The Great Wilko! But how many are there?

Looking forwards very much to the appearance of Mark Wilkinson’s CD with Fodens. (MILESTONE-Doyen CD310) He is a model player as well as person … he could be, in all round value terms for Fodens, the best band appointment I ever made. What heightens his musical gifts are three qualities that rarely go together: his steadiness of purpose, his intelligence and his impish sense of humour. (Even the other great Wilko … the saintly Jonny … can only manage two of those three qualities.) It must be remembered that Mark followed immediately after two other true greats of the cornet in the Fodens Solo Cornet position: Martin Winter directly preceded him for a limited period, but before that for many years, John Hudson led from the front in a similar way to Mark. Effervescent, always with a smile, brave, never shirking a challenge, John set the bar at a very high level. Mark has been clearing that bar for even more years than John and deserves all the plaudits that are consistently coming his way.

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One additional reason for my interest in the disc is that it includes a Fantasy that I wrote in 1988, dedicated to my father. He was a talented amateur brass musician, a multi-instrumentalist. A man sparing of unearned praise, he was a person of depth and character, the kind who go unremarked until the arrival of one of those sudden ‘cometh the hour‘ events. One did arrive in the 50s when his efforts during a mine rescue made him publicly remarkable. Ill health dogged his later years as the many tolls on his life increasingly added up.

As for the other Great Wilko … the Jonny one … the English sports press does not understand the degree to which he is worshipped in France. Perhaps they think he is not liked because he is English; but he is not just liked, he is respected and revered both for his performance and his conduct. More understood and appreciated here than in England, and seen to be a master in all aspects of the game, his new captaincy of Toulon is perhaps his most hidden but potentially his greatest achievement. Proven as a player on a thousand occasions, he has shown leadership, flair, loyalty and deep deep grit. Even fans of opposing teams signal their unalloyed respect in the rugby press … as if MU fans took to the correspondence columns to signal their unstinting appreciation of MC’s best player! This was not uncritically handed to him on the plate by the press and the public, but gradually accorded in a way that from now will always be there for him. If only Wilko had been given the chance to captain the England Rugby team, the chaos of quite a few years post-Woodward would have been years of glorious success, not scratchy failure. He conducts Toulon’s matches the way a great musician conducts performances.

(Having written this a couple of weeks ago, today Jonny has won the European Cup with Toulon. And it came to pass that he smiled! Ever seen before?)

The French Touch

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This pic is of a Kite Festival held on the beaches at Berk-on Sea (Berk-sur-Mer) on the northern coast of France, the Opal Coast as it is now called in marketing-speak. They fly kites there at many times of the year … try to catch it at non-Festival time before it all becomes too commercial. As it is, “the biggest-kite-in-the-world” competitions are getting quite silly, but they have a bizarre Disney-style attraction, one notch up from the horrible Carnival Procession that precedes the Tour de France.

France does community activities very well and enjoys itself in old-style ways that are rarely found now in Britain. Thank you, Health and Safety for your crass destruction of so many enjoyable traditional festive moments. (The Whit Marches in Lancashire are one of the few vestiges of the many old English Festivals that used to go off without any fuss: my Fantasy for Cornet, which has an outing in Mark Wilkinson’s new CD, ends with a musical painting of the old May Day celebration. NOT the modern political one. And there’s no safety for the soloist.) Every village and hamlet in France has a couple of feasts per year, with every one giving a helping hand.

Our’s is typical. The first, held at the end of May, is a simple lunchtime meal with everyone mixed up as they wish, no speeches, no formalities, stay as long as you wish and eat as much (or little) as you want. The second Feast, to bring the summer holidays to a close, marks the coming La Rentrée (The Re-entry) … the return to normal life, work, school and all the year’s rituals and the endless series of brief holidays that give France its old style attraction. May, by the way, is rumoured (according to a local source) to have 12 days of holidays, and of course the retirement age which was 62 (!) is due to drop to 60 (!!). This is called the French Exception. I confidently expect French gravity to be suspended any minute now.

La Rentrée, at the end of August, is the most substantial affair, spread over three days of very late evenings of eating, with dances for the younger and for the older, together with general socialising around a large jumble sale. To my knowledge there is never an outbreak of the kind of public behaviour that now scars every British weekend. Long may Les Fêtes and the French Exception continue. I fear that their Teutonic enemies across their Eastern borders are on the march, on land, sea and air, against such Glorious Exceptions to the dismal grind of modern life. Enjoy it while it lasts, I say!

Spring morning, looking east from our garden. When it’s really clear we can see for a hundred miles to the (extinct) volcanoes of the Auvergne.

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