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Culture: A journey to Parky’s musical heart

Michael Parkinson
Michael Parkinson

Best known for his tv interviews with the great and good Michael Parkinson comes to The Apex to share his passion for music, with the help of a few of his heroes

Irrespective of genre, music is the one thing that can be seen to keep the world ticking over. Uniting people in grief, freeing people through joy and happiness.

In Sir Michael Parkinson, an icon of music and chat for a number of decades, the pulsating sounds of a bygone era have been the mainstay of his eight plus decades of life, harking back to his childhood in Yorkshire with his parents.

Even now, as he tours his Our Kind of Music, the Parkinson name is synonymous with the fair sounds of the Great American Songbook, and much more, throughout history.

Generally speaking ‘Parky’ has interviewed thousands of personalities, from different walks of life, over the years. But there’s always that one that gets away, the one which you always wish you had been given the chance to talk to.

For all the Crosbys and McCartneys, Lennons and Johns, Buble, Stewart and more, Parky, who was brought up on Louis and Ella, would have loved to have interviewed: “Frank Sinatra. . . “The greatest singer of the Great American Songbook bar none,” began Sir Michael. “As Crosby once said ‘Frank is a singer who comes along once in a lifetime, but why did he have to come in mine?’”

From an early age music has been a part of his life, it was a time when the greats of American sound were at their peak and everyone the world over listened to the crooning sounds emanating across the Atlantic.

“Music has been a massively important part of my life and is something that everyone can relate to,” he continued.

“Since a young age I have had a passion and love for music and my world opened up when I listened to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, among others, many years ago.

“I was about 10 or 11 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 was to be those sounds which set the tone for what was to come for the young Parkinson, shunned away from going down the mines as his father had before him, taking a path into journalism instead.

It was a path that very quickly would lead to great things, more when his chat show, Parkinson, took to the screens. Only scheduled for a brief run it became iconic, a staple for a new generation of fans – people young and old watching as Michael brought the great and near-great into our homes for our viewing pleasure.

What of his memories though? Could anyone of those thousands of interviews stand out in such a brilliant and knowledgeable mind?

“Too many memories,” exclaimed Parky. “From a duet with Bing Crosby to interviewing John Lennon with a bag on my head – you’ll have to see the show to see why.

“Sitting opposite (Sir Paul) 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; and being in the presence of the great Duke Ellington, are just a few.”

As he came to end of his run on television a series of special programmes would see off Parkinson along with, in the November of its final year, the BBC running a stunning, spectacular, music special.

It was an episode which saw Sir Elton John playing pub classics on a pub piano, Peter Ustinov and Dudley Moore singing opera, and Sir Michael in a duet with none other than Bing Crosby.

Other stars to perform that evening were Annie Lennox, Jamie Cullum (himself a regular in those final years), Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and Michael Buble. Now though, the one thing which plays on the mind of the iconic chat show host is the waning presence of past sounds.

A reason for his touring Our Kind of Music, quite possibly.

“This music tour means a lot to me and focuses on the two periods of my life that I am really passionate about.

“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 20s and the 50s 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.

“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 with it all 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.”

Parkinson: Our Kind of Music, April 7, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Call 01284 758000 or visit theapex.co.uk

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