Best thing said so far this year occurred on Thursday night in the boozer. I was up at the bar buying beer and pretzels, and just behind me was a table of five builders. I assume that they were builders, since four of them were still spattered with small dollops of plaster from a hard days’ sucking air through the teeth whilst pricing up and sitting in cafes. In that way that happens, a strand of conversation wafted over me in the same way that the animated meaty goodness aroma of Bisto would waft over animated ecstatic children in the animated ad. As it wafted past it carried with it the following-“no,mate, you don’t understand. My real name’s Shane. Muaru is my Yoga name”
Thinking on, the Real World has been dolloping out more instances of unexpected surrealism than is usual just of late. The Saturday before what has come to be known around The Gables as Yoga Thursday, Her Indoors and I found ourselves, with all the tables at the Savoy Grill already booked, in the urbane cosmopolitan sophistication which is recognised the world over as Kids’ lunch at the Stevenage Leisure Park branch of Frankie and Benny’s. We were up that way, and needed a bit of scran, you see, but we’d not really thought through the full implication of voluntarily entering the arena of the Saturday Kids’ Lunch.
Frankie and Benny’s does a fair job. The staff are all great, and for what you pay, the nosh tastes enough like how it’s advertised on the menu, and not too much of the microwave wrapper it comes in from the distribution depot. Given that you can park right outside for free, it is no surprise that Saturday lunchtimes have become something of a magnet for birthday parties for the under twelves. All this is lovely, and we were delighted when halfway through our nachos’n’wings combo platter the sound system was cranked right up and what sounded like Ant, Dec, and curiously, a choir comprised entirely of Julie Andrews clones all accompanied by the band of the Coldsteam Guards doing a good old-fashioned if slightly loud version of Happy Birthday. By necessity the lyrics had had to have been modified to go “Happy Birthday Dear……………………….”, which in itself was not without humour, but then, as soon as this had all drawn to a close, the Big Bass Drum was going bom bom bom b-bom bom and it was into Sir Cliff and Congratulations. (If, at this point, you suddenly get a mental picture of a giant warehouse with row upon row of Julie Andrewses all being grown on a colossal twisting, fibrous, umbilical stem in a tank of formaldehyde of biblical proportions, stretching off to infinity like a catholic version of The Beanstalk in Jack And The Beanstalk, then bad luck. It happened to me too and it’s been nigh-on impossible to unthink.)
Keeping the excitement boiling away at fever pitch, the management had dressed up one of the staff in a Yogi Bear suit (No mate, my real name’s Shane, this is my Yogi suit..) and there were two waitresses in attendance bearing a cake with sparklers on who all formed up into a troika of unbeatable birthday glee and made for the lucky, in this case, lad. Maybe I’m just a bit of an old git, but I felt a pang of dismay on behalf of young Jimmy, because when it came time for the bit where the lyrics on the track dip out for the crowd to sing his name, only his six-year old sister managed to squeak it out since Mum and Dad had locked their iPads together and were filming the thing rather than being at it. Why they both might have needed a separate record of the event brought on a second pang too. Maybe they needed a back up, so that when they had the neighbours round to film them showing the film of Jimmy’s birthday, they’d be guaranteed useable footage in the event of technical failure.
They needn’t have worried about a lack of footage, mind. Once Sir Cliff had finished, and we were returned to the retro grooviness of See You Later Alligator at a moderate volume over the speakers, it was only a matter of minutes before the Coldstream Guards, Ant, Dec, the Julie Borg, Sir Cliff, Yogi Bear, Ludmilla, Katya and another cake were at it again, this time making their jolly way to a small girl in the booth opposite ours, and again the poor mite was isolated from her folks by what is now the customary Berlin Wall of Apple technology. In addition, this little one had one of those fabulous made-up names which are fashionable these days. Given that no-one was going to be able to remember Chardonnalisiya from a quick chat-through in the kitchen, let alone belt it out in the allotted slot in the backing track, the version of Happy Birthday for her was distinctly silent when it came to the moment. All you heard was a text landing on Mum’s phone. There’s a reason names like Jane, Sarah, Paul and John got popular. You can shout them clearly if a building’s on fire, for a start. And so it went on. Given the, by now slightly flagging, presence of Yogi Bear (no mate, I am Yogi- I just get weird flashbacks now) the whole thing took on a Hannah-Barbera like appearance, without a clear 120 seconds elapsing before the kitchen door was flung open and the whole grizzly (ugh!) process was repeated- booming loudspeaker jollity, sparkling cake, Yogi and his amazing low-slung crotch, wall of tablets, grinning adults behind, solitary intimidated child in front. By the time all the penne al’arrabiatta had been consumed at Booth number 3, we must have seen the whole thing go off eight times. I hope they wash that Yogi suit after closing time.
Elsewhere, it’s been a funny old month. Part of the reason for the large amount of time that has elapsed since the Hogmanay entry from the conductor’s room in Monaco was that the job directed from the conductor’s room in Monaco turned out to be rather more exhausting that I’d at first imagined. The months leading up to it of production meetings and at-home orchestration had taken their toll, and so when I got home on New Year’s day, rather than donning the tweed and going for a bracing walk around the estate and grounds, or park, with Her Indoors and the hounds on a crisp cobalt blue January day, I found myself falling into a deep and disturbing sleep on the sofa in my tracky bottoms and Star Wars t-shirt with little tiny three bar chunks, which for some reason I was also imagining as hedgehogs and/or Jim Reeves, of the new years eve show going round in my head and, apparently, groaning out loud. Me at my erotic best, I fear. This strange half asleep condition persisted for a good two further days, following which I attempted to take a week off at home in order to bring the Seaplanes of the Axis Powers diorama up to speed, and to enjoy some time in the boozer with Her Indoors and the chaps. What actually happened was that I realised I had to spend the time on getting my financial records up to speed, and then I got an ear infection, so the beneficial effects of a bit of down time around The Gables were a bit muted.
Yes folks’ it’s out and it’s for sale. The first of the two new albums by my Ellington band. Why “The Tattooed Bride”? I hear you ask. The main reason is it’s a piece of music of such great melodic strength and varied mood that I’m surprised it isn’t issued to teenagers with their National Insurance numbers. Here’s Duke Ellington at a gig in 1948 to explain the rest-
“And now, possibly our most ambitious work of this season, The Tattoed Bride, the appropriate title I think would be better, the, er, the, Honeymoon Weekend Of The Tattoed Bride. But, the most unusual thing of this particular Tattoed Bride is the way she’s tattoed- I mean rather than having an assortment or variety of pictures or diagrams and so forth, she has the continuous repetition of the same sort of a zig-zaggy looking figure, and this many many times until they all run into another, and they all look either like M’s or W’s. And of course you know that an M or W has four strokes, and we are trying to make four notes out of it so as to turn it over from the optical to the, er, aural. Anyway, from sight to sound. And we took a pencil and wrote this M or W and we got these four sounds- Za-zu-za-zaaa, like this-(musicians play) Well, you’ll now hear the development, but that is the theme”
In order to get this finished, in between tax returns and arranging orchestral scores for a concert of Lionel Bart stuff in March, I did manage, though, to get myself over to Studio 3 at the Kenilworth Production suite in Definitely Not Penge to finish the work off on the first batch of stuff resulting from the Duke Ellington recording day last October. In between panic calls to the Inland Revenue, I also managed to secure the services of noted Jazz critic Peter Vacher to write the sleeve notes. As much as I like spilling out paragraph upon paragraph of self-congratulatory burbling myself, I thought that if I paid a proper grown-up to do it, then the sleeve notes would come across as erudite third-party commentary, and not just desperate boasting by me. Mindful of the fact that recordings such as mine which feature present day performances of existing recordings can come under fire from the critics for not having any artistic merit, I also needed someone to go into bat on my behalf to explain on the sleeve why this exercise has a point. As you are now, no doubt, frothing at the mouth with curiosity here to find out The Great Secret Of Repertory Jazz, I can only say that the answer to this, life’s last great mystery, lies on the sleeve of the CD, available for sale on this very site! Twelve quid buys it, and you get some lovely recorded music to listen to thrown in for free.
The big downside of having CDs made is, of course, the CDs. Last Friday, the big white van drew up and a smashing delivery man in blue slacks and a turban wheeled two trolley loads of boxes into the front loading bay, or hall, here at The Gables. This of course provided a logistical problem given that the Gables is still fairly full of Peggy Duke And Benny CDs, also available on this site, added to which could have been the small domestic issue that not only have these boxes full of Quality Home Entertainment been brought into existence instead of Her Indoors’ new kitchen, but also that they were stood up in the hall like a bit of Stonehenge nicked in a daring student prank and consequently they were precluding any access from the front of the house to the existing one. Some of the stuff went in the shed, but this is brimming full with Her Indoors’ two solo albums, (available on her website) and so we now have a situation where here and there around the house you can spot the odd box in a corner, on a shelf, or peering coyly around the side of the sofa, giving the Gables the pleasing feeling of having recently benefitted from a primitivist-cubist art installation. Not to worry though- since they came on the market last Friday, we’ve already had tens of sales, so I reckon we’ll be on the second batch by April at the latest.
I made a small cock-up while proof-reading the cover design, and there has been an omission. All my fault, I am a plank. If you are a completist, print this out, cut it out and affix to the central leaf of the sleeve, under where the CD goes-
Sorry, you three. It won’t happen on the next one.