The Plight Of Pitey Blog

It’s Sunday morning, and I find myself here in the home office, or kitchen having been woken up at an ungodly hour by my own body, the filthy traitor that it is, with some heavy prompting to mount a dawn attack on the thunderbox. Who says romance is dead? Now I’m up, I may as well start on this week’s Plog.

It has been a week largely dominated by Richard Pite, who as well as being Europe’s #1 exponent of swing drumming, has donned the sheepskin overcoat, cigar and gold plated money clip and is now trying his hand at concert promotion. Later on today, the promotion in question will grind to a start in the grandiose surroundings of the Cadogan Hall down near Sloane Square, where he is taking the risk on the Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall show that I do. It is not the first time that Pitey has risked all on concerts at the Cadogan- in previous years, there have been wonderful presentations of all kinds of jazz there, most of which have attracted an audience of tens, resulting in the repeated loss of the Pitey shirt and, I would imagine, some stern looks from Mrs. P. As Mrs. P has a stern look which can bore through lead sheeting three feet thick, you will understand that the stakes in a Pitey Concert Promotion run very high indeed. In fact, if we let the loss of money on a given concert in thousands of pounds equal x, and the kilotons of energy emitted by one of Mrs. P’s hard stares equal k, we can see that x times k will equal w, where w is the point at which Pitey retires to the study to reach for the loaded Webley in the top drawer of the Bureau. Clearly, the point was reached in about 2011 where xk=around 6w, one of the many miracles of Richard Pite is that he is still here.

Happily, this time last year, the worm turned, and we played this very concert to a packed house. Concert promotion is a funny old bugger, in that if the house is full, the promoter can make trillions quickly. Within hours, w was less than xk by a significant factor, and so Pitey has had the gumption restored to continue his concert series, of which there are a further four this year.
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like tickets were going a bit slowly. Rightly fearing both x and k, Pitey hired a young chap called Rupert, who is something of a PR wizard. In my experience of PR wizards, all that usually happens is that International Stardom is guaranteed, they take a grand off you and then bugger off to an office in Soho, from where a maximum of three emails are sent out before a permanent state of being In A Meeting is declared to preclude against any further contact. Not so Rupert. In order to get ticket sales up, he organised a series of appearances on BBC radio chat shows for us which have resulted, effectively in a week of wheeling a trolley full of instruments around Broadcasting House to set up in one small studio after another playing the hits of the Benny Goodman trio. Cerys Matthews one minute, BBC Pig-Farmers Service the next, there we were cropping up on the airwaves with our trolley of goodies for flash-mob style period jazz recitals and erudite comment. Rupert’s plan did the trick. After a couple of days of this, we had oversold the concert. Extra seats have had to be put out, and xk=150w. At least.

During the preparation for our appearance on the Radio 3 magazine show “In Tune”, I got a brief glimpse of how it must feel to be a proper musician with a career. By this I mean a musician who can just play one kind of music and be known for it, rather than the kind of weird Star Trek like existence occupied by me and everyone I know where all of a sudden we find ourselves beamed into a hostile musical environment and the job is simply to survive! A musician with a career is one who has somehow managed to slip through the huge outer wall of public indifference into the inner area of public acceptance, and can therefore dictate the terms and conditions of their creative output. And, curiously, charge more for it. One of the hallmarks of this divide in our business relates to rehearsal time. Over on our patch, we are lucky to get a chat through before being shoved out on a stage. In the UK, incidentally, we have made a bit of a rod for our own backs with this. As this has been the status quo for many years, our musicians are known internationally for being extremely quick sight readers, and fabulous ear players. Because we can make a show with little rehearsal, rehearsal budgets don’t really exist. I have a concert to put together at the Festival Hall on Tuesday. The full orchestra has three hours on the afternoon to get it together. Your Career Musician, however, seems to be able to bend physics in such a way that rehearsal and preparation time is unlimited. You read interviews in the colour supplements of great artists spending months in preparation for one concert. How? When? Don’t these people get stuck in bad traffic going to Tesco’s like the rest of us? How do they manage to avoid the five hour journeys up and down the M6 to work? There must be a trick that I’m missing.

As I said though, we did get a brief glimpse of this strange alien landscape in the performance studio at Radio 3. It is a beautiful little room, with perfect acoustics and a fabulous grand piano. Clearly built for grand art, wheeling our trolley of drums in made me feel a bit like a bag lady who has strayed into the Vatican. We did the mike and line check, and then we were told we had forty minutes until we were on air. Forty minutes, you say? Not unpack here, play now and bugger orf? After a bit of thinking, we did what career musicians would do. We rehearsed our set. We had a new number to play, and so we played it over and over again. When we came to play it live on air, it felt comfortable and we could shape the performance as we’d have liked. Normally it feels like trying to land a Boeing with two engines shut down and a wing on fire. Curiously, as a direct result of that broadcast, we were approached by an arts festival to repeat the show as their jazz event. Proper nobby stuff that. Mind you, they’re not paying for a rehearsal!

Back in the real world, it’s been a diverse week. I’ve had to impersonate Benny Goodman twice, get a Crusaders set together in an afternoon and perform it that evening with, once again, the polymath that is Pitey and play backup to Her Indoors at one of her gigs. At home, there’s been precious little time on the seaplanes of the access powers diorama, as I’ve been doing my books, and re-orchestrating a load of old arrangements for the all new Ronnie Scott’s Soul Jazz Orchestra. As a brief diversion, Her Indoors and I settled down in the viewing terrace of the Home Cinema, or sofa, to watch that film “Quartet”, which is about a vast Downton-esque retirement home for musicians. Clearly whoever wrote it has no idea about musicians, how they think or their ability to earn. A retirement home? Paid for by who, exactly? Most musicians I know of retirement age keep on working, either because they have to, or in a lot of cases because they feel that they haven’t finished with music. It’s interesting to note that the old piano player in the film is a gentleman called Jack Honeyborn. He’s eighty six, and still does wine bars and jazz gigs to just about keep a roof over his head. Harrumph.


Blog Of Becoming A Pop Star

In the words of the great Arkwright, it’s been a fer-funny old week. Busy, but definitely fer-funny. As a teenage nipper, I was seduced away from the Great Master Plan of a career in the airforce (with attendant high levels of parental delight) mainly by albums of Benny Goodman and his band playing live to delighted screaming audiences of thousands of teenagers at a time taken from radio broadcasts in the late 1930’s, to the extent that I fancied myself as the bringer of an original swing revival, and replacing the likes of Haircut 100 and Duran Duran at the top of the hit parade with Jimmie Lunceford and Harry James (with attendant high levels of parental despair). In my mind, I was going to achieve this with my chums from the School Band, and, as long as we put the hours of practice in, we’d be on our way. You will of course know from pop culture history that one of the defining features of the early 1980’s hit parade is a complete absence of the Whitgift School Dance Orchestra, and so you can see that apart a few incursions into the showbiz universe at local PTA dances for the great and good of South Croydon and Purley Oaks, all the stuff like the planned concert series at the Hollywood Bowl and the resultant triple album, playing live to delighted screaming audiences of thousands of teenagers, was to remain a pipe-dream.

What I did glean from those experiences, however was to prove valuable experience for survival in the music trade in later years- I quickly got to recognise the look of abject despair on the dancers’ faces when it came to the point, usually three minutes into the gig, that we were going to play them jazz all night. I can now pick up from a distance of three hundred feet, even in a crowded and hideously humid marquee the international gesture of “The Band’s Too Loud”, which essentially is the same as the sign language action for compressing towels into a drawer which is too shallow. I’ve even learnt not to wince when I get the angry, but incomprehensible request from the floor- “Can’t you play something a bit more in-beat?”, or best of all, “Can You Play The Girl From Ipanaema?”. In itself, not an unreasonable request, but to put it in context, in order to listen to the chap speaking, I had to stop playing my sax. I was playing The Girl From Ipanaema .

What all this has to do with it being a fer-funny old week is essentially that although I’ve been out of The Gables all week, leaving at 9am from the beautifully sculpted relaxing 1960’s loveliness that is Moor Park tube to thresh around in the broiling hubbub of London’s Glittering West End, only to return at dead of night all knackered and sweaty with a long-expired iPhone battery, It’s been to do a variety of things which the spotty (and no less sweaty) 15-year old who started this whole grisly process off would never have even considered as part of the game plan. I was going to become the best clarinet player in the world, and therefore be a pop star. Simple. What’s actually happened is that although I might be one of the six best clarinet players in my postal district, the art of survival in these turgid times requires a chap to be versatile. Oddly, having said all that, the week started last Sunday afternoon with something which resounded heavily with the original plan in terms of direction at least. It was a recreation of the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert of 1938 with an stellar band in the Hawth Theatre in Crawley. It differed wildly from the original in terms of scale- instead of the delighted screaming audience of thousands of teenagers so prominent on the original recording, we drew 192 local pensioners. Nice attentive lively pensioners, mind, but still 192, in an 850 seater room. I know this, because we were getting door money and I counted them while they were sitting there. Twice.

So it was with my bankrupt promoter’s hat on that I wrestled the music stands into the boot of the Volvo on my own in the driving rain in the theatre car park, and set off for my Sunday Evening appointment at the Beeb in London to speak on the Clare Teal show on Radio 2, about, of all things, the Carnegie Hall Concert by Benny Goodman upon which I’d just lost a shirt, or at the very least have had to abandon all imminent plans for the motorisation of the dockside railway in the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama. Apart from my moth like urge to bask in the flame of media exposure, the Beeb had also promised me a free trip to Pizza Express, so who was I to say no? I enjoyed the interview- I managed to croak out some facts without saying “Er” too much, and very successfully managed not to say Bum, Willy, Poo or Jimmy Saville. So feeling a little happier with my day, I returned to The Gables with my Modern Media Celebrity hat on. Better.

Monday came and I found myself in a Mews studio in Holborn with the turns for the upcoming Irving Berlin show rehearsing all the stuff, with the redoubtable Bunny Thompson on Piano. A master musician, Bunny is the all time number one theatre rehearsal pianist. Whereas a normal piece of piano music is written for the usual format of two hands with five fingers on each, a stage rehearsal piano score has all the orchestral stuff condensed onto two lines, with up to four extra lines of music on top for the turns. To get round that you’d need to be Edward Scissorhandsand have a rudimentary knowledge of time travel to come back and fill in the missing bits. Bunny is able to condense all this at sight and re-create the sound of the orchestration, sometimes with one hand if the page turns get a bit heavy. And all on the same money. Remarkable. I was sat next to him waving a stick about, practising for Tuesday week when I have to wave the stick around in anger in the Festival Hall with a sea of violinists in front of me, and all of Stanmore listening behind in the stalls. If I wave the stick wrong, the chain will come off and it will be the worst nightmare in the world. Right up there with being on the bus in just a t-shirt. I was glad of the practice.

Monday evening, and I was up at the Royal College of music, this time with my Modern Educator’s hat on, directing their big band. Mainly shouting, this work, and it must be said that the technical standard in that place is unbelievable. I don’t think anyone’s played anything out of tune in that building since the flu epidemic of 1919, and then Basil Hermitage-Scruggs, the culprit, had a doctor’s note.

Tuesday was an odd Groundhog Day repeat of Monday, and Wednesday was the actual concert at the RCM for which Monday and Tuesday were the rehearsals. 96 gainful hours of employment, on the supposition that I knew what I was talking about, without having to play a note. A Fer-funny old week indeed.

I spent Thursday largely asleep, and yesterday there was a chippy tea and Coronation Street. The chippy excelled himself to an extent that I feel compelled to publish his work to the world. Here, ladies and gentlemen is half a plaice, two saveloys, chips, mushy peas and a wally. Look at that oil and vinegar glistening! Phwoarrr! On the plate at 7.30, it was all over bar the shouting by 7.35


Case Of The Sweaty Letter Blog


Am currently sat in the serene comfort that is the 20.35 Met line service out of Baker Street. This is because I have just finished the early set at the jazz club of Mr. R. Scott ( deceased) which concludes at the extremely civilised hour of 20.00. I mention this in passing as it places me in the vicinity of Piccadilly Circus tube in order to commence the journey back to The Gables and the loving company of Her Indoors. Mindful of maintaining this status quo, I had volunteered to put a letter in the post for her in order to save her from the arduous trek in today’s lovely horizontal rain containing sharp bits around the corner to our local letterbox. Given that the letter is made out to Messrs. Futz and Blaggit of North Finchley, an esteemed firm of chartered accountants who, touch wood, have successfully kept the revenue at arm’s length for the last twenty years, I can only assume that the letter contains her Tax return, or some such nasty, and must therefore be accorded the import befitting of the holy Grail. Especially as the karma of the whole situation had been compromised by the fact that it had spent the gig in my inside jacket pocket and I had inadvertently sweated upon it whilst bracing myself under the hot stage lights against the tumultuous force of my own creative magma.

Needing somehow to make up for this, I thought it would be pretty simple to pop it in the post at Piccadilly and get on the tube. How wrong I was. Despite being the United Kingdom’s uncontested epicentre for the distribution of tat to tourists, and despite a large proportion of this tat consisting of several cubic miles per day of postcards depicting teddy bears dressed a beefeaters, Lady Diana, bare women’s fronts made up to look like whimsical puppies and glow-in-the-dark London eyes, once Hank and Connie have written the fun-filled message to the folks back in Wichita, swingin’ London bites back by not providing a post box. At least not in the patch I was looking in. All the way from the back of what used to be the Cafe Royal to Ripley’s Believe It Not. I didn’t. With time marching on, I decided to get on the train, and am now nearing North Harrow. Four more stops to Moor Park, and Her Indoors waiting in the Mercedes-Benz. I’m going to have to own up. By the time I get a couple of paragraphs on, I’ll have transferred this from the iPhone to the PC at the home office, or kitchen, in the Gables. We’ll know the outcome by then. By explaining this, I’m indulging in a small amount of TV Makeover False Jeopardy, in which Maureen’s stunned expression on returning home to find her living room painted Lime Green is trailled during the early phases of the show while the plasterer is just finishing the pointing on the piece of stapled-in met which has been erected over the original Victorian fireplace. A first for the Plog! Tune in after the break……

DAY 2, 9 Janury 2014
It’s tomorrow now, or looking at it the other way, all that went on yesterday. Experience early on with the trauma of The Incident Involving the Classroom Inflatable Globe And Timmy Green’s Compass of 1974 has taught me that when faced with an hideous balls-up of my own creation, stoic owning up is the best policy. I had the foresight to take a snapshot of the sodden envelope just before I got off the train last night- here, dear juror, is exhibit A-

As you can see, sodden to within an inch of its life, and no longer fit for purpose. Honesty paid off, and you will be relieved to know that I was let off the hook almost instantly. Mind you, all that was eighteen hours ago now, and it is yet to see the inside of a postbox. Better get a move on.

I tell; you what, that Dapne DuMaurier’s a bit of a bugger. Not a huge amount has gone on this week, mainly consisting of relaxed work on the Seaplanes of the Axis powers diorama. I’m sure you’ll all be delighted to know that the Heinkel 70 is now complete, mainly because of the genteel stimulus of the in-shed entertainment offered by the BBC iPlayer.

On offer was a three part dramatisation of her novel, The Birds. Having only a scant knowledge of the Hitchcock film, I thought it a good idea to check out the source material whilst gluing small pieces of aeroplane-shaped plastic together. As I suspected, tits and finches turn nasty, and about three minutes before the end of the final instalment, I was left wondering how our hero was going to save himself and his young family from the waves of kamikaze seagulls. Three minutes to go, I thought, he’s going to have to do some quick work to save mankind. He doesn’t- mankind cops it and the story ends with his last fag by the fireplace. Nightmares have ensued, without the use for pre-bedtime stilton on toast. I suppose it represents savings for the Gables’ monthly stilton budget.

Just as a parting shot, I had an appointment today at the fertility clinic in order to perform an act of a singularly unromantic nature. On the way out, there was a suggestion box thingy with “How Was Your Visit Today?” on the front. I present this fact without comment.

DAY 3-
The letter is still here. It has now been in and out of London’s Glittering West End, to Folkstone via Oxford and back to The Gables twice. It would have had a shorter ride had we just posted it to Mombasa and been done with it. Her indoors is watching Rip-Off Britain in the Home Cinema and Leisure Suite, or Front Room. She wonders why only ugly people go on the telly to whinge. Jast another fact without comment.

I’ll crop up on the interweb again once we’ve got the letter in a postbox.



Blog of Christmas Past and Present

2014? 2014? That’s not the name of a year, it’s a science fiction novel. Back in the brown and orange gooey world of the early 1970’s the establishment was promising a bright and sparkling world of atomic-powered monorails, moving walkways, foil catsuits for all and golf courses on the moon. As I look out of the window this morning of my writing studio, or kitchen, here at The Gables, I can see pylons, and glowering on the horizon like the diametric opposite of Wordsworth’s host of daffs, the concrete brutality that is Watford Gen. So no change much from 1974. I guess the money ran out, or more likely it got spent on layers of middle management. There are no call centres in Star Trek.

The back end of 2013 was a busy time. Christmas for Her Indoors and me took place in the grand festive city of Wigan, which is in the north. I actually managed to find a picture of Wigan town centre on Christmas eve for you on the net- be amazed at how festive and jolly it looks!

Our plan was to hook up with her folks on xmas eve, have a quick brew, and then retire to the splendour of the Wigan Oak hotel to prepare for an evening out in the yuletide capital of Britain, leaving us in good form for the full on turkey dinner at Uncle Jonathan’s on the main day. Although you probably can’t make it out from the picture above, down there in the upper left of the frame is one of those fabulous red-brick and tiled Victorian boozers which so characterise the North-West. Walking past it on our way from the hotel to the Guantanamo Bay (I think) Tapas Bar and restaurant, we noticed that it was lit up inside as brightly as a chemical research laboratory-there were enough bare fluorescent tubes in there chucking out such a volume of light as to make the place visible from lower orbit. Getting a little closer, a regular thumping was emitting from the building, as if the Ghost Of Christmas Past had decided to get all the old mills going again. Closer still, and it turned out that the sound was emanating from a karaoke machine, and in fact was the backing track for “I’m Every Woman”. Belting out the vocal part out without a hint of irony was a six foot two drag queen in full feather boa, orange sequinned frock, stubble, fishnets, Dolly Parton wig and red stilettos large enough to resemble invasion barges. His audience comprised six pensioners sat neatly in a row in their best going out gear, nodding along benignly, as if they were at a Sunday afternoon recital by Reginald Dixon. That’s what Wigan’s like, folks- it’s a magic place.

Christmas day itself went extremely well. The highlight was a game of “Who Am I”. Not the usual one, you understand, which occurs the morning after a night on the Vodka and Night Nurse, usually on an unfamiliar sofa, but the old parlour game where there are two teams. One member of one team decides to take on a secret identity, and the opposing team has twenty questions with a yes or no answer to guess who it is. It was in one of the rounds of this game that Her Indoors’ grandma, or Grandma Indoors completely stole the show. Funnily enough, I was in the chair and I’d decided that my secret identity was Mr. Spock. The opposition had got it out of me that I was male, currently alive, and a fictional character. Based on this evidence, Grandma Indoors piped up with “I’ve got it!”. Heads turned, the suspense in the room tautened and we waited. “Nelson Mandela.” Just for a second, we were the Royle Family xmas special. Boxing day came and went, with the traditional cold meat buffet and Scalextric tournament here at the Gables, and the day after it was off down to my folks for the home counties version of xmas. Poignant this year- my old dad is suffering badly from motor neurone disease but he managed to get it together enough to sit at table with us and eat a bit at dinner time. I was really proud of him, especially as it is absolutely obvious that on top of it all, he really hates us all seeing him in that state. My dad is a brave and good man.

The overriding theme of the back end of this year has been one of toil. The crest of the toil tsunami finally crashed onto the headlands for the final showdown last Sunday when seven musicians, a gospel choir and I met at Heathrow at horrid o’clock in the morning to go to Monaco, a place globally assosciated with glamour, leisure and fun. For me, it is generally associated with stress, toil, curved balls from the client and enough emails to put the main NORAD computer into meltdown. In this case, we were there to put together an hour-long new years’ eve cabaret with the fabulous Matt Lewis, premier exponent of the art from Las Vegas. Here he is-

Looks like Elvis, sounds exactly like Elvis, but most chillingly of all, moves just like Elvis. Sat on the horn section riser as I was, it was easy to sell myself the lie that I was actually working for the man himself. That end of it was all marvellous. In order to stitch the show together though, with the dancing girls, eight piece gospel choir, hydraulically moving stage, lighting effects and VT projections, we ended up rehearsing every hour God sent. It was exhausting, folks. On the subject of God though, an interesting thing happened with backing singer Dave’s iPad. Like all singers, Dave is a furious facebooker, so as a result there is always photography on the go. Multiply all this by the amount of singers (in this case eight) and it is more or less possible to construct a flickbook of the whole trip. You even have to watch out in the breaks when nipping off to address the thunderbox, just in case. At one quiet moment in the rehearsal, when the crew were setting the lights, trumpeter Jon Scott started playing a version of Stardust. It was lovely, and the rest of us all turned to listen. Dave decided to capture the moment. By a freak of timing and lighting, and eerily appropriate for the Nativity time of year, Jon comes out looking like the Archangel Gabriel-

By contrast to the thirty-six hours of graft which preceeded it, the fifty-four minutes of the actual gig went quickly and smoothly. Everyone was great, to the extent that at the high points in the show, with the drums flailing, the choir raising the roof, the horns blasting, the dancers kicking and Matt Elvising at full tilt, the audience of billionaires managed to muster up a mild ripple of applause. First time since 1953, apparently. To express their thanks, the venue kindly laid on a big party for us backstage after the show. It was smashing, and in keeping with the Great Law Of Touring, where the earliness of the flight home is in direct proportion to the amount and lateness of free booze on offer, we got into our beds at around 4.30 a.m, just in time for the coach call to get to Nice airport at 7. Trombonist Barney Dickenson, being a trendy sort of chap, took this trendy selfie of me and him at the departure lounge, playing the other kind of “Who Am I?”.

I’m shutting up shop for a week now, so there will be tales of the Shed and the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama next time! Thanks for tuning in.