SIR MICHAEL KEMP TIPPETT OM CH CBE
I first met Sir Michael in Perth in 1990, when I played the electric guitar with the WASO (West Australian Symphony Orchestra) in a performance of New Year Suite, an orchestral suite based on Sir Michael's 5th and last opera, New Year.
I was soon to move to London to see what I could make happen there, having graduated from the WA Conservatorium of Music 1988 followed by a year of teaching at the Conservatorium, the WA Academy of Performing Arts and freelancing in Perth in 1989. I spoke to Sir Michael, and his assistant Meirion (Bill) Bowen about ideas for getting an introduction into the London music scene. Both were extremely helpful, particularly Bill Bowen, who at that stage was the contemporary music reviewer for The Guardian newspaper.
Soon after arriving in London, I was invited to Bill's 50th birthday party, at which Sir Michael was an esteemed guest. Sir Michael was impressed with the trousers I was wearing and enquired of their provenance. When I told Sir Michael that I had indeed made them, the conversation turned to whether he might like me to make him some, which he did. After production, I delivered them to Sir Michael at his home near Chippenham and he later wore them, if at no other time, to the European premiere of his orchestral work Byzantium.
I imagine it will be the only time in my life that trousers I have made will get "reviewed" in a national British newspaper.
Sir Michael didn't drive, but there was a Volvo under the house that he loved having visitors drive around so that he could get out into the countryside. Here he is on one of my visits, sporting some headache-inducingly garish shorts.
In early 2018, Oliver Soden emailed me asking for permission to include a photo of Michael wearing the trousers in a soon-to-be-published Tippett biography. It duly was included and the book was published to not inconsiderable acclaim in April 2019. A weighty 750+ pages, it’s certainly worth a read. Here’s the photo with associated caption. (They weren’t made for the premiere of Byzantium, but Michael did wear them to it.)