Messiaen & Ray Charles

By the time I'd been at King's Canterbury a couple of years I had grown so alienated I'd retreated into my own world where I did little else except play the organ and occasionally get beaten for noncooperation. My active antipathy to sport meant that I was singled out for bullying in that hellish academy of barbarians.
Messiaen was my salvation. I had first encountered him throu Allan Wicks, who also taught me organ. All weekend long I'd practise on the crypt organ, and by the age of 15 I could play all Messiaen's then-published oeuvre.
I had evolved a burglary kit that included a cathedral key & a coat hanger to gain access to the main organ loft. Being insomniac, I would wait until everyone in my dorm was asleep and then leave by the fire exit from Meister Omers, adjacent to the Choir School /House, go to the cathedral & let rip for several hours. Amazingly, I was never challenged, and no enquiry was ever raised about the organ being played 'Phantom-like' at midnight.
I ran up awful music bills for my poor father at Forwoods. £60 a term when a term's boarding fees were only about £250. (Hard to believe now!) And he couldn't even pay that half the time. Psychologists will understand something of the (non-)relationship that this way of demanding my father's attention was intended to provoke. Unsuccessfully.

When I'd first begun to compose, around the age of 12, I received no encouragement. My voice /idiom developed spontaneously under the influence of Messiaen as I learnt to play his intensely mystical organ music. Therefore I had the youthful experience of finding that exposing what was intensely meaningful for me produced indifference in everyonelse, including my parents who probably thought that composition was a just phase I'd grow out of when I needed to get a job.
This brought me to a crisis, which was essentially one of my own authenticity /self-worth: the more I followed my calling, my creative daemon, the more isolated it made me. Since those sounds that seemed most real & vivid to me aroused to response, except embarrassment, where did reality lie? The final straw for me was when I could find noone at Kings, boy or master, willing to read throu Messiaen's La quattuour pour le fin du temps with me. I just thought 'well if I'm in a parallel universe' maybe there's another one I do belong in, and if it does Messiaen must be in it. So to Paris I prepared to go.
I knew my grandfather had taken out War Bonds in my name, and discovered they'd matured & could be cashed. So I did so during the holidays & returned to school with my passport in the Easter term 1963. I could speak intelligible french – about the only thing I learnt at Kings.
Having been to the Trinité twice to hear Messiaen improvise after High Mass -wonderfully- and then seen him descend from the organ loft into a small sea of fidgety organophiles I knew I should never be able to approach him. Who was I? A a kid on the edge of a breakdown with no credentials, nothing to offer, barely able to give an account of myself. How could tell him -in french- I needed him to save my life? And if my god were to spurn me I must necessarily embrace the devil of suicide with which I had flirted constantly for at least 3 years.

The end of it was, my money ran out and I returned to England with my tail between my legs - determined on one thing only, never to submit myself to the confederacy of dunces called education. Accordingly I started work at Gala Cosmetics as a sweeper. My salvation was to meet harpsichordist Jane Clark & her composer husband Stephen Dodgson, who took me into their home and made me into a musician and a human being.
But my time in Paris was productive in another way, for I saw Ray Charles on his first European tour. Never before had I seen this level of incandescence, and rarely have I encountered it since. Ray was so attuned to his music that as a performer he seemed to be without physical limits - pure spirit. Nothing I'd absorbed about ice-race spirituality at Canterbury prepared me for a sun-race spirituality that was earthy and vibrantly sexual. Achieving a spiritual fusion between these polar antitheses of musical being, the intensely literate and the intensely intuitive, has been guiding principle of my evolution as a composer, music producer and teacher – not a superficial idiomatic synthesis, but an exploration of the nature of the energy relationship between intentionality and sound.

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