A RETIRED businessman who runs a farmers' market has found another string to his bow - musical anecdotes.

Brian Levison, one of the founders of the East Oxford Farmers' Market, is a keen amateur musician, singing with the East Oxford Community Choir, and has even written the libretto for an oratorio.

Now, he has linked up with writer Frances Farrer to produce a book called Classical Music's Strangest Concerts and Characters, a collection of "extraordinary tales from concert halls and other venues around the globe".

With chapter headings such as The Conductor Who Beat Himself to Death, The Disappearing Orchestra and Caught With His Trousers Down, the stories include a 17th-conductor who accidentally stabbed himself to death while conducting - and the tale of 400 alarm clocks that went off during a concert in Chicago.

He said: "The book covers a very wide range, from the farcical to the serious.

"There's at least a couple of stories set in concentration camps, for example.

"But they are all short, compact stories - each can be read in about five minutes, then you can put the book down, go away and pick it up another day."

He met Ms Farrer through Writers in Oxford and the book took about 18 months to research.

She said: "I'm not a musician, but I've got a lot of friends who are, so I'm often around gossipy stories.

"I knew that I would be able to get them and they'd be quite fun.

"And I thought it was a delightful, enjoyable and engrossing project."

One of her favourite stories is the one about the Barbican concert that went on for two days and consisted of the same sequence of chords repeated 840 times.

Then there was Stockhausen's Helicopter Quartet, in which each member of the quartet had to play from a helicopter, with his performance transmitted to the audience via camera, television transmitter, three microphones and sound transmitters.

The idea apparently came to the composer in a dream.

She said: "I've had some pretty wacky dreams, but I've never had a grant to do one of them. But he did."

There is also a mention of Oxford musician Arne Richards, who runs the Oxford Concert Party.

Mr Levison said: "They have a contract to take music into prisons, so he has quite a few funny stories about what goes on in prisons."

Inevitably, some stories did not make it into the book because certain facts could not be verified.

"There was one man who wanted his skull left to the RSC so they could use it in Hamlet," said Ms Farrer.

"I managed to track down the wardrobe man and he said they were always being left skulls - but they couldn't use them because they smelt."