recently had something rather special in common. With their permission, here is the story of David and Hilary.
There is a photograph of me when I was about 10 years old standing in front of the railings outside my Gran’s house. Visits in the school holidays to the South Wales mining village of Cwmllynfell where my father grew up were where my soul was cast in red. I treasure the memories of time with my Gran. The sunrise cutting of the coal, the burning of my trousers after too long lingering against the Rayburn, and the butter, inch thick on the pre breakfast Welsh cakes whilst mum and dad had a well earned lie in upstairs. The photograph looks like any other family snapshot, full of everyday details which would mean nothing to you. The silver railings with overpainted rust, the telephone exchange squatting next door, the whisper of the mountains behind the house, the red post box where copies of the Western Mail were posted to my father exiled in Surrey; and the bus stop. Of all them, it's the bus stop which makes me linger. It is full of what ifs, whys and might have beens. It’s the bus stop where an excited 5 year old boy sat waiting for his Aunty to visit from London. It’s the bus stop where in 1951 you'd be lucky to see a handful of cars pass a day. It’s the bus stop where my then 5 year old father couldn’t contain his excitement as the bus came round the corner. It’s the bus stop where my father nearly lost his life as he was run over and lay bleeding, stuck under the wheels of the bus. What followed was years of surgery and callipers to save firstly his life, and then what was left of his leg. By the age of 19 and the final operation, he was left with a limp and some serious scarring, but against the odds, he survivedFast forward to 2004, the LSO centenary year. Sir Karl Jenkins wrote Quirk, a concerto for me and my colleagues to play and I was delighted when I discovered we were going to play in Brangwyn Hall in Swansea. Friends and family came and it was a lovely occasion, particularly for my father. I wrote about it on the LSO blog. Some months later, a lady approached me in the Barbican foyer. She introduced herself as Hilary, one of the friends of the orchestra and explained that a friend of hers had told her about my blog. She said that she particularly enjoyed the one about Wales and Cwmllynfell, because she was from the same village! If you’ve ever been there, it really is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place and we laughed at what a small world it was. Hilary and I had quite a long chat about it. She described where she had lived as a child and asked where my father had lived. I explained that he was at No 79, the house his grandfather had built next to the telephone exchange.
“That’s where the nursery used to be," she said.
A long forgotten conversation popped into my head. I’d always wondered why there was a gap between the houses where this funny little building was. Long ago it had been a nursery growing vegetables and flowers. It turned out that her father had owned the nursery! What a coincidence.
“What’s your dad’s name?” she continued.
“David. David Davies.”
There was a pause.
“Has he got a limp?”
And with that, frustratingly, I had to go and play. From my seat in the orchestra, I could see Hilary in the audience. She was sat with her husband Brian only a few rows in front of my mum and dad, but they had no idea. I didn’t see Hilary again for a while and kept forgetting to speak to my dad about it.
Just when you think that the past is forgotten, it has a habit of reappearing in the most unlikely places, or in some cases opening old wounds. In dad’s case, literally. Around this time, he had a pain in his bad leg and it looked as if something from the garden had got stuck, a thorn or something similar. When he went to the GP, after a quick dig around, he dug out an old stitch that had been missed once upon a time and had finally resurfaced after patiently working its way out over the last 40 years. It reminded me of Hilary and the conversation we'd had and weeks after that chance meeting, I asked dad about it.
So did he remember Hilary? Kind of, but he definitely remembered the nursery next door to his house. As one often does, he recalled all sorts of funny details. He remembered her, although he was a few years older and with a childhood interspersed with hospital stays, his memory was a little hazy. But the name Isaac popped into his head. He didn't really know why. There were more details about his Aunty's visit, but he kept coming back to Isaac. It seemed a strange detail to remember.
It was weeks before I saw Hilary again, running the friends of the LSO desk at the Barbican.
“Hilary! My dad does remember you!”
“He remembers the nursery and someone called Isaac.”
“Ah yes,” she replied, “Isaac was my father. He ran the nursery next door. I remember your dad because he had a limp. Didn't he get run over by a bus when he was little?”
“Well...yes he did!"
I was slightly taken aback that she would know or remember a detail like this from over 50 years ago about the little boy down the road.
"It's funny," I said,"That you can remember my dad and even that he was run over by a bus, and yet all my dad can remember for some bizarre reason, is your father Isaac!"
Hilary looked at me like I was missing something really obvious.
“Well it’s not surprising really. My father was there when your dad was run over by the bus. My mother used to speak about it. He tied the tourniquet around your dad’s leg to stop the bleeding which saved his life.”
This is my personal blog. All views are my own and are not endorsed by any of the organisations I work for.