Talk show host and writer Sir Michael Parkinson is appearing at The Apex, on Saturday, April 7, in a show entitled “Our Kind of Music” and he’s outlined what the audience can expect.
Can you let us know what the audience can expect?
“Since a young age I have had a passion and love for music. I was about ten or eleven and fiddling with our radio at home in Yorkshire trying to find the American Forces Network broadcasting out of Germany. I was seeking an alternative to the kind of music on the BBC at that time which consisted, it seemed to me, of adenoidal crooners, syncopated dance bands and posh sounding announcers. Then I heard Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and a door was opened into a world of music I could only have imagined.
“It’s a passion that has stayed with me all my life and when I was lucky enough to get my talk show Parkinson, I was determined to feature the kind of music and performers that played and performed my kind of music. The result was that I got to meet and sometimes talk to most of my musical heroes. Legends like Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett. Era defining popstars like Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon and Steve Wonder as well as being able to promote the new generation of talent like Jamie Cullum, Michael Buble and Diana Krall. It’s an archival treasure trove which has never been properly mined until now.
“Parkinson: Our Kind of Music” is a really exciting new show that we’ve developed. I’m interviewed about my love of music and some of the musical highlights of my career by my long term producer, collaborator and son Mike. We use rarely seen classic musical clips from the archive, topped off by live performances by the multi-talented Joe Stilgoe and his band. It’s a fascinating, entertaining and informative journey to my musical heart, with the help of a few heroes.”
What highlights can we expect?
“Me duetting with Bing, interviewing John Lennon with a bag on my head – you’ll have to see the show to see why – sitting opposite McCartney as he played ‘Yesterday’, being in the studio as Fred Astaire sings ‘Puttin on the Ritz’, being exhilarated by the Buddy Rich Big Band. Plus the live performances by Joe including his original composition written specially for the show called ‘Our Kind of Music’.”
What do you think of the modern music scene?
“Not much, mainly because it’s not aimed at me, but at kids. The one thing that does annoy me is that there is seemingly no mainstream place for the music of the Great American Songbook. Written between the 1920s and the 1950s, it is not a stretch to call it America’s Classical music and it has been arranged and performed by some of the most influential and defining musical figures of the 20th Century. For that reason I brought out a triple CD, also called ‘Our Kind of Music’, featuring 55 of what I think are the best songs and performance of the Great American Songbook. Like the live show, it was a labour of love, and I hope I can introduce a new generation to this wonderful collection of timeless music.”
Top 3 songs ever written?
“Too many. Here’s three that are near the top of my list: ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ sung by Frank Sinatra with the arrangement by Nelson Riddle; the definitive version of Cole Porter’s Classic song. ‘Summertime’ by George and Ira Gershwin, sung peerlessly by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. If anyone asks me why I love the music of the Great American Songbook, I simply tell them to listen to this song. Finally, Irving Berlin’s ‘Change Partners’ sung by Fred Astaire. It has a special memory for me because it was playing in a dance hall where I was sitting watching a lovely young woman with auburn hair dance all night with another man. Her name was Mary. Luckily for me she did ‘Change Partners’ and over 50 years later, she’s still putting up with me.
“Not one you would expect me to say! It was with the eminent scientist Professor Jacob Bronowski. He was the writer and presenter of that landmark book and television series ‘The Ascent of Man’. It was the one time that the shape and progression of the interview went exactly the way I had prepared. But that was more to do with Professor Bronowski’s perfect command of the English language and his forensic mind then my interviewing skills.”
“Once, when they were still with us, I sat down with Alan Whicker and David Frost, both of whom I liked and deeply admired, and we agreed to write down on a piece of the paper the worst interviewee we had all interviewed. We then showed each other at the same time. Each of us had written down Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist most famous for the Kon-Tiki expedition in the Pacific. We all agreed he would not be our first choice as a crewmate on a deep sea cruise.”
Proudest moment from your career?
“Being awarded honorary membership of the Musicians Union. Music has given me such joy in my life and my respect for anyone with musical talent knows no bounds. To be accepted into their inner circle without an ounce of musical talent is a real honour.”
In your mind what is the role of the media in society?
“I’ve never found a better description then the original mission statement of the BBC – to inform, educate and entertain.”
What do you make of current British television?
“Slick, brilliantly produced and full of talent yet sadly often soulless and derivative. I was lucky to come into television when I did.”
Any advice for up and coming broadcasters / interviewers today?
“It’s difficult to do so because the media environment they are coming into is not one I recognize, nor to be honest, understand. The only piece of advice I can give any aspiring interviewer is do your homework and listen.”
Photo above by Jane Brown