My busman’s holiday for this year was a welcome return to Longleat House (and Safari Park) in Wiltshire, where I’ve been performing on and off for five years. It’s a fair trade – a few sessions on their lovely piano in a gorgeous setting for free entry and lots of coffee and biscuits with the staff. Ruth Charles and the house guides are always so welcoming and the public really appreciate it – usually thinking it’s a CD.
Here are a few moments from this weekend – Heaven’s Gate (my own composition based on their chiming clock) also features Greensleeves. I’m always aware that a real portrait of Henry VIII is looking down on me from the nearby staircase. I’m playing on the Minstrel’s Gallery, overlooking the Great Hall and my repertoire always includes the Longleat Ballad written c.1700 – a bawdy song with 15 verses!
Photographer and YouTube Padawan Adam recorded this with a lovely description saying “My family and I decided to travel to Longleat last weekend. After touring the fantastic safari park, and the entertaining adventure park, we decided to explore the house. After walking through some spectacular rooms, we began to hear wonderful piano music floating through the halls. We questioned a young lady who worked in the house, and asked her were the music was coming from? She replied “you are lucky to be here today, the piano player only comes here two times a year”… It was a pianist new to me, playing a tune unmistakably recognizable… The pianist’s name is Phil Toms, and the music needs no introduction…” – Cheers Adam!
Other times you may have heard me at Longleat when I wasn’t really there, e.g. the Halloween Ghost Tours – I created three CDs of sound effects (utilising my dog, my cat, my friend’s children singing treated with backwards reverb – and the squeaky doors of Colchester Institute!) to be played in the scariest parts of the house. Also, after playing a week of Viennese waltzes for their Christmas Cinderella extravaganza, they also have me on a CD on loop! I wrote an Alice in Wonderland nonsense track for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Easter one year and also arranged a quirky version of Happy Birthday for Lord Bath’s 80th Birthday which was sung by the staff to much appreciation.
In 2013, I wrote and recorded a full version of Heaven’s Gate with guitarist Steph Masucci (who filmed the video above), Rich Nolan on kit, the glorious strings of Steve Bingham and the lovely Jenny Bingham singing lead vocals. After filming myself in a field in Colchester in October 2014, we filmed Steph at Heaven’s Gate, a new stone henge near Longleat, about which it’s written. We hope to get this finished in 2015. Good things are worth the wait!
Here are a few tasters: