Mark Thompson - OrganFax

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OrganFax – Spotlight on Mark Thompson - 1. For more ... passed our Associated Board grade 8 piano duet ... band for the first time I was hooked, and have done.

OrganFax – Spotlight on Mark Thompson - 1 Spotlight by Penny Weedon

Mark Thompson A  few  years  ago,  I  was  sitting  in  the  audience  at  one   of  the  organ  festivals  when  the  compère  introduced  a   name  I’d  not  heard  before.  Onto  the  stage  breezed  a   young   man   who   took   his   place   at   an   EL90   organ   with   a   confidence   which   belied   his   young   age.   10   seconds   into   his   programme,   I   leant   across   to   my   husband  and  squeezed  his  arm,  which  was  my  way  of   saying   “This   lad’s   going   to   go   far.”   Well,   now   thousands   of   people   have   had   that   same   experience   and   he   is   a   must-­‐have   at   events   throughout   the   country.   So   here   we   turn   the   Organfax   Spotlight   on   Mark  Thompson.  

apparently   I   always   used   to   want   to   sit   where   I   could   see   the   musicians   in   the   pit,   and   say   that   that   was  what  I  wanted  to  do  when  I  grew  up!”    

Mark   was   born   in   Northumberland   and   has   lived   in   Crawcrook   all   his   life   –   a   little   village   in   Tyne   and   Wear  halfway  between  Hexham  and  Newcastle.       (Mark,  Mam,  Dad,  Brother  –Daniel)   There   was   some   fondness   for   music   in   his   family;   his   grandparents   played   a   little   piano,   and   his   mother   had   dreamt   of   playing   herself,   but   lessons   were   too   expensive   when   she   was   a   little   girl.   So   when   Mark   and   his   brother   came   along,   Mark’s   mother   decided   to   start   her   lads   on   lessons   as   soon   as  they  reached  7.  Young  Mark  learned  organ  with   local  teacher  Bill  Ankers.   “He   gave   me   a   great   start   and   was   always   very   friendly   and   encouraging.   I   remember   practising   a   little   bit   every   night,   and   when   I   got   OK   at   playing   I   would   just   sit   there   for   hours   and   play   anything   I   had  the  music  for,  just  because  I  loved  it.”     (Marks  Gran  and  Pop)   He  says  of  his  early  years  “I  can’t  really  remember  a   moment   when   I   fell   in   love   with   music,   but   I   remember  my  Mam  used  to  take  me  to  see  musicals   at   the   theatre   royal   in   Newcastle   when   I   was   very   young,   and   I   used   to   love   them.   Joseph,   Annie   and   West   Side   Story   are   the   ones   I   can   remember,   and  

Next,   Mark   studied   with   a   lady   at   the   Technics   Academy   in   Blaydon   which   George   Harrison   ran.   After  a  few  years  there,  he  went  on  to  have  lessons   with  Chiho  Sunamoto  in  Whitley  Bay.   “Chiho   introduced   me   to   the   organ   circuit,   which   I   didn’t   know   existed   until   I   met   her!   I   also   did   2   years  of  A-­‐level  music  with  a  classmate  who  was  a   pianist.   We   spent   pretty   much   every   music   lesson  

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OrganFax – Spotlight on Mark Thompson - 2

playing   piano   duets   as   our   teacher,   who   became   a   good  friend,  was  a  great  pianist.  My  classmate  and  I   passed   our   Associated   Board   grade   8   piano   duet   exam   which   we   did   just   for   fun!   I   think   we   played   some  Fauré  and  a  Brandenburg  Concerto  for  that.”   That   early   contact   with   classical   music,   along   with   Mark’s   excellent   teachers,   are   very   evident   in   his   playing   style,   which   is   known   for   being   flowing,   musical   and   very   orchestrally   accurate.   His   experience   of   playing   other   instruments   has   been   of  great  help.     “I   think   I   was   about   8   or   9   when   I   took   up   cornet   lessons   too.   I   got   up   to   Grade   7   at   that,   and   joined   a   brass   band   for   3   years   when   I   was   13   where   I   got   my  first  taste  of  ‘gigging’!  We  did  festivals,  fairs  and   other  concerts,  but  I  had  to  give  that  up  when  piano   and   organ   work   started   taking   over.   I   sold   my   cornet   when   I   was   a   bit   strapped   for   cash   at   university,   and   it’s   now   in   Sweden.   I   also   bought   an   alto  saxophone  when  I  was  about  14,  as  I’d  always   wanted   to   play   sax,   which   I   tried   to   teach   myself,   but  never  got  to  a  very  high  standard.”  

accountancy,  and  music  would  just  be  a  hobby.  For   this   reason   I   took   maths,   further   maths,   physics   and  music  at  A-­‐level.  Then  I  went  on  to  do  a  maths   degree  at  Durham  University,  and  lived  there  for  3   years  which  was  a  lot  of  fun  and  definitely  good  life   experience!   I   was   also   quite   good   at   sport   at   school.”   This   could   be   something   of   an   understatement   –   Mark   represented   the   county   in   rugby   and   cross-­‐ country   and   North   of   England   in   athletics.   Just   to   top   that   off,   he   went   to   the   Nationals   to   do   Pentathlon.  “And  came  13th  in  the  country  I  think!”   So  when  did  music  become  a  job  for  Mark?   “My   first   job   in   music   was   as   a   rehearsal   accompanist   for   a   local   operatic   society   for   £10   a   rehearsal   when   I   was   16.   A   work   colleague   of   my   Dad’s  had  told  them  I  played,  and  that  was  the  start   of   my   work   in   musicals   and   theatre.   I   played   in   Carousel   that   year,   and   after   playing   in   a   12   piece   band  for  the  first  time  I  was  hooked,  and  have  done   2  or  3  musicals  a  year  since  then.  That  same  year  I   did   my   first   organ   concert.   Chiho   had   given   me   a   couple   of   5   minute   spots   in   her   concert   at   North   Tyneside   Organ   Society   the   year   before,   and   they   gave   me   a   chance   and   booked   me   for   a   concert,   after   also   hearing   me   playing   a   charity   concert   at   my  local  cricket  club.  Chiho  had  also  suggested  me   to  Verwood  Organ  Society,  Bournemouth  who  gave   me  an  hour  concert  at  their  AGM.”   So   what   organ   was   Mark   playing   in   those   early   days?  

  (Big  Band  –  middle  row,  centre)   While   all   this   was   going   on,   Mark   still   had   school   work  to  contend  with.  Often,  musicians  report  that   their   school   days   were   a   conflict   between   homework   and   the   musical   interest   they   really   wanted  to  follow.  What  about  Mark?   “I   don’t   know   whether   I’d   say   I   enjoyed   school!   I   enjoyed  bits  of  it,  mainly  music  and  maths  lessons.  I   was   pretty   good   at   most   subjects,   got   7   A*s   and   2   A’s   at   GCSE   and   all   A’s   at   A-­‐level.   I   always   thought   I   would   go   on   to   do   something   maths   related,   maybe  

“Before  this  point,  I  had  had  a  Technics  GA1,  which   was  my  second  organ  after  my  Technics  EN4.  I  had   been   playing   Chiho’s   EL900   for   the   last   2   years   at   my   lessons   and   we   decided   if   I   was   going   to   do   this   professionally,   I   needed   a   90   or   900.   So   my   parents   kindly   bought   me   an   EL90,   pretty   much   for   this   concert   in   Verwood,   and   my   Dad   also   changed   his   car   to   a   Renault   Espace,   so   he   could   transport   me,   my   Mam,   my   brother,   himself   and   the   organ   to   Bournemouth   and   back!   This   was   the   start   of   my   concerts  down  south  and  up  north.”   “Bill   Powton   from   Penrith,   who   had   driven   across   to   North   Tyneside   to   see   me,   passed   my   name   around   the   west,   and   the   concerts   started   coming   in.  On  the  subject  of  Bill,  we  once  broke  down  in  the  

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OrganFax – Spotlight on Mark Thompson - 3

Espace  near  Penrith,  and  I  remember  clearly  being   on   the   side   of   a   dual   carriageway,   unloading   the   organ  from  our  car  into  Bill’s  Land  Rover,  which  we   ended  up  borrowing  for  a  month!  We  made  it  to  the   concert  though.”   Has  Mark  taken  his  playing  skills  outside  the  organ   club  world?    

“Playing   at   the   Blackpool   tower   last   May   at   the   festival   on   the   mighty   Wurlitzer.   It   was   one   of   the   most   frightening   experiences   of   my   life,   especially   as   I   didn’t   get   a   practise   on   it   -­‐   so   thanks   to   Elizabeth  Harrison  for  the  hug  in  the  dressing  room   before  my  spot!”   “Winning  the  Young  Theatre  Organist  of  the  Year  in   2002  at  Woking.”  


(Wall  Street)   “While   I   was   at   university   I   started   playing   in   bands.   One   of   the   parents   at   my   Mam’s   school   heard   me   playing   for   the   kid’s   plays   at   Christmas   and   happened   to   be   looking   for   a   keyboard   player   for   his   band.   I   was   in   ‘Steve   Lee   and   the   Soulutions’   for   2   years   playing   soul   music   and   doing   a   Barry   White  tribute.  This  band  folded  and  I  moved  to  my   current  band,  ‘Wallstreet’  which  I’ve  been  with  for   4   years   now   playing   60s   and   70s   rock   and   favourites  every  weekend.”    “While  I  was  at  university  all  of  these  3  avenues  of   work   took   off,   and   by   the   time   I   completed   my   maths   degree   I   had   just   enough   work   in   music   to   keep  me  going,  although  I  did  get  a  Christmas  job  at   River  Island  to  pay  off  some  of  my  overdraft.  I  went   for   a   few   interviews   for   accountancy   programmes   at   Delloitte   and   Price   Waterhouse   Cooper,   but   thankfully  didn’t  get  them!”   So   what   would   Mark   regard   as   the   highlights   so   far?   “Most  of  the  things  I’ve  done  have  been  highlights,   as  the  jobs  just  seem  to  have  got  better  and  better   over   the   9   years.”   Mark   quickly   counts   off   11   high   spots:  

(Mark  with  Skidoo)   “Playing   for   3   weeks   last   year   in   Eilat,   Israel   with   the   band   Skidoo   23.   Brilliant   musicians,   and   being   put   up   in   a   5-­‐star   hotel   with   all   food   and   drinks   included   certainly   helps,   as   well   as   having   the   Red   Sea   on   the   doorstep.   I   spent   most   of   my   time   with   a   snorkel   on!   We   played   21   nights   solid   in   ‘The   Monkeys’  bar!”   “My   first   conducting   job   when   I   was   musical   director   for   Mack   and   Mabel   with   a   13   piece   big-­‐ band   under   my   baton!   My   first   time   as   musical   director  at  the  theatre  royal  Newcastle,  conducting   La   Cage   aux   Folles.   Playing   for   ‘The   Full   Monty’   at   Newcastle’s  Tyne  Theatre.  Great  show,  great  piano   part,   top   notch   band   and   great   cast!   My   first   time   playing   at   the   Pakefield   and   Blackpool   festivals,   as   they   were   always   an   ambition   of   mine   to   play   at.   Going   out   in   Blackpool   with   Brett   Wales   and   Tony   Stace   on   the   vodka   red   bulls!   Playing   the   Creation   and  the  Messiah  on  Church  Organ  with  a  full  choir.   Playing   for   singing   lessons   with   the   amazing   Rosemary   Ashe   at   Northern   Ballet   in   Leeds   and   jamming  with  her  in  our  break.  And  playing  for  the   Queen  at  the  opening  of  Newcastle’s  new  library.”  

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OrganFax – Spotlight on Mark Thompson - 4

Oh,  a  casual  mention  of  H.M.  the  Q.  at  the  end  there!   Has  Mark  met  any  other  big  names?   “Yes,  Jedward!”  

getting  too  many  concerts  for  my  Dad  to  take  time   off  work,  so  now  he  gives  my  grandparents  a  break   a   few   times   a   year   and   they   do   the   bulk   of   them,   including  my  mini  tours  which  I  try  to  put  together   now  to  save  on  travelling.”   “I   should   probably   mention   my   amazing   girlfriend   Laura   too.   We’ve   been   together   for   over   4   years   now,  and  she’s  always  a  hit  with  the  men  when  she   comes   to   concerts   or   festivals   with   me!   She’s   a   dancer,   so   we   have   done   quite   a   few   musicals   together,  which  is  actually  also  how  we  met.”  

  (Mark,  Laura  &  Jedward)   Well,  they’re  certainly  big  on  hair!  So,  who  has  been   Mark’s  greatest  inspiration  in  the  organ  world?   “Probably  Tony  Fenelon.  I  remember  the  first  time   I   saw   him   in   concert,   and   was   just   amazed   at   his   arrangements   and   what   he   could   do   with   the   organ   and   piano.   I   bought   one   of   his   CDs   with   my   paper   round  money,  and  still  listen  to  it  now!”   So   if   Kirsty   Young   chooses   Mark   as   a   castaway,   which   Desert   Island   Disks   will   he   be   taking   with   him?   “My   top   3   would   probably   be   ‘Stevie   Wonder   –   Superstition’,   ‘The   Eagles   –   Hotel   California’   and   ‘The   Overture   from   Mack   and   Mabel’!   A   total   mixture,  just  like  my  taste  in  music!”   It’s   often   rather   amusing   to   see   that   young   celebrities   are   publishing   their   autobiographies.   Have  they  yet  achieved  enough  to  fill  a  book?  Well,   in   Mark’s   case   the   answer   would   seem   to   be   a   resounding  ‘yes’.  Where  has  his  life  brought  him  to   so  far?   “I   still   live   at   home   with   my   parents,   who   have   supported   my   all   of   the   way   through   my   career.   (Yes  I  still  live  at  home  at  25!).  I  have  one  brother,   Daniel  who  used  to  play  organ  and  guitar  but  gave   his   music   up   for   his   sport.   My   parents   and   grandparents  have  been  such  a  great  support  over   the   years,   coming   to   my   concerts   with   me   and   sharing  the  driving.  Over  the  last  3  years  I’ve  been  

  (Mark  &  Laura)   So   there   we   have   it   –   only   a   quarter   of   a   century   old,  but  Mark  Thompson  is  definitely  a  young  man   who  deserves  to  be  In  The  Spotlight.   Check  out  Marks  OrganFax  Page     Penny    Weedon,  2012  


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