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Vaughan Williams themes and themed hotels ...

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Andy Wood Andy Wood | 16:18 UK Time, Monday, 29 November 2010

BBC Concert Orchestra bass player Andy Wood concludes his blow-by-blow account of the band's US tour.

Holiday Inn Select, Panama City

Holiday Inn Select, Panama City


Ladies and Gentlemen: We will shortly be arriving in Panama City. Please set your watches back one hour. Ladies and Gentlemen: We will shortly be arriving at the Holiday Inn Select. Please set your watches back forty years.

Panama City, colloquially known as the 'Redneck Riviera' or L.A. (Lower Alabama) - you takes your choice - isn’t entirely gorgeous and has the hotels to match. The only part of my room that wasn’t artexed was the window. And frankly, if it had been, you wouldn’t have complained.

Yet we had fun. I hate to blow my own trumpet – there are others in the band paid far more to do that sort of thing – but somehow we rose above it all …


There’s no doubt about it – the hotel gods have hit back with a vengeance. After the naïve charms of the Holiday Inn, Panama City, our final stop of the tour is Orlando for five nights at the Sheraton Safari – what price a theme hotel?

Still, at this stage of the tour I think most are happy with a decent bed. Having left the bamboo-fronted reception desk, sidled past King Tut’s tomb, enjoyed the luxurious feel of the faux leopard-skinned rugs beneath my feet and overcome the temptation of following signs directing me to ZanziBar (enough already – you’re killing me), Casablanca and Marrakesh, the decent bed was duly located. After making certain to draw my mosquito net close around me, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Zebra-striped bedding at the Sheraton Safari Hotel, Orlando

Zebra-striped bedding at the Sheraton Safari Hotel, Orlando

Zebra-striped bedding aside, Florida boasts plenty of winter sun and presumably there’s sea and sand not too far away. The hotel even has a pool. I’ve not explored it myself but am led to believe it’s the blue watery thing near the bar.

The benefit of a few days spent in the one place is that the mornings are pretty well freed up – for sleep and lunch and more sleep, for some. Other bold adventurers took themselves off to the Kennedy Space Center. Not that you have to go all that far to see space cadets round here – Downtown Disney offering plenty of opportunity for the unsuspecting to be parted from any remaining dollars and contribute to the swelling coffers of M. Mouse Esq.

On balance, it’s probably just as well that we’re not concluding our tour in the Ritz Carlton, Atlanta, else they might still be trying to prise my fingernails from the Axminster a month from now.


Mozart, Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams all the way now, and I reckon the hammer will be required again as I’m pretty confident we’ll nail that programme as well. The tour de force that is Ilya Yakushev continues unabated. There won’t be too many opportunities to mention it again, so read it here in bold print: It’s a rare pleasure to share the stage night after night with that guy. How he manages to play quite so many notes whilst holding both audience and orchestra so comfortably in the palm of his hand is anyone’s guess...

Ilya’s last notes of the tour? Relatively few… Marcello*, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Just sublime.

*[The slow movement from Marcello's oboe concerto in d minor arranged by Earl Wild...]



Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams


Nearly there. The closer the tour comes to its end, the more moving the Vaughan Williams symphony becomes. ‘Rural idyll’, ‘pastoral scene’ – it’s hard to come up with a phrase that doesn’t sound trite and sentimental until you remember that Vaughan Williams was writing in an England that had an anything but certain future. Little surprise then that he perhaps chose to write of a halcyon English past that could remain preserved in the mind of the listener - an evening hymn and prayer allowing time for personal reflection. There’ll be barely a dry eye in the house. Decisions will have to be made. Suitcases, already straining on departure, will be tested to their limit by accumulated souvenirs and gifts for family. Maybe I can clear a bit of space by giving some of my ‘white’ shirts a decent burial. Memories at least are portable but can weigh just as heavy.

Something’s gotta give as thoughts turn to home.

18. DONE

Fifteen down, none to go. Another concert? You must be joking. My tails have long since gone beyond ill-fitting and uncomfortable and have now reached tourniquet levels of snugness. Any more of this and I’m in danger of losing a limb. So pass me my comfort fit, elasticated waistband slacks and point me towards the airport. It’s time to get outta here.

19. HOME

There’s one lurking there somewhere. Tucked away in the corner of your mind. Pushed to the back. Locked down tight. It has to be, otherwise it's clamouring for attention could eat away at you. For a while you have to focus on a new reality. A reality of beds that make themselves; of toilet rolls folded into a ‘V’; of ever-refreshing towels; a reality where your decisions are made for you.

My ‘home’, my England, is one long since lost to time. It is that same Arcadian memory – a trick of the mind’s eye. An England of ploughshares, greensward, Jack-in-the-Green! An English imagining that only really gains substance the further removed you are from it. An England that you’ll crane your neck to see from the window of the plane… before passport control and baggage reclaim consume you!

We’ve seen and experienced a lot over the last weeks. Been assured of a warm welcome wherever we’ve gone - instant friendships in every new bar, every new town - a chat with the locals, the passing companionship of strangers.

We’ve seen the smile that says, 'How y’all doin’?', that says 'Have a nice day.' The smile that says you’ve arrived; the smile that lets you know,  'This could be your lucky day!'; the smile that carries the promise of a gentle touch. But right now, what everyone wants to see is that final smile: The smile that lets you know you’re home.


That sudden post-tour exposure to reality can have a nasty habit of appearing all too real. Just give us a moment, eh? There’s only one answer to the question, 'Did you have a good time?' 'It was all right.'

I might be here in body, but my brain is taking a much slower route home, on some container ship somewhere in the Atlantic. Don’t expect the two to be successfully reunited for a few days yet.

Read the BBC Concert Orchestra's full tour schedule.

Read more about the tour and an interview with Keith Lockhart.  



  • Comment number 1.

    Not only do we hear the orchestra have nailed it again (I had to ask my daughter what that meant - she just looked at me oddly) it seems our blogger has too. And this time with a surprisingly delicate touch of pathos. I'd figured him to be a cynic to the core (I can drink easily with such folk) but his references to memories and home almost brought a tear to my eye.
    I'm glad to hear the orchestra are back safe, and am looking forward to their auspicious return to Friday Nights, but it's sad to think there may be be no further instalments of the Life And Times of Grizzly Bass Player. (Note to self: must right to Mark Thompson to request domestic epistles from the back right hand corner of the orchestra.)

  • Comment number 2.

    Will the real Captain please stand up?

    The cynicism is a necessary precaution... something for that sensitive core to shelter behind! I can drink easily too... in fact, if the Beeb furnished us with a couple of microphones and some expensive red wine we, and they, could be onto a winner.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well, yes, a good post:). Do you think Arsenal will win tomorrow manukuniantsev? ps sorry for conventional TV does not look ... : (Have to go to a bar where there is a satellite Here we are Russian! Unfortunately I did not have big problems with English.

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks, Andy. very witty and not at all cynical! Would you please continue writing blogs for all BBCCO gigs!


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