x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Electronic music 'killing the art of the whistle' says champion triller

Former world whistling champion David Morris lament that the iPod means you no longer hear anybody whistle while they work.

LONDON // The British are losing their ability to whistle a happy tune. Or, indeed, any sort of tune.

David Morris, a former world whistling champion, is blaming young people's enthusiasm for iPods and other MP3 players for the fact that Britons rarely pucker up and blow these days.

"You always used to know when the postman or milkman was coming to your door because you could hear him whistling. Not any more," he lamented to the BBC yesterday.

"They all have earphones and iPods and all that sort of thing these days. The electronic age is killing whistling."

Prof Beverley Skeggs, a lecturer in class, media and culture at Goldsmiths College, University of London, agrees. "The tradition of whistling is not being passed on because you don't need to whistle when you have the radio on - you just sing along," she said. "I think it will die out."

Mr Morris, a 60-year-old grandfather, is doing his best to give the whistle a good name among the young by appearing before 60,000 rock fans at this summer's Isle Of Wight Festival.

He is on the bill together with the likes of Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, Kasabian and Pulp, and Mr Morris acknowledges that it is a daunting prospect to try to win over a boisterous crowd more used to renditions of Roll Over Beethoven than Beethoven himself.

"This is the biggest gig of my life. I am a little nervous as to how these young people will take to me. I appeal to the more classical crowd, whistling classics like Rimsky-Korsakov's The Flight Of The Bumblebee. But I'm hoping to play something a bit more modern," he said.

Prof Skeggs said that man started to whistle as a form of communication, usually as a signal to warn of approaching danger.

For much of the last century, whistling acts were popular on stage, TV and radio. But then along came cassette players and the Walkman, and pursed lips started to become a thing of the past.

These days, the most common whistle heard in Britain is the two-note "wolf whistle" usually delivered by builders on scaffolding as a pretty girl walks by.

Last year, Mr Morris helped launch the "Whistle While You Work" campaign aimed at encouraging builders to be a bit more creative with their whistles.

It culminated with a competition in Birmingham last summer when 36-year-old Adam Contoret walked off with the prize for his rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, rounded off with an obligatory wolf whistle.

But he nearly blew it, so to speak. Mr Contoret, raised in Zimbabwe, thought a wolf whistle was a high-pitched vibrato noise that you made to attract wild animals.

Fortunately, colleagues told him before the final that such a trill was not the way to attract the attention of passing "birds".

dsapsted@thenational.ae