Alongside the birth of Rock’n’roll in my youth there was always a fondness for the sort of music parents and teachers approved of and a deep love of singing it. I was a choirboy, and later a choir-man, at St. Agnes’, Ullet Road in Liverpool, I sang the bass solos in a performance of Haydn’s Creation while still at school, and was a Choral Exhibitioner at Cambridge, where I did the occasional concert as a nineteen-year-old embryo bass. I had lessons in London from a grand old singer called Joseph Hislop. And every now and then I made forays into ‘proper’ music – a recital at the Wigmore Hall, singing a Bach Cantata with George Malcolm and Leon Goossens in Worth Abbey, even two small parts in operas at the 1973 Wexford Festival.
But the moment I first heard the competition I knew that my voice was never going to be what I wanted it to be, and I settled for narrating pieces and compering concerts instead. I first narrated the dreaded Peter and the Wolf in Belfast in 1971 (with, I remember, a Northern Irish Duck and a Southern Irish bird), and I have done Walton’s Facade countless times – and recorded it with Eleanor Bron and the Nash Ensemble on Hyperion CDA67239. For twenty-one years I introduced Larry Westland’s Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and for five years he and I put on the Stilgoe Saturday Concerts at the Royal Festival Hall’ using Britain’s brilliant youth orchestras to introduce young people to orchestral music.
My wife Annabel was a wonderful and proper singer whether doing opera or lieder, and I enjoyed a sort of proxy career through listening to her. I would have loved to have had a great voice, and to have been Nikolai Ghiaurov or Bryn Terfel. But if I had been good enough to sing classically for a living I wouldn’t have done all the other stuff, and I would have missed a lot of interesting happenstances. So on balance I’m glad. With a hint of regret.