Maria Tolly

Bits and pieces

MU. Equity, Writers Guild. PRS. MCPS.

I was born on February 10th 1933, in Islington, London. My parents (a mix of Irish catholic, Scottish protestant and London cockney) named me 'Maryrose' after the girl in J.M. Barrie's Play who was stolen by the fairies, a mite better than being named after the boat, …… which sank.

So where did it all begin? Perhaps with my Grandad who I'm told appeared 'on the Halls' with his brother, singing, dancing the soft-show-shuffle and performing a choreographed fight (which sometimes became a little too real – to the delight of the audience!)

His two daughters, Mary and Josie, formed a concert-party. Josie was the soprano and Mary was the 'soubrette' playing the piano and the violin, singing and dancing. They had two pianists, Fred Masters, a highly trained musician, and John Warren, who played entirely by ear. It all ended with Fred marrying Josie, and John marrying Mary. The latter became my parents.

When World War Two began, I was six. My parents were pacifists, and refused to take part in the war, so my Dad lost his job and took to growing food in a seven acre field nearby. On a Saturday evening, neighbours and friends would come to the house for a sing-song round the piano. My Mum would sing, my Dad would play, and everyone would do their party pieces.

My Aunty Josie paid for me to have piano lessons for a term which was useful, but I mainly played by ear like my Dad. I remember when I was about seven, staying with Aunty Josie and her family in their house in Bedford. There were yanks stationed nearby, and when they came whistling down the road, my 16 year-old cousin Mary would get me to play Glen Miller's "In the Mood". The yanks would crowd into the tiny front garden and peer though the window to watch Mary and her friend Edna jiving. I can still hear her calling, "Play it again Maryrose! No! Don't stop! Play!" till my fingers would nearly drop off.

Around that time, my Dad's younger sister Betty taught me four Spanish Folk songs which she had learned during her travels before the war. I took to them immediately, and that was the beginning of my fascination with the language and music of Spain.

As a young woman I became a regular at the "Acapulco', a Spanish bar off Oxford Street, where flamenco guitars, song and dance were the norm. There I met Valeriano Adolfo Rocca, one of the flamenco singers. The following year we were married. I was now 'Maryrose Rocca'.

Copyright Maria Tolly 2011 All rights reserved