Pearl Fawcett-Adriano is a truly fascinating lady with a wealth of experience and knowledge of the accordion world. She is one of the authentic ‘old school musician’ from times where standards and methods certainly had a different feel from those of today. We caught up with Pearl just before she left to go to a recent festival in Blackpool.
“I don’t remember the instrument too well as it only lasted about three months before I outgrew it”
Pearl was first taught piano by her mother. However within a few months, and mainly due to Pearl continually pestering her parents, she was allowed to start on the accordion. At the age of eight and a half they let her play the family’s 24 bass instrument. “I don’t remember the instrument too well as it only lasted about three months before I outgrew it but I do seem to remember that it had been bought from a local furniture shop” says Pearl.
It wasn’t long before Pearl’s obvious talent with the instrument led to her having lessons with Horace Crossland. Horace, a well known local music teacher, was taught by the great Adrian Dante – someone who was later to have a huge influence on Pearl’s life. She recalls “My cousin Phillip, who nowadays often accompanies me at concerts and festivals and is such a help with driving and setting up my equipment also had lessons with Horace at the time”. It was with Horace that Pearl learnt to play accordion to a diploma level. At the time these were taken with the BAA (British Association of Accordionists) and they consisted of six grades and a final diploma.
Pear’s early public performances began quite soon after starting accordion school, at about the age of nine. They included music school concerts, alongside church and charity events. This was also around the same time that she first started competing in amateur competitions.
As she entered her early teen’s, Pearl became aware that the town of Barnsley was quite small and there was a much bigger world out there. As it turned out, she was to see some of it quite soon!
Exams got harder, competitions got bigger and because of her successes, World Championships soon followed with the CMA (Confederation Mondial de l’Accordeon). In 1960 her first notable success came with the World Junior Championships in Ancona, Italy. Just a year later in 1961 she went on to win the World Senior Championships in Hamburg, Germany. When we enquired further into the subject of these competition wins she glossed over them and was extremely modest about her major achievements at this time.
From the start, music was an important part of Pearls life, and she fondly remembers loving and looking forward to her music lessons. After moving from primary to grammar school singing, harmony theory and playing the Cello were also included into her busy teenage life. “I performed in the school choir and had a range up to a top C” she said. To this day she is still a good singer.
Pearl recalls how hectic this period of her life was. The studies, playing concerts and broadcasting took up a huge amount of her time. TV appearances included programs like “All your own” and BBC TV’s children’s program “Dance the skylark” with the folk group ‘The Spinners’. However this was just a start, Pearl went on to feature in ‘Tonight’, ‘Look North’, ‘Stars on Sunday’ with Jess Yates and ‘The good old days’. We were left with the impression that this young lady’s feet never touched the ground!
Foreign travel also appealed and soon trips to the Far East, Cyprus and Malta became included in her life.
After Grammar school, Pearl went on to attend The Royal Manchester College of Music. “The college was an important part of my life, so much so I later went back after graduating to teach music including playing the accordion at the college”. It was not to last though, after a lot of soul searching she decided to move away from the academic career to the bright lights in the south. Thus the whirlwind continued and her career blossomed with work in London Theatres, Cabaret spots and summer seasons. Foreign travel also appealed and soon trips to the Far East, Cyprus and Malta became included in her life.
Soon, Adrian Dante would appear once again changing Pearl’s life dramatically.
It began as she started having music lessons with him “[Adrian] was such a good teacher and I learnt so much”. The lessons were to bring an even finer honed aspect to her playing and his experience was a huge influence on her music. This influence was to affect her in many ways: style, repertoire, technique, performance and Pearl even started composing. Electronic accordions had just been invented and it was Dante that introduced her to them. This even led to Pearl becoming a demonstrator for the Cordovox electronic accordion and electronics added to her accordion reeds are included in her accordion work to this day.
“I didn’t want to play the accordion like a busker”
Other influences from Adrian Dante could be heard in her playing when she made her first record ‘Accordion Tapestry’. “This was a really important point for me” she said “as I didn’t want to play the accordion like a busker”. She went on to tell us that musicality was everything and the record gave her an important chance to show what could be achieved on an accordion. It was not just a sing-a-long instrument for family parties and that music of a high quality could be achieved. Tracks included ‘The Marriage Of Figaro Overture’, ‘William Tell’, ‘Hungarian Dance No. 5’ ‘Turkish March’ amongst others. The album was very classically orientated but had a mix of electronics and reeds that was groundbreaking. Something that was evident when talking to Pearl is how proud she was of this first album.
“Dante was a pioneer” Pearl told us. The instrument had acquired somewhat of a bad image through the years and both her and Dante wanted to show the accordion in a different light.
Without doubt, Pearl sees her 1977 tour of Russia as the highlight of her extraordinary career. It turned out that Dante had sent the Accordion Tapestry album to Yuri Kazakov, a Russian pioneer of the bayan, and one of the first to play the free bass bayan as a classical concert instrument. Yuri was very impressed and consequently the album directly led to Pearl being offered a series of 7 concerts in an assortment of Russias symphonic halls that included Lennigrad and Moscow (Tchaikovsky Hall). The tour was to have a dramatic effect on all involved. For Pearl and Dante it left a series of fabulous memories. Pearl told us “It was minus 25 degrees at times in Russia and when we travelled the trains looked like something from Dr Zivago. When I finished playing audience members who had got flowers (grown in the Crimea) would come up to the stage to give them to me, it was beautiful”.
“…you have opened a completely new musical world to our country”
Being the first western accordion player to have toured the USSR, the style of music which Pearl played had not been heard in the country before. It has been said quite legitimately that it changed the accordion musical influences in the country. It was some years later when Oleg Sharov was on tour in the UK she realized to what extent this was true. She recalled a conversation between her and Oleg when they were introduced. “I don’t believe we have met before”, “Ah but that is not correct” said Oleg “I saw you play in Russia and wanted to tell you the music you played had not been heard in Russia before”. He went on to say “I cannot thank you enough, you brought a new kind of music to us, you have opened a completely new musical world to our country”.
Through their close work together during this time, Dante took a huge shine to Pearl and even though there was something of an age gap between them he asked her out. She was a little shy about recounting the details but did say “Our first date was a romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant”. Coincidentally it may explain the answer Pearl gave when asked what is your favorite food? “I love seafood, prawns, smoked salmon and Italian food!” Either way this was to be the start of a romance and marriage that lasted over thirty one years.
On returning from her Russian tour, Pearl and her accordion continued to break ground. Concerts, radio and TV all dominated her and Dante’s time. She had her own half hour show and performances at venues such as The Wigmore Hall and Purcell Concert Rooms. A two year residency at the Grosvenor House Hotel along with many other notable venues have given her a wealth of stories to tell including one about a gulf family and fifteen Rolls Royces.
Unfortunately the couple’s happiness was not to last as Dante’s health took a turn for the worse. So a move back to Yorkshire was needed and Pearl was away from the accordion business for quite some time whilst looking after her family. Adrian Dante died peacefully in Barnsley on March 22nd 2005. There was no funeral as he had requested that his body be donated to medical research.
Eventually Pearl was able to resume her public performances and is still exceptionally well regarded. She can often be found in concert at both clubs and festivals. It was at an Eastbourne Accordion Festival that the slogan ‘Pearl Power’ was invented.
There are other important landmarks in Pearl’s career: appearances with such orchestras as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and BBC Northern Symphony two name just two. Pearl was also honoured with an invitation to Recoaro Terme in Northern Italy so that an impression of her hand print could be made for the accordion museum. A name that will be familiar to most if not all is Charlie Chester on who’s radio show Pearl was a regular contributor. The list of people Pearl has worked alongside is immense and includes the likes of Semprini, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Max Jaffer.
We also spoke with Pearl about a side of her that the general public doesn’t get to see. She enjoys “…walking in the country side, watching the scenery and the diversity of the landscape” There is obviously a very romantic side to Pearl as she also said “I love the theatre and cinema, I don’t like suspense films or thrillers. My favorite films are Casablanca, Mama Mia and those with a love interest”. This theme continued when asked what she likes to read “I started reading war and peace although I never finished it. I did see all the original Russian film version written and directed by Sergei Bondarchuk”. Though not a TV fan, Pearl is self confessed lover of documentaries and nature programs well as a avid listener of radio, especially channels such as Classic FM, BBC3 and occasionally BBC2.
Finally we spoke about where she would have liked to have lived if not the UK, and where she enjoys travelling. The answer to both was “The Adriatic coast, Italy as it has so many happy memories!”