Postcard from Lanzarote Blog

As can happen at this time of year, Her Indoors and I have attempted to avoid the gloomy weather, high winds and sideways rain of life in pre-xmas Hertfordshire by jetting off in search of some much-needed winter sun, and so I find myself here in a rather smashing hotel room in Lanzarote this Saturday afternoon tapping away whilst outside amongst the leafy palms and Landscaped Gardens With Heated Pool, sideways rain and high winds lash out amongst the gloomy weather which the meteorological Gods have so kindly laid on for us. Nary five weeks ago I can remember archly pontificating at the kitchen table back at the Gables that if we wanted to guarantee good weather, we’d need to go that bit further south. Lanzarote lies about 120 miles west of West Africa, and consequently boasts hot, dry, even arid, weather all year round, so it seemed a fairly safe bet that it should, all things being equal, be the diametric weather opposite of, say, Rhyl at this time of year. I now feel a bit like Michael Fish on the day after the big Hurricane, since in the celestial weather rosta, Rhyl and Lanzarote would appear to be drawn about equal.

Still, a change is as good as a rest, even a rainy change, and the inclement pelting precipitation might be God’s way of picking out the British tourists amongst the international holiday making community. Used, as we are, to making do in the pissing rain, Brits of all ages and sizes can be seen proudly walking up and down the front in the regulation shorts, sandals and socks for Him and pedal pushers and espadrilles for Her, except this time the top halves are protected from the elements with primary coloured waterproof fashion accessories, or anoraks. Just when you think that the Brits abroad couldn’t possibly get frumpier, we pull something like that out of the hat, or in the case of that internationally accepted icon of ultimate eroticism, the transparent plastic Pack-A-Mack, it actually gets pulled out of the jacket pocket. Of course, this all goes on under the amused beady eyes of the Germans, Swedes and Danes who sit elegantly and wisely in the hotel bar elegantly and wisely drinking lager. Now, in 2014, it’s getting less and less clear who won the bloody war.

However, I’m enjoying the change- as much as I love The Volvo and its palatial ergonomic leather interior, it has been most unusual to spend an entire week without having to sit inside it for between a third and half of my waking hours. Indeed, it feels most odd to have control over my day without running the eternal gamble of having all of it hoovered up by temporary traffic lights, traffic calming improvements and contraflows. Her Indoors did actually suggest that we might fancy hiring a car out here to do a spot of exploring, but the thought of local temporary traffic lights, traffic calming improvements and contraflows had me out in hives at almost exactly the same time as I became a pitiful weeping pulp on the nice polished stone tiles of Room 317, and so we have spent the week exploring the highly spiced local exotic food and drink, or burgers and sangria.

It is the simultaneous act of coming out in hives and becoming a pitiful weeping pulp on the floor which has really framed the two big musical events of the last couple of weeks. One was arty, the other just horrid. To get arty first, Drummer Pite had hired the Cadogan Hall two Friday’s ago to re-enact the 1939 battle of the bands which went on in there between Benny Goodman, and the then young pretender, Glenn Miller. As part of this, Drummer Pite asked if your jaded scribe would like to run the full gamut of Benny Goodman’s concert activity in 1939 and play the Bartok contrasts. This was back in February, and as I had a big pan of spaghetti on the go and needed to get Drummer Pite off the blower, I agreed.

To understand the depth of this undertaking, which I must admit I didn’t at the time, some history; In 1939, Goodman had designs on becoming a classical recitalist as, I’d imagine, the novelty of being the King Of Swing and the most technically accomplished jazz clarinettist in the history of music was beginning to pall. Especially, so the stories go, as Benny had to slum it on around thirty seven thousand dollars a week. To relieve this unrelenting torpid grind, Goodman commissioned Bela Bartok to write a small suite of three pieces entitled “Contrasts”, which Goodman performed at Carnegie Hall with Bartok on the piano and Bartok’s chum Josef Szigeti on the violin. Where a lot of music relies on light and shade for its contrasts, Bartok’s contrasts rely mainly on darkness and really dark darkness, but because Bartok was a genius, it’s curiously a darkness you can sing along to. During the first movement, which really does take you on a journey through the exciting and lively contrasting moods of despair, upheaval, grief, fright, very serious fright and good old fashioned desolation, you can hear touches of great humour. Clearly Bartok, without realising, was laying down the code for an enormous amount of film music composition, not all of it dark serious and moody. There’s a figure played by the pizzicato violin in the opening bars which sounded really familiar to me. Watching cable TV late one night I found out why- it is played by the entire string section, again in pizzicato as they underscore Bernard Bresslaw dressed as a nurse tip-toeing down a corridor in Northwick Park hospital in Carry On Matron.

Interestingly, and especially so given that Goodman commissioned the thing, the music bears little resemblance to the kind of jolly swinging jazz BG was famous for. In fact, some of the phrases in upwardly rolling quintuplets would not be out of place in a dictionary of cutting edge contemporary jazz licks for the kind of bearded young chap who needs to feel that he is the most “Killing”. It then gets a bit stranger in that Benny, after having done the trillion hours practice I can assure you it takes to get on top of the little buggers, did not modify his jazz playing in any way at this time. I suppose that this piece was so completely conceptually different to anything he’d done beforehand, he may have thought, as I ended up doing, that he was playing a completely different hooter. Hearing Benny play it on the original recording with his lovely cosy sound has a kind of a shock value to it, like stumbling across a drawer full of photos of your grandparents holidaying at a nudist camp. There he was, right on top of some of the furthest out clarinet music 1939 had on offer, in an environment which, at the top of the 1939 jazz tree was continually experimenting with new ways to play over harmony, and we just hear Benny’s jazz playing carrying on much as before, gradually sweetening his tone until all imperfections and imbalances had been ironed right out.

For me, having to play something as demanding and as straight as this brought back how it used to feel preparing for a school concert. Normally, when I go to work, I have to quickly isolate the main tricky areas of the performance, maybe practice those a bit so that no-one will really know the difference once the drums are going, and try to convincingly flannel round the rest of it all as best I can so that no-one will really know the difference once the drums are going. In this manner, I can work devoid of fear and demanding technical requirements. This was utterly different. No drums, for a start, and in fact a completely different concept of time in which the three instruments pull each other along like leaves in the swirls and eddies in the current of the music. If you’re used to bonk-bonk-bonk off the pots, arty farty swirls and eddies can really put the wind up a chap. The only way to cope is to get absolutely on top of the music, and in this case, the top was an awful long way up. I had to practice it every other day from February until the gig the other week. And it was still scary and difficult. If you get really used to playing it, you can hear that even Benny knocks a few of the nastier bits over

On piano we had the great Bunny Thompson, who has straddled the dual worlds of jazz and classical all his life, and defines himself as being musically half rice and half chips. Early on in the practice for this, Bunny came to realise that Bela had given himself a bit of a Bobby’s job by just having the piano knead quietly along behind the clarinet and fiddle. Now that’s clever writing. As Drummer Pite had made a reasonable budget available, we could treat ourselves to a demon fiddle player, and so money changed hands to secure the bowing of Charles Mutter, who operates his violin in the Leader’s chair up at the BBC Concert Orchestra. When he came round to Gablesound Rehearsal Suite 5, or my kitchen, for the rehearsal, not only was he completely on top of his own part, which looked as if it had been arranged for a violinist with tree-climbing-frog DNA, so awkward were the hand stretches, but he seemed to be completely on top of ours too. Having a proper bona-fide straight chap in charge took a lot of the heat off me, I can tell you, and eased the strain on the half of Bunny that was chips. After an hour or so practising together, we could get through it without crying or swearing, so we pronounced ourselves ready for the gig.

Eight months of practice, seven minutes of music. I can remember drawing the first breath, and then I can remember the stunned looks on the faces of the first two rows of punters, who thought they’d come to hear Sing Sing Sing and In The Mood, and instead got a tidal ride down the aforementioned swirling river of upheaval, grief, fright, very serious fright and good old fashioned desolation. It got the kind of applause that would happen if a stripper stopped her act and showed you how to put a new front on your mobile phone because the old one was smashed up. Looking at it another way, it would be like receiving a complimentary Onion Bhajee before a Beef Wellington. I didn’t care- we’d nailed it and I felt great, and the last time I felt that kind of great was in 1981 when I got a distinction for my grade 5.

Hives and weeping experience number two was a very different kind of thing. I’d been booked to put some chaps together to go and play the walk-ons for an awards ceremony and then a little spot of functioneering at a nobby corporate do in London’s Glittering West End. I always find that the hive-o-meter gets going early on one of these gigs, just because of the sheer weight of emails that clog up the Gabletron 3000 communications centre, or laptop, in the weeks leading up to the show. In order to cover their backs, the people putting these things on copy everybody into everything, so I often find that I have to trawl through huge threads of communication about getting the napkin rings to convey the right message, to see if I’ve missed anything about the band. In this case, there were 167 messages for me to read, and so by the time the big day arrived, I was very much on my guard.

As it turned out, it all went swimmingly. All the chaps arrived on time to run the awards ceremony, which involves us playing things like the intro to Crazy In Love over and over again whilst the Kettering Admin Staff come up to collect their bit of Perspex upon which is engraved some fabulously pithy career-boosting accolade such as “Best Stationery Management” and shake hands with the CEO and the duty celeb who arrives one minute before the start and departs one minute after. The running order was- 9.30-10, Band on for dancing, 10-10.45, address by duty celeb, 10,45-11.15 awards. It sounded really simple. After all, what could go wrong after thirteen trillion countersigned emails?

What went wrong was that the duty celeb died on his arse at around 10.18. Therefore, the man in charge decided to start the awards ceremony, but as we weren’t due on for another twenty minutes, all the chaps were dotted around the nine-story subterranean no phone reception concrete bunker which made up the conference centre. The five lads who were having the standard gig lasagne in the bandroom rushed down to the stage, and I went off on foot to locate, amongst others, Drummer Pite. Bandleader and drums, I thought were crucial to this next phase, and I really didn’t want to keep the client waiting.

I needn’t have worried- I hadn’t kept anyone waiting. They just steamed on with the ceremony anyway, accompanied by trombone, two saxes and electric bass. The rest of us scrambled on as the Doncaster Dockets Inward team were getting their thingy from the duty celeb, in a manner devoid of any shard of dignity. Adopting the good old maxim of press on and don’t apologise, I conducted the rest of the awards off and then we did a further little set of popular beat classics, but I just felt terrible. I’ve been in these situations before, where uppity organisers will go bananas if they think that your ESP isn’t up to snuff. Given that the great house of cards of the 167 emails had not just toppled down but had imploded completely and was now in a different dimension, confusing the Thgrodies on the planet Zefflikon. All the while during our renditions of Dancing Queen and Let Me Entertain you, I was composing emails in my head about how we were’nt meant to be on for another twenty minutes, and no, I don’t think that its fair that I should knock fifteen hundred quid off the dough. I was then thinking about the business overdraft and wondering whether I could afford to pay the lads if the client didn’t cough up. I had bad red-hot cheeks and I wanted my mum. Just as we were winding up, I was beckoned over by the CEO. I was girding myself up for an hideous slab of corporate buck-passing, but I got an apology, for starting early and making those of us who had to scramble up on the stage look like a bunch of arseholes. Hello Flowers, Hello Trees, Hello Butterflies, the world became right again.

As a footnote, it is with great regret that I have to remove Lanzarote, or at least the Indian Tandoori House in Playa Blanca from the European Curry Roll Of Honour. We came here a few years ago and visited the curry house in Playa Blanca, and were treated to a magnificent flavoursome English style ruby, oozing with garlic and spice. On the strength of this, Lanzarote has been #2 in the batting, behind Malta and just ahead of Monaco. This time it was all microwaved and rubbery. And they tried to overcharge us. I was gutted. Overseas curry is one of the highlights of a foreign trip for me, but if you’re out here, I’d go anywhere else if I were you.


Blog of Glitch

Today, I attend the mixing of the Ellington sessions recorded the other week.
9.48 am
Am at the local station, waiting to go down to the CT International Studio Production Suite in the part of South London near Beckenham the estate agents refer to as Definitely Not Penge. It’s a cold but bright morning, and a twenty minute walk here from the Gables. My horrid body has managed to get all sweaty in the chest and back where the scarf and rucksack were, while the hands and feet are as icicles. The bastard.

9.52 am
Now on the London Midland Chiltern Arrow, hurtling towards Euston. In an effort to limit the sweating, have removed the Jacket and Scarf. My Fashionable Fit T-shirt from the mature chap’s department at M&S has a giant sweat patch on the front, so no wonder that woman opposite moved her children out of the way. The Charisma King strikes again!

10.21 am
There’s been a huge international Airfix-related exhibition this weekend, which gallingly I had to miss as I was engaged mainly in the act of driving the Volvo up and down Britain interspersed with short bursts of operating woodwind instruments. On the Saturday, in fact, I was waving my arms about for Kevin Fitzsimmons, and regular readers will be interested to note that the Curse of St Kev, which smites me about my trousers whenever I work from him, struck again. This time, it was my clip on braces pinging off at all three points whilst trying to conduct the front end of World On A String, itself a high-stress accident blackspot. As a result, I had to finish the intro with the conducting technique of a chap who has suddenly developed a hernia whilst simultaneously trying to summon a waiter in a crowded restaurant. Back to missing Airfix Expo ’14, I was chuffed to notice that WH Smiths at Euston carried this month’s issue of Anorak Modelworld, packed with full colour pics from the show -of small aeroplane-shaped pieces of plastic- and so I eagerly snapped one up, narrowly avoiding the temptation of the till side offer of three tons of Galaxy chocolate for a quid. Am now on the Northern Line nearing Leicester Square, and don’t have the bottle to open the mag in front of my fellow travellers. Instead, I’m doing what we all do on the tube these days, and am earnestly tapping away at a small plastic and glass rectangle….

10.33 am
On the escalator up from the tube at Charing x, the Orwellian LCD TV screens placed at frequent intervals up the walls were all carrying an ad for a knicker shop. The chosen image, unsurprisingly was of a nice kind lady sat in a chair in her knickers, bra and stockings. It made me wonder what the Victorian engineers who sunk that shaft would have made of such repeated iridescent sin- they’d probably have been made to fill it all back in by the local Parson. On the subject of shameful visual imagery, I’ve still not dared to have a peek inside Anorak Modelworld.

Sweaty again now, thanks to an Americano and a portion of Onion Rings from Burger King. Charing x station was occupied by a quartet of British Transport Police toting sub machine guns. Damn glad my Oyster card is paid up.

Am now deep into the task of editing the new album. As is the way with a Day In The Studio, I have already had way too much coffee, and am now feeling slightly queasy. The air-con’s on the blink, so a Defcon 2 state of sweatiness has been declared. As it’s just me and Traves in here, I have assumed the role of Quincy Jones in my t-shirt and boxers. Consider this when you are listening in rapt joy to the album in a couple of weeks.

Hotter now, and beginning to Ming a bit. Halfway through the Tattooed Bride

Trousers back on. Tattooed Bride mixed, skilfully glued together by Traves out of six takes and a couple of little edit sections. It’s a bloody hard piece. In 1950, when Duke’s boys recorded it, they had to all do it right in one go, or else start again from the top. Given that the top is some eleven minutes away from the bottom, you can understand why the original recording is also peppered with minor technical flaws and that the big end is played at quite a cautious and safe tempo. By using digital bamboozling, at least we can turn in a recording with no mistakes! Beginning to form an urge for a curry.

Trousers still on, and now the curry urge is past on account of, well, having had a curry, which although very welcome on account of being hot and available, consisted mainly of onions. I’ve also lost any urge I may have had, it would seem, to ever listen to music again. The good news is that we’ve got an album’s worth of stuff mixed, and earth-shatteringly amazing it sounds as well. The cost of this in human terms is quite high though, as modern digital recording techniques require constant staring at three computer screens in one go whilst listening to the trombones at letter K of Perdido trying to work out which one had the squeaky chair, so that the squeaks created thereby can be digitally removed thus removing from the listener of the future’s ear the idea that Ellington wrote for kittens as well as brass instruments. In fact, at letter L of Perdido, there was a bad spaff in one of the parts which was so loud it corrupted the other two. We needed two more trombones in a hurry, but only for one note, unison D- Traves, being a trombonist player played a new one into the can, and I, with the benefit of three minutes’ instruction and a spare trombone, played the other one. I am going to be legitimately listed on the sleeve as Clarinet, Director, Trombone, but you will all know that there is a heavy whiff of filthy subterfuge about the whole matter. There have been some high spots, mind, such as Colin Skinner’s melting eroticism on the alto sax, Louis Dowdeswell’s high notes which pepper the soundtrack, some lovely wah-wah brass in Just Squeeze Me and Her Indoors’ vocals, which she recorded after a rough night up with a cold. This resulted in a very laid back performance which gives the whole thing a nice feeling of Peggy Lee sitting in with The Duke. James Pearson on piano rocks the proceedings on with characteristic authority, and all is underpinned by the big toned swinging acoustic bass of young Laurence Ungless. You’ll be pleased to know that your jaded scribe had the decency to replace the trousers before jitterbugging vigorously around the control room. Nearing Victoria on Kent and South East Pullman Express now, I find that the late night service is still a shade too populous to open up this month’s edition of Anorak Modelworld. I should have stuck to Razzle. Less shame.

Back in the Command Room, or Kitchen, at The Gables now. All is still, and have just put the data stick from today in the studio into the Gabletron 3000 Media Resource Centre, or Laptop. Disaster! Somehow, in the journey from Definitely Not Penge to Definitely Not Watford, young Laurence Ungless (who sounds like the main man from one of those trendy new cop thrillers from Denmark) and his acoustic double bass has quadrupled in volume, and is dominating the entire soundtrack with great big distorted gloops of noise! We’re going to have to do it all again- Early morning, Transport Police, Pants, Curry, the lot! Damn!

It’s a funny thing, music. We’ve recorded a world-class band, but if one of the principal instruments is out of whack in any way, just one, it will make the whole thing sound like St. Hymelda Of The Nine Wounds’ Junior School Jazz Workshop. Funnily enough, in a Jungian way, this happened the Sunday before last with a recording project put together by Drummer Pite over in Radlett. His idea was to record his Benny Goodman-Glenn Miller concert there to have a CD for sale this Friday at another Goodman-Miller show in London. As turning around a recording in twelve days (which in recording days is the equivalent of about four seconds) is leaving no margin for error, it will come as no suprise that error occurred, in quite a big way. Have a look at the picture below, taken on the gig- notice anything funny, aside from my chins?

The eagle eyed amongst you will of course notice that the microphone in front of the trumpets has fallen off its stand (all evil in the world not caused by money being at the root is usually gravity-related), and given that the trumpets had stage lights shining in their eyes, they couldn’t have seen it. The result was that the finished recording had no lead trumpet, and therefore the glittering tribute to the two greatest white bandleaders of the swing era now sounded like St. Hymelda Of The Nine Wounds’ Junior School Jazz Workshop having a bit of retro study. As luck would have it, it was possible to stop the huge cogs up at the CD pressing mill in the nick of time, drop the trumpet part on again in the studio, send the revised recording up and all then proceeded as per the master plan.

Tuesday, 11.24
As luck would have it, it turned out that the reason for the bass boom was something to do with the soundcard in the Gabletron 3000 Media Resource Centre, and after a panicky morning on the blower to Traves, all is back on track, the egg on my face being outweighed by the relief of not having wasted all my money, and by default, Her Indoors’ new kitchen. That could have been an acutely nasty situation involving biblical amounts of burning shame, disappointment and guilt for Yours Truly- an emotion which my mate Andy Hague summed up beautifully as Fat Cheeks and Small Willy.


Blog of Recording Studio

If I’ve understood the books “Jung- a Beginner’s Guide”, “Understanding Jung- a Beginner’s Guide” and “Understanding Understanding Jung- a Beginner’s Guide”, Jung would have it that life events are not linear, but come in waves. This explains things such as remembering that you owe Dave fifty quid, minutes later finding a photo of you and Dave in the kitchen drawer whilst looking for scissors, and then whilst recounting to Her Indoors about the oddness of this, Dave ringing up to ask if he can borrow your trolley jack. We all know the scene.

Over the last ten days, there has been a bit of a Jungian repeating occurrence of recording studio action creeping into the daily calendar here at The Gables, and not only that, absurdly high efficiency whilst inside. The first episode of this was Monday a week ago when Her Indoors went down to Chris Traves’ studio in a part of south London near Beckenham referred to by estate agents as Definitely Not Penge to record some trumpet for the must-have album soon to be released by a magnificent bunch of chaps who go under the name of The Definitive Rat Pack. In three hours, she’d done the whole album. When you consider that it can take a name pop turn like Bryan Ferry or Elton John to spend months over half a song, you can understand the whirlwind like proficiency displayed here.

Later in the week, I had occasion to find myself in an old water pumping station in a part of West London near Chiswick referred to by estate agents as Definately Not Acton, which had been turned into an achingly trendy recording studio for name pop turns like Bryan Ferry or Elton John to spend months over half a song in, at huge cost. I was there to operate a baritone saxophone on behalf of an Irish vocalist called George Ivan Morrisson, pictured below. Past experience of this sort of thing had me braced for the full onslaught of rock and roll hanging about. This is a dark karmic art involving huge amounts of patience, an ability to sit about all day in rooms with no natural light whilst trying (and failing) to avoid the temptation of the beer fridge and big bowl of sweeties, laughing heartily at weak jokes from the main turn and producer, giving the impression that this particular load of long notes which we are feeding into the can at an agonisingly slow rate is somehow imbued with special magical hit-making qualities, and finally emerging twelve to fifteen hours later into the night air smelling of KFC and, in the good old days, fags.

Not so with uncle Van. My baritone saxophone and I were squished into a small booth in the corner of the main studio, along with the six other chaps in the blowing section. The constricted space, the cumbersome instrument and the act of forced blowing lent a feeling of having to inflate a life raft in a phone booth to the proceedings, but unusually instead of the usual long notes, we had quite intricate lines to play. Unusually too was the set up beyond the acoustic screen in the rest of the studio- everyone was there , all at once, and most unusually of all, there was a place set out for VM consisting of a nice big chair, a nice big Neumann U87 mic sat in its sprung cage like a giant space spider, his collection of harmonicas laid out in key order, a couple of guitars, some ethnic things with holes in, a synth and a rather battered looking alto saxophone. It was a bit like a cross between the conveyor belt on the Generation Game, and clearance day at O’Shaughnessy’s music emporium, Dublin. Surely he wasn’t actually going to sing his songs with the band? Most big pop turns put the vocals on after the seventeen-month process of assembling the backing track molecule by molecule has finally wound up in a remote and hugely expensive vocal studio in Mauritious or somewhere.

By refreshing contrast, we ran each number once to check the arrangement, and then Van came in and sang the pair of them, in the room, with all of us. It must have taken around twelve minutes from start to finish. Obviously his regular lads in the rhythm section are used to his ways, as halfway through the first song he decided to insert a sax solo. He didn’t tell anyone, he just picked it up and off he went. They all went with him, and us in the brass sardine tin went with them. A lesser chap would have stopped, explained the change and then done another take. Van just let the shockwaves subside under his sax solo and ploughed on. Apparently he likes a drop of ad-lib tension in the music, as he reckons it makes it more real.

There is a definite school of thought that when recording a load of stuff, the first take will be the one with the best energy, and should be the one that is kept even if there are minor glitches. Van is obviously a believer in this method, as was Duke Ellington. I’ve made no secret of my enthusiasm for Ellington and his music over the years, and this Monday just gone my enthusiasm manifested itself in the form of hiring a great big recording studio, hiring a great big load of the best players and taking along a great big pile of Ellington’s dots. Financially and domestically, this was something of a high-risk strategy. Costing as it did the price of a nice new kitchen, I was honour bound to return that night to the Gables with some product- at least eight or nine saleable tracks for a new album. Being in the business herself, Her Indoors didn’t have a problem with me using the entire contents of Gables Domestic Saver Plus Account number one on this, but I really didn’t want to let her down.

My body, being the traitor that it is, had a nasty trick up its sleeve. On the morning of the session, I awoke, as normal, at bang on five a.m. in need of a short trip down the corridor to regulate the internal fluid level. Upon my return to the master bedchamber, just before I succumbed to sleep, my bloody body decided that it would flash images of session related disaster-people not turning up, me having a complete brain failure and not being able to play my part, me having a complete brain failure and not being able to play my part but now in just my pants, big shout-ups in the studio, that sort of thing-and then follow this up by shooting the system full of adrenalin. Thus, raddled and knackered, I got the morning train in. Bloody body. It’ll be the death of me one day, I’m telling you.

I am pleased to report that Her Indoors’ sacrifice of the Tetbury Creamware Kitchen from Laura Ashley wasn’t in vain. I was aiming to get eight tracks, including the notoriously tricky Tattooed Bride into the can, or twelve if we were lucky. We did twenty-six. The standard of playing from the lads was simply gobsmacking. I’ve now got so much stuff, I have the pleasant conundrum of not knowing how best to release it. Two albums? Three? A double and a single? It’s chock full of goodies too. Fans of trumpet porn will relish Louis Dowdeswell, the tireless young nurk, playing G’s and A’s above super C! Great big loud ones! Jay Craig takes the role of Julie Andrews, this time in public, for a magnificent reading of Stay Awake from the much maligned Duke Ellington plays Mary Poppins album. James Pearson on piano gives up a magnificent pianistic impression of the Duke himself, teetering correctly between early twentieth century stride and ragtime, and resonant avant-garde modernism. Colin Skinner, known to fans of the old band as Edinburgh’s Voice Of Sex lays on the Johnny Hodges alto sax romanticism with an erotic trowel in “Heaven” and “Jeep’s Blues” Drummer Pite was magnificent as Ellington’s master of proto-rock and roll 1930’s drums, Sonny Greer, correctly getting the feeling going that somewhere behind the band, tropical storm clouds were gathering. Here’s a picture of us at around six pm that day. We’d just done two three-hour sessions, and incidentally been to a very nice Greek for a spot of lunch in between. I’d say we’re looking justifiably quite smug!

In the evening, we had a different look at Ellington’s music, playing cut down arrangements of the big classics such as “A” Train, Caravan and C Jam Blues. This is partly to be able to offer Ellington’s music for those on a smaller budget, and partly to take advantage of the smaller band format to allow greater scope for improvisation. This all went swimmingly too- expect a particularly astringent version of Cotton Tail , and a wonderful bluesy ballad treatment of I Got It Bad by Sam Mayne in your lugholes soon! This is us now at 10.30 in the evening, looking just as smug, but a bit creaky round the edges- you’ll notice that the standard of dress has plummeted also!