Sunday, October 29, 2017

MUSICALS ... or, I cain't say 'no'

About a quarter of a century ago, after a very long time away from the land of my birth, I took advantage of a work trip to Australia to pop briefly over, to visit my parents, in New Zealand. It was during the years when I was, with the publication of my first books and my swift propulsion to the vacant chair of Great Guru of the Musical Theatre, a regular on British radio, occasionally television, as well as in the print press of the other side of the world and New Zealand had suddenly realised (which it has subsequently forgotten) that I was a native son. So I was invited to be interviewed on a couple of chat shows on the NZBC. I remember on one occasion when I followed on behind a stoutly challenging political interview by a certain David Lange (then, or soon to be, Prime Minister) with the redoubtable Maggie Barry. Follow that! Maggie did her best to change tone from the King to the Clown, but I think it was the toughest interview of my life!

Anyway, soon after, the other side of the then still enterprising Corporation got in touch in the person of the late Mr Fergus Dick, Entertainment Producer. I was the man he'd been looking for to help him out of a dilemma. Somebody at the NZBC had rashly and, I gather, expensively, purchased the right to broadcast the entire score of the new American musical version of The Secret Garden. What in the heck was he to do with it? Could I help? So I did.

Kate Harcourt (not yet a Dame, but longtime New Zealand's great lady of the theatre) and I read excerpts from the original novel, interspersed with the numbers from the show -- minus, of course, a couple of irrelevant ones -- and it made up into a nice programme. So it was repeated. And Fergus asked me for more ideas. I remember I recorded (at Christmas) an Easter Special one year, with the Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana as its highpoint, and there was a Christmas one on pantomime characters which ranged from Julian Slade and the 'teeny weeny genie' to the entire 'Naqui all' affano' by the glorious Agnes Baltsa.
When was I coming to New Zealand again?

Our firm was British agent for the Sydney Theatre Royal, so I thought I could wangle a yearly air fare. And then, my father (who had recently won an over 70s ski championship) had confided in me that he was not well ... so any excuse to take time off for New Zealand was a good one. So I propounded a series. The History of the Musical Theatre. All of it. Twenty-six hour-long episodes where I propounded the facts (no opinions) and played the records. Plus a few numbers sung by me, a few unreleased gems, and even one sung by Kate!

I wrote the whole lot in double quick time during summer in France -- for by now we had transplanted much of my busy writing career to warmer places -- and headed for New Zealand, with 26 typescript programmes and cassettes of rare music in my baggage. We squeezed into my parents' retirement-days bungalow in Tahunanui and, with my brand new driving licence, I set out for the airport and Wellington. And ran off the road on an icy corner. I had to be rescued, got to my plane, and to the recording studio, where a four-shows-a-day recording schedule awaited. Starting ... now!
There were no more accidents. Although I kept forgetting to add a touch of Kiwi accent to my narrative (I spoke BBC English in those days) and, on the final day, my voice began to vanish. Anyway, the series came out with amazing success, was repeated, played in Australia, and now languishes in the NZBCs archives from where I have been promised several times it would be rescued ... but now everybody is dead or retired and the NZBC of old has dissolved into something else ...
But my twenty-six texts live on.

Beginning of second part of the story. Back in Europe, I had been busily churning out all sorts of music and theatre writings, and was now settled into preparing another big, scholarly Encyclopaedia. But along came another offer. Dear, departed Patrick O'Connor had presented a project to Carlton Books, specialists in attractive coffee table books, for a thoroughly illustrated history of MUSICALS. But, when it came to the point, he confided, he couldn't do it. I don't know why. Anyway, he suggested that Carlton ask me, instead. They did, and 'I cain't say no', so in the middle of Encyclopaedia-ing I had to prepare a slim history of ... wait a minute, I'd already done that! Out with the filleting knife and 26 radio programmes-worth of linking monologue became a nicely unacademic and friendly-readable book, illustrated with a bundle of pictures from my huge archives (now in Harvard's Theatre Collection) plus ...

Well, Carlton clearly knew their stuff. MUSICALS, sensibly priced, sold many, many thousands of copies, was reprinted, translated into German, updated (I hadn't bargained on that!) not once, but two or three or was it four times, and again sold many, many thousands ... while my hard-worked scholarly tomes managed just a tenth of the sales ..!

The last update was in 2004. I agreed to do just one more in 2006-7. But I didn't deliver. That was the year my dear partner, Ian, died. And I lost much of my interest in expanding my authorial career.
I thought MUSICALS, which had well and truly done its job, would, after six different versions, just fade away.

But in 2017, Taylor and Francis published my VICTORIAN VOCALISTS, and a few days later my blog tinkled ...

A bright, young man at Carlton had noticed that Kurt Gänzl was not dead, merely departed to the sunny shores of Yamba, New South Wales. And thirteen years on, MUSICALS would have plenty more to say. So ... of course, I cain't say 'no' ... providing ...

So scholarly stuff on the back-burner, and into the 21st century it looks as though I shall be returning ... I guess I shall have to stop putting 'retired' on my immigration cards, it seems I am -- after a decade of hiatus -- an 'author' again.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Lucky Number Seventeen ...

17 October 2017. A somewhat memorable week and, especially, a day for me. Why?

Seventeen has longtime been ‘my number’. I lived at no 17 Knowles Street, when a youthling, and did my first adult writing there … funny, I looked at some of my teenage stuff the other day: my style hasn’t changed in half a century … so I started backing no 17 at the races with surprising success. Well, today is 17. 17-10-17. Sounds rather like my vital statistics, an eon ago…

The day dawned, and we set out on an organic vegie run, stopped off at the asparagus farm for the primeurs of the season, popped into the picture frame shop with an earthquake-broken frame … sigh, two beautiful Balinese pictures c1970, what memories! Then we headed home.

I mean, no one sends paper letters any more. But you still look in the letter box when you pass. ‘Kurt, there is a box for you at the garage’.


It will be my book. The book I wasn’t going to write. The book I started on, just for fun rather than publication, all those years ago in the long days and nights when Ian was living his last months … eleven years ago. And then I just kept going. Off and on. As I voyaged round the world. Until I had a stroke …
These days I can’t do a lot of other things, my right arm is shickered. I wobble. If I fall, I can’t get up. But my brain is fine (well ‘–ish’) and two finger typing seems to work … so most days I write. And write. And research. And write.

And by chance, last year, I was shaken from my retirement from the world of publishing.

A little more than a year ago, my really good 2001 biography of Lydia Thompson of ‘British Blondes’ fame suddenly reappeared on the bookshop lists. Paperbacked. So, I got in touch with the publisher to ask for a copy for myself. It actually still hasn’t come, but it doesn’t really matter, because one thing led to another and I found myself, instead, with a contract to publish some of the choicer slices of my last ten year’s writings. The short biographies (between three and thirty pages) of one hundred variegated Victorian Vocalists.

It has taken a year in the assembling, correcting, illustrating, editing and printing and on 10th of this month it was officially published in Oxfordshire, England. And today, just one week later a box of copies arrived at Sefton, New Zealand …

My seventeenth (depending how you count!) child. And a very handsome one. Perhaps, at the age of 71 (17 backwards!)  I shouldn’t stop breeding after all..

OK, who is going to update my Wikipedia article?