Sgt. Pepper: A Brief Experience
Pepper Without Salt
By Alan French
Before I continue, I would like to explain that it is coincidence that I went to school with a boy named Ian Rennie. He is a different Ian Rennie who the hospice is named after in this article.
One of the cultural highlights of the late twentieth century, as far as Berkhamsted is concerned, has been the annual Sergeant Pepper event, started up by Robert Breakwell. Not only a musical activity, but one which raises money for charity. In this case, The Ian Rennie Hospice. I also understand that the Hospice based in Berkhamsted, The Hospice of St. Francis, may also benefit from the event. If I am wrong, please correct me.
In one of its early years, 1988 to be precise, I volunteered to be one of the outside entertainers who ‘did their thing’ in the grounds prior to the main performance inside. In this case, The Berkhamsted School for Boys. It was here, that many years ago, that a former headmaster had two famous sons as pupils. One, Sir Hugh Carlton Greene (not to be confused with Hughie Green) went on to be a Director-General at the BBC. The other was Grahame Greene, who went on to be the famous author ( ‘Brighton Rock’ and ‘The Third Man’). A society and festival still currently exist in honour of this man.
I believe my indulgence was as a result of an advertisement placed in the local press, asking for volunteers.
I seem to recall going over to Berkhamsted on a Sunday and demonstrated my piano playing to them. I was accepted. It is possible that I may have had to make a mad dash back to Hemel Hempstead by train. Then another mad dash for a rehearsal at Leverstock Green, with my then concert party, The Leverstock Green Players.
On the night that I was required, I found upon arrival, inside the school grounds, there was an abundance of people, making the area very busy, with a mixed collection of public, volunteers and, like me, entertainers. I also saw antique dealer John Bligh, a man famed for his appearances on television in such programmes as ‘The Antiques Road Show’. He also had a shop in Tring. I believe he was making a guest appearance in the main show.
As for me, an upright piano was placed in some arches adjoining the school. I do not recall if I used any P.A. system for my stint which may have been for approximately 30 minutes. But I could be wrong. In additon to my main conventially played music, I also included a novelty way that I played a piano. This was mainly for laughs and amusement. But it could be a good excercise for me. I stood on the chair or piano stall with one foot, frantically clung onto the piano with my right hand, vamped with my left hand, and played ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’ with my right foot. Well big toe actually. Well I do have some webbed toes. So I could not be up to prom standard.
Being a rock ‘n’ roller, I conventionally played with my fingers some blues and other related material. It was whilst playing some rhythm and blues that I was aware of something strange. Was it my imagination? Or did I hear something remeniscent of a violin joining in? This I discovered to be the case. It was a chap from a group of musicians who were collectively named The Kimbara Brothers. They were also part of the outside entertainment. I do not think that they were part of the main show. But I could again be wrong.
I cannot remember everything that I did during the show. We were not supposed to go in and see it. However, surprisingly a volunteer or someone to do with the organisation did ask those outside if we wish to see the performance! So, under escort, we were ushered inside, and stood at the edge of the auditorium.
With what I saw, I was absolutely impressed. Not only with the performers on stage, but also with the special lighting effects. I know that if my fellow colleagues in The Leverstock Green Players had been present, they would also have been impressed.
I think my involvement with the event was on the last night. I have a feeling that after the show there was some music supplied outside, from The Kimbara Brothers, and that people were dancing. I stayed until my taxi arrived.
One of the contributors to the printed programme was George Martin (now Sir George Martin). The man who recorded most of the records recorded by The Beatles. Including the famous ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.
The following year, the venue was switched to the school at Ashlyns. Thankfully for the piano, I was not involved. But either this show, or another one, I learned that there were auditions for the main Sgt. Pepper show at Berkhamsted. These auditions were to be held at a secluded school, Haresfoot. It was in the wilds of the land between the village of Potten End and Berkhamsted. I auditioned. But no success.
The Pepper Foundation is still going strong, and has very much expanded. I am pleased to say. Now very much a modern legend in its own time, raising money for charity. As well as being part of the culture in Berkhamsted, within the Borough of Dacorum.
Long may it be so.
copyright Alan French 2013.