RJ and violin

Rob John 1969 (Sept) -1972 (Sept): Remembering Prices school days:

Following the style of the writings of Richard Leedham 1964-69 (and others)
I have written about certain parts of my experience,
as many of theirs still held firm during my time.
This incuded staff members and their nicknames
along with the general running of the school.

I arrived at Price's a week or so later than everyone else at the beginning of the Autumn term in 1969. For the previous 12 months we had been living in Los Angeles, as my Dad was a scientist who had been working at UCLA. It had been an amazing year of us arriving in August 1968. Riots were evident in major cities, due to the unrest after Martin Luther-King Jr. had been assassinated and civil unrest was prevalent. During the next 12 months of our lives in the US we would experience the first televised war as the Vietnam conflict raged, with daily updates shown on news broadcasts in the evening. The 'Summer of love' had come to a blunt end, students were protesting for peace, the Americans were about to land on the moon in '69 and Sharon Tate was murdered only a short distance from where we lived in Pacific Palisades. The village, as it was then, being a far cry from the behemoth of palaces it was to later become. All this was a far cry from his upbringing in a poor coal mining town in Wales.

My primary school days had finished at Palisade's Elementary School and the ease of free dress at school, trick-or-treating with my friends, the 'horned toad' that was my pet (from a field trip with my Dad in the Mojave Desert), the sound of crickets, Saturday morning matinees at the local movie house and riding my skateboard were about to come to an abrupt end.

On arrival in the UK I had to sit my 11 plus exam in a school hall where we currently lived, near Sutton Coldfield. Ushered into a room by a rather pompous elderly man in academic gown, I was shown to a solitary desk in the middle of the hall, told to sit and wait until a bell was rung, turn the paper over and start the process that everyone in England was required to complete before being deemed worthy of one form of secondary education or another. My overseer puffed furiously on his pipe as I attempted to make sense of the voluminous questions that had been hidden within the papers before me. I did my best, a bell was rung, I was duly ushered out into the corridor and that was that.

Somehow I managed to pass this test and would soon be sharing the coming years with other successful Grammar School candidates, as we now sold our house and moved south to live near Southampton, where my Dad had accepted a position at the University.

I remember the trip down to Hampshire in our Austin A60 as being rather lovely, seeing the greenery, rolling hills and finally arriving in Warsash, where our new home would be for the foreseeable future. It was by the sea, there were rivers to fish in, great places to ride a bike and hopefully my new school would be a place where I would meet new friends who would lived close by.

My parents took me to be 'measured up' for the obligatory school uniform at Silver's, a shop in West Street Fareham, and if I were under any illusions that school life would be as 'open' as it had been in LA well my ideas were about to take a rather sharp turn into a somewhat more traditional English system. “Sir”, surnames for students, assembly, hymns, prayers, notices, readings, detentions, prefects and all manner of foreign daily routines that were utterly incomprehensible after the previous year of my life.

A My Dad drove me to school the first, and only day, as I was to go to the front office firstly. Given my form level details, where to go for class and made aware of where the administration was located, I was taken to a door on the side of the main school hall, where assembly was in progress. Thrust into the end of a line of boys who were all standing facing the stage I clung to the leather empty briefcase that I had been given as a schoolbag. The boy to my left looked at me and said his nickname was 'Rat', the boy next to him was 'Mole' and then he tugged my ears outward from my head. Surveying them briefly and, recognizing that they stuck out from my head somewhat, he informed me that I would be called 'Rabbit'. It made sense as 'Rat' had rather largish front teeth and 'Mole ' had a rather long nose. Welcome to Price's and the club. Things were looking up.

Teachers (Masters):
Finishing primary school and entering the next stage of the educational process is always daunting in any period of time. The clunky gear change to a UK Grammar school in the late 60's had it's own challenges and no more than the almost stilted or stuffy nature of a system which had been working that way for decades. The fact that Price's was started in 1721 only added to the plausible conflict with the direction life had taken during the swinging 1960's.

The CCF and it's style of Dad's Army rational (which, by the way, I didn't take part in due to leaving before 4th form), the formal gowns worn by many staff members, Latin as part of the compulsory subject matter, prefects who could put you on detention (and physically whacked you in some circumstances), a distinct lack of female staff and the use of the cane when “required”.

This last part of the oncoming onslaught put fear into many a gentle soul, including myself, and my Dad told me that if I was ever set to receive this admonishment (or more truly abuse) on my hands, then I was to refuse and request a call to him. Hands were out of the question in his mind, and mine too. My bum was probably going to protest also, but somehow I managed to be one of those boys that dodged that fate. I tried to be a 'good boy'.

I did have a prefect detention, once, and our task was to chequerboard a piece of graph paper using a quill and ink. To make it more impossible no spillage over each tiny square was allowed, otherwise you were destined to start again until the task was cleanly completed and to the satisfaction of the prefect in charge. Another task was given to some other poor sods to write an essay of a certain number of words on the sex life of the inside of a ping-pong ball. I have no idea what any of this was to achieve, except a total resentment of the prefect system or a possible thirst for taking the position later in school life.

But on the whole each teacher, at least seemed to, have a passion for their subject and some were downright inspiring. From my side of things it was our Hockey coach Mr Gross and the music teacher Mr Gilbert. This was a Godsend, as it would soon become apparent that academics weren't to be 'my thing'.

Hockey became my favourite sport and I learnt the subtleties of letting my stick slide up an opponents stick, to make contact with their hands, whilst tackling the ball legally with a sweeping motion. I rarely used this tactic unless there was overuse of physicality from our opposite numbers. Generally this was the case when playing private school teams at their home grounds, which often appeared to be set in luxurious parklands and looked more like an upper class retirement centre than a learning ground. Still, maybe a bunch of them (especially the boarders) used the opportunity on the field to vent frustrations of being plonked into their otherworldly educational enclosures.

Mr Gilbert (who I managed to contact some years ago) had the dubious position of having to inspire a class of boys into listening to, understanding (somewhat) and invigorating the interest in music. To his utter commendment he achieved this with great aplomb and crossed through styles of music from all the eras of classical through blues, jazz, pop and anything that would spark our imaginations. This he achieved with the use of recordings and his inimitable style of playing the piano. Be it current top twenty songs or possibly part of the Grieg piano concerto he drew us into a world that allowed us to have fun and learn at least something about making music. His piece de resistance, in my mind, was the day that he played part of the cadenza from the piano concerto by Grieg. In a section where the main motive from the first movement is iterated and then followed by very low 'growling' in the bottom register of the piano, he demonstrated the technique for achieving this in a normal way. This was followed up by him demonstrating the same music, but this time (for the low grumbling part) he turned away from the keyboard and rolled his backside along the bottom end of the instrument. The effect? …. miraculous as it sounded the same!

No wonder I became a professional musician and I had the opportunity to thank him for this by correspondence only a few years ago. Life changer!!

My academic work was pretty ordinary and by the end of a couple of terms I was close to bottom of the class. My Dad was definitely unimpressed, made his feeling known to me and said it was time to 'pull up my socks'. I did work hard the next part of the year. Lo and behold I was presented with a school prize for 'most progress'. Any thoughts that this might a good thing to do each year (drop standard, get better and be praised) were effectively erased with the indication that I could lose my Sunday afternoon fishing trips and have them replaced with some study time. Nevertheless, I basically bumbled along with each report card indicating that I was 'capable of more' with some 'application'.

School bus and the journeys:
I lived in Warsash and would catch the bus to and from Fareham each day struggling with a brief case and a sports bag, as this seemed to be my constant companion. I did join the school orchestra, very briefly, to 'rumpty tum' my way through some of Handel's Water Music and other mainstays of the orchestral repertoire. This wasn't helped much by the fact that I could barely read any music and carrying a violin case wasn't just adding to my burden of items, but also being a target for any of the local lads who might spy you on your walk from school, to catch a later bus home. My orchestra career at the school came to it's demise when it became obvious that it was going to clash with training for one of the sports I played for my year level.

We lived about 1.5 miles from the bus stop in Warsash and so dragging all my gear home after the bus arrived back at around 5:40pm (after training or the orchestra) meant that if walked to our house I would arrive just after 6:00pm. Dinner at 6:30 and then homework, which was constant. This lateness happened 3 out of 5 nights for much my time.

The poor bus conductors that we had on the Hants and Dorset line each day had to put up with a large number of school students going the Price's, the Girls Grammar in Fareham and the Comprehensive school along the way. It must have been a nightmare for the other passengers, as this was a public bus. Especially the run after school would have been 'special' with the stench of smelly kids (post sports periods and even after showers), the often raucous sound of laughter, the boys teasing the girls, an occasional stink bomb being let off (after having been made in the chem lab), the six form boys and girls snogging on the bench seat at the bus station, along with the overloading of the bus to get home as early as possible.

The mornings were somewhat better as al least there would be the chance to wash beforehand and possibly a clean shirt, although many times the same shirt, socks and unmentionables might be reused a number of days without washing. Yep, hard to believe in these cleanliness conscious days. Most of us only bathed on Sunday night and apart from a lightning quick shower after sports period at school there was only a 'good wash' (did you do behind your ears?) or an extravagant 'top and tail' with the flannel.

NB: The school shower experience was further enhanced by boys trying to flick each others bums or genitals with a wet towel or wet and feathered end of a school tie. Having dodged this post shower favourite the last person ready could be duly belted with 'sebastian' the old trainer by a sports master.

During the wetter times of the year the bus windows would steam up and preclude any possibility of seeing the outside world and so it seemed that we would enter a vessel carrying us on a not so magical mystery tour.

On one occasion as we neared the bus station in Fareham on the way to school, some bright spark had a an idea. We had discovered quite some time ago that the sharp turn at the back entrance to the bus station, which drew the bus in along a high curved brick wall, meant that the top of the bus would sometimes tip precariously on the opposite side to this right hand turn. This, of course, depended on the number of passengers upstairs and the speed of the bus at the time of the turn. Anyway, the idea was that it might be fun if we all moved towards the left side of the bus as we started the turn in. Someone verbalised the move with a sharp “Now!” and, although not everyone participated in this somewhat reckless prank, the effect was immediate and shocking. The bus lurched sideways and how it managed to stay upright, as it teetered perilously close to the top of the wall, is anyones guess. A bunch of pale faced youths exited the bus down the narrow stairs and marched sullenly past the conductor that morning as he scowled at the group, trying to ascertain who the possible perpetrators could be.

School dinners:
Lunchtime was always a mixture of joy and dread, depending on whatever was being served up in this post WWII hangover of culinary and dietary necessity. There could be a mixture of edible, 'nice', unpalatable and occasionally wonderful items available as we all traipsed dutifully passed the ladies who served us each day. Most boys would have the school lunch option and only a few would opt for taking their own lunch, either because of choice or possibly not being able to afford the daily cost.

Certain menu items would turn up on a regular basis and although the 'pudding' was usually the favourite for many of us there could be somethings that would put you into a mildly cold sweat. The apple pie was terrific as long as you didn't get the shredded core of an apple. The whole apples were bunged into the mix and it was not unusual to end up with a mouthful of these shards amongst the sweet sauced apple texture. No wonder it was dubbed 'toe-nail pie'.

But by far the worst thing that could happen, not counting the processed peas that had shells like plastic, was a new custard jug during a cold Winter day. The custard was made in large batches and then distributed into metal jugs which would sit in military formation until each one was emptied and a new one brought forth. Of course, if you were later in the lunch process then these jugs could have been sitting for enough time that a skin formed on top of the yellow, and sometimes pink, contents.

This skin was not your normal thin layer of easily dealt with covering but a thick shoe-sole like mass that would most likely explode on top of the pud already sitting in your dish. Akin to a large jellyfish it seemed to quiver as if trying to escape from the pudding bowl. With the added direction from our table monitors it was highly likely that you would not be allowed to each the whole thing until your first course was finished. Jamie Oliver was definitely right some decades later!!

The other thing about the school lunch system was that you would buy your lunch tickets at the start of each week with the money provided by your parents. 5 tickets, 5 meals. Simple. So somewhere along

the way, during second form, myself and a coupe of friends had the brilliant idea that we could not pay the full 5 days out and keep 1 day's money in our pocket and get sweets on the way back to the bus station. All we had to do was sneak a little food from home to cover our needs for the one day and we would be made. The problem arose when the number of dinners set out each day was directed by a form our parents had signed at the beginning of each term and counted up for the daily requirements. Dinners seemed to be mounting up each week as the numbers didn't add up against the requisite forms provided by parents and tickets weren't being bought at the expected rate. It all came to a close when during a particular assembly that an announcement was made by the one of the masters, in the style of, ….

“It has come to my attention that some boys might be no forthcoming each week with the money that has been provided by their parents to facilitate them purchasing tickets for school lunches. Rest assured that whoever had instigated this will be found out and dealt with accordingly.” Etc,etc,.......

End of plan methinks.

Not that Price's was anywhere near the stratrospheric levels of chaos as 'St. Trinians' of comedic movie fame, but it still had a strong discipline regime to hold back any misgivings that teenage boys might have as to where the boundaries of disrespect and fun could possibly start or end.

During class some teachers were adept and highly skilled at throwing chalk or board rubbers at inattentive, talking, sleepy or just plain bored students. Others were kindly and achieved levels of calmness with aplomb and clarity of purpose.

Many a student would had these words ringing in their ears, .. “That boy!! See me in my office after assembly!!!”. This would be accompanied by a sternly pointed finger in a general direction of a group of students. The big problem was that on many an occasion there would be utter confusion as to which 'boy' was the offending party. Discussion would ensue as to whether a number should turn up and a selection made at “my office” or bite the bullet and draw straws. Would the master even remember the face of the offending party once he made himself known, post assembly. Worse still, what exactly was the supposed offence? You wouldn't want to own up to something else.

One other strategy was used by a certain 'R.E.' teacher on CCF days (his name eludes me, but not his face). He relished wearing his full formal lieutenant's uniform from the beginning of the day, even though it wasn't necessary until after lunch (by memory). Marching up and down between the rows of desks he would slam his 'swagger stick' violently on the desk of an unsuspecting boy, as he approached from behind. The effect was terrifying as the stick would land within a few microns on the poor sods hand as an answer to was coaxed from the particular student for the question that had been asked whilst he wheeled vulturelike around the room. The fear of God was definitely present.

Post thought:
Price's was nearing it's end as a boy's school, as I understand from reading the memories of other past students. Apart from the strange world we inhabited, worlds away from today's education expectations, it was, for me, a character-filled chapter of my life. I am grateful that only recently I have managed to make contact with a number of my friends/ colleagues from that period and even more glad that many of my memories from that time have been confirmed. Without that confirmation, some things are inexplicable and just downright unbelievable ….. well, to the uninitiated.


Rob John

After Price's – Rob John

I left for Canberra, Australia in the Summer of 1972 and we arrived to the start of a hot Spring and even hot Summer. School terms in Australia start in January and so I had and extra term of 3rd form in my new school, a government co-ed high school. We weren't 'ten pound Poms' as my Dad had been offered a terrific research position. The Radio Times ad is still firmly pictured in my mind though.

My hockey playing days were finished and I spent the first Summer holidays watering the grass area in our new home, as it was my responsibility not to let it dry out. (This happened about every 20 minutes!). By this stage I had found that there was a youth orchestra system and, to cut a very long story short, I managed to be accepted early in 1973. It was a total life changer for me as I started being a part of a group of young musicians who played 4 concerts a year in Canberra, did country concerts (sometimes hundreds of kilometres away by un-airconditioned bus), held music camps and in 1974 attended the International Federation of Youth Orchestras camp in Aberdeen and London. (How we even managed to get there is financially is a long story).

At the end of 1975 I finished school and the following year worked in a music shop (where I had worked previous Summer holiday periods). I continued learning the violin at the Canberra School of Music, which ended up being from mid 1973-the end of 1976, and was fortunate to be a scholarship student. I started tertiary studies there in 1977, but left after only 2.5 months as I then moved to Melbourne on a 3 month contract with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I arrived with $7 in my pocket and how this came about is very long story.

Later that year I won a position in the 1st violin section, aged 19, and stayed there during next 2.5 years. I left to teach in 1980 and rejoined the MSO in late 1981. After holding principal positions in that orchestra I was asked by the chief conductor to lead the orchestra from late 1985 until I left in April 1987. I spent from 1987-1990 between London, Japan and Australia leading orchestras, playing sessions and playing solos, before being offered leadership of the the orchestra of the Australian Ballet and Opera Australia. During that time I was also Artist-in Residence at the Victorian Arts Centre. I stayed in that position until late 1998 and had also spent a lot of time conducting, music directing and also mucking around in a small recording/production studio I was developing in my house. (Sounds glamorous, but hard work and I loved it).

I went freelance in late 1998 and since then have had a wide variety of roles in the music industry, mainly working in the commercial music industry for film, TV and concerts. I did also maintain a lot of classical concert work in patches as a violinist, but this was not my main drive. I started a music production company with my wife, Leah, who is a cellist and this is still the main source of my work. It has meant that we have now contracted orchestras for projects over the past 26 years and in fact met when I was on tour with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in 1996.

Since that time I have been fortunate to work with a large number of local and international artists in recordings, concerts, movies, TV series, tours and also as an arranger/orchestrator, conductor and producer. My website (rough as it is) https://indmusicprods.com/home

Postscript when asked to say more about Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
(Is it safe to assume that everyone is aware that they with the late John Bonham, were Led Zeppelin, in other words, Rock A-listers?)

Jim and Bob - Well. It’s just what many of us do in the industry, that is work with a number of legends. That tour was ’No Quarter’ and I looked after the final stages of a 2 year tour in Australia. As usual here in Oz, a quick rip round the country. Fab working with Hossam Ramzay, who was living in London at that time, the 3 other percussion guys from Morocco and the 4 eastern fiddlers, who were tremendous. On top of that my 20 piece string section plus the 2 front men and band. Loudest gig ever, not helped by the foldback engineer who was a Glaswegian busting to get home.

Other luminaries can be seen on my website info. They all get up in the morning, go to the loo though and some you get to know better than others. The Jim and Bob contact was almost nonexistent, whereas many others were far more down to earth. Same applies in the classical world too.