Curse of St.Kev Blog

The aliens have come! Run for the hills! I came out into the garden two days ago and this had turned up-


This is a Parasol mushroom and its Latin name is Macro Lepiota Procera, meaning, I assume, great big scary mushroom. What was so scary about it was that it appeared overnight. How does a mushroom spore re-organise that much soil into that much mushroom in that small amount of time? It has to be from other worlds, or use the space-time continuum in a different way. Acting out of panic, the tanks were called in-


Googling revealed that the Parasol Mushroom is in fact edible, so what we actually had here was a self-generating rapid deployment land-pizza. It’s too late now though, as the slug population of The Gables, clearly less concerned than I am about alien abduction, tucked right in and had an all night rave until there was none left. Slugs clearly know all kinds of things which we don’t. And we think we’re the master race.

Amusing comment of the week was from a very nice chap who came with his family to the Ripon festival where we were up doing a Benny Goodman Quartet concert in the church there. In the interest of variety, drummer Pite had had the bright idea of starting the second half with a couple of numbers from the Gene Krupa trio repertoire, which entailed your jaded scribe switching from the clarinet to the tenor sax. Being heavily routined, the Krupa trio stuff requires that it is either learnt by heart or played from music. As it turns out that Mother was right after all, I now have to wear specs to read as well, and so I delivered the two numbers welded to a music stand wearing a rather nice pair of £2.99 retro tortoiseshell readers from Tiger. At the end of the show, as usual, we were trying to keep order in the frothing, thronging masses around the merchandise stand when the chap and his family came up for the standard post gig chat. Often, this contains such gems as “Do you do this for a living”, “What’s that instrument actually called”, and my particular favourite, as it seems to imply that there is enough work about for a group of chaps to be able to hone down a show and earn a living just from doing one thing, instead of the actual truth which is having to throw everything together on thirty-five minutes’ rehearsal, often with people you’ve never met, “How long have you been playing together?”

However, Ripon Man came on from a different tack. “Which do you prefer playing, the clarinet or the tenor sax?” I replied that it’s changed for me over my life, and often due to which hooter I get phoned up to operate, but by and large, at the moment, I like the clarinet. “Thought as much,” he said, “We all noticed that when you went to play the tenor you had to read music.”
A magnificent example of bolting stuff together completely on the fly came along on Wednesday just gone. Drummer Pite, this time with his producer’s sheepskin coat and fat cigar had arranged a small team of us to go and make some promotional video footage for some upcoming shows. Thanks to the bloody internet (and I am fully aware of the irony in ranting about the bloody internet on the bloody internet) every man and his dog now needs to examine video footage of anything you want to sell. Gone are the days of sending off a cassette demo saying things like “I know it’s a jazz trio on the recording but they really are good at drum’n’bass, and the selection of polkas you asked for shouldn’t be a problem either”. I used to be able to close a sale by explaining that because the request for 1920’s jazz, a Little Richard medley, Beethoven’s 5th when the bride’s mum walks in, the theme from Dad’s Army, and then two one hour sets of floor-filling pops but no Abba or Neil Diamond was rather on the bespoke side, no demo exists so it will just have to be taken on trust. Not so these days, where the next bit of the conversation along from that lot- which was an actual request from a real client-went “Great! Glad you can do it than- just email the video across and we can get everything moving”. Between them Bloody YouTube and Sodding Facebook seem to have eradicated any trace of imagination. Orwell never saw this lot coming when he wrote 1984. He thought that a totalitarian government would have to survey all our movements whilst grinding the vocabulary down to such an extent that people couldn’t think straight. I wonder what he’d have made of the actuality whereby we’ve sidelined the government and done all that ourselves.

However, we at the Gables cannot afford to be reactionary dinosaurs hoping that the giant meteor strike of modern mass-media will somehow not apply to us, and thus there we were at a well known Jazz Supper establishment in the exciting environment of the docklands bodging together a series of video images to give the impression that we are a well-oiled research and thoroughly rehearsed music machine, all packaged as a live concert to sneak it under the noses of the unsuspecting punters. In the course of the night, we had to impersonate the Louis Armstrong allstars, Anita O’Day, The Adderly Brothers and I can’t really remember what else. Had there been room, Drummer Pite would probably had us do the Red Arrows. All this was done more or less with a quick chat through in the bandroom. During the evening, I found myself sight-singing harmony vocals direct to camera/ As someone who has never sung at all in public, and most infrequently in private, this all came as something of a suprise.


The curse of St. Kev reared its ugly head again last night. This is the jinx which seems to strike my trousers when I am onstage conducting the band for Kevin Fitzsimmons’ Sinatra tribute show. Last year we had the incident of The Trousers That Time Forgot, where for one reason and another I could only get to change three minutes before going onstage and then finding that the trousers I’d put in the bag were from a younger, better, thinner era and now wouldn’t even meet around the middle, leading to severe onstage constriction of the Gentleman’s Area. The whole grisly tale is written up here, under “Bag And Trouser Blog”. This time, thanks to the new Vegan regime, I am in a better, thinner, older era and I suspect that the same trousers were involved. This time around, they fitted, but as I bent over behind the bar prop in the “One For My Baby” scene to pick up my fez, there was a tell tale brrrrrpppprrrpppp sound, loud enough to carry across the stage and stop the trombone section from talking to each other. Contrary to my original battle damage assessment, the arse of the trousers had come through intact, but on closer examination I discovered that all the stitching on the right upper thigh had come undone, revealing a small expanse of whimsical M&S pink stripy boxer short. For a start, discreetly examining trousers for rips onstage in front of a full audience requires a Houdini-like measure of bodily contortion, which was never my long suit, and then the walking style necessary to try and conceal the rip led me to adopt a series of movements which, on hindsight, must have made me take on the persona of Larry Grayson having just been shot in the side with a poisoned arrow. Bad.


Duke Ellington’s back in my life in quite a major way at the moment. Having wisely saved a fair amount of pennies over the last couple of years, I have unwisely decided to spend the bulk of them on making an album of Ellington music next month at the formidable Angel studios. Part of the reason for this is that just now we have a fantasy brass team in the UK who can handle the more extreme moments in Ellington’s scores, and another part of it is I really need to get it out of my system. Timing is also all-important here- by November, the committees for most of next summer’s jazz festivals will be convening, and I will need to have some media in their laptops if I want to stand a chance of getting Ellington in its raw form on the circuit. It’s a shame that just ringing up saying that I can organise some of the best players in the world to come and play the best music ever written is no longer enough, but I’ve already banged on about that. It’s worth remembering, even as far back as the 1970’s, when Brian Peerless was trying to flog the Count Basie Orchestra (The real one, with Count Basie actually in it,) to the Frankfurt Jazz Festival, that the woman on the phone asked for a demo tape.

Mind you, little bits of The Old Way still survive, like poignant images of post-apocalyptic blossoms swaying in the breeze over the barren nuked landscape. I had a call the other day fron none other than the Brighton Clarion herself, Claire Martin OBE, asking if we could put on a short burst of Ellington at the South Coast jazz festival on January 25. We can! We’re going to! Buy your ticket now-

As an adjunct to all this fervid media stockpiling, the album will also be available in return for a small amount of money for personal use around the home. Details will follow, but the staff here at The Gables will be tirelessly working around the clock to get it into the shops around the nation in time to make it the perfect xmas stocking filler. I’ll keep you posted. By the bloody internet, in fact. If you do fancy one, drop me a line at the site here and I’ll save you a special personalised copy, or something.


60’s Blog

Driving back to The Gables in The Volvo last night, I popped the radio for a spot of light relief after once again successfully negotiating Death Junction at the bottom of the Finchley Road at Swiss Cottage. On the radio, there was a woman whose name I didn’t catch speaking in such a faux German accent that I thought that I had tuned into some of the extremely unfunny radio comedy that is an occasional hallmark of the output of Broadcasting House, Instead, what I had stumbled across was some extremely funny reality. Chatting away merrily, she had an accent which I’d not heard before- she was a German Luvvie, or, I suppose, Gluvvie. Sounding for all the world as if she was on the way to an ‘Allo ‘Allo cast reunion party at the Schavoy, she also had a strange touch of the Sean Connerys thrown in with the mid-atlantic Frankfurt accent. “Scho, there I wasch, schtanding on the schtage at the very schtart of my schojourn into schowbusiness”, sche hisched on. Then it was over to the recording of the reschent conschert,  where after more schelf-aggrandisching “Little Me On Broadway” kind of schtuff, we got the schong. We were in luck. Being, to quote the great Mel Brooks,  the good little Teutonic Titwillow that she was, we were to receive a medley from Cabaret. Sensing what was coming, and  in the interests of road safety, I pulled the Volvo over up by the incredibly overpriced kitchen showroom at the top of the hill as you go round the corner. A good job I did, too as within nanoseconds of the first line tripping from her lips I was doubled over laughing. The first line goes “What good is sitting alone in your room?”

Extraordinary singing has cropped up recently in other areas over the last couple of weeks, as the Friday before last Her Indoors and I went down to the Festival Hall to watch Tony Bennett do his stuff with his trio. The Festival Hall is always a bit of a treat, as a wise chap in the past slapped a big preservation order on it, and as a consequence when it got rebuilt a couple of years ago because the roof was letting the rain in, it had to be restored to the original spec. As a consequence of that, the hall itself is a beautiful arena of polished wood, funky brass trim and groovy 1960’s upholstery. It’s what the World Parliament would look like on an episode of Stingray. As groovy turns from the 1960’s go, Bennett must rank in the top five, so we were well prepared for a good slab of Kennedy-era zeitgeist. I made sure that Bert Kaempfert was playing on the stereo in The Volvo as we drove past the post office tower, too.

At the gig, the modern world was camped out, almost as if staging a picket in the face of all this gloriousness from the past. Outside, on the bit of concrete by the stage door where you used to be able to park there is now a selection of stalls selling international nosh to people who enjoy eating off paper plates on benches in the drizzle. Given that this is most of the population of Britain, it was doing roaring business, and rightly so, as it all looked and smelled delicious. Being an old git though, a couple of things niggled- when did good old fashioned snacks turn into modern poncy street food? There was a bloke selling quirky chips out of a quirky hand painted vintage van under the banner of Belgian Street Food. Bangladeshi Street Food in a quirky hand painted  tent thing turned out to be Curry in wraps and over in another corner, in a quirky hand painted caravan Spanish Street Food, or Paella was on the go. To wash down your quirky snack, why not try some more quirky marketing, in the form of Craft Beer? Craft Beer comes from small independent breweries, who deserve all the applause in the world for creating drink for chaps, but can’t it just be called “Beer”? It is, after all, beer. Chaps who drink beer will be familiar with all the major breweries, and will know instantly that a pint of Grunston’s Old Frottocker is going to be a very different proposition to a pint of Red Barrel. It’s dumbing down and poncing up all in one hideous blow. While I’m at it, why do the staff in the quirkily painted temporary quirky retail outlets all wear black aprons? Has Mosely got going on the quiet again or something?

Meanwhile, in the concert hall, away from my ranting, most of Stanmore had turned up to watch Mr. Bennett, who walked on stage to a reception from his devoted fans which wouldn’t have disappointed Caesar returning in triumph from Gaul. Now eighty-eight years old, and stooping just a tiny bit, Tone is still able to radiate showbiz pizzazz and suntan as intensely as ever. In my job, it’s always a good thing to watch a master at work, and learn. The big lesson here was focus. He was there to present a concert of song, and so we got a gigantic medley, an hour and a half long, of I’d say around forty tunes. There were very occasional solos from the trio, and the odd bit of chat, including a very funny reference to Rod Stewart, and all the great songs he, er, wrote for “Those” albums, but in the main it was zap-zap-zap through the Great American Songbook, with the bulk of the stuff being only sung once through. This gave the gig an incredible amount of pace, and enabled him to please all his fans with the big hits, whilst leaving him plenty of room for the songs he liked. By now, he must have sung The Good Life about a trillion times, but by keeping it down to thirty five seconds, he can probably knock it out every time he goes on a stage without driving himself bonkers, whilst delighting the folks like me who now have the memory of those big burnished arcing first notes delivered in the flesh to treasure for ever. Everybody won.

Mind you, there was some fairly extraordinary microphone technique going on. Tony is clearly aware that sometimes he sings small and intimate, and sometimes huge and vivid.  He does the right thing, in holding the mike away for the huge bits, but either he’s forgotten where his big bits are, or his soundman needs to guess where to ride the fader on the desk a bit better, since we were treated to some extraordinary jumps in level. The effect if this was to make the lyric delivery of the songs occasionally sound as if it was unpredictably jumping from lower to upper case-“Every TIME IT rains IT RAINS PENnies from heaven”. You get the picture.

On leaving the hall, 1960’s Britain was back again, but in an administrative rather than an architectural form. Two and a half thousand people, all happy and in party mood, were now disgorging from all the many levels of the auditorium. On a lot of these levels, lovely great big bars with big comfy lounges have been built, and I’d say, based on the sample size of Her Indoors and me, a great deal of these people would really like a drink to celebrate, so the management of the Festival Hall did the obvious thing and shut them, forcing everybody into the great British pastime of queuing with shoving on the stairs. Outside, things were little better- Quirky Food Court had also shut down, leaving only the drizzle, overstuffed bins, and the odd paper plate on the odd wall containing some empty mussel shells (Sorry- Breton Street Food) and a plastic fork  to add to the party atmosphere. Two and a half thousand hungry inhabitants of Stanmore in the wilderness with nothing to eat! It was a bit like the Exodus, and a scene which could so easily have been averted with a bit of thinking things through.

Last Sunday provided further grist to the mill of the argument that you can actually sell Jazz to people, and that they can actually like it. It was the first time we’d tried the Jazz At The Philharmonic formula in a concert hall, in this case a Sunday Afternoon do at the Cadogan in swanky Sloane Square. Learning from Tony Bennett, and the original recordings, we reckon that a good presentation of jazz needs the following elements-

      Regular Rhythm
      Hooks, or Riffs in abundance
      Short Solos
      Focus- For example if it’s a drum solo, the drum solo is the whole number
                   Really good playing.

It was another huge success. Looking out from the stage, the overriding expression on the faces of the audience was relief. Relief that here was a concert of Jazz which they didn’t need a critic to tell them that they could like. I think the Brylcreem helped too- here’s a shot of Ray Gelato, Dean Masser and Me looking correctly rather 1950’s doing the three tenor sax knockabout at the end of the first set on “Rifftide”. Hours and hours of tenors chasing each other all up and down the stave. Great fun.

My arch nemesis, Madame Gravity’s been up to some worrying new tricks of late- my mobile phone keeps going down the hole in between the driver’s seat and the gearbox housing up on the bridge of the Volvo. As we all know, this is a situation which can only be rectified by stopping the car, getting out and kneeling in a puddle. The phone itself normally joins in with the inconvenience and irritation by launching a barrage of message beeps and ringing like crazy, reducing your jaded scribe to an infuriated jelly. It’s not just me though- my mate Chris and His Mate Kev both dropped their phones down two separate drains within a week of each other. Madame G seems to be recalling all the phones. Why? Is she trying to stop Facebook? Thoughts please.


Old Stuff Is Better Than Most New Stuff Blog

Her Indoors has been off in Weston-Super-Mare this weekend, earning honest dough by singing songs to the elderly in a holiday camp. As I knew I had The Gables all to myself today, I’d earmarked it for a Big Push on Getting Things Done. It’s half past seven in the evening now, and the tally for today’s achievements stands at somewhere near, but not quite, bugger all. Since the last instalment, it’s been a varied couple of weeks, the high spot of which, and I don’t seem to be able to get this out of my head, was a brief glimpse out of the intercity from Penzance into Paddington at around Slough, which revealed this-

This, Ladies and Gents, is the Horlicks factory, from which emanates many tons per day of crepuscular powdered bliss. I think that it’s the crenulations which do it for me, and of course the huge red letters on scaffolding. Though I don’t know for sure, I reckon that those light up at night, shouting their cosy message loud and proud into the night sky. A sort of comforting version of Speer’s Munich stadium. A stark and blissfully welcome change from the acres and acres of cost-dictated concrete and glass tedium which normally pass for industrial premises, the turn of the century creation of the Brothers Horlick must surely represent to the eastbound service as great a visual treat as the seaside track at Dawlish represents to the westbound. With that big chimney, this looks like a proper factory, and even has a whiff of the Wonka works about it. Best of all, rather than being converted into “A Stunning Development of Vibrant Executive Homes,” the Horlicks factory is still firing happily on all four, supplying its eponymous tincture to the empire. Horlicks from that very building kept Scott and his chums warm down in the Antarctic, it was consumed by Our Lads by the cubic mile in both wars, and was the staple drink of the 1948 London Olympics. I know Coke owns Christmas, but this is all pretty good stuff, especially as it all happened in jolly old Slough. Ha! Further proof that most old stuff is better than most new stuff.
Immediately prior to the Horlicks Factory Epiphany, I’d been down to the Yamaha Summer Jazz school in Falmouth University where I was to be the visiting Nob, hence the journey. My job was to take an afternoon masterclass and then put on an evening gig. They wanted to call it a recital, but I can only go so poncy, even on their generous budget. As Falmouth is only twenty miles nearer to The Gables than Cologne, I elected to go the night before. The big carrot here was the thought of 36 hours of campus life, all nice and removed from the real world, and so it was to be. Falmouth Uni is brand spanking new, all, erm, cost-dictated concrete and glass, but like any such place you surrender any responsibility for yourself on walking through the gate. Food happened in the food place, drinking went on in the drinking place, sleeping went on in the sleeping place, and jazz went on in the jazz place. No hoovering, no washing up, no emails or anything. Just jazz and consumption.

For the non-recital, I’d enlisted the help of three chums- here we are, halfway through. I guess the photo’s a bit fuzzy because no known camera could withstand the full torrent of the creative magma washing from the stage, but you may well be able to make out Nick Dawson at the piano, Paul Morgan on double bass and young Ed Richardson at the drums. This is a proper Olympic-standard rhythm section, and as everybody was getting the full Yamaha campus treatment, we all felt in the right kind of mood to play as hard as we could, which paid off well. Often, playing as hard as you can results in Sid and Vera on the front table looking at you as if you’d just had a wee in their family photo album, but here we’d forgotten the crucial fact that half our audience was made of students. Students who were out to really enjoy the jazz and who went beserk, especially when Paul, who is by far and away the fastest gunslinger in the west on double bass, did one of his impossible triplet runs up into, as bass players call it, the dusty end. It was Paul’s birthday that day too, and all of his new young fans bought him a drink afterwards. I didn’t see Paul the next morning, but I’m assuming he’s home by now. The following Sunday saw a trip to the Dunsfold airshow, which had been scheduled for months to be The Big Sight Of August, but got, as we know, unexpectedly pipped to the visual post by a suprise innings by the Horlicks Factory. It didn’t disappoint though, as all 180 thousand of us who went got to see this-

This is a shot I took of the only two flyable Lancaster bombers in the world flying together, just over me and Her Indoors. Gamely, she came along, as being a good Wigan lass any kind of a day out represents a treat, even if it does involve standing in a field with 179,998 be-anoraked men and getting that peculiar sunburn on the forehead and upper neck unique to airshows. The Lancasters were fabulous- somehow two of them is way more than twice as good as one, and even the space between them had become worth watching. The noise is quite something as well-the vibrations set up between two sets of four engines is as wonderful as it is indescribable, so I’ve put a YouTube link on at the end if you want to have a listen for yourself. This summer was the only time the two old girls would ever fly together, as one lives here and the other in Canada. As they flew over, the audience, all 180,000 of us, went silent. That was really quite a moment. We were also treated to the Vulcan, which as well as still looking inexplicably futuristic even though they started on it in 1946, laid on its usual party trick of putting on the reheat as it turns away from the crowd. This is a sensation akin to hearing and feeling old lino tiles being torn from a kitchen floor, but on a biblical scale- Here’s a photo- I’ll leave it up to you to make the noise yourself.

Croydon was the scene for more magnificent sights, as the day after the airshow we had a Jazz At The Philharmonic show down there in the Oval pub (Name, not shape), the highspot of which was George Hogg and Ryan Quigley doing the trumpet showdown on Sweet Georgia Brown. Echoing the Vulcan experience of the day before, when the show got to maximum speed and volume and the trumpets were at maximum altitude, the audience actually gave them a standing ovation while they were playing. I’ve never, in 35 years of playing, seen anything like it. I really think that we could get more jazz going by organising it like this- the boozer was rammed full again, with people standing four deep at the bar. It’s only a matter of making it really exciting and accessible, I’m sure of it.

Over on the Curry Underground, you may have noticed that I’ve invested in a new camera with which to document the various expeditions. As we had a nice dollop of quality suburban sunshine this afternoon, I took the opportunity to photograph some of the recent Fruits Of The Shed, which, with the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers temporarily on the back burner, have taken the theme of Classic British Jets of the 1970’s. Thus on the Temporary Model Aerodrome, or piece of hardboard balanced on the roof of the Volvo, here they are. Taken on the last day in August, amidst the whirring lawnmowers, popping barbecues and the knock of willow on leather from the field over the road, I do understand that aeroplane-shaped bits of plastic are not everybody’s cup of tea, but whenever I put a picture of a plane on, the ratings go up. By thousands. It would appear that they are more popular than jazz, anyway.

Blackburn Buccaneer Mk.2, Fleet Air Arm

Detail shot inside cockpit- this took me ages!

Blackburn Buccaneer Mk. 2A, Royal Air Force

Hawker Hunter Mk. 6

Hawker Harrier Mk 3

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FGR 2

Detail shot- again, weeks went by doing this- what a twit!

If you want to hear the Lancasters, have a look at this- it’s extra added value, as they are joined by the Vulcan. Absolute gold-standard aeroplane porn, this. see video

Remember, most old stuff is better than most new stuff.