A blast from the past

In the summer of 1965 I was a seventeen-year-old on holiday with my parents and brother; a camping trip in various parts of Europe. The details of the holiday itself are getting hazy in my mind but one thing has stuck there ever since, a memory of a stopover in some kind of youth hostel in Germany. The radio in the dormitory was tuned to the local pop music station which endlessly played the then current hit parade, at the time topped by an instrumental number featuring a trumpet solo. For the last four decades that tune has stayed with me but I never did know what it was called or who it was by. Of course, for most of that time there was no Internet, so no easy way to find this kind of information. All you could do was pick likely music experts and sing dah-di-dum-di-dah at them in the hope they might recognise the tune. Radio International, one of the English-language radio stations here on the Riviera, is run by Jack Kelly, an American with an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music and a record library to match, but my vague attempt to describe the tune rang no bells with him, and searches on the Internet for German trumpeters of that period came up with a number of names but no recording resembling that particular piece.

And then last week the BBC4 Time Shift series ran a programme called “The Last of the Liners”, a documentary about how the postwar liners gave way to cruise ships and travel by sea changed from being transport to leisure. An interesting programme in its own right but I wasn’t actually watching the TV when it started; I was in the computer room next door. What brought me in running was the first few scenes. Behind the presenter’s voice was that trumpet piece again, just as I remembered it, and a rush of old memories and impressions came flooding back. I stayed to watch the rest of the programme in the faint hope they might repeat the tune, but no, it was just that one scene.

This time, however, I wasn’t going to give up that easily; not with the resources of the World Wide Web at hand. I went to the BBC website and started searching for someone I could ask. Now I imagine the BBC must get an awful lot of emails and it’s difficult for them to respond to every crank and nut who blasts off a ten-page complaint, so they’ve basically pulled up the drawbridge. It’s actually pretty nigh impossible to find a “Contact Us” link that leads to a real person. There are a couple of forums but they get posts every few seconds (mostly about East Enders, it seems) so anything that isn’t picked up rapidly disappears into the void. And this was a question about BBC4, whose audience is much smaller, older and probably less likely to haunt forums than that of the main channels. Even Time Shift no longer has its own website and the trail ran cold.

However, the programme was re-run the following day so I recorded it then studied the credits and plugged the names of the producers into Google. And struck gold. The executive producer popped up in someone else’s FaceBook blog, a chess enthusiast telling his readers about a new programme being made where the producer was the chap I was searching for, and – most importantly – giving his email address at the Beeb. So  I wrote to him asking if he would be so kind as to help me identify the piece of music.

Within hours I had a reply from a production co-ordinator for the series, happy to help provide the answer I was looking for. It seems that once you find a way past the front gate the BBC is populated by friendly and helpful people; truly a national asset. And then I discovered why my attempts to find a German trumpeter had failed; he was actually an Italian called Nini Rosso, and the number, “Il Silenzio”, was a hit in several countries including Italy and Germany. Of course, armed with this information the World Wide Web disgorges as much information as anyone could ask for, such as the following video clip.

It’s a strange feeling being able to scratch such an old itch. It’s not about the music itself; a pleasant enough track but hardly of outstanding worth and – now I know its origin – definitely not German in style. The oddest thing is I could never have guessed back in 1965 that I would one day choose to live not in my home country, nor the one in which I heard the track but in that of its performer. Was Italy calling me even that far back?

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