Return to Monte Carlo Blog

Something of a welcome recurring theme on these pages is that every so often, I get to post an instalment from the conductor’s suite at the sporting club, Monte Carlo. I really like it here. Rather than feeling as if I am involved in some desperate scrabble for survival while those holding the purse strings stand glowering over me ready to withdraw payment should I fall foul of the brief which they’ve written but not transmitted to me, I am currently sat in its air conditioned tranquillity having just had my tea in the canteen downstairs, there is a sign on the door with my name on it, I have my own shower and lav, a supply of towels, a bowl of sweeties and my own Nespresso machine. And an orchid in a vase. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was a valued member of society. However, the self-deception is just too much fun to resist and I have a nice relaxing couple of hours off until showtime at the highly cosmopolitan hour of 10.45. This time it’s the final night of a three-day run (so rather better than the West End production of “Out Of The Blue”, the smash hit musical put on in 1994 about the bombing of Nagasaki which featured such memorable numbers as “Bang!” and “Bugger Me Doreen, What The Hell Was That?” sung, if memory serves, by Tommy Steele as the Mayor) of a Rock’n’roll spectacular featuring three splendid chaps from Las Vegas in the Former Colony playing the parts of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Just up the corridor from me now I can hear Matt Lewis, our Elvis, pictured below, running through some country blues on his guitar. All is calm, and I reckon I can use this time for a spot of Ploggery.

For my part, I have had the task of assembling all the sheet music for this august occasion, which has required much time in the Composing and Arranging Zen and Chi complex, or Shed, back at The Gables, and has been at least a contributory factor in the absence of an episode of The Plog for longer than normal. Given that most of my daytime activity when not operating either a woodwind instrument or The Volvo in order to then operate said instrument in such far-flung and exotic locations as North Weald, Eastbourne and Hornchurch has been spent knocking out sets of parts for such classics as “Rip It Up”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and of course the magnificently titled “Ring Of Fire”, I’ve not really had the time or, if I may confess to a dark and feeble secret, the inclination to then continue to stare at the flickering screen of the Home Commerce and Creativity Tech Terminal, or laptop, for fun. It’s more graft than you’d think, sorting out 75 minutes of Rock’n’Roll All-Killer-No-Filler classics for an eight piece band, as once all the basic work has been done assigning the various shoo-be-doo-be-do-woppity-wop phrases to the instruments, there then follows a mammoth amount of printing out, collation and preparation, mainly involving an amount of Sellotape which if stretched out in its entirety would most probably represent a distance clearly visible from space.

Still, the upside is that the constant need for biblical quantities of 140 gram vellum paper, Sellotape, Wallet Files and hideously eye-wateringly expensive printer toner (£70 for a small plastic box of what I can only imagine is probably soot never fails to leave your jaded scribe feeling as if a sharp knee to the gentleman’s area has been administered by the good folks back at Hewlett-Packard) has required multiple visits to the Watford branch of Staples, where, like most chaps I wander round the aisles of post-it notes, opaque plastic storage boxes and wall planners in a kind of relaxed fuzzy daze. I’m not sure why this should be so popular with the blokes, but basic research, carried out in that most accurate social barometer and information exchange, the pub, seems to bear the theory out. Some lads I’ve spoken to about this wax quite lyrical about the hypnotically soothing powers of perusing bulk packs of biros or wondering whether to get a telephone handset for the iPad. More research needed here, I suppose, which is another good thing, as it will ipso facto mean more trips to the great Temple of the Holy Desktop Accessory, and of course, the boozer.

Having printed all the little squggles onto the reams of vellum, sellotaped them together in the correct order and sorted it into the appropriate A4 document wallet, it is always a slight suprise that when delivered onto a bandstand and read at sight by m’colleagues that a noise which would be perfectly at home in Shea Stadium was the result. My mates can do magic. This is one of the best things about arranging music- you spend days doing what is in essence, a load of maths, print it out and then that happens. It is a unique and lovely form of satisfaction, and a rare reason to be proud of what we can achieve in Britain. Furthermore, we have had on the last two nights scenes of untrammelled jollity amongst the normally poker-faced punters here-there’s been dancing at the back in the cheap (less than £600) seats, and even the old birds in the front row have been moving their heads from side to side roughly in time with the music, and just about on the limits set down for the torsional stress by their Botox consultant. The russians here are a bit weird. We have a line of four lady violinists in our band for the more syrupy end of the Elvis repertoire-last night, Boris from Omsk, who looked every inch the ex-commandant of Salt Mine 563 walked right up to the side of the stage where they were sat, rested his elbows on the stage and spent a long time staring at all four of them with weird staring eyes, a bit like those of the baddie off Thunderbirds. Luckily, after a good six minutes of this he buggered back off to sit with the lovely Ludmilla who had had so much work done on her chops you could clearly see the Airfix logo. Still, if you’ve got 300 gazillion bucks in your current account, and an atom bomb in the boot of your Roller, I guess you can do exactly what you want, wherever you fancy.

I had another dollop of that down at the Big Band gig at Ronnie’s the other week. We’ve changed what the big band does there- instead of playing stuff written by everyone else in order to present tribute concerts which attract a quick buck, we’ve started off on a longer tactic whereby we play stuff written by and for the chaps in the band. This is, after all, what formed the central axis of the success of all the bands we’ve been charged with emulating over the years, and so we feel that we could possibly enjoy a greater measure of popular acclaim by adopting this strategy ourselves. The evidence from the first show with this new tactic was encouraging- we were oversoid at the box office and the audience was cheering for more. As part of the new show, I’d written a laid-back thing which had elements of the blues to it, and elements of Herbie Hancock too. Armed as we were with Robin Aspland on the piano, who, should you ever be called upon to fight a duel to the death with jazz piano as the chosen weapon, would be a very wise choice as your stand-in, I thought my new piece would be a good framework for his soloing. He was amazing, and It made me go all funny hearing a musician of that calibre dressing up something I’d written and making it sound just like music that grown-ups play.

Returning to the reasons for my absence from these pages, there have been further drains on my time, a large one being a new and violent addiction.

As a dedicated follower of fashion, but not necessarily in the same time frame or order as actual fashionable people, I started watching Breaking Bad, which, for those who don’t know, is essentially Mr.Chips fused with Dirty Harry. It is a long and winding story, sprawling over five series, and within nanoseconds I was completely immersed by it. We also have Netflix in our Home Cinema, or living room, at The Gables, which like an irresponsible mother with an obese toddler will just keep spooning the episodes down you until you can no longer move. Last Friday, after spending a good eight hours at the laptop frying the brain in order to create a fourteen minute rock’n’roll megamix for this week’s work, I came in to have my Vegan special at 7pm, and thought I’d just get the Netflix on for a spot of BB. I did a huge chunk of season 4 in one sitting, with just a short interval for the thunderbox, and gradually pulled myself off the leather sofa like an elastoplast off a scab at 2.30 a.m. If you’ve not started watching it, make sure you’ve got enough time in your life- it’s a monster which eats time and has you staring into space for days after like the meth at the centre of its plot.

As a result of all of this, I am now a member of a new club, the one of people who watch Breaking Bad. When I mention it to someone, and if they are a fellow addict, they will ask “How far have you got?” Even if you don’t watch it yourself, try a little experiment- find an addict, tell them you’ve started watching, and wait for the knee jerk question. It’s actually rather a good game. There also seems to be an intuitive code of conduct amongst watchers, in that nobody will give the plot away, as everybody understands that nobody will want the excitement ruined. If either of you who read this blog are watchers yourselves, I’m up to season 4, episode 10. You know, the bit with the Mexicans and the Swimming Pool, and the Poison.