Encounters: Andrew Parmley, Lord Mayor of the City of London3:15, 22nd February 2017
I’m the youngest of three sons. When my oldest brother was born my mother bought a piano and he showed no interest. My second brother was only interested in football, so I wasn’t given the chance: I was told as a little boy I was going to learn the piano, and I did not wish to play the piano. I can remember practising scales on a Saturday morning, when the butcher’s boy came around with meat in a basket on the front of a bicycle, as they used to do; incidentally, this butcher’s boy, who lives in Taiwan, sent me an email saying, I hear you’re Lord Mayor! Anyway, this butcher’s boy said to my mother, ‘He should learn to do that properly.’ When I went to big school, he was the head boy, and he said, ‘Come here, Parmley, I’m going to show you how the school organ works.’ I didn’t know you could make that much noise on your own, so I was immediately hooked. I worked very hard at it, enjoyed it enormously, got my ARCO at 16 and FRCO at 18, and won a scholarship to the Academy and had three beautiful years with Alan Harveson.
Musicians who learn the organ tend to be loners, because you do it on your own in a darkened church by and large; but I’m from Blackpool, and in my youth churches thrived, so organs and choirs thrived. We also had the second largest number of live theatre outside the West End, so I grew up surrounded by very high-class church music, by very good quality symphonic music – Blackpool Symphony was conducted by Robert Atherton, father of David – and by the very highest class of popular musicians backing people like Shirley Bassey, Tommy Steele and so on. So what I grew up with was high-quality music of huge variety, including G&S, because they came out of copyright when I was young, so we had endless amateur operatic societies as well. Blackpool Music Festival was full of interesting things, and people travelled from all over the north to compete in the heats. So I was surrounded by music from being a little boy and it seemed the natural thing to come to London and study hard. I first thought as a provincial lad that I wouldn’t survive in London and had not imagined I could make a success of it. But I came here 42 years ago and I’ve been here ever since.
After a first degree at the Academy I went up to Manchester University to read for a Masters in 17th-century French organ music which, as your readers will know, is a difficult thing to pull off on most British organs, but I enjoyed it enormously, and I think I was the first British organist to start playing Lefebvre-Wely again – as part of my studies, I came across these scores of what seemed to be end-of-the-pier music from Blackpool. So it was a natural fit – it’s real organ music, but it sounds as though it ought to be from Blakcpool. I then became musical director of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the largest fairground in Europe, so I moved from ‘straight’ music into theatre. I then married, and thought I’d move into the West End but couldn’t get a job – the West End was a closed environment in those days – so I went back to college, to Royal Holloway, and wrote a thesis on 17th-century French opera, which clearly is the ideal starting-point for a future Lord Mayor! I focused mainly on Marc- Antoine Charpentier and his work with the Comédie française, which was a joy to me because at the same time William Christie arrived from America and set up shop in Paris and established Les Arts Florissants. I had the complete works of Charpentier on microfilm and it was easier for Bill to get the scores off me in London than it was to get them from the Bibliothèque Nationale in his own town. So I did all the early transcriptions for Les Arts Florissants on their recordings with Harmonia mundi.
Music in Blackpool was there at every level – from the symphony orchestra, the massive church thing, endless brass bands and concert bands, people playing in the bandstands in the parks, and with this great range of theatre we spent the summers with the likes of Ken Dodd and Tommy Cooper and popular entertainers; but in the winter we had the Royal Opera come through, and as a boy as soon as one of us could drive, we were off to see the Liverpool Phil at the Preston Guildhall every Friday whenever we could, for the princely sum of 50p! So I picked up the orchestral repertoire, and during my time at the Academy I bought a season ticket for the Colisseum and saw the entire ENO repertoire between the ages of 18 and 21, which opens up your horizons, because as an organist if you’re not careful it’s Bach and Messiaen and nothing much else, not everybody chose to write for the organ.
I still play every Sunday. In 1982 the organist of one of the Wren churches in the City asked me to stand in for him, and he never came back – so I’ve stood in for him for 35 years. I’ve still to be paid! After the first service the clergyman said, ‘What do we owe you?’ and I said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll see Mr X,’ and I never did see Mr X. Years later I tracked down his email address and I sent an invoice for £207,000, which was a sum I invented, no cheque ever came. The church is St James Garlickhythe: ‘Garlick’ because it was where garlic and spice were landed in the Middle Ages, and ‘hythe’ is the old word for ‘quay’, so it’s St James-by-the-Spice- Quay. In electoral terms, it’s in the electoral ward called Vintry, which is where the wine was landed. So in the Middle Ages the ward of Vintry was one of the wealthiest wards in the City, with all the stuff coming in via the Thames. And St James Garlickhythe – St James the patron saint of Compostela – was the starting point for pilgrimages. Inside the church there was a beautiful, run-down we thought Father Smith of 1697; it turned out to be a 1718 Knoppel. It’s a three manual organ with pedals and was added in 1888. The three manuals are tracker and the pedals are pneumatic, so they speak a little after your hands if you’re not careful. I started to raise the money to restore it: I ran four London marathons and managed to get some money from the Lottery, and in 2007 we restored the organ for the sum of £325,000 – it was carried out by Mander. I’ve known the Mander family for a very long time and Noel was a parishioner of St James Garlickhythe when he was alive. So I’ve stayed there and built up something of a tradition – there wasn’t a regular choir in those days and there was only one service a month. Maybe 25 years ago a crane from a building site fell through the roof and completely smashed the church – the chandeliers disappeared, the pews disappeared, but the organ was saved because the 14 tons of concrete fell right of the middle of the nave; the organ jumped up and down a bit, but it wasn’t damaged. We managed to restored the church but it took us some time. When we reopened, people wanted to see the church where the crane had fallen through the roof, and so we started having services every Sunday. We now only have a morning service, but we’re the home of the Prayer Book Society, we have the statue of Cranmer staring down at us from the top of the choir stalls, and we have a mixture of choral groups – a group of professionals from the opera house come once a month, we have the English Chamber Choir once a month, we have our own home-grown choir, Stellae Cantores, so we’ve built up quite a tradition in the old parish church/ cathedral style of the great Tudor and Victorian repertoire, but also we sing a lot of modern stuff as well. Nobody lives in the parish at all, but because of the church’s niche with the Prayer Book Society, lots of people come every Sunday. It’s also the home to some 20 of the City livery companies who have their annual services in the church; and in 2012 we had a fine tower but no bells, so I set about raising the money to get eight bells. It happened to coincide with the Queen’s diamond jubilee, and the first float in the river procession was of our bells. After they floated down the river, they were put up in our tower. The Stellae Cantores choir are home-grown ringers.
I’ve been an elected member of the City of London Corporation for 25 years, 10 years as what is called a Common Councillor and 15 years as an Alderman. Most wards in the country don’t have the role of Alderman, but we retain it in the City, we have 25, because it’s from that pool of 25 that we find our Sheriffs and the Lord Mayor.
My role is to be the UK’s international ambassador for financial-related services. Although I’m called the Lord Mayor of London, I’m actually the financial services ambassador for the entire country, and two-thirds of financial services jobs are outside the Square Mile.
One of the joys of being Lord Mayor is that you get involved in lots of charitable activity, and because of my background my charity work focuses on three main charities: the London Symphony Orchestra Discovery programme, St Paul’s Cathedral – not maintaining the choristers, but supporting them in their outreach work in east London – and then a little charity called Music in Hospitals, which is about therapy. The LSO regularly ranks in the top five orchestras of the world, undoubtedly about to become number 1 when Sir Simon Rattle returns from Berlin. We’re looking very hard at the feasibility of building what we’re calling for the time being the Centre for Music, this is to be the UK’s state-of-the art concert hall. Part of my charity work – and this is not my idea, I promise you – is to play the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony with the Orchestra on 14 March for the Lord Mayor’s Appeal. Tickets are going extremely well – there’s no need for your readers to try and get a ticket; just tell them to open their windows and they’ll hear it, it’s going to be extremely loud.
I think we’re very lucky in the UK that the government still recognises the important part that music plays in our society, to the extent that 5 per cent of the national curriculum is still focused on music, and that is not the case in many places, including the United States. There’s a very well-known school in Kensington where music is virtually compulsory – not really compulsory, because the kids all wish to take part in it – and the stats at that school demonstrate that the kids who do best at music also do better at sport and do better at mathematics and actually do better across the piste. They’re more informed, they’re more cooperative, they’re more likely to be a team player, they’re more likely to be reflective, they’re more likely both to take direction and also to give direction when required, but not to impose themselves. The great joy of music is that it enhances life skills in so many different ways.
London is the greatest city in the world because of its climate, its geographical location, its time zone – you can do business east and west – its education of high quality, its well-trained, well-motivated work force, its housing stock, but most importantly in terms of the cultural offer, which embraces all manner of things: I’m not just talking about what goes on in the Royal Festival Hall – our museums, our churches, the fact that we are fast becoming the fashion centre of the world, everything cultural, film and theatre. London has got all these things in a collaborative city of probably 300 languages, with people coming from every corner of the world. London has always been a melting-pot of people from every corner of this world. Its success depends on people coming from everywhere, we rely on the best talent in the world. I was in Nepal last week – there are 150,000 Nepalese people in the UK, very welcome contributors to our society. And London relies on this in my view. And when they come, they bring their cuisine, their clothes, their music, and so we are constantly enhanced and the fusion continues. They also bring clever ideas in financial technology, in information technology, in creative design, all sorts of things. So from my point of view, London is open for business and we welcome people from every corner of the world. This is a cultural melting-pot and we will begin to stultify if we don’t continue to encourage people to join us.
As I travel to Korea and China next week I’ll be meeting presidents, governors of central banks, finance ministers and people at the highest level and I shall be meeting the LSO three times, in Seoul, in Beijing and Shanghai, and I’ll be taking the business people when we’ve finished our day’s work to concerts. How do music and politics fit together? The sharing of our cultural offering with the Chinese will be as important to me as our ideas about business, society and collaboration. And when we are listening to the orchestra playing, we will be reflecting not on what the orchestra is playing, though that will be subliminally affecting us, at the same as we consider in our minds separately what we have discussed and what we’re trying to take forward, which will possibly affect the outcome of the decisions we make on the subsequent day.
Music is something that is beyond comprehension, a language which can’t be written down and can’t really be taught – it’s just understood, and it’s understood by each individual in a different way. But sometimes music sways whole crowds, sometimes the lyrics will be incredibly emotive, sometimes music will become associated with a national moment, with a sporting event, with some moment of great historic importance that people will share the moment by sharing the music. Why would you invest in music? You go back to Bobby Kennedy’s remark: ‘Gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play […]. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.’ All the things we can measure are the things that are unimportant to life. Things like music, like love, like relationships are the important things – they cannot be quantified, they just exist and mankind is the better for them. Music is at the top of that list and if you take away the arts in any respect from our society, you’re denuding it and taking it back to the basics of trying to stay alive and trying to trade. It seems to me that the creative industries are there not only to be enjoyed and to stimulate, but to be controversial. We see this with the Turner Prize or the Booker Prize, sometimes controversial things come forward. People don’t always agree with it but actually the art installation’s job – Tracy Emin’s done her job by not making her bed and causing people to be annoyed about it. So art is there to stimulate you positively and negatively perhaps, and music is at the forefront of that because it’s instantly accessible to anyone who can hear.