For over ten years from 1977 there was a period when the double bass dominated my life. I had played the bass in the school orchestra, but I was largely self-taught. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I started to play it properly. I had lessons from an ex-professional player, Colin Boulter. He had played bass in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Colin not only taught me how to play the instrument; he got me work. I already played in a couple of amateur orchestras, but this work was paid. Semi-professional they called it. My first engagement was in the Norfolk Opera Player’s 1981 production of Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. It began a decade of highly enjoyable musical theatre, ending with my last performance (as it turned out), Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1990.
There were some oratorios along the way, like Elijah, and of course The Messiah, but no symphonic music in my semi-professional career. I played a lot of purely instrumental music, but for that I wasn’t paid. I had to be a fully amateur player when I wasn’t being paid by a theatre audience. I always thought it a little unfair that the excellent singers on stage were doing it all for nothing, while the hack musicians in the pit were being paid.
I worked hard at my bass, and I enjoyed playing it, but to be quite honest I am a very second-rate musician. I was excellent at music theory but my execution of the practical side let me down. Music doesn’t come as easily to me as it does to some people. The writing of history is no trouble to me, and I suppose that playing an instrument come as easily to others. Both require hard work, but it comes naturally to those with the gift. I do not regret giving up the bass. Besides, by 1990 I had a young family, and something had to go. There were just not enough hour in the day.