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January 2019



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Piano playing

The Magic of Mrs Mills!


I had a bad day yesterday, for various reasons too tedious to go into, but I was cheered up in the evening. First, I read a book I’d picked up at a charity stall earlier in the day; written for children, it’s one of the best books I’ve read for ages.* Then I watched a programme I’d recorded, Let’s have a party! The piano genius of Mrs Mills. How could Mrs Mills not cheer you up? Pre-Beatles, I was young enough to watch The Billy Cotton Band Show with my parents, which is how I remember Mrs Mills. I also liked Russ Conway, who I thought was lovely and greatly admired Winifred Atwell, another former star you never hear about nowadays. I was obviously too old for Bobby Crush when he came along; I had no idea who he was.

The theme of the programme is also a pet obsession of mine: that performers like Mrs Mills have been written out of musical history because they don’t fit with people’s idea of the sixties. She had albums in the charts for years! She recorded at Abbey Road, where she had a dedicated piano, specially tuned for her distinctive honky-tonk sound. It gives you a good idea of the musical overlap in those days to learn that The Beatles used the same piano on some of their tracks, notably Penny Lane. The piano is still preserved at the studios.

Most of the people interviewed were pianists themselves and they were all at pains to point out the technical difficulty of what Mrs Mills did and how well she did it. Typically, the BBC didn’t seem to have much footage left and we kept seeing the same old clips, mostly from The Morecambe and Wise Show. There are quite a few clips on YouTube and I picked this one because you can actually see her playing.

There was much talk of the decline of piano playing as pianos were banished from homes and pubs to make way for television sets. Nevertheless, Mrs Mills still has her fans. I found 113 singles/albums offered on eBay this morning. The album covers are so bad they’re good, collectable because they’re so kitsch. Click here to see young kingofthekeyboard playing the piano Mrs Mills style. How I’d love to be able to do that! I’d like to be the quiet, shy person at the party who can sit down at the piano and knock out any tune people ask for. We also saw young people reviving the pub singalong, with a vamping piano and customers roaring out Roll Out The Barrel like extras from In Which We Serve, then wondering how it is they know the words. Rick Wakeman pointed out that to someone of fifteen, this kind of music would be something quite new. Highly recommended and still available to view.

*Huck and her Time Machine by Gillian Avery


Fabulous! I did enjoy this.
It's fun! Of course, I'd also like to be able to play Bach preludes and Chopin beautifully.
Lovely post, thanks. I remember coming across Mrs Mills all the time when hunting through charity shops.

I note on the video that she is wearing a dress with stickup up white ruffle. Nigella was wearing a top with a similar effect on the sleeves last week. I find that immensely satisfying, somehow. I like old ladies' dresses, and seek them out wherever I can.

ETA: Just watched the film, and she has the Nigella sleeves!

Hope today's going better than yesterday.

Edited at 2012-09-30 11:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! I don't think I've ever seen any Mrs Mills records anywhere but then, I haven't been looking.

La bella Nigella! I hadn't noticed that.

Thanks for the kind thoughts.
Oh my goodness, B. I had totally forgotten Mrs Mills. What a blast from my past! She died quite young, I think. Thank you so much for this. It was fun to remember :)

Sorry you had a bad day yesterday. Hope today is much better and you are okay. x
I'd also forgotten all about her and now writing the post has triggered a whole lot of other previously forgotten memories. Yes, I think she was only about sixty when she died. Glad you liked the post.

Thank you! LJ friends are so kind.
Huh. The magic of Mrs Mills seems to be crashing my friends page, and also this individual entry's page in my Safari! Firefox has no problems with it. I'll have a listen to her later.

I also had a bad day yesterday (physically) but today is better. I hope you feel better too.
Oh, meh all round.

Thank you.
Oh poor you - how miserable! Do hope today continues to be better. I remember Mrs Mills on the television! Lovely walk down memory lane - thank you!
Didn't think you were old enough :-)


I agree with you about historical perceptions. Not everyone in the sixties looked like Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, shopped in Carnaby Street and were photographed by David Bailey! I caught the end of the Mrs Mills programme. Something very appealing about her face and singing I thought. nicola@vintagereads
So true!

Almost everyone interviewed said she was 'a lovely lady'. Apparently she took convincing that she could give up the day job and make a career in show business. Very modest.