The Tattooed Bride Blog

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.


A Christmas Story Blog

If there was a good defining factor of Xmas in The Gables this year, it would centre around a lack of The Gables. Partly by mutual decisions by Her Indoors and me, and partly by commercial necessity, the festive season has been spent largely in the following-



And, predictably, due to the distances involved in the commensurate travel involved, mainly on the M6 the other Saturday when due to a light snowfall in The North, the BBC practically opened up a new radio channel with the sole purpose of screaming at us to “Only Make Your Journey If It Is Absolutely Necessary” and therefore throwing the British driving public into such a panic that virtually every corner of every motorway got jammed solid, making a view of our nation from space appear that, with its brightly glowing arteries, Britain itself had had a gigantic Barium meal, much of the festive break was spent here, in The Volvo.

It’s a good job that The Volvo has such fabulous comfy seats- a lesser vehicle would have reduced the spine to jelly. Shaped perfectly to the contours of the human body, it is as if Huldra, the Norse goddess of temptation is carrying you herself. Mind you, even the mighty Volvo was looking a bit sorry for itself after Her Indoors and I had gone up to Wigan at an average speed which was only marginally faster than tunnelling, and due to the unusually long length of the journey, a high volume of pie crusts, paper coffee cups, that shit cellophane which Marks and Sparks use to package mixed nuts in, Satsuma peelings and the loose polos which seem to form naturally in the bit of the car beside the front seat where your mobile phone falls had formed a kind of hideous coral reef of guilt-grazing iconography up to eye height. As a result, the normal sparse but luxuriant pale leather Scandinavian interior was beginning to resemble a corner shop after a grenade had been chucked in.

Christmas in Wigan was a hoot. Her Indoors is one of the lucky ones to have reached the age of, er, um, er, and still have a fully functional Grandma on the go. Christmas in Wigan therefore centred on Grandma’s house with Her Indoors, Mother-In-Law Indoors and Grandma Indoors all united in joyous festive harmony, with some extraneous males such as me thrown in for good measure. Grandma is getting on for 84 these days, and has over the years developed a technique of bending the laws of physics. Back in second form science, our teacher Mr. Gallup drummed it into us that water at sea level brews at a constant 100 degrees Celsius, and if no heat is applied after this, cools down again. Mr Gallup then went on to drum it into us that if you try to make it any hotter, it evaporates and turns into steam, and then, hey presto, you can have an industrial revolution to go along with your hot beverage. We all know how hot a good hot cuppa is, and so it comes as something of a shock when you realise that somehow, Grandma is able to heat water to at least three times this. Once this has been achieved, the mystery increases as the temperature remains constant until all the liquid has been sipped away. I reckon they should wheel Stephen Hawking up to Wigan to see her. She’s probably got the answer he’s looking for.
Prior to the Wigan odyssey, the opening shots of Xmas were fired for us in Tunbridge Wells, where my folks are now in adjacent rooms in a nursing home. As it is most likely that this will be Dad’s last Christmas, suffering as he is from a very advanced case of Motor Neurone disease, and then to add to the fun Mum had a stroke this year which has left her without the use of her right side and very limited powers of speech, my two sisters and me made a special effort to all get down there at the same time. While it was a bit grim sitting in a nursing home lounge gathered around our folks whilst two other families had gathered around theirs, there was a certain sense of esprit de corps which was curiously uplifting. There was a strange aspect of Elephant in the Room to it all- family Christmas is quite a private thing where people only tend to be there by invitation. It was quite a different sensation to be doing the usual xmas stuff- champagne toasts, rude rugby club jokes for Dad, smoked salmon sarnies etc etc in the presence of others with their variations on the same theme, all interpolated with cheery greetings from the (it must be said, fabulous) nursing staff. My traditionally declamatory dad has lost his speech now, and it can be tough to see both of them in wheeled chairs. This is the first year where the family Xmas hasn’t been centred by the family home. In fact, it is unlikely that our family will have this notion again, which lent the whole day a rather unsteady veneer. Later on that day, we managed to steady everything very efficiently by the cunning use of a huge Christmas dinner and lots of drinking round at my sister’s house. Sister Sue has a theory that the only way to deal with seeing the folks like this is to stick together and do something nice after we’ve been in. I think she’s right- If we start getting congenitally miserable about this, and as the days turn into weeks and the weeks months, the temptation to go into a black fug looms larger and larger. If that was to start to get a grip, then we’d all be no use for anything, least of all visiting the folks.

As an interesting aside, in order to make the big meet-up in the morning, and to have a festive tincture with the sisters the night before, Her Indoors and I stayed in a nice spa hotel down there on Christmas eve. This is cheaper than you’d think- I guess the hotel trade gets quiet around the festive season, and as an unintended consequence, I found myself having a sauna and a swim on Christmas morning. As the hotel was practically deserted, and as immersing yourself in warm chlorinated water doesn’t, as far as I can see, figure largely in any of the mainstream xmas to-do lists, I had the place to myself. It’s a nice spa at the Tunbridge Wells Mercure, with lovely big windows looking out over the gardens straight fromm the pool. As I was floating around, I drifted into a strange fantasy world where in fact the Whitgift School Dance Band’s recording of “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” had knocked Haircut 100 off the top of the charts in 1981 and I’d been living the rockstar lifestyle ever since. A load of water up the nose soon shook me out of that, mind. The hotel wasn’t quite deserted- I’d say there were another three couples in the breakfast room, and as we were all solemnly munching away at the Rice Krispies whilst “Frosty The Snowman” was playing at that hotel breakfast volume, which is somewhere between being loud enough to get right up your nose, but not so loud to make the music discernable, It struck me that no-one was wishing anyone else Merry Christmas. I had a mild hangover, and didn’t feel like starting the Jollity crusade myself, but I did find it a bit weird that hotel breakfast room etiquette is a more powerful social motivator than the feelings traditionally associated with December 25. As questionable as the taste behind it is, this year’s Sainsbury’s ad reminds us that those feelings were enough to stop the carnage of the First World War, yet in modern Tunbridge Wells, it would appear that they don’t have the currency to interrupt a bacon and egg buffet. This doesn’t apply in Wigan. Moving forward to Xmas Sunday at Grandma’s, Her Indoors’ dad and I were despatched to the local Morrissons for supplies. This culminated in a fifteen minute chat at the till with the nice Indian lad who works there and a big spherical Wigan mum with a pushchair and a nose ring about the different kinds of hail. Wigan’s bloody brilliant.

And now, to venue number three. It has become something of a Plog tradition that I tap out an episode when I’m waiting to go on of an evening at the Sporting Club here. They give me the conductor’s room, you see, and so I get my own coffee machine, bog, shower, sofa, fridge (with stuff in) and oddly, in a backstage devoid of natural light, my own window. No-one else gets a window. I must be important. I also get my own door, and so I am able to briefly shut the rest of the world out, although I can currently hear three different loads of music pouring out of the various devices in the various dancers’ dressing room. These shows in Monaco are the hardest gigs I do, because the client requires that we put together what amounts to a West End show for them in one and a half days. This time it’s the 1930’s and 1940’s, and we have a full big band, strings, six singers, eight ballroom dancers and two tap dancers. It was an absolute bugger to get together, but at six o’clock this evening the rehearsals had to finish, so that the Russian Gazillionaires and the woman-shaped bits of botox they bring can sit down to ignore the dinner. In a couple of hours they’ll be ignoring us too. This bit of down time is where I can really relax, as I’ve been on the go since we got here- if we’ve not been rehearsing, and as it’s Christmas and all, there has been some rather vigourous drinking by the lads once we’ve been coached back to the hotel. They drink Ricard down here, you know, and it doesn’t half slip down easy!

We’ve been put up in the next town along from Monaco, which is a smashing little seaside town called Roquebrune. An enterprising chap called Bernard has opened a bar there called The Barbar, and he’ll keep it open for you as long as you keep buying drinks, some of which should be shots of Jamieson’s for Bernard. It’s magnificently French, being brightly lit and boasting a large and impenetrable machine on one wall for betting on the nags. Bernard doesn’t do any grub- this is a proper drinking room. For the full French flavour, when a gentleman finds that he needs toregulate his fluid levels, he finds that the gentleman’s facilities consist of a solitary urinal bolted to the back wall of the building, right out in the open Riviera air.
Have a lovely new year. I’m going on a unique holiday when I get home from this, so watch out for the riveting holiday diary appearing here soon.