“I have had the great joy and fortune to spend a lifetime writing, recording and performing music…”
So writes the hugely successful composer and pianist Andy Quin, who tells his Story here…
Born into a working class family in London, we did not have a piano and my parents were not musicians.
When I was 4 years old, it was on visits to my aunt who had an old upright in her front room that my talent was first discovered. I used to sneak in to play whilst the adults were chatting elsewhere.
On the strength of what they heard they saved up to buy me the best piano they could manage (this was a major expense for them) – a cheap Lindner upright … now probably recognised as one of the worst pianos ever made!
I still have this piano some 50 years on; it still plays (unlike most Lindners that are now used for landfill!) and was even broadcast recently on I’m A Celebrity ..! Anyway, thanks to my parents’ sacrifice, support and enthusiasm to scrape together enough to afford a piano and lessons, my love for, and natural desire to create music developed, and I became somewhat obsessed.
My first music teacher was a very ‘traditional’ and strict lady called Frances Bender who lived just a short walk away in North London. She made me wash my hands before each lesson (I was quite a grubby urchin who loved street football). I will never forget her kindness and special encouragement, after a productive lesson she said
“One day Andy you will be very famous”.
Her prediction never came true, but I returned to visit her fifteen years after we had moved away. She remembered me and was delighted that I had started to pursue a professional career in music.
As a child, practising was never a chore and I spent so much of my time both playing and listening with real joy, so lucky to have discovered the ‘meaning of life’ (for me anyway) at such a young age.
We moved to the East coast, and from the age of ten the capricious and volatile North Sea became my constant companion and musical inspiration, my second muse after the piano itself.
I had sketched out ideas for my ‘Sea Concerto’ by the age of eleven. I walked by the sea almost every day (we had three dogs) come rain, shine, hell or high water, always fascinated at the ever changing topology, hue and mood of the water from tranquil calm to chaotic fury of incomprehensible power.
I was there when the pirate Radio Caroline ship was beached in a huge storm. And I joined a small group of friends who would take a swim every Christmas day for many years whatever the conditions!
The ebb and flow of waves and tide and the rhythm of walking still pervade much of my musical creativity.
I played part of my Sea Concerto at an audition that my parents had arranged for me in Colchester. I don’t really remember much about it, I just remember them telling me to “…just play like you do at home”.
It turned out it was for an opportunity to study at the RCM. I was later told had I chosen to go, I would have been one of the youngest students ever to be admitted.
My mother had been suffering from cancer for a couple of years and so her death when I was eleven did not come entirely as a shock. But, losing my mum was enough, I couldn’t bear the thought of moving away and losing my friends, the sea and coast, and all I had grown accustomed to. So I decided to stay at home with my father and brother and the dogs. I had passed the ‘eleven plus’, so took a place at the local Grammar School and continued private piano lessons with a local teacher, Melvyn Weston.
Mr Weston was an elderly man who sadly suffered badly from emphysema but was a very kind and patient teacher. He took me through all the classical piano grades although I was not a diligent student. My musical interests had broadened so widely to include playing drums and organ in various bands, together with a growing interest in electronics and music technology.
I designed and built synthesisers and constructed a small recording studio at home where I experimented with tape loops and various electronic music techniques.
I won the Christine Gilchrist Prize for music at school and went on to study a combined honours degree in Music and Electronics at Keele University. Piano continued to be my first love however, and I continued my classical studies with the acclaimed concert pianist Peter Seivewright as well as studying jazz and piano with the American virtuoso, Professor Cecil Lyle.
I now look back on a joyful lifetime professional career as a composer and pianist. I am perhaps best known in the UK for my jazz piano on classic adverts such as the After Eight Perfect Dinner Party where Liberace mimes to my playing!
The Estonia Grand
Due to the worldwide success of my music on film and TV over the years I was lucky enough to be able to have a special piano made for me. The instrument is a handmade 9’ concert grand made for me by the Estonia piano factory in Tallinn.
These pianos are very rare in the UK (although increasingly popular amongst connoisseurs and in concert halls elsewhere around the globe, particularly the US).
The Estonia is now amongst a tiny number of truly handmade pianos in the world. This coupled with the slow grown specially selected timbers (such as karelian birch) give the piano its gorgeous tone.
My daughter is a professional ballet dancer, and having travelled the world with companies such as Birmingham Royal Ballet, had eventually settled with the Theatre Vanemuine Ballet in Tartu, Estonia. We used to visit regularly to watch her perform and I had come across the Estonia pianos.
The Estonia piano company went from mass-production supplying the whole of the USSR (greats such as Rachmaninoff played these pianos) to virtually closing down when Estonia restored its independence in 1991.
Fortunately it was rescued and taken over privately by the Laul family, who now produce the wonderful newly designed bespoke pianos. The history of Estonia’s struggles and the piano factory is a fascinating and inspiring story, very much involved with the power of music.
I contacted Dr. Laul who kindly invited me to tour his factory. I was so impressed that I later decided to commission them to make a piano for me. When I returned to the factory to try out the piano before delivery, Dr. Laul arranged for the entire staff to gather round, and I gave a short impromptu recital which was very warmly received, before the piano was officially handed over to me, a lovely experience!
My instrument is now becoming one of the most heard pianos on TV, with a diverse range of music on soundtracks worldwide, from UK acclaimed drama series such as ‘Skins’ and ‘Dates’, through early jazz on the hit US series Boardwalk Empire and the Oscar nominated ‘Trumbo‘, to The Taiwanese Romantic drama ‘Corner With Love’ and commercials such as the Centrepoint charity appeal, and film trailers such as the recent ‘Victoria and Abdul‘.
Although my very busy composing career took me away from performance for many years I am now rediscovering the joys of playing live again.
I try to make time to play every day although I wouldn’t really call it practice, for me it has always been and continues to be such a pleasure, and the Estonia responds to my every musical mood.
My story has been a musical adventure, a journey from probably the worst piano in the world to one of the best!
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