Monday, 31 October 2011

Even better sounds from Stuart Pendred

Photo credit: Stuart Pendred

Opera singer Stuart Pendred is an old friend of Sorted. When his first album, Benedizioni (meaning “blessings”), came out, we interviewed him for a full spread in the magazine.

Then, last week, good old Facebook alerted me to the fact he’s releasing a brand new album, Agnus Dei, and that he was dropping in on BBC radio Oxford to give listeners a little taster.

As a youngster, he had grand visions of appearing on the stage as an awe-inspiring Hamlet and bagging himself a couple of Oscars. Being on stage made Stuart feel “alive”, and his sights were firmly fixed on making it big in Hollywood.

He never had any aspirations to be an opera singer when he was growing up; in fact he thought of opera stars as “fat people who shouted at each other in languages [he] … didn’t understand”.

Although he grew up in a Salvation Army setting, the Bedford boy had no experience of classical music. And his parents weren’t impressed about the idea of their son appearing on the stage. “It was positively not encouraged!” he says.

His singing prowess was attracting attention from his drama teachers and, despite his initial reluctance, he was eventually drawn into the opera arena. Members of a new company he helped set up would attend events pretending to be waiters or ‘undercover’ guests and then suddenly burst into song.

According to Stuart, this was a great laugh. But there were a couple of occasions where he almost ended up getting battered by other guests who weren’t in on the surprise.

Dennis Wise’s wedding was one such experience, as Vinnie Jones was the best man. “Having him tell me to shut up was quite an intense experience,” Stuart relates, expecting a good hiding. But once the action man realised what was going on, he saw the funny side.

This was certainly good experience for what was to come. He later found himself singing in front of huge crowds, including thousands of fans at two Six Nations rugby matches. Stuart speaks fondly about the magic of hearing 75,000 people singing along to “Swing Low” or “Jerusalem”.

Photo credit: Stuart Pendred

He also became the ‘voice’ of Chelsea Football Club, the team he had always supported. Having set up a “Three Tenors kind of company”, he and his buddies sent out promotional packs to every Premier League club. Susanna, who was Chelsea manager Ken Bates’ PA at the time (and is now his wife), rang Stuart and the pair came up with a plot for the three singers to sing live for Ken.

Posing as ordinary fans after a Chelsea match, Stuart approached the manager and asked if he could sing for him. After hearing the three lads sing, they instantly became “Ken Bates’ boys”. This opened up plenty of opportunities for Stuart to appear at players’ and staff weddings and other functions.

Despite the fact his dad was a gooner and was convinced his son had been brought up properly, Stuart and his brother had been firmly encouraged in their support of Arsenal rivals Chelsea by their uncle. So standing on that Stamford Bridge turf and getting to know the players, legends and directors well has been a “real honour”.

The new album features more original tracks than Benedizioni and boasts around 36 live musicians compared with seven or eight. Stuart says that it is a reflection of himself; his way of laying his deepest feelings on the line.

The radio station played track eleven from the album; a song called “Sempre Qui”, (“always there”). He explains that he was inspired to write the song after a close friend was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.

Very sadly, after a furious battle with the disease, he died at the age of 42, leaving behind a wife and two children. Having lost his brother in a car accident and his uncle to cancer, Andy’s death came as a major blow for Stuart. “It was a very dark experience and one that I needed to get out,” he explains.

However, the track is actually a song of hope; reassuring us that there is still purpose and meaning in life. As a Christian, Stuart firmly believes his life is in the hands of his creator and he’s looking forward to whatever lies ahead for him.

The new album is moving, inspiring and full of positivity, so if you’re wondering to get a friend or relative for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than grabbing a copy.

Check out Stuart’s website to buy the album and get the latest news. Read more from Joy in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine and in its sister publication, Liberti.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

What do Christians, Conservatives and fat cats have in common?

Photo credit: Harry Metcalfe/Wikipedia

Tomorrow I’ll be interviewing Michael Farmer for Sorted magazine. Michael is an extremely successfully businessman, a Christian, a family man and a big supporter of the Conservative Party (although not necessarily in that order).

As the founder of RK Capital Management, Michael has become one of London’s best-paid fund managers. The company’s main fund, Red Kite, is one of the largest industrial metals hedge funds in the world.

Having left school at 18 and started out earning just £8 a week, the entrepreneur now ships around 15-20% of China's total copper supplies. And that’s a lot of copper. It’s no surprise he’s been nicknamed ‘Mr Copper’ by his peers.

But rather than becoming increasingly greedy after his success with his first company, MG Metals (and after helping to pick up the pieces of it once it was torn apart by Enron), Michael decided to take himself off to Bible School in Cornhill, London. I bet not many of his fellow fund managers have done that.

"The idea of a City financier who's a Christian is sometimes considered a contradiction in terms," Michael told The DailyTelegraph. With the animosity aimed at London’s financial community in recent years, I imagine he’s used to taking a bit of flak. But being a member of the “God Squad” (his words, not mine) is likely to have brought him double trouble.

And these aren’t the only controversies Michael is courting: he’s also responsible for donating £2.3 million to the Tory Party. He’s not one to make a song and dance about this, but he recently decided to defend his actions after hearing Lord Ashcroft criticise London financiers who he claimed were supporting political parties because they stood to gain from it.

"You can call me a City fat cat if you want, but I'm not giving away my hard-earned money for fun. I'm giving it away because I want to fund something I genuine believe: that Cameron and the Tories will be a far better government for the country than Labour," he says.

Having met with David Cameron to discuss the importance of family values, Michael feels the Prime Minister shares his concerns and is sincere about his intentions to preserve family life.

Conversely, Michael believes Labour is responsible for breaking down families; of describing the family unit as a Victorian concept. “Labour's idea of a family is three people who share a fridge," he says. However, as a Christian, husband and father of three, he truly understands the value of family life.

“I know that if things go wrong for me financially, I've got my family to fall back on. If I lost my job or savings, I'd talk to Jenny and we'd discuss belt-tightening, cutting debts, selling the house, whatever it would take to come out the other side. It'd be tough, but far easier together," he concludes.

Do you share Michael’s faith in Mr Cameron? Should the government be involved in family life? Is it right for Church and State should be linked at all? Feel free to leave comments and any question suggestions below. Be quick though – the interview starts at 10am GMT.

You can read the full story – with exclusive comment from Michael Farmer – in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Why iLove the iPhone

Photo credit: Apple

We all know the English love to queue, but where the iPhone is involved it seems ‘queue fever’ is fast becoming an international pastime – even the French are getting the hang of it.

Unsurprisingly, the iPhone 4S has drawn crowds to stores around the world today, with thousands queuing through the night to get their hands on the latest model. According to reports, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is first in the queue outside his local Apple store in California. You’d have thought they’d have given the poor guy one for free…

The newest handset boasts a faster processor and better camera than the iPhone 4. It also comes with Siri, a voice-controlled 'personal assistant' that can make appointments, send messages and even answer questions. What’s not to like?

The first person to buy an iPhone 4S from the Apple Store in London's Covent Garden said he was desperate to get to bed having been up all night waiting for the shop to open. But not before he’s had a good play with it of course.

I must admit, when I got my first iPhone I couldn’t wait to get it home. I disobeyed the 16-hour charging rule, plugged it on and started working out what to press (I’d like to say I carefully read the instruction booklet, but that would be rather misleading).

Needless to say, it was awesome; it totally met and even exceeded my expectations. I still struggle to text with it, but that’s probably more to do with my fat fingers than the phone itself.

I’m certainly not the most technical person around, but I know what I like, and I definitely like the iPhone. I know there’ll be a lot of people out there who think it’s overrated (feel free to leave comments), but in my opinion it’s still making the headlines for all the right reasons.

I know it’s a cliché, but I really can’t imagine how I ever lived without it. I can check my emails wherever I am, navigate my way out of continual lostness with the map app and while away many a boring hour with a game of Angry Birds. Okay, so the game probably makes me angrier than the birds, but it’s totally addictive.

The danger with gadgets like the iPhone is that, like social networking sites, they can affect the way we spend time and relate to others. Don’t get me wrong, not all communication has to be face-to-face, but I’d definitely rather have a coffee with a real person than be glued to a piece of metal all day.

While a phone can help us keep in touch with people, the more technology it offers the more distracted we can become. Do you find yourself scrolling away on your phone while your best friend is trying to tell you something? Do you find yourself reaching for your phone before you say hi to your wife in the morning?

If so, I suggest you introduce a self-enforced ban for a week so you can get a bit of perspective back (and probably earn yourself some brownie points)! I’m sure the ban could wait a while if you’ve been up all night queuing for the iPhone 4S.

Let us know your thoughts on the hottest gadgets around and whether you think they are changing our lives for the better or the worse. If you’re the lucky owner of the new iPhone, let us know your thoughts on it!

You can read more about the latest gadgets in the upcoming edition of Sorted magazine, or its sister publication, Liberti.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Breasts like clusters of grapes

Photo credit:

I don’t normally laugh when I read the Bible, but two passages I read this morning made me laugh.

The first was an extract from Song of Songs, the strangest book in the Bible in my opinion. The story focuses on the blossoming relationship between a young man “he” and woman “she”, who express their love for one another in truly poetic terms. Every now and then, there is an interjection from their “friends”.

This book is interesting because there is no overt reference to God at all and it’s pretty sensual. However, it is often interpreted as an allegorical representation of the relationship between God and Israel, God and the Church, and the husband and wife.

This doesn’t sound like an amusing backdrop, but to me it has a strong, if purely accidental, comedic edge.

Let’s look at the way “he” describes his lover. His opening statement is: “I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses” (Song of Songs 1:9). Not the best compliment I’ve ever heard.

He goes on to say her eyes are like doves, her hair like a flock of goats, her teeth like a flock of sheep just shorn (each has its twin; not one of them is alone) and her temples like the halves of a pomegranate.

Photo credit: Jacquie Wingate/Wikipedia

According to the girl’s lover, her neck is like the tower of David, her breasts like twin fawns of a gazelle (or clusters of grapes on the vine), her navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine, her waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies, her neck is like an ivory tower and – my personal favourite – her nose is like the tower of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, “she” describes him as “a sachet of myrrh” resting between her breasts. She goes on to say he is like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, like a gazelle or a young stag, like a column of smoke perfumed with myrrh and incense.

She claims his cheeks are like beds of spice, his arms are rods of gold set with topaz, his body is like polished ivory decorated with lapis lazuli and his legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold.

Okay, so I’ve picked out the descriptions that most amused me – there were other more complimentary similes, particularly about the woman. And I’m also sure these descriptions held meanings that I didn’t appreciate: suggestions of fertility, prosperity, strength and beauty, for example.

But I can’t help imagining this woman with her muttony teeth, pomegranate forehead and tower-like nose rendezvousing with her apple tree beloved with his spicy cheeks and marble legs.

So that’s the first passage that tickled me. The second was a single verse, Proverbs 21:9, which says: “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”

That doesn’t need much explanation, as far as I’m concerned, but again the imagery amused me. In fact, it reminded me of the well-known black and white picture of workmen eating their lunch on a crane hanging over New York (click here to view). It suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me after reading that verse.

Please feel free to leave comments. You can read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine, and in its sister publication Liberti.