Violist Fay Wertheimer formed Carlton Ensemble’s string quartet and flute group for a one-off City Art Gallery fundraiser in 1982. 36 years on, the quirky, quality quintet and its unnaturally-blonde dowager are still intact. Private and corporate punters enjoy Carlton’s take on anything from Mozart to Game of Thrones, and benefit from its unique experience in background music. Carlton’s friendly pros have played hotels, castles, churches, synagogues, galleries, soggy fields, parks, shopping malls, private houses, building sites, old age homes, clubs, pubs, crematoria, airports, railway stations and more.
Here, Fay talks to Penny Worth about the history of the ensemble, playing before royalty, and the two tracks she dreads anyone requesting…
FW: A privilege we take very seriously. No one employs us for a booze-up, but for their special occasion – a party, product launch, dinner, wake – any rite of passage. Our responsibility is to create the desired atmosphere, often whilst people chat. Any musician unwilling to respect either client or function shouldn’t play.
PW: Tell us more about the Carlton Ensemble line-up…
FW: Two violins, viola, cello and, for easy-listening and individuality, the flute. We’ve only had two leaders, our cellist started in 2000, our main flute came the week his 22-year-old son arrived, BBC Philharmonic and Hallé players have ‘depped’ for us – and our daughters too! Carltonians, a.k.a. the Crisis Quintet, have married, divorced, separated, fallen in love, been ill, recovered, had children – and now grandkids! Present ages range from 18 to, well, I’m not saying! We’re a slice of real life.
PW: What’s behind the ensemble’s enduring popularity?
FW: Word of mouth, Yellow Pages and my shameless touting. Nowadays it’s the internet – and more touting! Our longevity and repeat bookings are down to players’ talents, our repertoire and approachability. In 1982, quartet arrangements of light music were rare. A punter complained that we had no Elvis, so I sorted it. Tastes have changed – pop’s taken over the classical.
PW: How loyal are your clients?
FW: Clients’ siblings often contact us for weddings. Corporate-wise, we have serenaded The French restaurant’s diners, at The Midland Hotel, for 15 consecutive New Year’s Eves, played five Royal Television Society North West Awards dinners, led 28 West Didsbury Christmas Eve carol bashes – now at The Metropolitan – and raised in excess of £35,000 at Alderley’s 36 Annual Charity Carol Night concerts.
PW: Any particular memories stand out for you?
FW: Accompanying a lad proposing on bended knee; performing at the UK’s first ever civil partnership; playing and almost dehydrating by an indoor pool one Valentine’s night; being taxied home in time for work after opening AIR 2000 Glasgow; and twice performing for Princess Anne, who remembered us – it’s endless!
PW: Amazing memories… but how about disasters?
FW: The Queen cancelling us the eve of the Commonwealth Games; requesting cash from a bride’s dad – a High Court judge; forgetting my viola three times – and having a Cheadle cab driver deliver it to M&S Warrington for £17; playing a three-hour wedding and Olive & Vine residency with a freshly-fractured thumb – I’d tripped over my long skirt; ducking a solo in front of 500 science bods, because our over-enthusiastic cellist whacked and bust my C string. And gig garb? We’ve all left things at home.
PW: Any particular songs you’d rather not play?
FW: I hate Sex on Fire and Bittersweet Symphony!
PW: Finally, can you reveal the ensemble’s future plans?
FW: Keep them gigs a-coming!