Vince Hill "Sounding Off" at Coventry Music MuseumReview
Suddenly, Coventry Music Museum found itself celebrating its fourth birthday on Saturday 4th November 2017. After checking the records, it turned out that four years had indeed somehow passed, so a decision was made to celebrate it. As with previous birthdays, this one was marked with a special guest giving a Heritage Lottery funded "Sounding Off" talk with Museum founder & curator, Pete Chambers BEM.
This time, one of the great hitmakers of Coventry & Warwickshire, Vince Hill kindly agreed to be the guest. After inspecting the museum's displays (including many things he had lent himself), signing the Coventry & Warwickshire Music Door of Fame and meeting visiting fans, Vince & Pete had to repair to "Knights'" venue downstairs in the Two Tone Village (many thanks to Alph & Angela Knight for letting it be used & Alph for setting up the PA) as the crowd was simply too great to fit into the Museum.
First of all, however, to the surprise & delight of the crowd, in walked famed (and versatile) Sheffield musician John Shuttleworth & using a keyboard which was fortunately already set up on the stage, played his hit "Whatever Happened to Vince Hill?", apparently oblivious to Vince's presence: you can imagine the surprise when he spotted him at the end of the song. Sadly John had to go at the point, which was a shame especially as actor/comedian & friend of the Museum Graham Fellows arrived a few minutes later, having just missed John.
Once that great & unique prologue was over, it was down to the "Sounding Off". Some run for a little less than an hour, including 3 or so songs, but this one went on well over an hour with Vince answering questions from Pete & the audience and reminiscing: he has a wonderful memory & told many stories with great humour & detail, from his early life in Coventry, a short career as a miner & then a baker, before progressing via success in singing in the era's equivalent of open mics ("free & easy" sessions), singing as part of the band of the Royal Corps of Signals during National Service through his early groups such as Teddy Foster's big band and then The Raindrops vocal act & then to an unanticipated career as a solo singer, launched partially through his work recording demos, using his ability to sound like a variety of other singers. This of course illustrates how Vince's career was built, like many at that time, on hard relentless work and taking what was on offer (perhaps not quite how many succeed currently?), though as he said, it did perhaps lead him slightly astray as his versatility & interest in recording what he was interested in, tended to blur his identity as a singer while others stuck to a more narrow & identified style. However, the story of his recording his biggest hit "Edelweiss" ties in with this, as he only went for it (despite record label doubts) when he was repeatedly requested to sing it live, so he acquiesced, learned it, and it has become his signature piece. Vince also worked in films (though his theme for "The Railway Children" was not used at the start of the film as intended as Bryan Forbes considered it "not trainy enough": despite having a deliberate train rhythm in the arrangement.
Vince also spoke of his own songwriting, probably insufficiently well known given the pressure to populate his albums with "standards",(his self penned songs often turning up as "B" sides instead) his acting (mainly in pantomimes & presenting, but famously once "straight" as Ivor Novello, a role he took partly due to hearing him so often growing up as Novello was a favourite of his mother's.
Although the vast majority of the talk was in a light hearted vein, Pete touched upon Vince's tragic recent years, losing both his wife Annie (who had been a highly influential advisor to him throughout his career) and shortly before, their son Athol also passed away. In fact after leaving the Museum, Vince was travelling to see Athol's young son.
After the talk, Vince signed copies of his new CD, encapsulating his 55 years as a professional singer ("Legacy") while a birthday cake was served to visitors. (21 of his original albums have also been remastered to celebrate this milestone)
It was great also to welcome members of the Lynettes: Vince's sister Val & her friend Shirley, who also signed the Door of Fame.
Just how much the event was enjoyed was summed up by Vince penning & posting an appreciation on his website within hours.
You can see all the footage of the "Sounding Off" here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.1412608785518508&type=3