I met my lovely wife, Rigmor, (known to one and all, at least since she’s known me, as “Rig”) at the Nice Jazz Festival in July 1990. I’d been going to the festival for several years, tagging along with a bunch of about a dozen blokes, mostly from the Bristol area. I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that “a Norwegian bird who lives in Bristol” was coming along this time, but three days after we’d arrived, we found ourselves sharing a lunchtime drinks table outside Mori’s Bar on Rue de France, with my old mates Roger James and Mike Bevan, and the celebrated cartoonist, the late Jack Pennington (who drew, the following year, the cartoon of me in the banner above).
As we talked, I learned that Rig was originally from Bergen, on the West coast of Norway, but had lived in the UK since 1964, when she came over as an au pair. Like me, she was divorced, with two children, Kristin, who’s now married to John, and has a son named Jerry (known as “J. J.”)and a daughter, Juno, and Linda, who married James Wood (the webmaster of this site) in 2004, when she became a “Norwegian Wood”. Linda’s now got two sons, Oskar and Tomas, and a daughter, Charlotte. Rig had sent Kristin and Linda, both of whom were bilingual, to live with her sister in Norway, and Rig was to join them in September, when the sale of the former matrimonial home went through.
(Link to Alan Hoby obituary)
Plenty of booze was going down, before, during and after lunch, so the next bit’s a bit hazy, but by mid-afternoon – barely three hours since we’d first really started talking to each other, I’d asked her to marry me, and she’d accepted. I don’t think we really sobered up that day, but the following morning we discovered that we hadn’t changed our minds. On Friday, 13th July, I bought Rig a sapphire engagement ring, and we became officially engaged.
To celebrate the engagement, we had lunch at Queenie’s on the Promenade des Anglais – cep mushroom omelette and chips, with a green salad, washed down with a bottle or two of Chablis. (We’ve celebrated our anniversary each year by having exactly the same meal, first by returning to Queenie’s and latterly, now we’ve stopped going to Nice, at The Brickmakers. For many years we got the date wrong, thinking it was Bastille Day, the 14th July, and thus were actually celebrating the anniversary of us sobering up.)
Originally, we intended putting off getting married for a few years, but after a few months of commuting between Chobham and Bergen, Rig and Linda, shortly to be followed by Coco, Rig’s Burmese cat, moved into my cottage on January 1st 1991. (Kristin had by then moved back to Bristol to finish her studies.)
On February 22nd 1991 Rig and I were married at John Street Methodist Church in downtown Manhattan, just a few blocks from the sorely-missed World Trade Center. Apart from the minister and his wife, the only other person there was my old friend John Penhale, former drummer with The Stormers, now living in New York. Several years later I discovered that my grandfather, Edward Kirtley, had worshipped at that church while passing through New York en route for Ohio in 1881.
Rig plays piano, guitar, harmonica and electric bass, (she plays bass on track one of my “pure & simple” album). Despite managing to exasperate each other quite regularly, we’ve been married for more than twenty years and are as comfy as a pair of old slippers.
Emma Susan Kirtley was born in 1969 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Boscombe, a district of Bournemouth. Right from the start, she was a “good” baby, sleeping through the night from an early age, and smiling a lot. For a long time, though, she had hardly any hair, so her mum, Susan, made sure she always had a hat on whenever she went out. (You’d find that a bit hard to believe if you saw the thick mane she’s got now.)
Emma was the first member of our family to get a degree, and that meant a lot to me, as I’d always regretted not taking one myself, although I’ve got two lots of professional qualifications (ACIB and MCIM).
She got a 2.1 in Business Studies at Bournemouth University, and went on to become a “high-powered executive” (my words, not hers!) in a training company. In 1994 she married Gareth, an accountant, and in 2001 their daughter Katie was born, followed in 2003 by the twins, Oliver and Samuel. Emma and Gareth are now divorced, but Emma got remarried, to Billy in 2007, and they have a lovely house in Chester.
(Emma would have played “Hill Street Blues” on my first album, if she hadn’t been heavily pregnant with the twins at the time.)
Peter Edward Kirtley was born in Cuckfield, Sussex in 1972. If his sister had been a “good” baby, Pete had no intention of following suit, and a good night’s sleep, particularly for Susan, became a thing of the past. From an early age, it became clear that he hadn’t inherited my lack of self-confidence, and had the sort of determination that, in later life, would see him through the hard times and setbacks before he became a hugely successful song-writer and record producer. Pete still spends some time on song writing and music production, but more recently he’s been concentrating on TV and movie formats. You’ll find his Wikipedia entry here.
Pete has two children by his first marriage to Tamsin, Josh, born 1995, and Holly, born 2001. In 2011 he married Tanja, whom he met in Germany where she was working in TV, and their daughter Yasmina, my 6th grandchild, was born in September 2011. Pete produced both my albums, and Josh plays additional percussion on the first track of “pure & simple”. Josh also produced my track “Dinero y Efectivo”, which you can hear by clicking on the YouTube button on the top right of this page.
Pete’s had a number of hits around the world, including Pure and Simple, co-written with Tim Hawes and Alison Clarkson, for which he received an Ivor Novello Award for the biggest selling UK single of 2001. I’ve always liked that tune, and named my first album after it.
Nature, not nurture
A lot of rubbish has been talked of in the last few decades about “nature v. nurture”, but as far as music is concerned there really is no doubt. Mozart didn’t start composing at the age of five because his parents hadn’t let him go out and play football, and the same principle extends right down the scale (forgive the pun) to most musicians. Of course if you want to be really accomplished, you’ve got to work hard at improving your craft, (something I wish I’d done), but if you’re born without any musical ability you’re wasting your time in trying. Of course, these things are relative (there’s another pun). I’ve seen a newspaper interview with a well-known guitarist, whom I won’t name, stating that it was through practising and sheer hard work that he became more successful than several of his contemporaries who were “natural” musicians. I remember him from our teenage years and he’s being too modest, if that’s the right word to apply to a natural gift. His ability may not initially have found expression in blues-based rock’n’roll like the rest of us, but he still had plenty of musical ability, and I still remember being bowled over by a guitar figure he played on a very early tape of what later became a widely-known band.
In my case I was lucky, as both my parents were musical. My mum was a piano teacher (and remained one until she was 91) and had even played piano for the silent cinema, an extremely difficult technique that she showed me when I had to do the soundtrack for a silent film about early engineering. My mother’s family were also musical: her grandfather was musical director of the Theatre Royal in Belfast in the 1860s and several of his children played or sang professionally. My dad also played the piano (he and my mother were both members of the Sunderland Pianoforte Society) and had an extremely good ear, and his father played the violin, and his grandfather the accordian.
My mum did her best to teach me to read music, but in my early years I had a very good memory, and found I could memorise a simple piece after trying it a few times, and so didn’t need to keep reading it. It was, however, when my brother Stan came home on leave from the RAF and taught me boogie-woogie and honky-tonk that I really said goodbye to the dots. This was exciting stuff for a young kid and I started experimenting with variations on what he’d shown me. That was the beginning of improvising, and of developing an ear for a chord sequence, albeit merely a 12-bar blues. You can hear a couple of very crackly tracks that my brother recorded in New York in 1944 by clicking here (scroll down until you get to the cartoons of him and his squadron). And for a transcript of my brother’s experiences as a Sptifire pilot in World War II please click here.
Sadly, my brother Stan died on 19 Feb 2016 at the grand old age of 94. Here are a couple of pics – one of the cover of the order of service, and the other of the family group after the cremation on 29 Feb 2016 at Boston, Lincs.
Both my kids are musical, and all of my grandchildren have got natural musical ability, and I hope that passes down through future generations.