Friday 24 November 2023

"Let's Make Your Civil Wedding Ceremony AMAZING!"

Imagine trying to create a West End Musical from scratch without meeting the principal cast members beforehand, not truly understanding the music cues, a vague idea of the script, yet having to deal with numerous differences of uninformed opinion. Throw in that you get a few costume fittings but you most certainly won't get a full technical production dress rehearsal. That's the stark reality for a couple facing the daunting task of arranging a Civil Wedding Ceremony. 

As a person who has worked professionally on numerous huge West End and touring productions as a principal performer and musical director; co-ordinating with directors, music arrangers, choreographers and highly strung performers, I have been using that huge reservoire of experience intimately with every couple for more than 1,500 Ceremonies nation-wide since my first Civil Wedding on Saturday 11th May 1996 (I played my first ever wedding back in July 1979) 

I have created a very comprehensive online course called "Let's Make Your Civil Wedding Ceremony Amazing!" With 29 short videos, I discuss numerous aspects of the Ceremony machinery; the significant participants such as the couple and the Registrars themselves, music choices, prose, exchanging vows, the reality of executing the big entrances and exits and of course tips on managing the occasion itself plus many things that are never considered...until was too late.

Please share this for those undertaking the daunting task of a "Civil Wedding Ceremony," it could be one of your finest decisions in the exciting journey of Wedding preparation. Being in the dark is no fun, being in the know is wonderfully empowering! 

To take full advantage of the Black Friday Sale, simply enter BLACKFRIDAY23 into the box marked  'coupon code' and click on the words 'Apply' and your discount will activate immediately! The link is below:

Thursday 12 September 2019

"Our Wedding is Going to be Different!" - No It's Not!!!

The words of this title were never uttered until 1998, and since then, I have heard them said regularly; and so, probably, has everyone else in the Weddings game! They just will not admit it for fear of hurting your feelings! Me? I always say what needs saying!

When I first observed and attended English Weddings in the 1970s, folks attended a church ceremony followed by a buffet contributed by everyone present in a local community hall. Attending numbers were conservative, wardrobe choices were unspectacular and many Bridal gowns were passed down through generations or home-made; lace was very popular at the time. Happy couples were waved off with the sound of rattling empty cans on string tied to the back of the car. The bride always changed out of her Wedding dress into a 'going away outfit' before departing for the honeymoon; an evening do was generally unheard of back then. Weddings lacked variation and were predictable; I remember playing "Love Divine" and "The Lord's My Shepherd" constantly for 5 years without deviation; not particularly exciting but I yearned for another way to approach my contribution.

Things changed in July 1991. I was hired, for the first time in addition to my Organ duties in the Church to play at the Wedding Reception for a friend from Sunday School. My brief was to add some beautiful background music for a couple of hours; in reality I played for 6 hours creating a fabulous atmosphere of spontaneous community singing all night long, working in tandem with a very funny Court Jester who was also an amazing juggler. He climaxed his stint with three objects; a burning flame, a frying pan and an egg - the finale being a fried egg cooked in the pan heated by the flame! Truly brilliant, awe-inspiring, and entertaining. Additionally, the Bride was 40 minutes late for her entrance into the church earlier in the afternoon leaving me to fill in by improvising everything and anything on the organ from "Bohemian Rhapsody" to the "Thunderbirds!" As I drove home in the early hours of the morning, I wondered if I would experience a whole Wedding day and night as unpredictable yet exciting as that ever again; there was no band or DJ! In my personal experience of 40 years nothing has matched this ground-breaking Wedding for an unexpected, yet terrifying voyage of discovery. But then again my Sunday school friend, who wore Doc Martin Boots on the big day under her dress was a young ambitious TV researcher called Jo Whiley, now a highly regarded Television and BBC Radio 2 Presenter who married Steve Morton, a successful Pop Manager. Their Wedding Celebrations, like their marriage of 27 years, was a successful but seemingly unconventional collage of unique components that worked perfectly together! But then again, isn't that how successful marriages exist. 

Nowadays, I attend numerous Wedding Showcases and Tasting Evenings. These events display everything imaginable for a Wedding day and a great many things one just could not begin to imagine too, but that's another Blog!!! But, the bottom line is still the same; two people get married and a group of people gather to observe and mark the occasion; wearing their best clothes. As long as the guests can share, celebrate and enjoy the occasion comfortably, nothing else matters. I once observed an Evening Wedding Reception (I was not hired to play on this occasion) where the Bride had clearly exchanged a few choice words with her new husband and was sulking in the corner; whilst he drank himself to oblivion with his friends. Nothing could lift the mood despite a proliferation of highly expensive features to enjoy, such as a highly stocked sweet cart, a chocolate fountain, a free bar, with two live bands and a DJ topped off with an extravagant light show and the most deliciously twinkling Dance-floor money could buy. All those treats became irrelevant and invisible because no-one could bypass the lack of atmosphere. It was heart-breaking and I had to leave the scene because it was distressing me.

So, when planning your day, concentrate on that pleasure principle and forget about impressing other people; especially your Wedding suppliers (because we've seen it all before and are more concerned about being paid on time!). Your tastes are your business and nobody else's. Your day, your 24-hour Olympics (as I refer to Weddings!) is your one-off unique day in your image. If anyone is keeping score, they have not got your best interests at heart and do not hesitate to move them on. It is not a competition and no-one is awarding marks; this is not a Reality TV show. It's real-life and the drama playing out with your family and friends is YOUR story. Celebrate who you are and what your marriage will mean and keep that at the centre of your thought process.

How do I work it? I deal with whoever is in front of me as my reference point and apply my repertoire and considerable experience relevantly. I always meet whoever I play for because I cannot feel anything from an E mail; if you are reading this as a couple, you will know that you did not get to this point of choosing to make the big marriage step based on a photograph and descriptive paragraph of each other. You needed to meet (I hope!) and get a real sense of connection. Focus on that and the end result will be more than good enough. Forget about the whole "we're going to be different" vibe; it's not relevant. Your Wedding is unique because YOU are - Never forget that! I've said enough...

Good Luck and Enjoy the preparations!

Sunday 27 December 2015

Proposal Done! She Said Yes! Everyone's seen the ring...on Facebook! Now the REAL Work Starts...Planning The Big Day!

Congratulations! Ahhh! Nice One Big Boy! Get in my son! I'm so happy for you! I think I'm gonna cry...

Yep! You've still got those heartfelt phrases ringing in your ears! Girls; you're on cloud 9! Boys; how the hell did Manchester United lose at Stoke and Chelsea NOT put Watford away!!

Christmas will fast become a cumbersome tree destined for the tip, and those twinkling lights with more tangled up lines than Clapham Junction!! No! I'm getting ahead of myself. No I'm not, you're getting married guys and you've got more likes on your Facebook status for getting engaged than anything you've done before. Everyone wants to know when? Where? Can we come? Now for the real work! The planning...

Let me be straight with you here; I mean really straight with you. Two of you are head over heels in love with each other - remember that! The TWO of you, whatever plays out from here, remember that without you two, there's no wedding!

How does Roy Hodgson feel about picking the England football team.. What does it feel like, to have to decide whether Dylan Hartley or Chris Robshaw becomes the new England Rugby captain? You're about to receive more opinions than a Radio 5 Live! 606 Football phone-in with Fletch and Sav!! Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE believes that they know about Wedding planning, and know you best! And many of the people closest to you could be about to get power-crazy. You may start hearing phrases like: "Well I'm paying," "I know it's your Wedding day but...," "If you're wearing that I'm not coming...," " What will they think of us, if I turn up looking like...," "I just want to run this outfit past you...," You could now be entering an emotional roller-coaster of outrageous proportions! Maybe, it's already started!

What's my advice? Remember who you REALLY are, Remember why you got engaged, Remember the things you really looked forward to doing and experiencing on your wedding day when you fell in love together. Then, manage everything else, because it really doesn't matter half as much as it seems, once everyone else's (and your) emotions are running full steam ahead.

Now, go and enjoy the process of planning because it's a great adventure. Once it is over and everyone has liked your pictures on Facebook and you've got that cheesy print (that costs a fortune) that defines your day, hanging by the television, real life hits like a thunder bolt; and you'll want this whole episode all over again. But Remember, time waits for no-one, I should know, I celebrated turning 50 on Christmas Eve, and played my first wedding aged 12 years old; time flies...

The Maestro has spoken, and don't say I didn't warn you! 

Happy New Year

Tuesday 31 March 2015

What's Your Playlist? My perpective...

Many of you Brides and Grooms to be, will be looking for the Playlist on a musician's website and in many cases it might be a defining factor over the choice of personnel engaged. Whilst I respect that one needs a criteria to make difficult decisions, if that was the case for me I would be spending all my entire weekends watching my live sport because I would never get employed!

You see, for me, this question is hugely insignificant! I have done a huge number of weddings since 1979 and the lasting memory that all my wedding guests seem to have treasured, above everything else, has been my spontaneous musical decisions. Many have been in jest, playing 'God Save The Queen' for the over zealous Bride's mother as she pompously milks her walk to her privileged seat in the Ceremony room prior to the start, dropping into the theme for 'Laurel and Hardy' as the two bungling Best Men drop those sacred rings when requested to present them by the Registrar, or playing the theme to 'The Night Garden' and 'Peppa Pig' during the Signing of the Register as the little ones get restless! I could go on and on...

My friends, what I am really trying to say is that the quality of my live musical contribution is so much more than a rigid list of wedding tunes. This landmark day is not a recital (I do enough of those already!) nor is it an opportunity to pay homage to a particular artist, style or composer (unless that's your stand-out theme), it is for the vast majority a fabulous situation of great memories punctuated by a series of contributions of which music is one of them.

So how do I work? Meeting my couples and spending a couple of hours with them, and sometimes their families is invaluable, and for them a great opportunity for advice. Because for me, the Wedding Day is the 24-hour Olympics and planning is king. If I am doing a wedding, on the big day, I know and understand what's going down, who's going to be there, what to really expect and then apply my art using my experience, huge repertoire and musical ability to ensure the right result! There is too much at stake. The real stars are the Bride and Groom, the supporting cast are the family and friends. After all the pushing and shoving, saving and spending, tasting and fitting, countdown websites and Social Media interaction; it comes down to this, the big day filled with raw human emotion. I want to represent that accurately and a rigid playlist does not come close for me.

So when you are considering music for your day, think about the occasion in real time and the mood and not so much specific lists of songs because no-one is really keeping score; they should be too busy soaking up and enjoying the atmosphere that you have paid good money to own and enjoy...

Good luck and enjoy the planning adventure!

Wednesday 4 September 2013

What the Maestro Really Does at Weddings...

Before I get into the business of discussing Weddings, I think it is best that you learn a bit about the Maestro! If you are looking to hire me, but too busy to read this, call my office on 07967 441503 or just message me here:

I have actively been involved with the Business of Weddings since July 1979. In the early days, my involvement was purely from the Piano or the Organ in Church Ceremonies. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in London, 9 years later, I was not only playing at those Ceremonies, but dashing straight off to the Wedding Receptions to entertain the guests later on too. 

After a chance meeting with the owners of Whittlebury Park in Northamptonshire, we hit the ground running and began a unique collaboration in 1994 which still continues today; co-ordinating Wedding Ceremonies and Reception Celebrations in. At Whittlebury Park, we have been the market leader in the area for nearly 30 years, and my relationship with the venue is as strong today as those early days; albeit with different nuances.

Because of the duration of my relationship with weddings, my knowledge of this very unique process is comprehensive. Aside from Whittlebury Park, I have maintained a strong working relationship and knowledge of most of the major Wedding venues in Northamptonshire; and regularly travel further afield; from Kent across to Devon, up to Cumbria and Northumbria and right through Yorkshire, Midlands, East Anglia, the Home Counties and all the major cities, but the parameters are always the same; two people very much in love making the commitment in front of their nearest and dearest. 

I am always hired primarily as a Pianist. In my experience, most Wedding Parties either employ a formal Toast- Master, appoint an enthusiastic person (usually the Best Man or an Usher) to make announcements or the venue has a charismatic manager who fulfils this role. In short, things are usually smartly organised and I quietly do MY thing as required. However, if during my preparation meeting with the Bridal Party, it becomes obvious that there may be gaps in that department, I will step up and be the toastmaster, for two reasons, one that I am very good at it and very entertaining, which gives a unique slant on the day and two, because, in reality, most people need a tangible structure and like to be informed. The guest experience can change quickly from joy to despair (especially parents with hungry children) if things feel a little too loose.

I am a Pianist that strives to create an atmosphere that is both interesting and entertaining, without compromising the credibility of the occasion. I have played regularly within Drinks Receptions and Wedding Breakfasts. At Whittlebury Park, I am fortunate to have a Yamaha Grand Piano for the Ceremonies but in venues that are not so blessed I have an excellent Portable Piano which does an excellent job, although on request I can readily supply a Concert Grand Piano, which always adds a touch of real class. I have also on numerous occasions been joined by my trio colleagues to ceate a different experience. For smaller Wedding parties, we have played long into the night and doubled as the 'dance band' but I generally feel that in larger venues, there are other bands who are better suited to that format than us. In my view, our style suits the intimate parts of the day generally.

Stylistically speaking, my musical repertoire is wide and very varied. I have always noted in the print media that, since working with my trio, that I have always been repeatedly referred to as a Jazz Pianist, which always suggests that I cannot play anything else which of course is wrong! The reality is that I interpret the mood of the room; which can change several times during the course of  a short space of time. There is no such thing as an average group of people but typically my repertoire incorporates Baroque (J.S.Bach) and Classical music (Beethoven), Operatic arias, musicals, pop stuff old and new, folk and jazz standards. My personal preferences are all of those genres, and I rarely perform with music scores in front of me because it hinders the flow. The execution of my playing and the volume of segueways with tunes and styles has been likened to a disc jockey mixing tunes seamlessly.

Every wedding I have ever done regardless of size (my smallest ever is 8!) demands huge emotional investment and additionally in many cases a  huge financial one too. With that in mind, even in this fast paced world, I rarely arrive a wedding engagement without meeting my Bride and Groom. For many musicians (please note this is an observation not an opinion), it is more than enough to have a couple of E mails, a contract with two names on it and the promise of free food and drink on top of an agreed fee. I generally like to meet my clients face to face, because for me building thre relationship is a significant part of the whole journey; I have spent countless memorable evenings with couples, and sometimes their families too and that builds huge trust. The result has always been a continuation of that fun, energy and excitement towards the climatic Wedding day. Most of my trips around the country, have been born from recommendations resulting from such occasions.

I am passionate that anyone who is getting married or going to a Wedding that I am involved with gets as excited about the process, and loves the occasion as much as I always do! 

If you want the Maestro to do your big day, call 07967 441503 or message me on