At around 7.30 pm yesterday, I had good reason to suspect that something had gone awry with the beads on the great celestial abacus. Deviating from the tried and tested trusty formula of Friday the Thirteenth, Beelzebub and his chums appeared to be playing with tradition and looking into the possibility of what could be done with Monday the Thirteenths. Perhaps like all management , the forces of darkness fell prone to that inexplicable folly that when all is running well, something needs to be changed for change’s sake. Let’s not forget that as most modern management speak, focus groups, mission statements and all the rest of the terrible twaddle that gums up the cogs in the Great Engine Of Life were probably generated by Them Downstairs, it should only be natural that they should have a go at some of it themselves.
Up until that point, the day had gone pretty smoothly- I had been down at the Mermaid theatre all afternoon and evening rehearsing with the BBC Concert Orchestra, which, as is often the case, consisted of quite a bit of sitting around and then two or three notes to play. A positive aspect of this particular day was that I was required to do this on four different instruments, with the commensurate increment in the folders dished out at the end of the week, but the negative aspect was of course when it came to going home time I had so many bags for the instruments and their attendant paraphernalia that I had taken on the appearance of one of those ants you see on tea time nature documentaries who are heaving a pebble of nine times their mass up the anthill (magnified by the great gift of television to about three trillion times life size, and thus putting you right off your eggy soldiers. Especially when the queen ant starts eating the head off her mate whilst giving birth). In ant terms, although my head and legs were pretty much as normal, my thorax and abdomen had become so enlarged by the plethora of external woodwind instruments that I had to emerge from the stage door and into the inevitable horizontal rain sideways.
The rain should have tipped the wink, really. I should have spotted that all wasn’t well in the karmic universe. It was only a short hobble down to the NCP, in which the huge bag on my shoulder had only slipped off and gone into the crook of my elbow the twice, and before I knew it, I was by the ticket machine. Having organised things properly for once, I had had the ticket and the wallet ready for the ritual mugging before applying the three tons of Selmer’s finest to the upper body, and in a small fit of smugness put the ticket in the slot without having to put all the bags down for a rummage through the entire inventory of pockets dotted around the comfy slacks and Fashionable Corduroy Jacket. All going well. The fee requested was £15, and as I had a fiver and a tenner in the wallet, I put the fiver in the slot, whereupon a strange noise started emanating from the machine. I really wanted to go home. The weight of the bags on my back had started one of my special prickly sweats going, and the Fashionable Green V-neck was already beginning to moisten around the chest. Given that the exposed parts of my body were already damp, but cold from the horizontal rain, the discomfort was beginning to simmer nicely. Ignoring the fact that the noise sounded like metal wheels chewing paper, and chirpily hoping that the noise indicated normal running, I offered up the tenner, which wouldn’t now go in. The thin wisps of hope were melted away at this point by the naked flame on the Bunsen burner of irritation, as the machine then re-presented me with my ticket in a very self-satisfied way and continued with its mastication. Despite pressing the cancel button (with the big hold-all once again in the crook of the elbow) repeatedly, the machine had taken such a liking to my fiver that I was going to have to seek higher authority. Although nearby in the adjacent office, the Higher Authority in question was busy on the phone, oblivious to my plight in now not only being a fiver down on the whole plan, but also in turning into an unpleasant sweaty hate sponge for the irate queue forming up behind. I saw his call end, and with my characteristic gazelle-like agility only slightly hampered by my bodyweight again in instruments, I elegantly lurched into the office to explain my plight. It was a simple matter, I said, the machine’s swallowed my fiver, could I please pay my outstanding £10 and be on my way?
It was never going to be simple, really, was it? Twenty minutes later, my man and his colleague were rifling through what appeared to be a meticulously organised twenty four shelf (I had time to count them) filing cabinet looking for the proper form, as opening up the machine and hoiking out my fiver was a job that only the day bloke could do. For some reason, I’d not put the bags down. I can only ascribe this to the same sense of male logic which causes a chap to drive around an unfamiliar town centre for an hour and a half rather than ask for directions. Now with the perspiration in full flow, I was finally presented with the correct form, which as it turned out, was a piece of paper upon which I was invited to write my name and address, reg number and complaint. I’d been offering to do this on a blank piece of paper, but for some reason, Due Process requires that only the correct piece of blank paper with some ruled lines would do. Due Process had also meant that I’d been there for so long that when I eventually got to pay it, the parking fee had gone up to £17.50. I was offered another complaint form, but as the will to live was ebbing away fast, I took my ticket, returned to the Volvo, put the 19 tons of hooters in the boot and drove up to the barrier, which promptly rejected the newly paid ticket. At this point, I invented some new noises, which I cannot record here, since they require vowel sounds which as yet do not exist in our alphabet. Luckily, the man in the office was close by and came to my aid opening the barrier manually with a chirpy wave. I stopped sweating at around 11.30 that night, by the way. Erotic, huh?
Jazz is a most unusual art form, in that its actual popularity is dwarfed completely by the popularity of its iconography. Here is a picture of tenor sax legend Dexter Gordon, which seems to be advocating that saxophone playing and fags are very, very cool-
It is a picture which you see in thousands of bars and restaurants where a flavour of sophistication and urbanity is desired, and where any of Dexter’s magnificent euphonius bebop would probably have the same effect on the management as a dead rat in the calzone. And, thinking on, where you’re not allowed to smoke, either.
Out on the hard coal face of the business, we had a little taster of this very phenomenon last week. Drummer Pite, who is also the British Olympic Champion on the Sousaphone, had organised a small detachment of crack jazz functioneers to entertain partygoers at three day’s worth of graduation ceremonies at a home counties university. Here’s the other three, in full battle regalia, looking like a 1950’s re-union of a 1920’s silent movie comedy act-
I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the bulk of the guests, although jollied on by our efforts, had little knowledge of traditional jazz, but the urge to turn it into iconography seemed as strong here as in any branch of Coolz Nitespot’n’Grill. No sooner had we started playing than a wall of interlocking iPads and phones started to form, until our audience had taken on the appearance of Roman soldiers locking shields to form a tortoise before an assault. Here is the phenomenon in its early stages. I believe we were about nine seconds into a performance here-
Once the tortoise had formed up, then the close quarter fighting began. Not content with filming us, after a while people were appearing from behind the multicoloured digital wall to be photographed in front of us, beside us, and on one occasion, on us. Quite literally, we had our backs to the wall. Alan Berlyn had a nice Indian mum back onto him so quickly that his trumpet went up his nose. I’m sure that scenes like this would contravene a health and safety regulation or two, but luckily, it was all going well so the clipboard wielders left us well alone. Here we see Alan, battling on, while another mum lines up her second son for a picture. And he hasn’t even graduated. Oh the price of fame.
Talking of fame, I’m up for an award for playing the clarinet. Please vote for me, so I can give my dear old mum the certificate for the back of the downstairs lav door. It will make her feel better about all that dough she shelled out in the early eighties for my clarinet lessons, which did nothing but fill the house with dreary experimental squeaking. Vote here! Vote now!