This week I’d like to give you a short extract from my first book Angel with Drumsticks. This is how it started.
The young men fidgeted behind stage, waiting for the seats to fill and their signal to begin. This was to be the biggest concert yet in their fledgling music careers, and each one was filled with that curious mixture of excitement flavoured with nervousness that comes from such an event. They had practised until they were flawless—their fingers knew every chord change, their voices every harmony, they had been living and sleeping and dreaming this moment for weeks and they were as ready as they could ever be—yet still the hearts fluttered lightly and breath was occasionally short; they knew that this was an important milestone.
Three bands, all comprising young men, would share the stage, and each take their turn at the songs they had been allotted until the last number, which they would perform together. They had never worked together before—this was the first time they had ever met—and they wondered how their very different and distinctive styles would play out together on stage.
As they waited, they could hear the concert hall filling.
Just over two hours earlier, when their car had pulled up outside the forbidding building designed by 17th Century architect Borromini, the young band members stared at the intimidating building and took a collective deep breath. Angelo dropped his cheek into the palm of his hand. “Well, we are here, I hope everything goes alright”.
It had been a typical Roman spring day. Aprile dolce dormire is an Italian expression meaning ‘April sweet sleep’. In Rome it is a beautiful mid-spring month, the days are usually fresh, mostly sunny or partly cloudy. It is known as a month for quiet relaxation and great for day trips or short holidays.
Now, as the bands launched into their music—delighting their audience with their new beat, their new style, their new way—the gentle spring air was shattered, the music was so loud it could be heard kilometres away. Even the thunderous Italian traffic with its constant discordant harmony of horns could not be heard in the forecourt of the Oratorium let alone inside the hall itself.
The 2,000-seat auditorium had no pre-booked seating and it was a matter of first in, first served. The organisers had been hopeful of a healthy turnout, but even their most optimistic assessments were shattered when over 10,000 turned up, and around 8,000 were turned away from the doors of the already full hall. Speakers were hastily erected outside for the benefit of these eager young fans, who jostled and crowded on the outside, desperate to hear the sounds of their favourite band.
The national Italian television station, RAI, set up their television cameras to record the occasion and police lines were unable to contain the horde of youngsters who, motivated by this new and vital mystical feeling, had swamped the seats, tables and cornices to insure those few centimetres of space needed to wiggle their limbs.
The boom of the drums and bass sounded like a thunder storm about to hit—and it was.
The 8,000 fans, mostly young people, who couldn’t get into the venue, were intoxicated by the sounds coming from the huge speakers that had been hastily set up so everyone could still hear the music being performed inside.
Inside, the applause was nearly as loud as the music and young girls were screaming with tears running down their faces as they jostled to get a closer glimpse of their new music heroes and, if at all possible, touch them.
As the words and the music drew the crowd in, eager for more, the musicians were both astounded and elated by the adulation and excitement of the crowd.
The young musicians of Angel and the Brains had practiced industriously, perfecting their talent and style. They had already enjoyed some success with their new Italian Beat but this was a phenomenal response to their new style. “At last our music is being received well,” the young Angelo Ferrari thought to himself as they handed over to the next band on the stage, and wished with all his heart that his band were performing more than their allotted four songs.
At 6pm the temperature was still a warm 20 degrees. Inside the Oratorium, the crowd of 2,000 people, RAI’s lighting and the stage lighting added to the intensity of the heat. Inside it was hot, airless and smoke filled, but the audience in their frenzy didn’t seem to notice.
Members of Angel and the Brains had hoped that this concert would go well, and launch their music careers, and it seemed that their hopes and dreams were to be realised this night. They could have no way of knowing that this concert that would see them rocket to the dizzy heights of fame, would also be the cause of their ultimate failure.
What the bands and the fans didn’t know back then in 1966 was that a religious furore would follow this performance, for this was no ordinary rock concert; it was the world’s first rock Mass and the venue for this extraordinary concert was not an ordinary concert hall or outdoor stadium but in fact a Catholic Church—the St. Filippo Neri Oratorium, Sala Borromini in Piazza della Chiesa Nuova 18, Rome.
It would be the first—and last—time that rock music would be heard from within the hallowed walls of a Catholic Church in Rome.
On stage at the Mass, while waiting to perform his next song, Angelo pondered his journey to this point. It had been such a brief time since he had decided in 1962 at the age of 14 he wanted to play music and make it his career.
It had begun some years earlier when his mother had interrupted his television watching to announce, “I have arranged for a piano teacher to come once a week so you can learn to play.”
The ten year old had groaned, “Why?”
“Because everyone needs to learn some cultural skill”, she replied. “Don’t groan like that, your sister will also be learning ballet”.
That made Angelo grin as he chuckled to himself, “That will be a big joke!”
Although he complained at first about the lessons, Angelo quickly took to music and when he got bored with repetitive practising of piano scales, he would experiment with different chords and sing along to his own music, writing down songs as he created them.
Angelo’s mother had been a soprano and her father a tenor. She recognised the boy’s talent and passion and once again decided it was time for lessons. She said to him, “Well, if you like to sing you better learn how.”
His father spoke to a well-known singing teacher, hoping he would train his son in voice. “I don’t just take anyone,” the teacher warned. “You had better bring him along so I can hear him,”
Angelo was very nervous but the teacher quickly put him at ease asking gently, “What would you like to sing?”
“Un Angelo non sei,” replied Angelo, with nerves fluttering in his stomach. “Do you know it? It is a Little Tony song.”
“Yes, I know it,” smiled the maestro.
Angelo sang while the teacher accompanied him on the piano. When he finished, the teacher turned enthusiastically to Angelo’s father and announced, “I’ll take him, he has a voice!”
In addition to his piano lessons Angelo now started singing lessons once a week.
He was often left alone at home but was never lonely when he had music to play. He enjoyed it and it was an escape for him trying new passes and chords. He often wrote songs down just for his own enjoyment.
As he watched television or listened to the radio he thought to himself, “I can do better than that!” The quiet music rebel inside had started to emerge, showing signs of what was to come.
After taking formal singing lessons for a year and a half and learning keyboard he also tried the bass guitar but decided it was not for him.
Between the ages of 14 and 16 he performed as a solo singer in theatres and as a support artist to bigger name performers in concerts in small towns.
Angelo remembered the first time he was booked to sing by himself.
“I was so nervous. I remember so clearly the variety theatre where I performed for a week alongside other performers including comedians, a juggler, magician and dancers.