An Interview with Anthony Brown

After the wild success of the Fulltone Festival in Devizes in August and the recent spectacular ‘A Classical Explosion, in Concert’ in Marlborough College Chapel (which earned The Fulltone Orchestra a standing ovation), I thought it was time to ask Anthony Brown, Conductor and Musical Director (and husband, business, and musical partner of the dynamic Jemma Brown), a few questions about where he has come from musically, what makes him tick, and where he intends to go from here.

How did you get here, Tone? Give us a quick musical CV then.

Music is in my blood. My great grandfather was a lay clerk at Canterbury Cathedral for many years and sang in the choir there.  When I was 7 I also joined the local church choir and was Head Chorister at 11 or 12.  I love church music, it’s such a good grounding in music.  Around this time I started studying Flute. I got to my Grade 8 within a few years and then went on to do a Recital Certificate with Trinity College.  Throughout my school years I was in school orchestras and wind bands and I also travelled Europe with the Cotswold Flute Choir. I studied A level music which I absolutely loved and still remember these lessons with Richard Stillman, the only other student in the class – ha!

When I was 18 I started teaching flute and conducted the youth version of the Flute Choir for a few months before the real world of work took over.

My biggest life regret is choosing Accountancy over Music.

I kept up my singing though, and sang in various groups, especially Gilbert & Sullivan although my first principal role was in Sweeney Todd in Cheltenham as Tobias.  Thereafter I started to do many lead roles, usually romantic tenor leads.

But it wasn’t until I moved to Devizes and helped Jem relaunch TITCO (The Invitation Theatre Company) that I started turning my hand to musical direction.  Since then I’ve musically directed Pirates of Penzance, The Hired Man, Into the Woods, War of the Worlds and many other concerts.

What happened that resulted in you starting The Fulltone Orchestra?

I’d been MDing with TITCO for a little while and literally woke up one morning and said to Jem, ‘I want to start an orchestra’. She said ‘OK!’, and the FTO was born!

I plan ahead – I knew I wanted to do Movies first, followed by something with singers, and then something serious. I love all types of music (well, except very heavy metal!) so I’ve set up the FTO so I can do all kinds of genres and nothing is off limits.

Who taught you to conduct and musically direct a large orchestra, Tone?

I’m totally self-taught! I rely on a few people for advice and guidance but most of the time I’m just finding my way – and that’s exciting as well as terrifying! If I were to pick out one person who has influenced me though it would have to be Captain Neil Skipper, Director of Music, Band of the Irish Guards, who is a good friend and mentor and an amazing source of support. He’s taught me so much that I’ve even named one of my orchestral manoeuvres ‘The Skipper Move’!

How many musicians did you have in the orchestra at Marlborough College Chapel?

There were 62 in Marlborough, and there will be 65 in Bath Abbey on November 4th.

How do you decide who plays in which gig – what’s the selection process?

I put a shout out in our Facebook Group of 150 members and ask who’s available and can they attend the rehearsals; I then appoint and recruit for any gaps.  It keeps things fresh and also means that people don’t have to commit to every concert.

How do you select the pieces – why did you choose what you chose for the Marlborough concert?

I’m a walking jukebox! I have so many tunes in my head and I’m constantly listening to music.  As a rule I play what I love to listen to, there’s no point in doing something you don’t like – the passion won’t transfer to the audience. But it’s the audience I think of – what would they like to hear and what goes well with each piece of music.  I knew I wanted to start with the Festive Overture and end with 1812 so I built the programme around that.  I always include a couple of pieces that we’ve just done as well as it builds the repertoire and makes our short rehearsal time easier.

What were you thrilled or not thrilled with in Marlborough?

The resonance in the Chapel is difficult to manage and after the afternoon rehearsal I had to cut the Sabre Dance because of it and reduce the tempo down a bit on some numbers.  Starting a concert nervous isn’t great but we came through it together by working really hard and listening to each other.  Mambo was great fun! And the Adagio was spectacular.

How do you feel the orchestra has progressed since it started in 2017?

We have progressed so much, and it’s with the Strings that you see it the most. We have players coming now from London, Cardiff, and Brighton to play.  They wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t rate the experience.  So my string section is bigger – and size really does matter – but also the quality of the players is top rate.  I’ve managed to retain a lot of the good local musicians too, so it really does feel like everybody is coming on a journey with me.

How do you feel about the mix of popular and serious music? Can the orchestra be all things to all men or does the fun stuff take away from the serious stuff? Do people believe that an orchestra who can bang out Born Slippy in the middle of a field (sorry, The Green!) can be up there with old established orchestras? Are you like, ‘Take it or leave it’ when it comes to the FTO?

Music is music – none of us like the same records, we don’t all listen to the same radio station or go to the same concerts. The FTO can totally deliver different kinds of music and it’s important to me that we can be respected for more serious classical music as well as the best of popular music. I do want us to be taken seriously as a symphony orchestra.

What’s the vision, Tone? Where do you want the orchestra to go from here?

It’s all about momentum and rebuilding that up again after losing it during lockdown. The FTO will start stretching its legs to new places further afield and playing to new audiences.  Big plans for the next few years.

And lastly, I’ve often wondered – what does conducting an orchestra feel like?

Music is all about emotion and that’s what I love! The first time I stood up to conduct Star Wars in our first concert I do not remember turning the pages, it was surreal, but awesome – I moved my hands and the magic happened!

The FTO don’t rehearse every week, we have a short period of rehearsals before a concert, sometimes only two rehearsals and that creates an energy.  I rely on good talented musicians who can turn up and play – my job then becomes one of adding the flare, the dynamics and drawing out of the orchestra the right sound.

I’m like a kid with the best toy ever!

You can see the amazing Anthony Brown and The Fulltone Orchestra in ‘A Classical Explosion, in Concert’ at Bath Abbey on Thursday 4th November 2021, and follow them for more exciting events (including another unmissable Fulltone Festival!) in 2022 and beyond…

Many thanks to Tone for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.

Interview and image of Anthony Brown at Marlborough College Chapel @ Gail Foster 2021

Into The Silence Explode the Fulltone Orchestra

A Classical Explosion at Marlborough College Chapel; a review

It’s been a long road and a wild ride since the Fulltone Orchestra burst on to the Wiltshire music scene with ‘Iconic Tunes – 2017’ at the Corn Exchange, Devizes. Back then conductor and musical director Anthony Brown said – ‘We are not your ordinary orchestra. I set it up to not only bring something a bit different, but with the view to thrill…’

The last time they played in Marlborough College Chapel was in February 2019, when they thrilled the audience with out of this world tunes from The Planets and Star Wars. In July of that year, they transformed the Market Place in Devizes into a riot of colour and sound, and in August of this year they pulled off what seemed at one point to be impossible post-Covid – a two-day festival of classical, house, and big band music on The Green in Devizes.

The Fulltone Orchestra is made up of professional and semi-professional musicians from all over the South-West, and since 2017 has increased in size to 60 – 65 players at any one time. It’s not only the size of the orchestra that has changed; under Anthony Brown’s direction they have become slicker, more skilled, and more able to play increasingly complex and ambitious pieces in accordance with his perfectionism and vision.

On Saturday (16th October 2021) they broke the sacred silence of Marlborough College Chapel with their Classical Explosion Concert, starting with Shostakovich’s Festival Overture, and from then on fireworks and heart strings all the way – Grieg’s ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’, ‘Finlandia’, Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, ‘Scheherazade’, ‘Mambo!’ from West Side Story – the interval, and then – ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, Holst, Debussy, ‘A Night On The Bare Mountain’ by Mussorgsky, and ’Suite from the Lord of the Rings’, finishing with the glorious (no cannons allowed in the chapel, though!) ‘1812 Overture’.

This concert was special – whilst the Fulltone Festival was a wonderfully eclectic celebration of music and community, this was a big step up on the classical quality scale. I’ve seen how hard this orchestra rehearse, and the hard work certainly paid off on Saturday. I loved principal violinist Chico Chakravorty’s sensitive and accomplished performance in ‘Scheherazade’ (one of my favourites), likewise Rebecca McGrath’s ethereal harp playing in the same piece. Michelle Krawiec’s flute solo in ‘Suite from the Lord of the Rings’ was magical. I enjoyed ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ (love a bit of percussion) and was surprised to experience what I can only describe as ‘a minor wobbler’ in reaction to the orchestra’s triumphant rendition of ‘Jupiter’.

There were so many surprising and mesmerising moments in this concert. Every time I looked down the dark vault of the Chapel the audience appeared to be transfixed, and after the 1812 Overture they rose as one and gave the orchestra a very well-deserved standing ovation.

I cried with delight and relief at the end, and I wasn’t the only one. The concert was quite simply a massive achievement. Even Tone looked like he had a tear in his eye, but that could of course have been a trick of the light. I had a conversation with a friend along the lines of – ‘That was actually amazing wasn’t it, wasn’t it? Was it?’ ‘Oh yes, yes it was!’, and we had a celebratory hug.

But when you’re emotionally invested in something and not very well musically educated you can never be quite sure of your ability to be objective, so after the concert I asked someone better informed and less emotional than me what they thought of the night.

‘It was enjoyable with a good selection of music’ they said, which believe me from some is praise indeed.

When I reviewed ‘A Night with Bernstein and Gershwin’ back in February 2018 I said that the orchestra were ‘not perfect by any means, but somehow really rather brilliant’. What’s changed since then? The orchestra are still imperfect (is any orchestra ever perfect?) but oh my goodness they are getting even more shiny and brilliant by the moment.

What I also said back then was ‘More, more, more from the Fulltone Orchestra over the next few years, please!’

There’s a lot more to come from this orchestra, and it’s not just about the music – it’s about the story, the energy, the challenge, the community feel, the shared joy amongst the musicians that spills out into the audience.

The Fulltone Orchestra are going places, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Next stop Bath Abbey on November 4th and then, who knows.

Come and see them for yourself!

Come along for the ride!

Rehearsal image and concert review © Gail Foster 19th October 2021

Hancock Goes Shopping

Matt Hancock went down to the shop
With his knob out. ‘It’s OK I’ll pop
A mask on my face
And leave plenty of space
And I’ve got lots of flags on my top’

Matt Hancock, enjoying the breeze
Round his gonads, went round by the cheese
And selected salami
Some gherkins, pastrami
Some wonky bananas, and peas

Matt Hancock then picked up The Sun
And saw he was in it. ‘What fun!
And, may I say
What a glorious day
For getting, er…everything done!’

Matt Hancock skipped out to the car
Where his bird (altogether now, ah!)
Was waiting. ‘It’s hot’
She said, ‘and you forgot
Your trousers again. You’ll go far’

Matt Hancock relaxed in his seat
With his knob out, and put up his feet
On the dashboard. ‘Drive on’
He said, then they were gone
Leaving skidmarks all over the street

© Gail Foster 25th June 2021

Nothing Fair In Love Or War Or Ever Was In Politics

(a parody of The Major-General’s Song by Gilbert and Sullivan)

I am the very model of a Police and Crime Commissioner
A Master of the Hunt and a Conservative practitioner
A fine upstanding Councillor and long standing parishioner
Consider me when voting for your next Tory Prime Minister
(Consider him when voting for your next Tory Prime Minister)

I know a man who knows a man who said that it would be OK
Nudge nudge wink wink and say no more and go and do it anyway
I claim the moral high ground but it’s not an easy thing to do
I have to climb a horse so I can see over the top of you
(He has to climb a horse so he can see over the top of you)

I’m very good at plastering my posters over all the land
The farmers in the area all know me well and understand
That I have little time to practice pleasantness or charity
And I consider hunting an acceptable barbarity
(And he considers hunting an acceptable barbarity)

A major in the army once I was but not a general
Some say that my position there may well have been untenable
But here in Wiltshire no-one gives a toss about your history
As long as your rosette is blue the rest may be a mystery
(As long as your rosette is blue the rest may be a mystery)

I’m interested in most matters appertaining to the law
And glad that you have understood exactly what your vote is for
And even though I’ve proved to be entirely unselectable
I’m not at all apologetic that I’m unelectable
(He’s not at all apologetic that he’s unelectable)

Sound the horn the battle isn’t over till the fat boy’s won
I’m not averse to blasting pigs apart and yes I’ve got a gun
And woe betide you if you didn’t buckle down and vote for me
Or worse you are a person who’s inclined to writing poetry
(Or worse you are a person who’s inclined to writing poetry)

In past lives I may well have been on rampages and pillages
And been the subject of some whispered gossip in the villages
But nothing you have ever heard is anything of note to me
As long as you still doff your cap and go along and vote for me
(As long as you still doff your cap and go along and vote for me)

Onwards ever onwards from the Plain and up to Swindon Town
With thousands of my followers all following with noses brown
Be reassured it’s nothing that the Tory party cannot fix
There’s nothing fair in love or war or ever was in politics
(There’s nothing fair in love or war or ever was in politics)

So if you voted for me why I thank you for your interest
And all the pictures posted on the bus stops and on Pinterest
And even though I’m not the new Police and Crime Commissioner
Consider me when voting for your next Tory Prime Minister!
(Consider him when voting for your next Tory Prime Minister!)

© Gail Foster 11th May 2021

I Met A Friend Beside The Cross

I Met A Friend Beside The Cross ~ for Michelle

I met a friend beside the cross
Up on The Green on Easter Day
And she was there to mourn a loss
And I was passing on my way

Now she and I, we only meet
Infrequently throughout the year
But there we were; a meeting sweet
And meaningful, before the dear

Beflowered cross the people made
And posies in all colours bright
Where all day long the people prayed
Or stayed to see the way the light

Did shine upon the Field that day
As shone before high on the hill
And some go on and some will stay
To pray, and will be praying still

And so we spoke, my friend and I
Of love and life, and of her loss
And of the mystery of why
We met together by the cross

And I went on, and left her to
Her sorrow, and when I was gone
She did what she had gone to do
Adore the cross with flowers on

Who knows His ways? Not she or I
But Oh! What beauty was reborn
Up on the Field beneath the sky
Before the cross on Easter morn

© Gail Foster 5th April 2021

The Ballad of Derek and Pauline

Derek and Pauline North family photographs

In loving memory of Derek, 1932 – 2021, and Pauline North , 1931 – 2021
Two good people from Devizes who loved each other, and who loved to dance

I know what I like, my love
And I like what I see
I wonder if you’d like to take
My hand and dance with me

We’ll marry in September and
Go laughing by the sea
I wonder if you’ll take my hand
My love, and dance with me

We’ll have a little house and make
A home and family
And all of this will come to pass
If you will dance with me

And I will make your flour rise
And puddings that will be
Like honey on your tongue if you
Will come and dance with me

There’s children in the garden, love
So many I can see
And all because you took my hand
And came and danced with me

You were my only love and true
And we’ll forever be
The last ones out there on the floor
You loved to dance with me

I’ll bring you daffodils, my love
And later after tea
I’ll take your hand and then we will
Go dancing, you and me

© Gail Foster 21st February 2021

Family photographs by kind permission of Karen North

‘To the virus, we are landscape’ by CJ Thorpe-Tracey; a review

When CJ Thorpe-Tracey’s first poetry pamphlet slipped coolly into my Facebook Newsfeed I knew I had to have it. My dealings with Thorpe-Tracey to date have been that I met him at a gig he played a few years ago and that I read his Facebook posts with interest. He seems to say it as it is, and isn’t, or so I thought when I read one of his reviews once, much of a people-pleaser. I think of him as a bit of a left-wing Leonardo (or so I decided as I was making notes for this review), one of those people who can turn their hand to many things and do them well, and (more importantly to a self-obsessed poet with a short attention span) as a person who is unlikely to waste my time.

It has been a tradition over recent centuries for a new poet to introduce their work to the world by means of the production of a pamphlet, or chapbook, a slim volume of verse.

The book, with its subtle seascape cover, looks like a bit of class – ‘Tranquil, clear, and calm’, says my mate T as she feels it between her palms (I’ll explain about T later) – and like something I want to own, something important.

So I order it and it arrives and I decide that when I read it it will be a proper moment and it sits on the sideboard for a while.

My qualification for reviewing a book of free verse consists of a B in A level English achieved in my late teens when I was off my head, and five years of teaching my middle-aged self, mostly, to write poetry in traditional forms. I avoid free verse like the plague (not the best analogy in this day and age) as it seems to me that most of it is lazy tosh written because someone couldn’t be bothered to break their brain on a proper poem. I do know some damn good poets though, and every now and again I stumble across a free verse poem that causes me to catch my breath, so I’m open to educating myself and moderating my view.

Free verse may contain structure but is not bound by it, likewise there may be rhyme or there may not be.

It’s misty on the morning that I decide to open ‘To the virus, we are landscape’, and as I read the first poem ‘No pharmaceuticals’, the mist lifts and the sun streams into my living room and I catch my breath and my eyes fill with tears.

This is a poet who knows about words.

This is a poet who knows about sickness and shadow.

There are other poems in the book that do this to me; ‘Second Pillar’, in which the poet contrasts church bells with the Call to Prayer; ‘Visiting Hours’, a hospital conversation about racism and remaining; ‘Catholic Primary’, a brutal story of bullying and revenge; ‘Dementor’, in which the poet makes his views on JK Rowling known and no bones about it; and, my favourite I think, ‘Second Spike’, a poignant account of the evolution of a relationship during the months of coronavirus.

It’s a book about Britain in 2020, and the material in it is both personal and political. There’s a poem called ‘First six weeks of lockdown’; one called ‘Eat Out To Help Out’; an acerbic and gloriously vulgar set of lines called ‘A Dick Pic Triptych’ on the subject of Hancock, Johnson, and Cummings; and of course ‘To the virus, we are landscape’, which is the last of the twenty-one poems.

Thorpe-Tracey breaks the book up with a couple of pictures of tweets and three small poems on the theme of ‘wet’, and in the Acknowledgements says that he has been inspired by the work of Suzannah Evans and John McCullough.

What do I love about the lines in this book? The alliteration – ‘hung on high and hammer smashed’; the similes – ‘a goose-like honk through silence / as lime into cream’; the visceral (and often food-related) physicality – ‘Cold-burnt my teeth on a cumulus chunk’, ‘a lady snapped / a chicken bone above her plate’, ‘Crushed into the nuts and salt’.

What do I not like? Not much. Although I will say, and this is more about my grounding in traditional verse forms than Thorpe-Tracey’s ability, that sometimes the nearly but not quite form thing is a little frustrating. I’m not sure whether the fact that I like that he often ends a verse with a rhyme is about pure appreciation or relief, and I find myself counting syllables with some of the pieces. In ‘Grandma’s Funeral’, he’s gone for the 5-7-5 used in haiku/senryu/tanka and stuck to it, whereas in his ‘wet’ poems he wavers.

I rarely read other peoples’ work but I’ve read this book more than once and I love it. I love it because it takes me to places I know and don’t know at the same time; I love it because the words are complex and beautiful and I relish them; and I love it because it’s realistic and philosophical and it moves me.

And that’s where my friend T comes in. Because this book moves me a lot and I need to check that out. So, as we’re sat on the edge of the fountain in the Market Place in town with our coffees, and after T, who works in the NHS, has held the book between her palms and said that it is ‘Tranquil, calm, and clear’, I read ‘Visiting Hours’ to her.

And there it is. A sharp intake of breath and a silent ‘Ooo’. ‘How’ says T, ‘can so much be said with so few words?’

Not just me, then.

I’m delighted to have CJ Thorpe-Tracey’s pocket-sized piece of poetic excellence and bittersweet bite of history on my shelves. Reading ‘To the virus, we are landscape’ has been a great use of my time and whilst I am not yet a convert to free verse I do feel that I understand it better.

Methinks the gentleman has played a blinder, and I look forward to more.

Review © Gail Foster 10th December 2020

Q&A (thanks to CJ Thorpe-Tracey for the answers)

1. Any reason that you are not going to do a reprint? Might it appear in other ways in future?

I misjudged the timing of poetry publishing – how far ahead everything is scheduled. So I had to decide either to hold off till May/June 2021 (to try to get it into magazines etc) or to just not worry about that and go for it now. This pamphlet is so rooted in 2020 and Covid upheaval, I wanted it out, while it’s still all around us.

So now, it’s selling well, but to my own audience outside of poetry, rather than a ‘real’ poetry readership; I’m not making in-roads into that world. Plus obviously I’m just starting out, with a lot still to learn.

My plan is to move on – get on with writing more, submit to magazines as I go, until the next time I’ve got enough done for a pamphlet, however long that takes.

If I ever have enough work to publish a full book collection, I’ll include these.

2) Is the Dick Pic Triptych based on an old form?

It’s not sadly, it’s just built off the rhythm of the first two lines, which I got from hip hop rather than poems.

3) (Forgive me!) How do you Feel about the book and the work inside it?

I like it as a whole and I think it’s strong as a debut effort. I enjoyed the processes, it’s very new to me (and profoundly different from song lyric writing). There are poems in there I’m very proud of.

However I do think I leapt into publishing a pamphlet too early (but did so for good reasons, i.e. what I mention above, about corona times). So serious poetry people may find my work quite ‘beginner level’/naive and simple.

At the same time, it’s not really about that, right? The words pleased me!

Fwiw your own kind of tautly constructed rhyming poetry inspires me just as much – often more – than free verse and that “oh how clever am I, disguising archaic formalism within something that appears to be free verse” stuff that seems to be prevalent, as if poems are maths problems.  

And finally –

4) Will there be another one?

Definitely. Not until I’m certain it’s ready though, I’m not setting a deadline.

For further information about ‘To the virus, we are landscape’ by CJ Thorpe-Tracey, published by Border Crossing Press 2020, email chris@christt.com, or find him on Twitter @christt

Carrie Symonds and the Fish

Carrie Symonds sniffed the air
And wondered what the smell
That came from Cummings’ office was
Now he had gone to hell

How odious the man had been
And oh how he did hate her
So much that he had left a fish
Behind the radiator

Carrie Symonds got the fish
And threw it in the bin
How very nice the office looked
Without the Cummings in

But all the same there did remain
A funny sort of smell
And so she had it swept and cleaned
By MI5 as well

© Gail Foster 14th November 2020

The Last Thing That She Said To Me

– a poem for World Mental Health Day

‘I’m sorry that I didn’t come to tea
It’s just I’ve not been feeling very well’
‘You’ll soon be better, mate, you wait and see
You’ve got what I had last week, I can tell’
‘I don’t know, I’ve been feeling really bad
And sometimes even…’ ‘I know what you need
What I do when I feel a little sad
Is run myself a bubble bath and read
You try it, and you’ll soon be right as rain’
‘And sometimes even…’ ‘Sometimes even what?’
‘I feel like ending everything’ ‘Again?
You say that every time you lose the plot
And you’re still here’ ‘I’m sorry about tea’
That was the last thing that she said to me

© Gail Foster 10th October 2020

https://www.samaritans.org/