Whose shoulders do you stand on?
When I was five, my Grandad’s piano was a thing of continuing fascination. I’d been smacking the keys randomly since I could reach it, and they lived only a three minute walk from my own home. But I was beginning to experiment with pressing notes in sequence and trying out different levels of force.
My grandmother convinced my parents that I would be able to have piano lessons without the expense of a piano of my own if I was taught and practised on Grandad’s piano.
Mrs Hollins taught me from the age of five until I moved house in my early teens and decided to teach myself the blues and do my own thing. And until my first piano arrived in our home I went round to play on at my grandparents’ house every day after school.
I learned the foundations of my craft at that piano. My Grandad was a church musician – a tenor, a cantor, a pianist and organist. I remember swinging a piece of music that I was learning, shaping the rhythm the way I wanted it, and him being gently astonished because he could never have done that. He was a man of dots and decorum. I grew up to be a musician that bends rules.
In a very real sense I stand on his shoulders. When he passed away in the 1990s I inherited the piano, his metronome, tuning fork and organist’s robe. It’s fair to say I fill it a bit more thoroughly than he did, and he was taller than me so I look more like an ersatz batman than a serious figure of musical significance.
And yet, it was comforting to me that I could still wear it for a wedding and at divine service this weekend as his wife, my grandmother, passed gently into the glorious inheritance of heaven.
Mr J W Clayton 1928-1996
Mrs P Clayton 1932-2022
They are no longer here to encourage and enable me, but their investment into my skills and talents is as real as that very robe.