An Interesting Visitor
Throughout his life, Cornish enjoyed exposure to a variety of musical experiences. Some families owned pianos and accordions, and there were colliery brass bands associated with most coal mines. The standard of musicianship was very high. His wife Sarah was also immersed in music and her grandfather was a Cornet player and founder member of the Blackhall Colliery Band. Music performed in pubs often appeared in some of his drawings and he was an accomplished Banjo player.
Both Norman and Sarah enjoyed listening to music at home via their extensive collection of classical music (vinyl records) and they had a shared interest in opera. Although he had no interest in popular music Cornish nevertheless declared on one occasion his admiration for ‘Stranger On The Shore’ by Acker Bilk (1961) possibly identifying with the sentiment of the title. One day in 1969 a visitor arrived at the family home unannounced and a fascinating story was recalled some time later in his archive of afterthoughts. In his own words:
The doorbell rang and I went to open the door to find a rather tired looking man who asked me if this was Norman Cornish’s house. I invited him in, whereupon he informed me that a friend of his on Tyneside owned a drawing of mine and that he would very much like to buy one for himself. My wife Sarah went off to make him a cup of tea and sandwiches, as he seemed to need them. He then informed me that he was a musician. At this, I wondered what instrument he played and I was a bit ashamed to say that I wondered if he played piano in a local pub or something like that.
He then said that he played fiddle and asked if he could bring his violin into the house as it was valuable. On stepping outside, I discovered that he had an MG Midget sports car parked and he lifted a violin case from it. He said that he had been worried to leave it outside as he had worked extremely hard to buy it. Jokingly, I asked if it was a Stradivarius. He replied that it wasn’t but was equally valuable and was from Tudor times. Although it was old, he assured me that it played beautifully. To me, it looked like an old cricket bat. However, he played it a little and it sounded wonderful. I was intrigued by this man.
Anyway, he bought a drawing and off he went. A day or two later, a letter arrived containing a brochure about the ‘Aeolian Quartet’ outlining its success in major cities of the world. He had included a humble little note saying: Just to let you know what we do. This man’s name was Raymond Keenleyside and he was a violinist with the Aeolian Quartet which was generally considered one of the world’s best quartets. It was quite something to think that this man had actually played violin in our house.’
By a strange twist of fate, on the evening of August 1st 2014, just before Cornish passed away – ‘Stranger On The Shore,’ by Acker Bilk, was broadcast on BBC Radio 2.
Ray Keenleyside also accompanied Paul McCartney in 1993 ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’ a solo studio album and film soundtrack.
Throughout the centenary year, an interesting range of themed exhibitions is planned in order to commemorate Norman’s life and to celebrate his work.
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