Sunday, 2 September 2012

Compagnie Giulia recall Simon Cassell 1953-2012 Interviews and mediaeval music with Julia Thomas, Howard Frey, Nick Millington, Marc Walpot and Russell Harris - on 'Classical Journey' Phonic FM Tuesday 4 September 10-11am

Simon Cassell (1953-2012)
Photograph: Maureen Douglas Green
(kindly sent in by Julia Thomas)

This Tuesday's programme will begin with an hour dedicated to the memory of a very special Totnes musician, Simon Cassell.

'Big John' takes the microphone
at an early 101ers gig
Simon started his musical career when he was a young barrister of 21. He played saxophone with Woody Mellor's '101ers', at the Telegraph in Brixton, as 'Big John' . (Simon's middle name is John, and he was 6'8" tall!)

Aficionados of seventies music will recall that Woody Mellor was later known as 'Joe Strummer' and founded 'The Clash' two years later in 1976. Then, in 1981, when the Clash were at the height of their popularity, Joe reformed the 101ers to produce the album of their hits, which was called 'Elgin Avenue Breakdown'. The album opens with the thrilling sound of 'Letsagetabitarockin' - fabulous music.

Simon Cassell (1953-2012)
barrister, linguist, musician
playing the Turkish Saz

(photo:  Simon's website)
More recently Simon became increasingly interested in the music of Turkey. Simon was also an accomplished linguist, speaking French, Italian and Spanish. He taught English while in France and Turkey - and also taught himself the Persian language - Farsi.

From the age of forty he developed a repertoire on Turkish traditional instruments, the saz and the oud. He studied Turkish music in Istanbul and Paris and completed the master of arts programme in music at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) in London at the age of 53.

Mock Hobby Horse
Julia Thomas, Howard Frey, Meg Compton
'Maypole & Mistletoe' 1998

Since about 1985 Simon had been based in Devon. In 2005, he discovered Totnes musicians Julia Thomas and Howard Frey performing mediaeval music on bagpipes, concertina, mandolin and guitar, with Meg Compton accompanying them on bowed psaltery. This amazing musical group was the 'Mock Hobby Horse' (named after a dance in John Playford's 'English Dancing Master', 1651).

2005 was a great year for Mock Hobby Horse. Simon added darabouka and zilli (and subsequently saz and oud) to the line-up. They were also joined by talented bouzouki player Nick Millington.

Mike Edwards
viola da gamba
(Mock Hobby Horse website)
One additional new member was the illustrious Mike Edwards. Mike was a 'cellist trained at the Royal Academy of music. He was also a founder member of Roy Wood's 'Electric Light Orchestra'. Mike later became a Sannyasin of Osho, living with them in Germany, America, India - and finally Totnes.

In Totnes Mike became the Chairman of the 'Devon and European String Teachers Association' in the South West. At a DESTA workshop in 1999 he met Margaret Faultless and together they formed 'Devon Baroque' and played together in more than 100 concerts of baroque music.

Mike also supported and joined many groups playing music from different periods of history. The groups he worked with included 'Daughters of Elvin', 'Ta Filia', L'Ardito, and the Ashburton 'Cello Ensemble.

Mike was also an active member of the Totnes Early Music Society.

Compagnie Giulia
Howard Frey, Julia Thomas,
Nick Millington, Mike Edwards
Simon Cassell

When Simon Cassell and Mike Edwards came together - with Julia Thomas, Howard Frey and Nick Millington - a new band was formed. 'Compagnie Giulia'.

For five years they created glorious music combining many special elements. Julia played concertina and 'Leicestershire small pipes', and composed music for mediaeval poetry - often using ideas from Turkey provided by Simon.

Mike, Howard and Nick combined the sounds of mediaeval England, Italy and Greece seamlessly with their viola da gamba, mandolin and bouzouki.

Simon connected the music to its origins in the Arab world with his Saz and Oud - and skilled percussion on the Darbuka.

Richard Gonski
Musical Director: Torbay Symphony Orchestra
Chairman: 'Save Dartington College Campaign'
Shortly after the formation of Compagnie Giulia, Simon's skills were needed in a very different way. Increased funding of University College Falmouth was leading inevitably to the closure of Dartington College of Arts and the transfer of all courses to Falmouth.

Simon joined Richard Gonski's campaign to save Dartington College. Despite all the efforts of the campaigner's - and Simon's expert legal advice - the closure was pushed through on Sunday 6th April 2008. Every kind of undergraduate arts education at Dartington was brought to an immediate halt - including music. Since then the 'Dartington Hall Trust' have worked tirelessly to keep the arts - and arts education - alive in the unique environment of Dartington Hall (full details on the Dartington website).

Arts education - especially music - continues at Dartington
Choral students perform Antonín Dvořák's 'Stabat Mater'
to end this year's five-week International Summer School
Dartington Geat Hall, Friday 24th September 2012

Compagnie Giulia play at Dartington Great Hall
in memory of Mike Edwards
Julia Thomas: Leicestershire small pipes
Howard Frey: mandolin
Simon Cassell: Darbuka
While the community were still reeling from the loss of a great local institution, Totnes suffered another terrible tragedy. On Friday 3 September 2010, the day before his scheduled appearance with 'Daughters of Elvin' at St Mary's Church in Totnes, Mike Edwards was killed in a road traffic collision.

Three months later, on Sunday 5 December - the day after Devon Baroque performed Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio' at Exeter Cathedral with the Exeter Chamber Choir - Devon Baroque, and all the groups that had included Mike as in integral member, joined in a memorial afternoon concert in Dartington Great Hall. Many must have suspected that they could not carry on without him - including the members of Compagnie Giulia.

Margaret Faultless waves a final farewell to Mike Edwards
surrounded by his fellow musicians
Julia, Simon, Howard and Nick are on the left

Simon Cassell
plays oud at the Bogan House, Totnes
However, exactly one year after the tragic loss of Mike Edwards, the four remaining members of Compagnie Giulia had recovered sufficiently to give their first concert on Sunday 4 September 2011, at the Bogan House in Totnes. Soundart Radio (Dartington Hall) were there to record the concert. The music was as enchanting as ever, with many new pieces developed during the preceding year. Simon played saz and oud, and gave some very entertaining explanations of the music. What a wonderful entertainer and musician he was.

On Monday 12 December 2011 Simon Cassell was severely injured in a road traffic collision. After three weeks of intensive therapy, Simon died on New Year's Day 2012.

For some time it seemed impossible that Compagnie Giulia could continue. Help was at hand, however. Simon had been a member of several musical groups, including the seven piece Bulgarian Klesmer band, 'Shavali'. In their recorded music, the darbuka playing and spirited saz solos of Simon Cassell can be heard behind the haunting voice of lead singer, Desislava Valentinova. Playing violin and accordion was a very talented Dutch musician Marc Walpot.

Marc Walpot
'Folk and Classical Music' website
Marc is very familiar with the music of Simon Cassell. He has now joined Julia, Howard and Nick, to form a new group. Recently they toured Poland together, performing and teaching. Now their sound is ready for the return of 'Compagnie Giulia'. We can see and hear a brief video of the four, playing Simon's composition, 'Gülüm', on the 'Luch Càise-Dearg' Facebook page.

This Tuesday (4th September) they will be in the Phonic FM studio to play more of their music, and to remember their incredibly musical colleague, Simon Cassell.

Russell Harris plays oud
photo: Maren Lueg's
'Middle Eastern Music & Dance' website
Julia, Howard, Nick and Marc will also be joined by another of Simon's colleagues, Russell Harris. Russell also plays saz and oud, and made recordings with Simon in a group called 'Bazigah'.

We will hear their recording of 'Cavanim Gel', made in 1999. Russell will also discuss their work together.

This will be a wonderful hour of reminiscence and music - and news about more great live mediaeval music in the future. We are all grateful to Simon Cassell, and sad to have lost him - and his very special contribution to music in Devon.

Below are some picture of Julia, Howard, Nick and Marc
at a rehearsal in Totnes on Friday 24th August:

Julia Thomas
founder of 'Mock Hobby Horse'
and 'Compagnie Giulia'.
Tea, cakes - and concertina

Howard Frey
lays aside his bendir (not a bodhran!)
and accompanies on guitar

Nick Millington
adds bouzouki

Marc Walpot
violinist/accordionist with Simon
in the Bulgarian folk band 'Shavali'
brings a lively fiddle style

Compagnie Giulia
Howard Frey: Mandolin, Julia Thomas: Concertina
Nick Millington: Baglama, Marc Walpot: Violin

. . . and Marc's friend - a springer/Labrador cross called Luna

(click here to see the video of them playing on 'Facebook')

Simon Cassell 1953-2012

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