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We met first in a wine bar off Oxford Street. I’d just been to a disastrous concert at the Wigmore Hall – a little-known Korean soprano in a Hugo Wolf song cycle. You can imagine! He came up to me, pointing to my concert programme.
‘Oh well, my dear. Some you win, some you lose, I suppose! Have a nice cool drink and forget all about it.’
He ordered two glasses of Sancerre and we took them to a corner table. I don’t usually accept drinks from total strangers but there was something disarming about him. He wore a bizarre assortment of clothes – a striped cricket blazer worn over a slightly grubby T-shirt, brown corduroy trousers and a pair of dirty, battered trainers. He was perhaps fifty, maybe older. He had short grey hair and a small moustache. The most attractive thing about him was his voice. It was warm and lilting. It had the sort of musical quality I associate with Ireland.
‘Things aren’t what they were,’ he sighed, sipping his wine, ‘I remember the greats you know – Beecham, Sir Malcolm Sargent, von Karajan – you name them, I knew them. Anyway, cheers.’
He raised his glass and we drank. I went to replenish our glasses.
‘So you’re in the music business?’ I inquired.
‘Me? Music is in my veins. It’s the air in my lungs. It’s the food in my stomach. Music? Me and music are like that.’ And he interlaced his fingers to show me how close he and music were.
‘But do you play yourself?’ I asked.
‘Not exactly play. I’m more in the broadcasting and recording area,’ he confided, ‘but I have an essential role in every performance,’ he replied evasively. ‘I’ve worked with them all – Zubin Mehta, Bernstein (now he was a lad, I can tell you), Arthur Rubenstein (a real ladies’ man too), Pavarotti, Solti. There are plenty of stories I could tell you.’
When we left to make our way to our separate homes, we agreed to meet again the following week. From then on, we met occasionally for about six months. But, despite our common interest in music, we never went to a concert together. I suggested it once, but he refused so violently that I never suggested it again.
Yet, every time we met he would boast about his musical contacts.
‘I was on with Sir Neville Marriner last week,’ he said, with a modest smile, ‘and next week it’s the Juillard. I’m busy every night. But they’re all such lovely people; lovely…’ His voice trailed off nostalgically.
Now, I am not an especially curious person, but I have to admit that I was intrigued by Cheers. (When I had asked his name, he had told me, ‘Just call me Cheers.’) How did he come to know all these musicians so well? What did he do for a living? Who was he?
Inevitably, one evening we did find ourselves at the same concert. It was at the Royal Festival Hall. I spotted him down in the front row, dressed in his inimitable style. He seemed very agitated. As the orchestra came to the end of the first half of the concert, I saw him leap up, clapping and cheering loudly, as close as possible to the BBC radio microphones recording the concert. I suddenly realized what his ‘role’ was.
So, whenever you hear a live broadcast of a concert – think of ‘Cheers’!
Choose the most accurate answer.
Where did the author and Cheers first meet?
at the Concert Hall
in a bar
in the street
What was the most remarkable thing about Cheers?
his grey hair
What did the author think about Cheers’ profession?
he was a musician
he had some business in music
he was a composer
Why did Cheers attend the greatest musicians’ concerts?
he was their admirer
he did it just for entertainment
it was necessary for his job
How did the author learn about Cheers’ real role in the performance?
he saw it with his own eyes
he learned about it from the advertisement
he read it in the poster
True or false?
The stranger was dressed in an unusual style.
The author was greatly interested in the stranger and he offered him a drink.
Cheers knew a lot about famous musicians.
They were both interested in music and always went to concerts together.
Both the author and Cheers liked to boast about their musical contacts.