British resident, pianist and composer Stephen Blue is one of those inspired, talented performers who play from the heart and soul of his being, leaving you breathless as he inspires you to spread your wings, taking you on a memorable flight of musical nostalgia.
Stephen will be treating serious music lovers to a romantic, intimate, open air concert beneath the stars, on 18 June during the San Juan fiestas, celebrated prolifically in his home town of Mancor de la Vall.
Stephen’s musical reputation has gained quite an army of devoted followers, not just across the village cobbles but across the entire island, evident in the growing attendance at each of his previous ‘candle lit’ performances. And the locals have never heard anything like it! This year, to make the evening even more spectacular, the concert is being held in the secluded ‘Jardins de Son Morro’. "It’s a wonderful, intimate location," says Stephen. "And will be a miraculous feat craning the enormous concert grand piano over the stone wall into the gardens." Sadly the arched gateway is a little too narrow to allow an easier access. "We are planning to illuminate the entire gardens with candles and flaming torches to create a romantic and intimate atmosphere. I want to give Mancor an unforgettable evening, and I am really excited about the performance."
Remarkably, Stephen never uses sheet music, preferring to create his own personal arrangements of popular and well known compositions. His emotional interpretations blend effortlessly from one mellifluous melody to the rousing drama of the next. "The true magic of music is that it really connects people. Music carries a message, and as a musician, I become the messenger. When I play, I want people to simply close their eyes, relax and feel the emotion and the magic behind the music."
Personally, I think anyone who can catalogue an entire concert inside their head must be some kind of a magician themselves! When I asked Stephen how he prepares for this feat of memory, he smiled and said; "Although many of the pieces I play are well rehearsed, the actual performance is spontaneous and depends on how I feel in the moment. I am also inspired by the vibe of the audience. The experience is different each time I play. That’s why I can’t be constrained by sheet music. I play with freedom."
Stephen will be performing a personal selection of his favourite music taken from the world of international cinema and theatre, together with some memorable compositions from American composer George Gershwin. "I will also be playing some light classical pieces and a few contemporary favourites. This year I have also composed a piece especially for the evening entitled, ‘Dreams of Summer’. I hope everyone likes it!"
Knowing that musical tastes at local Majorcan fiestas tend to be, shall we say, a little different, I asked Stephen how he manages to hypnotise the local audience into silence when he’s performing, and do they recognise the pieces he plays? "It doesn’t really matter what nationality the audience is, or their personal, cultural taste. Music has a universal language of its own and transcends all cultures. Surprisingly, the musical appreciation here in Mancor is remarkable, and most of what I play is instantly recognised. They are also very respectful and sit in hushed silence throughout the entire performance to the very end." I couldn’t help thinking to myself that keeping a Majorcan audience quiet has got to involve some form of magic!
So when did the flame of this musical passion first ignite? I asked Stephen how it all began. "My first introduction to the piano was at the age of 7 when I wandered into my nanny’s ‘best room’, and saw her old upright piano stuck up against the wall. In some strange way I instinctively knew that by pressing a sequence of various ivories I could play a recognisable tune. Nanny was not only surprised to find me in her ‘best room’, but equally surprised to discover I possessed a modicum of musical prowess. My rather strict nanny immediately decided that I should have piano lessons. Enter Mrs Beck, wavy grey hair tied back into a severe bun who looked more like Norman Bate’s mother from ‘Psycho’ than a piano tutor. She charged ‘a good half crown an hour’ for her expertise across the keyboard, yet even at that young and tender age I wanted to play my own little compositions and embellish upon any music she gave me to study. I remember her saying quite sternly, ‘Stephen Blue, for goodness sake slow down. You have to walk before you can run!’ But I never did. I didn’t want to slow down and walk. I was born to run. I wanted to fly!"
Stephen quickly progressed to more expensive tutors, fired with the burning ambition of becoming a concert pianist, continuing his musical studies to Grade 8 at King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford on Avon. Shortly after joining William Shakespeare’s renowned school Stephen won a regional heat of a national music competition and was invited to play at London’s Royal Albert Hall. "The piece I played was ‘Glühwürmschen’ or ‘The Glow Worm’ from the operetta Lysistrata." That’s quite a complicated piece for a ten year old isn’t it? Were you nervous? "I think when you are ten, nothing really scares you," said Stephen. "And I’ve always loved complicated pieces." I bet Mrs Beck would have been proud!
Stephen went on to become the organist in the school’s famous chapel, performing piano regularly at school as well as at local events. However his aspirations of a musical career took a back seat whilst studying for A Levels. His parents, although encouraging Stephen’s music, were also guiding him towards a career in medicine. "Typical parents," reflects Stephen. "Get yourself a proper job. Just in case!!!"
Later, after abandoning all ideas of becoming a doctor, Stephen eventually left school and joined his mother and new stepfather in setting up a family restaurant business in Bournemouth where he ran and managed two very successful and popular eateries. Both restaurants were regularly frequented by stars from the entertainment fraternity when appearing at either the Bournemouth Pavilion or the famed Winter Gardens, leading to meeting and performing for several international artists. "Marlene Dietrich is probably the most memorable," admits Stephen. "One evening, after dining at the restaurant, she invited me to meet her backstage, and I played piano for her in her dressing room."
Sadly, life then threw Stephen an unexpected curve ball. After his mother died, he left Bournemouth for London to follow a totally different career away from the glittering spotlight. Yet music always remained in the background, even after he became a student at the London School of Fashion, Hair & Beauty Culture.
Quite a career change for a passionate musician, Stephen quickly became style director for House of Fraser in Harrods before joining the team of the internationally acclaimed Vidal Sassoon. "It was an exciting world of fashion and beauty, yet my heart still yearned for the performance of music. I lived in a small flat in Earls Court yet the first thing I bought was a baby grand piano which practically took up the entire living area. There was just enough room for me and my two cats!"
"Through working within the London hair and fashion circuit I made further connections within the music industry, and was fortunate to meet many illustrious and famous celebrities, playing at parties which included Siân Phillips, Randy Crawford, Diana Ross, Michael Feinstein and Peggy Lee."
Most memorable however, was an impromptu performance in a private hotel suite at the Grosvenor House Hotel, when Sarah Vaughan requested Stephen to style and dress two wigs for her opening performance at the Palladium where she was appearing in concert with Count Basie and Frank Sinatra. "I couldn’t believe it," said Stephen. "I walked into her suite and found myself in the middle of a full-on cocktail party. Miss Vaughan invited me to play the piano, and my heart almost stopped when ‘Old Blue Eyes’ walked up, congratulated me and said – I can see you prefer to play things ‘Your Way!’ The experience was amazing."
After leaving London, Stephen moved to the West Country performing intimate concerts at private venues and hotels including the wedding of Dragon’s Den star presenter, Debbie Meadon.
Stephen now lives in Mancor de la Val, and since moving to Majorca, proudly shares his passion for music with local performances at fiestas. "I was given the gift of music, and just want to share my passion with as many people as I can." What a lovely testament! Stephen’s concert starts at 9pm. As his ‘regalo’ to the Mancor community it’s absolutely free, so pop the date in your diary and get down, or up, to Mancor de la Vall on the 18 June.
I wonder if Mrs Beck will be there with her half crown?