BASIL RAMSEY recounts one way of facing disaster with a composer
The island of Malta has a burgeoning tourist trade, even though this
rising tide obliges the islanders to build bigger and better hotels to accommodate
holidaymakers and thereby endanger the sights and atmosphere they seek.
Somewhere in the thick of this will be found the lively and cheery composer
Charles Camilleri, who has proved the best musical ambassador the island
could ever hope for. He spent a period in Canada getting on for 40 years
ago composing and conducting, but left with his family to settle in London,
which he preferred for his European base. Nevertheless, his roots are in
the Mediterranean where he now remains much of the time in his Maltese villa,
usually furiously composing.
Camilleri's surface exuberance belies the inward spiritual being whose
music is often permeated with stillness. Listeners become aware of this,
usually without realising a gentle power radiating from the music's centre.
The secular aspect of this extraordinary musician is vivacious and clearly
meant for delight, with a sometimes no-nonsense and rumbustious use of folk
Over the years we have been friends, we have shared some experiences
that might be deemed peculiar. Camilleri was honoured as the resident composer
at the Belfast Festival some years back (I would not believe anybody today
unaware of this city and its location). We flew in from London Heathrow
late one stormy evening, the airport located well away from the city. A
young Irishman came forward to meet us and led the way to what appeared
as the most disreputable car in Ireland. He jerked us into a nightmarish
ride with all the classic symptoms of a crazy coot. He told us in staccato
jabs that this was his thirteenth and last journey into Belfast that evening,
and thank God for it. For once Charles was utterly silent. So was I. More
than enough noise was generated by screaming tyres round impossible bends
and an overtaxed gearbox desperately trying to cope with horrific demands.
The experience finally over and us collapsed into hotel chairs, we decided
that dicing with death did not agree with either of us. Our clear decision
about a suitable remedy came quickly to hand: a liquid strong and comforting,
with which Ireland is not in short supply.
We have rarely recalled this experience in chatting. Some things are
best forgotten even when they are unique.
Copyright © Basil Ramsey,
July 19th 1999
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