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It’s my last day today of being under 50. As of 9.15 tomorrow morning, I am eligible to join up into the great Saga infrastructure. Given that the last club I joined was the Airfix Modellers Club in 1974, I am slightly bemused at the indecent haste with which this latest eligibility has come around. In fact, I’d say that it feels very much like the time which elapsed from birth to joining the AMC and then the time elapsed between AMC and Saga eligibility are more or less the same. I was born on Broadway, me. It was Mill Hill Broadway, but Broadway nonetheless. To be specific, it was in the flat above the Midland Bank, or HSBC as it is now. Inexplicably, a drive past there the other day revealed that there is still no blue plaque- I’ll swing by next week and see if the heritage commission has sorted this out.
One of my earliest memories is being the little kid sat on my own slightly out of the main group of bigger kids in a neighbour’s back garden in Mill Hill in about 1968. Although much of my life has in some way resembled this dynamic, the salient point about this particular episode was that I was observing the lads in the main group who were having a game of “My Dad’s Older Than Your Dad”. Gradually, from around the group, the paternal age crept up from an ancient 26 to a positively archaic 35! Then the hammer blow fell. Big Scott McKintyre, the eight-year old alpha male of the group, Scott, who owned the first racing bike I ever saw, had his own football boots and knew some seriously rude words along with some of their extraordinary meanings, Scott, who, to borrow from Clive James, had no pointy back to his head, and was therefore a man, went nuclear on us. “Well, My Dad’s Fifty”, he declared. Even though we all knew that this was impossible, because in our Eloi-like existence, nobody was Fifty. Grandparents were older, but there was an age vacuum between Dad and Grandma. Fifty didn’t exist. Equally, no-one wanted to risk a dead leg from Scott, so we all gave the obligatory “Wow” and listened intently to Scott, who’s dad was in the American Air Force thus bestowing extra other worldly authority on his nipper, explain to us that the F-word meant to put your hand on a lady’s tummy. You can only guess at the frosty reception I got from Mum that night during the bedtime cuddle before lights out. Bloody Scott McKintyre. He probably works for Barings Bloody Bank or something like that now. And He’ll be fifty-five. Ha!
And now, here I stand, at the very age Scott virtually invented for the purposes of bragging. Substantially older than my own dad, if you get my drift, and older than most of the “Old Boys” were when I started operating musical instruments for money. The first inkling I got that I was into a whole different era came a few years ago, when I started going down to the University of London to coach the big band there. I was having a pint of Woodpecker in the customary plastic pint pot with young Tom the bass player, and I remember telling him that when I was at college, we’d be able to go to the University Of London and use the facilities, mainly, as it turned out, as we were musicians, the bar. In fact, I don’t remember the gym at all, now I think about it. Up to this point, I’d always seen myself when in these circumstances as a sort of slightly older chum figure, or just as the chap amongst equals whose job it is to get the band going. This all went out of the window when the conversation revealed that in the time which had elapsed between the last pint of Woodpecker in the customary plastic pint pot and this current pint of Woodpecker in the customary plastic pint pot, young Tom’s parents had met, settled down, given birth to Tom, brought him up, and had him trained on the Double Bass to the extent that he could now keep pretty good time in a big band. All between rounds. This made me at least as old as Tom’s mum and dad, and I realised that I was no longer a member of the youth front line, and in order to survive, I’d have to embrace a degree of old gitdom.
I see old gitdom encroaching on some of the chaps now,as and when they draw nearer to 40. The first thing you notice is that Brad Mehldau, Tom Harrell and Til Bronner are replaced at the car stereo by Radio 4. Then, on overnight stays, outbursts going to bed with a cup of tea rather than staying up in the bar drinking pints of Woodpecker out of the customary tin from the bar fridge until 4am can be noted. Groaning in armchairs can also be a feature here, and I guess that these are the things encountered on the starter slopes of old gitdom. As a card carrying member of the club, I am wondering what will happen in the decade coming up. I’m hoping that a small brown envelope from the council will plop through the letterbox here at The Gables on Monday, together with half a telegram from Her Majesty, with practical government guidelines for the intermediate old git (50-50 years) on such crucial matters as cardigans, back pain, incompatibility with technology, irritable everything syndrome and golf. Hopefully there will be a tear off form for entering the Saga universe as well. During the final weeks of my late forties, it fell on Her Indoors and I to go to Dubai to present a couple of Benny Duke & Peggy shows (CD’s available through this site, xmas is coming up etc etc etc). As I am something of a luxury commodity, I’ve not been out there since 2008, before Big Scott McKintyre and his chums engineered the credit crunch. Back then Dubai looked like an odd mix of an Oil refinery, Moonbase Alpha, Ice Cold In Alex, and Cecil B. DeMille-like depictions of pyramid construction. A lot of the construction is finished now, so it still looks a bit like an oil refinery, but it also looks like Disneyworld, with a hint of Ice Cold In Alex. Regular readers here know that two of my favourite things are tube trains and curry, and if, like me, those are your criteria for a good time, Dubai really delivers. In 2008, the Dubai metro largely consisted of big concrete poles poking out of dusty roadside building sites. Now the dusty roads are twelve-lane carriageways and the concrete poles carry a state of the art air conditioned fully automated low-noise driverless urban rail system. As there’s no drivers, you can look out of the front of the train. You get views like this-
Any kid at primary school in the late 60’s and early 70’s will immediately recognise this. Of course! It’s an Artists Impression of Hull as it may look in the year 2000. Mind you, the metro planners have missed a trick, in that the train is running conventionally on two tracks and not on the rather groovier monorail. Even Dan Dare, back in the 1950’s had monorails. We were promised monorails! Mind you, the flip side of this is that we were also all going to be wearing foil catsuits, so maybe some sort of deal was done by our ever loving ruling David Icke lizard aristocracy. Maybe all the foil had to be used making the extra rails? Who knows. Indications that the great building of Dubai is not quite done exist on their tube map. A popular destination is the old creek, where there are such attractions as a spice souk, boats, and for the old git, nice lavs and comfy places to sit in the shade. We went to the station marked “Creek”. It comes out here-
In case you can’t work it out from the photo, this is a magnificent state of the art air conditioned station in the middle of a load of sand, by a lake in the middle of nowhere. My guess is that the town planners have it in mind to build a replica, Disneyed-up Dubai creek here. For now, there is a twang of the hotel in ElsBels in “Carry On Abroad”. If you do want to get to the old creek on the tube there, you need to get off at Al Ghubaiba station, on the green line.
On the way out, I cleverly lost my mobile phone at Heathrow, and was thus telephonically incommunicado for the following week. It was bliss, by the way. It made the old git in me wish we could go back to a more genteel age of the answerphone and notepad. I know we can’t though. There will be a more detailed rant about this in a future plog. I put a notice on Facebook that I’d lost the phone, and was in Dubai, all enquiries please to the FB message centre. I did get loads of messages, largely telling me to go to Ravi’s. One of the great things about going to Dubai is the opportunity to have the finest curry on the planet, which emanates from a cafe in the Pakistani working quarter that looks like this-
Ask your cabbie to take you to the Al-Satwa roundabout, and you’re there. At our band outing, Bass Player Joe said he’s got a book written by the great chefs of the world, in which various eating houses around the globe are cited as the apex of their particular cuisine. For the curry side of things, they recommend that the student goes to Ravi’s to get the curry truth. It’s so much better than anything we’ve got over here that it’s quite difficult to describe. I reckon their garlic and chilli grows differently out there, for a start. It has a fragrance which just isn’t present in a western curry, and that same fragrance permeates many of the indigenous Arabic dishes too. Oddly, the signature dish is the cheapest, which is the Dhall. At around 45p a portion, you are presented with such a bewildering harmony of flavour that I’ll go right out on a limb and say that it represents the best clean fun you’re ever going to have. The potato naan, which is a magnificent spiced gooey amalgamation of Pakistani mashed spuds encased in crispy bread and sesame seeds, should be on everyone’s bucket list. The best time to get in is after 6pm and before 7, as that is when they will have the mutton chops on the go. These are amazing, and run out quickly.
So, tomorrow, I really have to start being a grown-up. I’m not sure if I can. Yesterday, Her Indoors and I were in Marks And Sparks buying scran, and by the easter egg selection was a chocolate Darth Vader Head. It made me remark that I wish I was nine instead of fifty, because I really wanted one! The lad stacking the shelves, and the feller with the trolley next to us both said simultaneously “I’ve already got one”. There’s hope yet.
Righto, brace yourselves, this is going to get ranty.
Metaphorically I have donned the smoking jacket and cap, and am in the big Chesterfield armchair by the open fire here in the morning room at The Gables, I have a large shot of Port in the right hand, and the left is poised ready to thump away at the antimacassar to pound out the cadences of the poorly structured railings against modern life as they emanate from within the tattered spleen. In actuality, I am in the shed, and the only pounding going on is on the remote keypad of the Gabletron 3000 PC. However, spleenwise, I’m about as I explained, so here we go-
Above is a nice shot of a bus breezily making its way along a swift and uncluttered highway. An idyll of the Public Transport infrastructure, if ever there was. With this in mind, last Sunday I had a decision to make. The Sisters had organised a Sunday lunch with our mum at the Bide-A-Wee maximum security rest home down in Tunbridge Wells, where she currently resides. I love my folks, so this is pain and pleasure all in one homogenous slab, since the enduringly disturbing sight of my dear old Ma unable to speak in a wheelchair sat in a dining room full of the dear old Ma’s of others, in varying degrees of similarity, can be a tough pill to swallow. Especially when you have to conduct all the, er, jollity against the unique background nursing home aroma that is equal parts baking, carpet cleaner and Dettol. However, Ma has been poorly for long enough for me to know what to expect here. The decision, therefore, was whether to get there by operating The Volvo around the M25, hoping that the Archers Omnibus would counteract the usual hideousness around the M4 corridor, or whether to go on Public Transport, and lazily switch the brain off to the reassuring Clickety-Bonk of modern electric train travel whilst casually absorbing myself in this month’s issue of Airfix and Anorak monthly. As I had a late gig to do later on, I thought I’d go for the latter option, so as to save some important mental energy for the hurly-burly of standing in the usual torrent of my own creative magma at the job that night.
All went swimmingly from East St. Gables Park tube on the Met line down to Charing Cross. The sun was having a go at shining, there was a most absorbing article on offer about building better helicopters, and I can honestly say that under the spring blue sky, out of the train window Neasden has never looked lovelier. The rot began to set in at Charing Cross, though, and quickly. Upon emerging from the escalator onto the concourse, I was surprised to see that all the travel display screens were blank, and that worse still, Burger King was shut, denying me of the all important injection of Onion Rings at the mid-point of the journey. There were staff about, however, who informed me that the whole station was shut due to engineering works and that all services were going from nearby Cannon Street. At this point, the Gods Of Travel decided to deliver a further small blow to the Gentleman’s Area of their penitent pilgrim. Because I’d not allowed any slack time on the journey plan, my hubris was to be rewarded with lateness, glowering sisters, a cold roast dinner and egg on face. Back on the tube, and twenty minutes or so later I emerged from a different escalator onto a different concourse only to be advised that I’d been put on a bum steer and that I’d have to go over to London Bridge. It goes without saying that the sun had stopped shining, and that portentiously, horrid sideways drizzle had moved in. I’d not have been overly surprised that on finding out I’d have to wait a further forty minutes for the train to Tunbridge wells, a Greek chorus would have sprang out of one of the ex-waiting rooms which are now all boutique coffee shops flogging off caffeinated hot froth in quantities of a pint at a time singing “Eprepe na eixes parei to amaxi palio blaka”, which as we all know translates as “You should have taken the car, you silly arse”. I finally got to see Mum about forty minutes before it was time to start the journey home, so a short congealed roast dinner, which like Barbara Windsor, was probably all right in its day, and a peck on the cheek later I was being driven up to Sevenoaks station by Mum’s pal Tweedy Jan. We all thought that by avoiding the chaos of Sunday on the Tonbridge branch line, my journey home would be swift and comfy, especially as I’d clearly paid off whatever karmic overdraft it was that I’d run up on the journey down. I can even remember, over lunch, saying to the Sisters that as a small mercy, at least I’d not been subjected to a Replacement Bus Service.
Oh dear. As Tweedy Jan’s Vauxhall Nova cheerily departed the station concourse, I was once again treated to the return of the Acropolis tabernacle choir, a big sign (but not where you can see it from the outside) saying No Trains Today, and then, the three most terrifying words in all of public transport, the dreaded and aforementioned, “Replacement Bus Service”
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a Replacement Bus Service would replace the scheduled train with, well, a bus. You’d be wrong. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that because of the Passenger Charter, or whatever it’s called, that the rail company, whatever it’s called, would be bending over backwards to make amends for selling you a ticket for rail travel and then shutting the railway. You’d think at least you wouldn’t have to stand around in the hail for forty-five minutes with a load of discombobulated fellow “Customers” (urggggg) wandering around like a cast re-union party for the extras of Mad Max. You’d even think that given the fact that the bus in question was parked in the car park in front of you that you’d be allowed to go and sit in it to wait the thirty five minutes before it rattled off to Orpington rather than have fresh air and fun with the hail. You’d be wrong on all of these. Let’s transpose these coefficients to my line of work, just for a minute. I’ve taken a gig on, for me and, say, a ten-piece band. Just as the dance is about to start I announce to the audience that due to a manpower logistics issue, there will be no music today and that a replacement ping-pong service has been provided to provide entertainment. Not only would I never work again, but they’d have my head on a stick faster than you could say “Complaints can be made online”. Here however, we all stood, silently in the hail, being British. It says something that Hornby, dedicated to absolute accuracy in the noble field of model railways, have come out with this-
Clearly, the diehard enthusiast can spend Sundays in the attic, playroom or even on the kitchen table not running any trains at all, but watching the buses sit motionless in the station car park. Just like the Real Thing.
By the time I’d got onto the London train at Orpington, there was a real chance that I’d be late for my own gig, which Ironically was in Watford, only 2 and a half miles from the front door. So now there was a frissance of worry injected into the mix. It’s possible that this whole day was arranged by the gods of gigging to ensure that I’d spent the statutory seven hours travelling before I have to operate woodwind instruments, as is proscribed in The Great Order Of Things. However, I was now sat down on a real proper working train, and so out came the magazine, and at last, a bit of proper public transport r&r studying ways to enhance my small but beautiful collection of model helicopters back in the shed.
Once again, it was not to be. Now I know that we all have to breed, but, well, you know. Screaming kid in the seat in front, running, jumping and shouting toddler grating away in the aisle at my side. To heighten the glee, Tabatha From Uni got on at Petts Wood, and spent the entire journey into Victoria alternately screaming OMG or stringing sentences together consisting mainly of the word “like” into a small plastic rectangle she was holding near her ear. By now the patience was getting rather frayed and it is with great relief that the rest of the journey, on the great art installation known as London’s Underground went off without a hitch. I even made my gig on time, and had a curry with the chaps in the break, so it all came right in the end.
On the Friday before the Sunday Of Doom, a reunion had been arranged for anyone who had been in the Croydon Youth Orchestra in the early 1980’s. For me, this had been my first experience of playing music as a social phenomenon, and was probably one of the larger factors in me turning my back on going for pilot training in the Air Force, with its back-breaking physical regime, and considering a life in music, with all its perks as I saw them then, such as no back-breaking physical regime for a start. If there was ever an advert for the value of free music education, it’s possible that our little gathering could have been it. Only three or four of us have gone on to extract cash from the stave, but the fact of all that free tuition meant that for at least a couple of decades hundreds of people passed through a system which gave us all something to aspire to and be in. It gave us a social life away from drugs and violence, even though you could argue a case that a life of drugs and violence on the mean streets of Sanderstead in 1981 may have been unlikely anyway.
Music education is good for all sorts of stuff. Because of the nature of performance, it teaches the mind to focus on the present, and because of the absurd complexity of some of the instruments, it teaches the mind patience. Our conductor, Mr Kendall (He never, never, ever, had a first name) turned up to see us. He made the point that had he not had free French horn lessons in 1965, he’d never have made it out of Hull, and after a while taught all of us lot. Although the return on the direct spend can be hard for the bean counters to see, music education is worth its weight in gold, or at least brass. There are chaps I know who freely admit that they could have turned out as right bad ‘uns had they not been given trumpets, trombones, and strangely for one of them, a cello to work their energy out on. Less bad ‘uns means less crime and vandalism. Has anyone ever weighed up the cost of a cornet and a year’s tuition against replacing broken glass in bus shelters, or how much cheaper it would be to have a shit-hot kids’ brass band in the town hall instead of all the drug and knife-wound treatment at casualty? Just ranting.
On a more prosaic note, there were people there I’ve not seen for thirty years. Apart from a spot of baldness and a profusion of specs, they were all pretty much the same as they were back in the day. At the current rate, I’ll see them again when I’m 80. Mr. Kendall will be 103. Life goes faster than you think. This is the first Plog which I’ve not written all by myself. One sentence was written by my dear harp-playing chum Maria-Christina Popadopolou. Can you guess which one it is?
Once again, the deep tedium that is the Real World has conspired to keep your jaded scribe here away from the Gabletron 3000 to record for posterity the torrid comings and goings of life in Definitely Not Watford. Another large music writing job has swept like aerosol loft insulation through all the cavities in the diary, gumming up all the spare moments with “I should really be getting on with the woodwind parts for Little White Bull” related guilt. There has also been a quite unseemly amount of operating woodwind instruments, and at assorted far distant parts of the country- this in turn has led to huge quantities of the daily time pie chart being consumed at the helm of the Volvo, enjoying stirring views of contraflows the length and breadth of the nation. Not much time, then, for sitting in the oak-lined study, or shed.
It would be a waste of this time however, to fritter it all away on explaining how little time I’ve had, so on with the tale of the bizarre week just gone. Much has occurred, in-between faux orchestral woodwind for 1960’s classics and operating the Volvo. Last Tuesday morning, I found myself on the Met line hurtling towards London’s Glittering West End in order to conduct an orchestra for an evening of Irving Berlin songs at the Royal Festival Hall. I did this last year, and it was something of a white knuckle ride. So much so, that my attempted reading of this month’s copy of Airfix Modelworld on the tube in was hampered by the memory of having a nervous sweat on of such magnitude that condensation had formed on the insides of my glasses and drips of re-formed sweat were running down the cheeks. The trepidation was heightened when I got out at Waterloo. If you follow the signs to the Festival Hall from the station, you end up walking through a big railway arch, through which only the hall itself can be seen, standing gaunt and grey against the sky like a giant discarded washing machine box. I stopped briefly, as it occurred to me that I was going to have to drive that thing that evening, with a small stick. The turns, the crew, the producer, the string section, the Great and Good of Stanmore who’d turned up to listen to it were all there for a show which was incumbent on me to not mess up.
They’d given me the conductor’s room to lurk in behind the stage. I like these, when I get them. I had a sofa, a piano, a big “That’s Entertainment” mirror with lights all around, a bowl of fruit and selection of soft drinks, my own lav and shower, and most importantly, a door which I could lock the buggers out with. My body and I, in a rare instance of working together, I released a great deal of pent up tension by, er, trying out the washroom facilities, after which we both felt appreciably better. Unlike last year, the whole thing went like a Swiss watch. In fact, it went exactly like my £4.99 ASDA alarm clock which I’d borrowed from the Master Suite at The Gables and had in the corner of my music stand, to make sure that I didn’t dink into overtime and become the main focus of hate for the promoter in asking for more money, and the main hate sponge for the orchestra for keeping them out of the pub. Luckily, it all came flooding back from last year, and the show went off great. I’ve done a bit of proper conducting since this time last year, and I’ve become used to it. Because you can’t keep your eye of the ball for a nanosecond, the concentration required clears the brain of everything else. Afterwards, I feel like a new chap. To get all hello flowers hello trees for a second, I suppose it’s the same as meditation. Towards the end of the show, the orchestra was playing the Broadway-ed-up versions of Irving’s finest with quite a deal of aggression. Being stuck right in the middle at the front, I had the best seat in the house, except I was driving all this heavenly racket, and it felt magnificent. Briefly, just briefly, I felt how the lads at school who were good at games must have felt most of the time.
There was another Good Moment on Friday. I do a small amount of private tuition from the music wing, or kitchen, here at the Gables. On Friday morning, I had The Cabbie in. As you’d guess, he drives a London Cab for a living and plays a bit of tenor sax for fun. As he has a proper job, and enjoys his music, he’s got more gear than the sax section at the BBC put together. I’m not sure if he even wants to play in public, he just loves saxophones and saxophone music, which is a refreshing point of view if, like us over here in our funny little puddle of existence of playing music for money which exists next to the raging torrent of real life, saxophones and saxophone music can often be just the tools involved in heaping together the tattered scraps which make up the monthly Mortgage Jenga. It serves to remind what the real social function of music is, which is to spread enjoyment and provoke thought, rather than to be the strange rushed interlude along with bolting a meal down in the middle of an eight hour stint in the Volvo. The Cabbie has now leant enough music to need to know how to play off-beat rhythms. Without going into detail, off-beat rhythms are a bugger to learn, as it is the first time on the learning curve where the beat has to be imagined rather than played. As a nipper, I can remember having the job of the devil with this, and it was months of toil before the penny dropped. The Great Victory of Friday Morning was opening the door for The Cabbie and getting him to understand fully the nature of the imagined beat, and have him play at sight some fairly complex rhythms. He was delighted, and I was smug. Opening doors for people is the big buzz available in teaching.
The Volvo and attitudes to music became the dominant themes of the rest of the weekend, too. On Friday night, it took me to Bury St. Edmunds for an evening of waving my arms around in front of a band for Kevin Fitzsimmons. Worringly, the Curse Of St. Kev, which is a regular feature of these pages and usually involves some sort of clothing failure for me, didn’t strike. I’ve got another one this Friday, and I fear that I’ll get a double dose and have fully exploding trousers, or similar. After I’d finished there, I had to drive overnight to Taunton, as I was on there to wave a stick around for the Advanced Symphonic Wind Band day which started at 10 am.
The journey could have been easier. For a start, the gritters had been out, and as I got onto the A14 out of Bury, the Volvo had been covered in so much sand that it now resembled a convex golf bunker. Stopping for essential overnight supplies, or Ginsters and Coke, at the garage, I managed to scrape some of the sand away and then smeared some more off with the freezing cold water in the bucket by the pump and the shards of blue paper towel I’d managed to extract from the ever-reluctant dispenser. Then it was all kinds of poor-visibility fun on the wonder that is Britain’s motorway network at night, with all the lights ecologically turned off, no cat’s eyes, and the poor buggers in the oncoming lane with their full beam on to cope with the ecological pitch blackness. I was alternately blinded, or just plain blind. By 2.30 a.m I’d decided that enough was enough and pulled in at a motorway services on the M5 to try and rent a room. Have you ever tried to find your way to a motel in a services with all the lights off? It’s difficult- twice I found myself on the slip road out without clapping eyes on one, and on the third, some seventy miles down the road from the first attempt, there was some life in the main services, so I stopped and asked directions. Apparently, it was over the footbridge on the other side. It was now 3.20 am, it’s freezing and I’m wandering over a windy footbridge with three heavy shoulder bags, none of which were even remotely interested in my shoulders, but oddly and mutually fascinated with the crooks of my elbows, and lorries roaring away below. To pay me back for my early morning teaching-related smugness the Gods had dealt me the second most bleak experience of my life, and I felt like I was in a scene from a Hungarian art house film. The most bleak experience of my life came ten minutes later walking back over the bridge after not locating the motel and getting back into the relatively comfortable world of the giant sand and Volvo pasty. Eventually, the Days Inn at Gordano services saved the tiny scraps of what was left of the day, and rented me a rather comfy bed for a princely £35, at 3.55am.
The Advanced Symphonic Wind Band day went off pretty well, and I only made an arse of myself by dropping the stick once. I also managed to avoid saying bugger, fart, tits, poo and willy, so I am viewing the day as something of a success. Once again, the beautiful clean world that music lives in in the hands of the committed enthusiastic amateur came to light. We were scheduled to finish at 4. By 3.35, we’d played all the stuff and rehearsed it so it was sounding nice and together. I asked the assembled company if they wanted to finish there, knowing that the jaded hoary pros with whom I normally work would be in the pub before I’d put the baton down. Not this lot- they wanted the full portion, right up to the wire. It’s as refreshing as it’s confusing.
Saturday night was spent in an unusual bit of diary convergence, 17 miles south of Taunton playing for a wedding in a big posh house. Normally, if I have an Advanced Symphonic Wind Band day in Taunton, the big posh house would be on Newcastle or somewhere, so I must have racked up a bit of karmic favour somewhere. They’d also laid on rooms in the local Travelodge, which was good news, as Sunday was to once again star the Volvo in the leading role as it was the day for the Jazz At The Philharmonic concert in Southport, with me as Biggles and George Hogg, who needed a lift up as Algy the Navigator.
? On the way to Southport, I encountered some of the best food in the world. This is up there with the Curry at Gant’s Hill, or the Liver And Bacon in the caff in South Oxhey, so you know I’m not messing about. Just before you get to Southport from the M6, you will go through the hamlet of Lathom, near Ormskirk. There there is a boozer called The Ship, which has a truly magnificent restaurant. Here’s a picture of Lunch-
What you can see here is George Hogg’s mixed grill, and behind it is a dish called Rags To Riches, which consisted of a home-made steak and kidney pudding atop a rump steak, covered in thick savoury gravy and served with chips, mushrooms and onions. It’s Wednesday now, and I’m still thinking about it. Definitely about as much clean fun as you can ever have, visit the website here- Shipatlathom
Thence to Southport, and a roaring gig with the Jazz At The Philharmonic show, which was an absolute ball, aided by the fact that the show was in a great big crumbly seaside hotel, in which we were staying in great big comfy crumbly rooms. Driving a grillion miles to go to work and then being able to forget about the car always puts a chap in a good frame of mind, as did the bar with its supply of great big crumbly Guinness. The gig was almost indecent in its energy- Nick Dawson, normally the king of pianistic restraint, was bouncing around on his stool and grinning as if simultaneously told to say cheese whilst attempting to land a helicopter in a tornado. The crowd went a little uneasy on me when I explained that in order to enjoy Ryan and George during the trumpet battle, we all had to put aside the black roll neck and stroked chin and shamelessly worship on the altar of higher louder and faster, but, like all good orgies, it was fine once it got going. In the interval, there was a raffle-
I have a thing about accompanying raffles.
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.
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.
I reckon that as a species, we’re missing a trick with how we get around. I am tapping this out on the 18.58 from Stanmore on my way into the nightly Xmas office party knees-up at a well known supper and jazz establishment in the Docklands, and fearing that I was running a bit late, I actually had to force myself to indulge in the supreme discomfort of running for the train. Furthermore, my bloody body, with whom I have at best a tenuous relationship, had declared a state of mild man-flu upon me and so after about four steps into the run I was all prepared to throw the towel in and watch the red tail lights of the 1996 stock driving car rattle off to Canons Park. However, in the nick of time, the brain leapt to my defence, and in one of those odd episodes where time slows right down so you can have a ponder while, in this case literally, on the hoof, I remembered a good bit of ill-informed ranting I’d been the a author of in the boozer not so long ago when I’d been airing for discussion the notion of skipping, and why it’s not OK for adults to skip when it is so patently a better way of getting about fast on foot than its more glamorous cousin, running. I can remember, when I was eight or so hurtling around the playground at Park Hill Junior, Mixed and Infants, South Croydon while skipping for hours on end without even breaking a sweat, which as you may know is no mean feat for me, even eight year old me. I’m the only person I know who can break a sweat lying down in snow. In just my Speedos.
Back to the tube emergency, and my slow motion brain had dredged up the whole pub debate- ran it through the “How much of a tool am I going to look” software and had reasoned that it was worth appearing as the big fat bloke on the “Skegness-It’s so bracing” poster for about twenty seconds in order to get the train. The skip drive was engaged, and to the bemusement of my fellow passengers I was effortlessly gliding up Platform 3 faster than I could ever sprint, and I made the train. No panting, no thirty gallons of sweat and faster. It is quite clear that skipping has many substantial advantages over running, and now I’ve solved a bit of an emergency with it, I’d like to do it some more. What lies in the way of this is the social stigma, and possibly the wear and tear on the Doc Martins, but I do exhort you to have a go if you’re in a fix for time- perhaps fashion can be changed and we can all freely and drily skip our way about without fear of persecution, or at least pitying looks. Let’s face it- if fashion can make it not only acceptable but actually desirable for every young chap in the Shoreditch area between the ages of 19 and 27 to sport ridiculous facial hair which would be more at home on an Open University physics lecturer circa 1973, then I’m sure a bit of light skipping could catch on here and there.
Thus far, December’s been a bit like that bath you get in that’s much too hot- by hanging on in there it becomes bearable over time, and, if I’m to own up to dark secrets, there’s a certain Catholic pride in enduring the searing of the bum, with the concomitant purification of the soul. I don’t think my job has ever consistently kept me on the go as it has over the last three weeks in my entire history, but in one of the very curious paradoxes that is life as a modern urban music biz magnate such as me, although I’ve been flailing away as a chap with a fear of sharks would had he been dropped in a shark tank, I can’t really report anything of note. There’s been so much stuff going on, nothing has really happened.
At least, nothing earth-shattering. By day I’ve had to write music for the big new-years knees-up in Monaco, and as already implied, by night I’ve been tubing it off to the nightly Xmas office party knees-up at a well known supper and jazz establishment in the Docklands. Although there have been some small personal breakthroughs in all of this, such as learning how to arrange Ziegfield-style introductions for Broadway show tunes, and how to nail the flute solos in Fly Me To The Moon up an octave on the dusty end of the tenor sax. It was never my intention when I started doing blogging to turn myself into an online version of that bloke you avoid at parties who just craps on and on about his work. The main thrust of this is to say that since touching down on the Tarmac at Luton the other week from our holiday in,er, lovely sunny Lanzarote, a pie chart of my hours would consist nearly entirely of work and sleep, with small segments for hobbies such as eating and addressing the thunderbox. You can imagine my dismay, therefore, at the beginning of this week, when I’d planned to have had all the daytime work done and dusted, so that I could crack on with a bit of festive Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama fun that the body decided to reign in all the fun and turn me into a snivelling snorting snotty heap.
In fact, the alternation in the daytime activity between toil and illness has as yet precluded that warm festive feeling we all strive for at this time of year permeating life at The Gables. Although there have been nods in the direction of Xmas glee such as putting a bottle of Advocaat in with the shopping, the full force of Saturnalia has yet to bring itself to bear, and I am concerned that before I know it, it will have come and gone and I’ll be on the plane to Monaco. This was brought home the other day when I was filing away the music we’d played at Ronnie Scott’s last week for the Big Band Xmas gig. Something about putting away the arrangements of Sleigh Ride and Frosty The Snowman really struck a chord, that I was now preparing the Gables Music Library for Xmas 2015, and I hadn’t even had a single snowball, or Meltis New Berry Fruit, let alone gorging myself on Matchmakers whilst watching re-runs of Eric & Ern.
There was an amusing feat of vocal virtuosity performed by one of the diners at the nightly Xmas office party knees-up at a well known supper and jazz establishment in the Docklands a couple of days ago. Towards the end of the show, brave boy singer Iain MacKenzie steps off the stage with the walk-around mike during the sing-along breakdown bit in “Suspicious Minds”. He then enlists help from “Volunteers” on the dance floor to sing the chorus, you know, the “We’re caught in a trap” bit. If we’re lucky, what comes down the mike can be cheerfully beerily approximate Elvis impersonations from the chaps, or Merlot-fuelled X-factor ululations from the ladies. If we’re not so lucky we get barely audible squeaking, but never mind, either way, it gets the party going. This time, we were in for a real treat- coming in loud and proud from Tash from Accounts was a version of Happy Birthday, sung without any reference to the key, tempo or harmonic structure of the music. For Tash from Accounts, background music must be such a constant, that on the odd occasion when it becomes foreground music it still only registers as background noise. Sometimes when I contemplate the viability of trying to extract money from the general public for music in today’s world I get really really scared.
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.
Today, I attend the mixing of the Ellington sessions recorded the other week.
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.
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!
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….
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.
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.
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!