Blog Of Rine And Woses

Were I to draw up a pie chart of the week’s activities, the big lime green segment taking up most of the circumference would be labelled “Shouting At Computers”. It has been internet hell, folks. The first inklings of this came, as they always do, with an angry bride’s mum on the telephone asking why I’d not responded to her email request about the Shakin’ Stevens medley for the first dance at the upcoming nuptials of her daughter Kelley. As such emails normally leave me with a small degree of mental scarring, I knew for a fact that a response had been lovingly crafted and sent off immediately, and that when, eight minutes later, a second and more turbulent call from the same lady about the same subject erupted down the iPhone and spilt into the home office, or shed, like a burst water main, nary seconds after I’d hit the resend button, I knew that something was up.

I don’t really understand computers, and especially the internet. I have some vague notion that there is a load of electric spaghetti linking the world up, but, like electric spaghetti would be, I find it impossible to unravel, and there is something about its very nature that scares me off. I have a very low tolerance for absorbing unfamiliar jargon, you see. As mastery of unfamiliar jargon (or UJ) is a core skill in the digital era, I find myself firmly at the back of an increasingly elongating pack. It was this same lack of UJ skills, by the way, which led to my disastrous demise in 1984 as an employee of the Nat West bank in an unseemly incident involving a charming picture of a lady and a horse, and some nuns. I’m saving that story for a quiet week, mind.

What I do know though is that I’ve only been able to transmit data on an occasional and intermittent basis without knowing which bits have gone out. Even though the computer clearly saw itself as a kind of digital Norman Collier, at least I still had the emails on the phone, which permitted that most masculine of activities- the necessary prevarication and apathy over important issues to continue. I finally decided that Something Had To Be Done when I’d sent last week’s Plog off to Phil the Web Man last Friday, written Kate Adie-like on location on a BBC sofa in the marble-lined offices of Friday Night Is Music Night. Phil works like lightning- it normally goes all up on the web within an hour or two of me sending it in, but when it got to Sunday and nothing had changed, the final straw had come- the iPhone had thrown its chips in with the computer and had ceased transmitting as well. Bloody secondary picketing! Eventually, Phil got the unwilling machinery to once more grind to a start, and I was able to extract last week’s Plog from the phone. Let’s travel in time folks, back to last Friday, and see what was occurring…..

February 21 2014
I really really hate my body. Not in a teenage angsty self-harming immersed in Morrisey sort of way, but in the rather more direct manner brought on as reasonable reactions to the unending symphony of inconvenience and discomfort which it foists upon me on a daily basis. Last week saw the end of the four month toil on the big Irving Berlin project, and as much as I enjoyed it, I was looking forward to some really hardcore quiet time in the home arts studio, or shed, really getting cracking on some serious axis powers seaplane action.

Unfortunately, the body had other ideas. Despite my having fed it during the tour on luxury nosh in Indian restaurants the length and breadth of the nation, and keeping the fluid levels maintained well above the factory limits as set out in the manual in a magnificent selection of Britain’s watering holes, it began a slow campaign of hate against me, starting with aches and pains in my left shoulder last Friday, which largely kept on with a constant low-level shimmer of hurt to the occasional and sudden Aurora Borealis of searing agony that was so hideous I could swear I could actually hear it. Proof positive that my body, the sod, was doing this on purpose came on Monday when it changed its mind and replaced shoulder fun with giddiness, nausea and fatigue. But absolutely no shoulder pain. I managed to get through an evening with the big band at the London University of Motivational Musical Direction, or shouting thinly disguised as education but by this time the body had really got the hump.

Once the Volvo and I had got it back to a The Gables, there ensued a considerable Upping of the Ante. I’d gone to bed as soon as I got back home, trying to head of the brewing assault of fatigue at the pass. Just after lights out, the enemy attacked and I just managed to get it to the Thunderbox before the battle got going in earnest. I was exhausted anyway, and the main thing I can remember from going eleven rounds with myself in my own personal Rumble in The Jungle was feeling really annoyed that the next day was meant to be a quiet day in the shed, and one I’d looked forward to for months. At best it looked as though I was now going to have to spend it in bed, and that would only happen if I could dispense with, er, the need to be in a tiled room.

Miserable sodding Tuesday came and went, eased in part by Her indoors administering Broth and Grapes to the needy of Hertfordshire, and as if the clouds had lifted to reveal a blue and sunny sky, the vile body had decided that it was bored of hurting itself and I awoke for the first time in months without being either tired or with some bit or another emitting pain of some kind. Hello Flowers, Hello Trees!

Whilst on the tour and driving down the M4, the innuendo fans amongst you will be delighted to know that our car got trapped behind a lorry proudly emblazoned with the trade name of the midland’s premier baked produce purveyor, Bumble Hole Foods.

Some frantic in-car googling revealed that Bumble Hole is a small village up that way. Quite how it has managed to stay out of the UK league of Carry On Place Names is beyond me- let it be placed proudly in the pantheon of Cockermouth, Upper Dicker and Twatt. You can’t help feeling that somewhere in a drawer in the Bumble Hole parish council offices there is a brown envelope full of wrought iron B’s, L’s and E’s to repair the inevitable daily defacing of the eponymous “Welcome to..” sign. I do hope it’s twinned with somewhere like Urps-Am-Gurgl. Is anyone who is reading this a resident? Please get in touch.

In other news this week, there was an amusing gig at Ronnie’s on Wednesday when the target For Tonight was to attempt to warm up Al Jarreau’s audience of 1980’s hipsters, some still sporting the original hair, with my clarinet and the universally loved gift of Bebop. Although I did no better than you might expect, I did no worse either, and I believe that the trio and I were able to cow them into a grudging semblance of acceptance before the great man came on.

Right now, it’s Friday, it’s five o’clock, and in 1973 it would have been Crackerjack. As it’s 41 years on, I’m in the green room at the BBC waiting to play The Pink Panther with the BBC concert orchestra. Thanks to the Beeb, every so often, I get to let a hooter off over a real live string section, and, as an extra added bonus, they send me money. This time I’ve got to stand out the front and do it, miles away from the bass and drums. Let’s hope I don’t fall off the beat and make an absolute arse of myself- I like it here.
CUE- wobbly harp music, and Plog going into soft focus-

Well, here we are, back in Wednesday afternoon. A couple of days after the evening of Pinkness at the Beeb, in which, you’ll be pleased to know, I didn’t fall off the beat and made no more of an arse of myself than normal, I was subject to ‘Dark Sight Of The Year’. I know we’re only half-way through February, but this is going to take some topping.

I was booked to play in a big band doing 45 minutes of cocktail music at a 60th birthday bash thrown by a Russian Gazillionaire. I’ve done these before, and it would be fair to say that restraint is a rarely a feature. A large conference venue in central London had been completely rebuilt internally to resemble the palace of Catherine the Great. I reckon the entire global output of white roses for the next tax year was in there. One of our lads mused that our whole band was cheaper than one of the table decorations. I reckon he was right- the Russian Gazillionaire and his mates certainly didn’t seem to notice that we were there, even when going at full tilt. Non-celebrity music is the new disposable commodity, you know.

However, in itself, there’s nothing particularly dark about any of this. It’s just rude rich folk getting drunk. The darkness occurred as I was being walked by one of the clipboard-wielding girls (Why are they always called Kirsty or Beth, by the way?) from the front door to our changing room. On the way was a thirty strong troupe of dancing lads in vests and tracky bottoms going through some street dance moves. Just behind them, I noticed a load of rubber heads on sticks. It looked a bit like Traitor’s Gate. Drawing closer, I noticed that it was multiple repetitions of the same head. Rather beautifully and obviously expensively done too. Kirsty-Beth confirmed my worst fears- all these dancers were going to be made to look like the birthday boy! A 60-year old Russian Gazillionaire in a Cloned Buzby Berkeley Rap Flash Mob. At his own do! Worse still, it was the birthday boy’s idea. I reckon even Narcissus himself would have baulked at that one. I wonder what he does when he’s being nasty.

It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks. I’m going to make photocopies of my face, put them on bits of elastic and ask all my mates at the Swan to put them on. Maybe even jig about a bit together. That’ll make me feel nice.


Blog Of Orchestral Maneuvers

It’s been a couple of weeks for really seeing how the other half live. I am currently sitting in the guest conductor’s suite at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Normally, I’d only get in a room like this if we were on a job and it’s where the production company had decided to put the curly Tesco’s sandwiches. In this case, I am in the Guest Conductor’s suite, which by the way is like a very posh flat, only with more pianos, because I am the Guest Conductor, and I get it all to myself. In this calm atmosphere, I can see how it would be extremely easy to fall into the trap of taking myself way way too seriously. I have my own sofa, TV, shower and bog, and a little printed sign on the door with my name on it, so I must therefore be better than everyone else. Beware the inner Diva! Being a modern complex, the Bridgewater Hall is full of well appointed backstage facilities- each soloist has a room like mine, and there are two dedicated warm-up rooms. Not only this, but no-one’s had to come in through the kitchens! Next door is the Resident Conductor’s suite, which I’d assume is the same as this, only with more washing and back numbers of “Conductor Monthly”. I mention this because “Guest Conductor” pretty much describes how I’ve felt about my employment over the last ten days. In fact “Gatecrashing Conductor” might be a little nearer the mark as I feel that I’ve had an incursion into a world in which the 14-year old lad who wanted to play Glenn Miller tunes in the school band had never intended to stray.

It’s been the Irving Berlin tour, folks. All up and down and around Britain surfing on a tsunami of inevitable curry and interrupted sleep playing the load of music which I’ve been tirelessly channelling from the raw artistic ether, or, churning out in the Shed since last October. Since Saturday, it’s really been a proper tour, with a bus and hotels and everything. It will all stop tomorrow, and I have a very real fear that I won’t know what to do with myself now that the Big Job is done. Once I’m back in The Gables, the only thing which will remain will be an enjoyable morning on the Barclays Bank website doing the payroll, and then the huge part of my brain which has been occupied with All Things Irving will be all empty and a bit strange, like a Sainsbury’s car park at 6pm on Christmas eve when all the frantic shoppers have finally driven off home, leaving the baleful solitary trolley to stand alone in the drizzle.
In the course of this batch of work, I experienced fear of an intensity comparable with that of standing in the queue at Downsway Infants in 1971 waiting for my measles jabs. Two weeks ago last Tuesday, we had the first performance of this work in the Festival Hall, and the powers that be had hired in a 33 piece string section to really launch things. This was therefore a really proper orchestra in a really proper venue. I’m used to getting through an evening queening around in front of a big band and considering myself to have done a good job if I’ve managed to get the bulk of the tempos right and not at any point said “Bum” or something down the microphone. Although on this job I had no announcing to do, and so I was immune from the threat of accidental rudery, I now had to direct every beat of the whole show, to a load of violinists who I didn’t know. There was absolutely no room for flannel. By ten minutes into the bandcall, I was sweating so hard that water was dripping from the insides of my glasses. By forty minutes into the bandcall, the sweating had abated a bit and I’d found that as long as I just concentrated on the score in front of me, I could just about get through it. A sort of tunnel vision had developed where it was just me and the score, and with that came a kind of tunnel hearing, which consisted of just the singers and the drums. As long as I waved my stick around in such a way so that Little Ed on drums played at the same speed as the turns were singing, we’d all survive.

The first half went fairly well. The Festival Hall was full of around 1400 of Stanmore’s finest, and the stick waving had gone efficiently well enough to keep Little Ed rhythmically attached to the turns. Knowing that any attack of smuggery would lead in some way or another to disaster, I fought the urge in the interval to say out loud that things were going well. I lost, and predictably halfway through a bloody great medley in the second half, I was so caught up in how beautiful the strings sounded that I dropped concentration on the Little Ed/Turns thing and within a matter of nanoseconds I’d waved the stick in such a way that the entire orchestra was confused and an outbreak of terminal disrhythmia was taking hold. As I was whirling in my personal hell, trying to regain control of the beat, I was saved by my lead violinist Charles who brought the string section in and saved the day. I’d very nearly left a famous West End lady singer on stage at the Festival Hall with no cue chord and no orchestra. I’m told one day I’ll be able to stop screaming in my sleep.

There’s nothing like a near-death experience to galvanise the will to live, and since then I’ve found it much easier to channel the concentration down the drums and voice audio-visual tunnel. I know I cannot take my eye of the ball at any point, and that a nourishing pint of pre-show Thruxton’s Old Flangehandler is right out of the question, but I think I’ve found a way to relax under the tension. It’s curious, but I actually find the act of waving a stick around under these circumstances brings on a nice state of relaxation post-gig. I really have to focus right on the moment, and it is quite unlike any other bandleading situation I have experienced, when a chap has to focus on the Bride, her Mum, what time the lad’s food is going to happen, whether the bridge of Dream A Little Dream is going to be in A or A-Flat, and virtually everything else apart from the now. With this, the now is everything and that concentration of mental energy brings a state of peace. Either that or it’s last night’s hangover wearing off. Touring can get a bit beery, you know. Especially when the canny hotel barman stays open all night.

However, I’m sure that arty-farty confessionals are not what you lot want to know about. What you want is buzzing showbiz gossip. Well, how about this for starters- Saturday night’s gig was at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, one of Scotland’s premier concert venues. I was sharing a large dressing room with the two boy singers, Matt Ford and Tom Langham. The concert had gone extremely well, and we’d received a standing ovation. Bouyed by all this glittering showbiz energy, I found Matt and Tom in there after the show having a discussion about coat hangers, and which were the best ones to nick off the clothes rail. As all good chaps, they settled on the one with the wooden frame and revolving metal hook. If that’s not rock and roll, I don’t know what is.

Manchester today, and tomorrow’s Birmingham, so that must be Tuesday. Another benefit of this production is that it’s all over and done with by 9.45, which has led to some quite protracted outbursts of beer. Tonight’s will be augmented by a trip to the local Jazz club, and maybe me and some of the chaps will join in the Jam session they’re having. After that, it’s off to Chinatown for a good old creaking Lazy Susan and sake in the small hours. I’ll let you know how we got on when the headache abates, probably on Friday.