Karmic Blog

At around 7.30 pm yesterday, I had good reason to suspect that something had gone awry with the beads on the great celestial abacus. Deviating from the tried and tested trusty formula of Friday the Thirteenth, Beelzebub and his chums appeared to be playing with tradition and looking into the possibility of what could be done with Monday the Thirteenths. Perhaps like all management , the forces of darkness fell prone to that inexplicable folly that when all is running well, something needs to be changed for change’s sake. Let’s not forget that as most modern management speak, focus groups, mission statements and all the rest of the terrible twaddle that gums up the cogs in the Great Engine Of Life were probably generated by Them Downstairs, it should only be natural that they should have a go at some of it themselves.

Up until that point, the day had gone pretty smoothly- I had been down at the Mermaid theatre all afternoon and evening rehearsing with the BBC Concert Orchestra, which, as is often the case, consisted of quite a bit of sitting around and then two or three notes to play. A positive aspect of this particular day was that I was required to do this on four different instruments, with the commensurate increment in the folders dished out at the end of the week, but the negative aspect was of course when it came to going home time I had so many bags for the instruments and their attendant paraphernalia that I had taken on the appearance of one of those ants you see on tea time nature documentaries who are heaving a pebble of nine times their mass up the anthill (magnified by the great gift of television to about three trillion times life size, and thus putting you right off your eggy soldiers. Especially when the queen ant starts eating the head off her mate whilst giving birth). In ant terms, although my head and legs were pretty much as normal, my thorax and abdomen had become so enlarged by the plethora of external woodwind instruments that I had to emerge from the stage door and into the inevitable horizontal rain sideways.

The rain should have tipped the wink, really. I should have spotted that all wasn’t well in the karmic universe. It was only a short hobble down to the NCP, in which the huge bag on my shoulder had only slipped off and gone into the crook of my elbow the twice, and before I knew it, I was by the ticket machine. Having organised things properly for once, I had had the ticket and the wallet ready for the ritual mugging before applying the three tons of Selmer’s finest to the upper body, and in a small fit of smugness put the ticket in the slot without having to put all the bags down for a rummage through the entire inventory of pockets dotted around the comfy slacks and Fashionable Corduroy Jacket. All going well. The fee requested was £15, and as I had a fiver and a tenner in the wallet, I put the fiver in the slot, whereupon a strange noise started emanating from the machine. I really wanted to go home. The weight of the bags on my back had started one of my special prickly sweats going, and the Fashionable Green V-neck was already beginning to moisten around the chest. Given that the exposed parts of my body were already damp, but cold from the horizontal rain, the discomfort was beginning to simmer nicely. Ignoring the fact that the noise sounded like metal wheels chewing paper, and chirpily hoping that the noise indicated normal running, I offered up the tenner, which wouldn’t now go in. The thin wisps of hope were melted away at this point by the naked flame on the Bunsen burner of irritation, as the machine then re-presented me with my ticket in a very self-satisfied way and continued with its mastication. Despite pressing the cancel button (with the big hold-all once again in the crook of the elbow) repeatedly, the machine had taken such a liking to my fiver that I was going to have to seek higher authority. Although nearby in the adjacent office, the Higher Authority in question was busy on the phone, oblivious to my plight in now not only being a fiver down on the whole plan, but also in turning into an unpleasant sweaty hate sponge for the irate queue forming up behind. I saw his call end, and with my characteristic gazelle-like agility only slightly hampered by my bodyweight again in instruments, I elegantly lurched into the office to explain my plight. It was a simple matter, I said, the machine’s swallowed my fiver, could I please pay my outstanding £10 and be on my way?

It was never going to be simple, really, was it? Twenty minutes later, my man and his colleague were rifling through what appeared to be a meticulously organised twenty four shelf (I had time to count them) filing cabinet looking for the proper form, as opening up the machine and hoiking out my fiver was a job that only the day bloke could do. For some reason, I’d not put the bags down. I can only ascribe this to the same sense of male logic which causes a chap to drive around an unfamiliar town centre for an hour and a half rather than ask for directions. Now with the perspiration in full flow, I was finally presented with the correct form, which as it turned out, was a piece of paper upon which I was invited to write my name and address, reg number and complaint. I’d been offering to do this on a blank piece of paper, but for some reason, Due Process requires that only the correct piece of blank paper with some ruled lines would do. Due Process had also meant that I’d been there for so long that when I eventually got to pay it, the parking fee had gone up to £17.50. I was offered another complaint form, but as the will to live was ebbing away fast, I took my ticket, returned to the Volvo, put the 19 tons of hooters in the boot and drove up to the barrier, which promptly rejected the newly paid ticket. At this point, I invented some new noises, which I cannot record here, since they require vowel sounds which as yet do not exist in our alphabet. Luckily, the man in the office was close by and came to my aid opening the barrier manually with a chirpy wave. I stopped sweating at around 11.30 that night, by the way. Erotic, huh?

Jazz is a most unusual art form, in that its actual popularity is dwarfed completely by the popularity of its iconography. Here is a picture of tenor sax legend Dexter Gordon, which seems to be advocating that saxophone playing and fags are very, very cool-

It is a picture which you see in thousands of bars and restaurants where a flavour of sophistication and urbanity is desired, and where any of Dexter’s magnificent euphonius bebop would probably have the same effect on the management as a dead rat in the calzone. And, thinking on, where you’re not allowed to smoke, either.
Out on the hard coal face of the business, we had a little taster of this very phenomenon last week. Drummer Pite, who is also the British Olympic Champion on the Sousaphone, had organised a small detachment of crack jazz functioneers to entertain partygoers at three day’s worth of graduation ceremonies at a home counties university. Here’s the other three, in full battle regalia, looking like a 1950’s re-union of a 1920’s silent movie comedy act-

I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the bulk of the guests, although jollied on by our efforts, had little knowledge of traditional jazz, but the urge to turn it into iconography seemed as strong here as in any branch of Coolz Nitespot’n’Grill. No sooner had we started playing than a wall of interlocking iPads and phones started to form, until our audience had taken on the appearance of Roman soldiers locking shields to form a tortoise before an assault. Here is the phenomenon in its early stages. I believe we were about nine seconds into a performance here-

Once the tortoise had formed up, then the close quarter fighting began. Not content with filming us, after a while people were appearing from behind the multicoloured digital wall to be photographed in front of us, beside us, and on one occasion, on us. Quite literally, we had our backs to the wall. Alan Berlyn had a nice Indian mum back onto him so quickly that his trumpet went up his nose. I’m sure that scenes like this would contravene a health and safety regulation or two, but luckily, it was all going well so the clipboard wielders left us well alone. Here we see Alan, battling on, while another mum lines up her second son for a picture. And he hasn’t even graduated. Oh the price of fame.

Talking of fame, I’m up for an award for playing the clarinet. Please vote for me, so I can give my dear old mum the certificate for the back of the downstairs lav door. It will make her feel better about all that dough she shelled out in the early eighties for my clarinet lessons, which did nothing but fill the house with dreary experimental squeaking. Vote here! Vote now!


Curse of St.Kev Blog

The aliens have come! Run for the hills! I came out into the garden two days ago and this had turned up-


This is a Parasol mushroom and its Latin name is Macro Lepiota Procera, meaning, I assume, great big scary mushroom. What was so scary about it was that it appeared overnight. How does a mushroom spore re-organise that much soil into that much mushroom in that small amount of time? It has to be from other worlds, or use the space-time continuum in a different way. Acting out of panic, the tanks were called in-


Googling revealed that the Parasol Mushroom is in fact edible, so what we actually had here was a self-generating rapid deployment land-pizza. It’s too late now though, as the slug population of The Gables, clearly less concerned than I am about alien abduction, tucked right in and had an all night rave until there was none left. Slugs clearly know all kinds of things which we don’t. And we think we’re the master race.

Amusing comment of the week was from a very nice chap who came with his family to the Ripon festival where we were up doing a Benny Goodman Quartet concert in the church there. In the interest of variety, drummer Pite had had the bright idea of starting the second half with a couple of numbers from the Gene Krupa trio repertoire, which entailed your jaded scribe switching from the clarinet to the tenor sax. Being heavily routined, the Krupa trio stuff requires that it is either learnt by heart or played from music. As it turns out that Mother was right after all, I now have to wear specs to read as well, and so I delivered the two numbers welded to a music stand wearing a rather nice pair of £2.99 retro tortoiseshell readers from Tiger. At the end of the show, as usual, we were trying to keep order in the frothing, thronging masses around the merchandise stand when the chap and his family came up for the standard post gig chat. Often, this contains such gems as “Do you do this for a living”, “What’s that instrument actually called”, and my particular favourite, as it seems to imply that there is enough work about for a group of chaps to be able to hone down a show and earn a living just from doing one thing, instead of the actual truth which is having to throw everything together on thirty-five minutes’ rehearsal, often with people you’ve never met, “How long have you been playing together?”

However, Ripon Man came on from a different tack. “Which do you prefer playing, the clarinet or the tenor sax?” I replied that it’s changed for me over my life, and often due to which hooter I get phoned up to operate, but by and large, at the moment, I like the clarinet. “Thought as much,” he said, “We all noticed that when you went to play the tenor you had to read music.”
A magnificent example of bolting stuff together completely on the fly came along on Wednesday just gone. Drummer Pite, this time with his producer’s sheepskin coat and fat cigar had arranged a small team of us to go and make some promotional video footage for some upcoming shows. Thanks to the bloody internet (and I am fully aware of the irony in ranting about the bloody internet on the bloody internet) every man and his dog now needs to examine video footage of anything you want to sell. Gone are the days of sending off a cassette demo saying things like “I know it’s a jazz trio on the recording but they really are good at drum’n’bass, and the selection of polkas you asked for shouldn’t be a problem either”. I used to be able to close a sale by explaining that because the request for 1920’s jazz, a Little Richard medley, Beethoven’s 5th when the bride’s mum walks in, the theme from Dad’s Army, and then two one hour sets of floor-filling pops but no Abba or Neil Diamond was rather on the bespoke side, no demo exists so it will just have to be taken on trust. Not so these days, where the next bit of the conversation along from that lot- which was an actual request from a real client-went “Great! Glad you can do it than- just email the video across and we can get everything moving”. Between them Bloody YouTube and Sodding Facebook seem to have eradicated any trace of imagination. Orwell never saw this lot coming when he wrote 1984. He thought that a totalitarian government would have to survey all our movements whilst grinding the vocabulary down to such an extent that people couldn’t think straight. I wonder what he’d have made of the actuality whereby we’ve sidelined the government and done all that ourselves.

However, we at the Gables cannot afford to be reactionary dinosaurs hoping that the giant meteor strike of modern mass-media will somehow not apply to us, and thus there we were at a well known Jazz Supper establishment in the exciting environment of the docklands bodging together a series of video images to give the impression that we are a well-oiled research and thoroughly rehearsed music machine, all packaged as a live concert to sneak it under the noses of the unsuspecting punters. In the course of the night, we had to impersonate the Louis Armstrong allstars, Anita O’Day, The Adderly Brothers and I can’t really remember what else. Had there been room, Drummer Pite would probably had us do the Red Arrows. All this was done more or less with a quick chat through in the bandroom. During the evening, I found myself sight-singing harmony vocals direct to camera/ As someone who has never sung at all in public, and most infrequently in private, this all came as something of a suprise.


The curse of St. Kev reared its ugly head again last night. This is the jinx which seems to strike my trousers when I am onstage conducting the band for Kevin Fitzsimmons’ Sinatra tribute show. Last year we had the incident of The Trousers That Time Forgot, where for one reason and another I could only get to change three minutes before going onstage and then finding that the trousers I’d put in the bag were from a younger, better, thinner era and now wouldn’t even meet around the middle, leading to severe onstage constriction of the Gentleman’s Area. The whole grisly tale is written up here, under “Bag And Trouser Blog”. This time, thanks to the new Vegan regime, I am in a better, thinner, older era and I suspect that the same trousers were involved. This time around, they fitted, but as I bent over behind the bar prop in the “One For My Baby” scene to pick up my fez, there was a tell tale brrrrrpppprrrpppp sound, loud enough to carry across the stage and stop the trombone section from talking to each other. Contrary to my original battle damage assessment, the arse of the trousers had come through intact, but on closer examination I discovered that all the stitching on the right upper thigh had come undone, revealing a small expanse of whimsical M&S pink stripy boxer short. For a start, discreetly examining trousers for rips onstage in front of a full audience requires a Houdini-like measure of bodily contortion, which was never my long suit, and then the walking style necessary to try and conceal the rip led me to adopt a series of movements which, on hindsight, must have made me take on the persona of Larry Grayson having just been shot in the side with a poisoned arrow. Bad.


Duke Ellington’s back in my life in quite a major way at the moment. Having wisely saved a fair amount of pennies over the last couple of years, I have unwisely decided to spend the bulk of them on making an album of Ellington music next month at the formidable Angel studios. Part of the reason for this is that just now we have a fantasy brass team in the UK who can handle the more extreme moments in Ellington’s scores, and another part of it is I really need to get it out of my system. Timing is also all-important here- by November, the committees for most of next summer’s jazz festivals will be convening, and I will need to have some media in their laptops if I want to stand a chance of getting Ellington in its raw form on the circuit. It’s a shame that just ringing up saying that I can organise some of the best players in the world to come and play the best music ever written is no longer enough, but I’ve already banged on about that. It’s worth remembering, even as far back as the 1970’s, when Brian Peerless was trying to flog the Count Basie Orchestra (The real one, with Count Basie actually in it,) to the Frankfurt Jazz Festival, that the woman on the phone asked for a demo tape.

Mind you, little bits of The Old Way still survive, like poignant images of post-apocalyptic blossoms swaying in the breeze over the barren nuked landscape. I had a call the other day fron none other than the Brighton Clarion herself, Claire Martin OBE, asking if we could put on a short burst of Ellington at the South Coast jazz festival on January 25. We can! We’re going to! Buy your ticket now-

As an adjunct to all this fervid media stockpiling, the album will also be available in return for a small amount of money for personal use around the home. Details will follow, but the staff here at The Gables will be tirelessly working around the clock to get it into the shops around the nation in time to make it the perfect xmas stocking filler. I’ll keep you posted. By the bloody internet, in fact. If you do fancy one, drop me a line at the site here and I’ll save you a special personalised copy, or something.


60’s Blog

Driving back to The Gables in The Volvo last night, I popped the radio for a spot of light relief after once again successfully negotiating Death Junction at the bottom of the Finchley Road at Swiss Cottage. On the radio, there was a woman whose name I didn’t catch speaking in such a faux German accent that I thought that I had tuned into some of the extremely unfunny radio comedy that is an occasional hallmark of the output of Broadcasting House, Instead, what I had stumbled across was some extremely funny reality. Chatting away merrily, she had an accent which I’d not heard before- she was a German Luvvie, or, I suppose, Gluvvie. Sounding for all the world as if she was on the way to an ‘Allo ‘Allo cast reunion party at the Schavoy, she also had a strange touch of the Sean Connerys thrown in with the mid-atlantic Frankfurt accent. “Scho, there I wasch, schtanding on the schtage at the very schtart of my schojourn into schowbusiness”, sche hisched on. Then it was over to the recording of the reschent conschert,  where after more schelf-aggrandisching “Little Me On Broadway” kind of schtuff, we got the schong. We were in luck. Being, to quote the great Mel Brooks,  the good little Teutonic Titwillow that she was, we were to receive a medley from Cabaret. Sensing what was coming, and  in the interests of road safety, I pulled the Volvo over up by the incredibly overpriced kitchen showroom at the top of the hill as you go round the corner. A good job I did, too as within nanoseconds of the first line tripping from her lips I was doubled over laughing. The first line goes “What good is sitting alone in your room?”

Extraordinary singing has cropped up recently in other areas over the last couple of weeks, as the Friday before last Her Indoors and I went down to the Festival Hall to watch Tony Bennett do his stuff with his trio. The Festival Hall is always a bit of a treat, as a wise chap in the past slapped a big preservation order on it, and as a consequence when it got rebuilt a couple of years ago because the roof was letting the rain in, it had to be restored to the original spec. As a consequence of that, the hall itself is a beautiful arena of polished wood, funky brass trim and groovy 1960’s upholstery. It’s what the World Parliament would look like on an episode of Stingray. As groovy turns from the 1960’s go, Bennett must rank in the top five, so we were well prepared for a good slab of Kennedy-era zeitgeist. I made sure that Bert Kaempfert was playing on the stereo in The Volvo as we drove past the post office tower, too.

At the gig, the modern world was camped out, almost as if staging a picket in the face of all this gloriousness from the past. Outside, on the bit of concrete by the stage door where you used to be able to park there is now a selection of stalls selling international nosh to people who enjoy eating off paper plates on benches in the drizzle. Given that this is most of the population of Britain, it was doing roaring business, and rightly so, as it all looked and smelled delicious. Being an old git though, a couple of things niggled- when did good old fashioned snacks turn into modern poncy street food? There was a bloke selling quirky chips out of a quirky hand painted vintage van under the banner of Belgian Street Food. Bangladeshi Street Food in a quirky hand painted  tent thing turned out to be Curry in wraps and over in another corner, in a quirky hand painted caravan Spanish Street Food, or Paella was on the go. To wash down your quirky snack, why not try some more quirky marketing, in the form of Craft Beer? Craft Beer comes from small independent breweries, who deserve all the applause in the world for creating drink for chaps, but can’t it just be called “Beer”? It is, after all, beer. Chaps who drink beer will be familiar with all the major breweries, and will know instantly that a pint of Grunston’s Old Frottocker is going to be a very different proposition to a pint of Red Barrel. It’s dumbing down and poncing up all in one hideous blow. While I’m at it, why do the staff in the quirkily painted temporary quirky retail outlets all wear black aprons? Has Mosely got going on the quiet again or something?

Meanwhile, in the concert hall, away from my ranting, most of Stanmore had turned up to watch Mr. Bennett, who walked on stage to a reception from his devoted fans which wouldn’t have disappointed Caesar returning in triumph from Gaul. Now eighty-eight years old, and stooping just a tiny bit, Tone is still able to radiate showbiz pizzazz and suntan as intensely as ever. In my job, it’s always a good thing to watch a master at work, and learn. The big lesson here was focus. He was there to present a concert of song, and so we got a gigantic medley, an hour and a half long, of I’d say around forty tunes. There were very occasional solos from the trio, and the odd bit of chat, including a very funny reference to Rod Stewart, and all the great songs he, er, wrote for “Those” albums, but in the main it was zap-zap-zap through the Great American Songbook, with the bulk of the stuff being only sung once through. This gave the gig an incredible amount of pace, and enabled him to please all his fans with the big hits, whilst leaving him plenty of room for the songs he liked. By now, he must have sung The Good Life about a trillion times, but by keeping it down to thirty five seconds, he can probably knock it out every time he goes on a stage without driving himself bonkers, whilst delighting the folks like me who now have the memory of those big burnished arcing first notes delivered in the flesh to treasure for ever. Everybody won.

Mind you, there was some fairly extraordinary microphone technique going on. Tony is clearly aware that sometimes he sings small and intimate, and sometimes huge and vivid.  He does the right thing, in holding the mike away for the huge bits, but either he’s forgotten where his big bits are, or his soundman needs to guess where to ride the fader on the desk a bit better, since we were treated to some extraordinary jumps in level. The effect if this was to make the lyric delivery of the songs occasionally sound as if it was unpredictably jumping from lower to upper case-“Every TIME IT rains IT RAINS PENnies from heaven”. You get the picture.

On leaving the hall, 1960’s Britain was back again, but in an administrative rather than an architectural form. Two and a half thousand people, all happy and in party mood, were now disgorging from all the many levels of the auditorium. On a lot of these levels, lovely great big bars with big comfy lounges have been built, and I’d say, based on the sample size of Her Indoors and me, a great deal of these people would really like a drink to celebrate, so the management of the Festival Hall did the obvious thing and shut them, forcing everybody into the great British pastime of queuing with shoving on the stairs. Outside, things were little better- Quirky Food Court had also shut down, leaving only the drizzle, overstuffed bins, and the odd paper plate on the odd wall containing some empty mussel shells (Sorry- Breton Street Food) and a plastic fork  to add to the party atmosphere. Two and a half thousand hungry inhabitants of Stanmore in the wilderness with nothing to eat! It was a bit like the Exodus, and a scene which could so easily have been averted with a bit of thinking things through.

Last Sunday provided further grist to the mill of the argument that you can actually sell Jazz to people, and that they can actually like it. It was the first time we’d tried the Jazz At The Philharmonic formula in a concert hall, in this case a Sunday Afternoon do at the Cadogan in swanky Sloane Square. Learning from Tony Bennett, and the original recordings, we reckon that a good presentation of jazz needs the following elements-

      Regular Rhythm
      Hooks, or Riffs in abundance
      Short Solos
      Focus- For example if it’s a drum solo, the drum solo is the whole number
                   Really good playing.

It was another huge success. Looking out from the stage, the overriding expression on the faces of the audience was relief. Relief that here was a concert of Jazz which they didn’t need a critic to tell them that they could like. I think the Brylcreem helped too- here’s a shot of Ray Gelato, Dean Masser and Me looking correctly rather 1950’s doing the three tenor sax knockabout at the end of the first set on “Rifftide”. Hours and hours of tenors chasing each other all up and down the stave. Great fun.

My arch nemesis, Madame Gravity’s been up to some worrying new tricks of late- my mobile phone keeps going down the hole in between the driver’s seat and the gearbox housing up on the bridge of the Volvo. As we all know, this is a situation which can only be rectified by stopping the car, getting out and kneeling in a puddle. The phone itself normally joins in with the inconvenience and irritation by launching a barrage of message beeps and ringing like crazy, reducing your jaded scribe to an infuriated jelly. It’s not just me though- my mate Chris and His Mate Kev both dropped their phones down two separate drains within a week of each other. Madame G seems to be recalling all the phones. Why? Is she trying to stop Facebook? Thoughts please.


Old Stuff Is Better Than Most New Stuff Blog

Her Indoors has been off in Weston-Super-Mare this weekend, earning honest dough by singing songs to the elderly in a holiday camp. As I knew I had The Gables all to myself today, I’d earmarked it for a Big Push on Getting Things Done. It’s half past seven in the evening now, and the tally for today’s achievements stands at somewhere near, but not quite, bugger all. Since the last instalment, it’s been a varied couple of weeks, the high spot of which, and I don’t seem to be able to get this out of my head, was a brief glimpse out of the intercity from Penzance into Paddington at around Slough, which revealed this-

This, Ladies and Gents, is the Horlicks factory, from which emanates many tons per day of crepuscular powdered bliss. I think that it’s the crenulations which do it for me, and of course the huge red letters on scaffolding. Though I don’t know for sure, I reckon that those light up at night, shouting their cosy message loud and proud into the night sky. A sort of comforting version of Speer’s Munich stadium. A stark and blissfully welcome change from the acres and acres of cost-dictated concrete and glass tedium which normally pass for industrial premises, the turn of the century creation of the Brothers Horlick must surely represent to the eastbound service as great a visual treat as the seaside track at Dawlish represents to the westbound. With that big chimney, this looks like a proper factory, and even has a whiff of the Wonka works about it. Best of all, rather than being converted into “A Stunning Development of Vibrant Executive Homes,” the Horlicks factory is still firing happily on all four, supplying its eponymous tincture to the empire. Horlicks from that very building kept Scott and his chums warm down in the Antarctic, it was consumed by Our Lads by the cubic mile in both wars, and was the staple drink of the 1948 London Olympics. I know Coke owns Christmas, but this is all pretty good stuff, especially as it all happened in jolly old Slough. Ha! Further proof that most old stuff is better than most new stuff.
Immediately prior to the Horlicks Factory Epiphany, I’d been down to the Yamaha Summer Jazz school in Falmouth University where I was to be the visiting Nob, hence the journey. My job was to take an afternoon masterclass and then put on an evening gig. They wanted to call it a recital, but I can only go so poncy, even on their generous budget. As Falmouth is only twenty miles nearer to The Gables than Cologne, I elected to go the night before. The big carrot here was the thought of 36 hours of campus life, all nice and removed from the real world, and so it was to be. Falmouth Uni is brand spanking new, all, erm, cost-dictated concrete and glass, but like any such place you surrender any responsibility for yourself on walking through the gate. Food happened in the food place, drinking went on in the drinking place, sleeping went on in the sleeping place, and jazz went on in the jazz place. No hoovering, no washing up, no emails or anything. Just jazz and consumption.

For the non-recital, I’d enlisted the help of three chums- here we are, halfway through. I guess the photo’s a bit fuzzy because no known camera could withstand the full torrent of the creative magma washing from the stage, but you may well be able to make out Nick Dawson at the piano, Paul Morgan on double bass and young Ed Richardson at the drums. This is a proper Olympic-standard rhythm section, and as everybody was getting the full Yamaha campus treatment, we all felt in the right kind of mood to play as hard as we could, which paid off well. Often, playing as hard as you can results in Sid and Vera on the front table looking at you as if you’d just had a wee in their family photo album, but here we’d forgotten the crucial fact that half our audience was made of students. Students who were out to really enjoy the jazz and who went beserk, especially when Paul, who is by far and away the fastest gunslinger in the west on double bass, did one of his impossible triplet runs up into, as bass players call it, the dusty end. It was Paul’s birthday that day too, and all of his new young fans bought him a drink afterwards. I didn’t see Paul the next morning, but I’m assuming he’s home by now. The following Sunday saw a trip to the Dunsfold airshow, which had been scheduled for months to be The Big Sight Of August, but got, as we know, unexpectedly pipped to the visual post by a suprise innings by the Horlicks Factory. It didn’t disappoint though, as all 180 thousand of us who went got to see this-

This is a shot I took of the only two flyable Lancaster bombers in the world flying together, just over me and Her Indoors. Gamely, she came along, as being a good Wigan lass any kind of a day out represents a treat, even if it does involve standing in a field with 179,998 be-anoraked men and getting that peculiar sunburn on the forehead and upper neck unique to airshows. The Lancasters were fabulous- somehow two of them is way more than twice as good as one, and even the space between them had become worth watching. The noise is quite something as well-the vibrations set up between two sets of four engines is as wonderful as it is indescribable, so I’ve put a YouTube link on at the end if you want to have a listen for yourself. This summer was the only time the two old girls would ever fly together, as one lives here and the other in Canada. As they flew over, the audience, all 180,000 of us, went silent. That was really quite a moment. We were also treated to the Vulcan, which as well as still looking inexplicably futuristic even though they started on it in 1946, laid on its usual party trick of putting on the reheat as it turns away from the crowd. This is a sensation akin to hearing and feeling old lino tiles being torn from a kitchen floor, but on a biblical scale- Here’s a photo- I’ll leave it up to you to make the noise yourself.

Croydon was the scene for more magnificent sights, as the day after the airshow we had a Jazz At The Philharmonic show down there in the Oval pub (Name, not shape), the highspot of which was George Hogg and Ryan Quigley doing the trumpet showdown on Sweet Georgia Brown. Echoing the Vulcan experience of the day before, when the show got to maximum speed and volume and the trumpets were at maximum altitude, the audience actually gave them a standing ovation while they were playing. I’ve never, in 35 years of playing, seen anything like it. I really think that we could get more jazz going by organising it like this- the boozer was rammed full again, with people standing four deep at the bar. It’s only a matter of making it really exciting and accessible, I’m sure of it.

Over on the Curry Underground, you may have noticed that I’ve invested in a new camera with which to document the various expeditions. As we had a nice dollop of quality suburban sunshine this afternoon, I took the opportunity to photograph some of the recent Fruits Of The Shed, which, with the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers temporarily on the back burner, have taken the theme of Classic British Jets of the 1970’s. Thus on the Temporary Model Aerodrome, or piece of hardboard balanced on the roof of the Volvo, here they are. Taken on the last day in August, amidst the whirring lawnmowers, popping barbecues and the knock of willow on leather from the field over the road, I do understand that aeroplane-shaped bits of plastic are not everybody’s cup of tea, but whenever I put a picture of a plane on, the ratings go up. By thousands. It would appear that they are more popular than jazz, anyway.

Blackburn Buccaneer Mk.2, Fleet Air Arm

Detail shot inside cockpit- this took me ages!

Blackburn Buccaneer Mk. 2A, Royal Air Force

Hawker Hunter Mk. 6

Hawker Harrier Mk 3

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FGR 2

Detail shot- again, weeks went by doing this- what a twit!

If you want to hear the Lancasters, have a look at this- it’s extra added value, as they are joined by the Vulcan. Absolute gold-standard aeroplane porn, this. see video

Remember, most old stuff is better than most new stuff.


Return to Monte Carlo Blog

Something of a welcome recurring theme on these pages is that every so often, I get to post an instalment from the conductor’s suite at the sporting club, Monte Carlo. I really like it here. Rather than feeling as if I am involved in some desperate scrabble for survival while those holding the purse strings stand glowering over me ready to withdraw payment should I fall foul of the brief which they’ve written but not transmitted to me, I am currently sat in its air conditioned tranquillity having just had my tea in the canteen downstairs, there is a sign on the door with my name on it, I have my own shower and lav, a supply of towels, a bowl of sweeties and my own Nespresso machine. And an orchid in a vase. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was a valued member of society. However, the self-deception is just too much fun to resist and I have a nice relaxing couple of hours off until showtime at the highly cosmopolitan hour of 10.45. This time it’s the final night of a three-day run (so rather better than the West End production of “Out Of The Blue”, the smash hit musical put on in 1994 about the bombing of Nagasaki which featured such memorable numbers as “Bang!” and “Bugger Me Doreen, What The Hell Was That?” sung, if memory serves, by Tommy Steele as the Mayor) of a Rock’n’roll spectacular featuring three splendid chaps from Las Vegas in the Former Colony playing the parts of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Just up the corridor from me now I can hear Matt Lewis, our Elvis, pictured below, running through some country blues on his guitar. All is calm, and I reckon I can use this time for a spot of Ploggery.

For my part, I have had the task of assembling all the sheet music for this august occasion, which has required much time in the Composing and Arranging Zen and Chi complex, or Shed, back at The Gables, and has been at least a contributory factor in the absence of an episode of The Plog for longer than normal. Given that most of my daytime activity when not operating either a woodwind instrument or The Volvo in order to then operate said instrument in such far-flung and exotic locations as North Weald, Eastbourne and Hornchurch has been spent knocking out sets of parts for such classics as “Rip It Up”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and of course the magnificently titled “Ring Of Fire”, I’ve not really had the time or, if I may confess to a dark and feeble secret, the inclination to then continue to stare at the flickering screen of the Home Commerce and Creativity Tech Terminal, or laptop, for fun. It’s more graft than you’d think, sorting out 75 minutes of Rock’n’Roll All-Killer-No-Filler classics for an eight piece band, as once all the basic work has been done assigning the various shoo-be-doo-be-do-woppity-wop phrases to the instruments, there then follows a mammoth amount of printing out, collation and preparation, mainly involving an amount of Sellotape which if stretched out in its entirety would most probably represent a distance clearly visible from space.

Still, the upside is that the constant need for biblical quantities of 140 gram vellum paper, Sellotape, Wallet Files and hideously eye-wateringly expensive printer toner (£70 for a small plastic box of what I can only imagine is probably soot never fails to leave your jaded scribe feeling as if a sharp knee to the gentleman’s area has been administered by the good folks back at Hewlett-Packard) has required multiple visits to the Watford branch of Staples, where, like most chaps I wander round the aisles of post-it notes, opaque plastic storage boxes and wall planners in a kind of relaxed fuzzy daze. I’m not sure why this should be so popular with the blokes, but basic research, carried out in that most accurate social barometer and information exchange, the pub, seems to bear the theory out. Some lads I’ve spoken to about this wax quite lyrical about the hypnotically soothing powers of perusing bulk packs of biros or wondering whether to get a telephone handset for the iPad. More research needed here, I suppose, which is another good thing, as it will ipso facto mean more trips to the great Temple of the Holy Desktop Accessory, and of course, the boozer.

Having printed all the little squggles onto the reams of vellum, sellotaped them together in the correct order and sorted it into the appropriate A4 document wallet, it is always a slight suprise that when delivered onto a bandstand and read at sight by m’colleagues that a noise which would be perfectly at home in Shea Stadium was the result. My mates can do magic. This is one of the best things about arranging music- you spend days doing what is in essence, a load of maths, print it out and then that happens. It is a unique and lovely form of satisfaction, and a rare reason to be proud of what we can achieve in Britain. Furthermore, we have had on the last two nights scenes of untrammelled jollity amongst the normally poker-faced punters here-there’s been dancing at the back in the cheap (less than £600) seats, and even the old birds in the front row have been moving their heads from side to side roughly in time with the music, and just about on the limits set down for the torsional stress by their Botox consultant. The russians here are a bit weird. We have a line of four lady violinists in our band for the more syrupy end of the Elvis repertoire-last night, Boris from Omsk, who looked every inch the ex-commandant of Salt Mine 563 walked right up to the side of the stage where they were sat, rested his elbows on the stage and spent a long time staring at all four of them with weird staring eyes, a bit like those of the baddie off Thunderbirds. Luckily, after a good six minutes of this he buggered back off to sit with the lovely Ludmilla who had had so much work done on her chops you could clearly see the Airfix logo. Still, if you’ve got 300 gazillion bucks in your current account, and an atom bomb in the boot of your Roller, I guess you can do exactly what you want, wherever you fancy.

I had another dollop of that down at the Big Band gig at Ronnie’s the other week. We’ve changed what the big band does there- instead of playing stuff written by everyone else in order to present tribute concerts which attract a quick buck, we’ve started off on a longer tactic whereby we play stuff written by and for the chaps in the band. This is, after all, what formed the central axis of the success of all the bands we’ve been charged with emulating over the years, and so we feel that we could possibly enjoy a greater measure of popular acclaim by adopting this strategy ourselves. The evidence from the first show with this new tactic was encouraging- we were oversoid at the box office and the audience was cheering for more. As part of the new show, I’d written a laid-back thing which had elements of the blues to it, and elements of Herbie Hancock too. Armed as we were with Robin Aspland on the piano, who, should you ever be called upon to fight a duel to the death with jazz piano as the chosen weapon, would be a very wise choice as your stand-in, I thought my new piece would be a good framework for his soloing. He was amazing, and It made me go all funny hearing a musician of that calibre dressing up something I’d written and making it sound just like music that grown-ups play.

Returning to the reasons for my absence from these pages, there have been further drains on my time, a large one being a new and violent addiction.

As a dedicated follower of fashion, but not necessarily in the same time frame or order as actual fashionable people, I started watching Breaking Bad, which, for those who don’t know, is essentially Mr.Chips fused with Dirty Harry. It is a long and winding story, sprawling over five series, and within nanoseconds I was completely immersed by it. We also have Netflix in our Home Cinema, or living room, at The Gables, which like an irresponsible mother with an obese toddler will just keep spooning the episodes down you until you can no longer move. Last Friday, after spending a good eight hours at the laptop frying the brain in order to create a fourteen minute rock’n’roll megamix for this week’s work, I came in to have my Vegan special at 7pm, and thought I’d just get the Netflix on for a spot of BB. I did a huge chunk of season 4 in one sitting, with just a short interval for the thunderbox, and gradually pulled myself off the leather sofa like an elastoplast off a scab at 2.30 a.m. If you’ve not started watching it, make sure you’ve got enough time in your life- it’s a monster which eats time and has you staring into space for days after like the meth at the centre of its plot.

As a result of all of this, I am now a member of a new club, the one of people who watch Breaking Bad. When I mention it to someone, and if they are a fellow addict, they will ask “How far have you got?” Even if you don’t watch it yourself, try a little experiment- find an addict, tell them you’ve started watching, and wait for the knee jerk question. It’s actually rather a good game. There also seems to be an intuitive code of conduct amongst watchers, in that nobody will give the plot away, as everybody understands that nobody will want the excitement ruined. If either of you who read this blog are watchers yourselves, I’m up to season 4, episode 10. You know, the bit with the Mexicans and the Swimming Pool, and the Poison.


Blog of Trombone and Man-Flu

Unusually for a Sunday morning, I find myself hurtling backwards across the Wirral at around 100 miles an hour courtesy of Virgin Trains plc. Currently in transit between last night’s recital of Rhythm and Blues classics in Liverpool with Mr. Holland and his orchestra and this afternoon’s whistle stop tour of the works of Basie and Ellington with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, this is the first time in the last fortnight in which I’ve not been knackered, ill, panicked, at the helm of The Volvo for hours on end or a mixture of all four.

It’s been busy at The Gables, you see. The current phase kicked off two Fridays ago with a spot of root-vegetable based fun on the gig at the Snotley Grange country club in Snotley-Upon-Thames, Snotshire, where the speciality of the house is to really make you feel like a servant, and one who is imminently up for the chop, to boot. After running the usual gamut of having nowhere to unpack the gear, the parsimonious attitude to parking and a small stuffy room which was the regulation 20% not big enough, we were steeled for the predictable lukewarm applause and inevitable faint praise. With minutes to go before it was all to grind to a start, Rico Tomasso realised that he’d forgotten to bring his trombone mouthpiece- quick as a flash, I went to the kitchen and asked for a carrot and a sharp knife, and much to my surprise managed to acquire both without precipitating a management meeting or CRB check. I’ve been trained, you see, and thanks to my years messing around in the band room on Jools’ gigs I am familiar with the dark arts of constructing musical instruments from items on the buffet table. My main speciality was always the Clarinet made from a French stick, but I did remember some of the chaps making brass mouthpieces out of stuff. The results you can see here-

On the next day, I’d organised an orchestra to go and play for Tony Hatch in the festival hall. Aside from being an unabashed sixties-up culminating with the now octogenarian Petula Clark, still in fine voice but having the appearance of being hewn from a solid block of Tipp-Ex, getting the audience to sing along with “Downtown”, the main highlight of the evening for me was when Mr. Hatch himself got on the podium and conducted us through the Sportsnight theme. Absolutely bloody marvellous- on the perfect acoustic of the Festival Hall stage it was as if I had been immersed in a televisual soundtrack of my own childhood. Not so smashing, though we’re the spoken interludes between the tunes. Michael Grade had been put on the bill to act as host and chat to Tony about his past, to lend colour to the show. The amount of colour this actually generated would have been enough to re-invent the rainbow. Nobody could have foreseen that our Tone was an absolute minefield of information. His answers went on and on and on, and as orchestra contractor I had a responsibility to not let the show bang into overtime. At the end of the first half, which had gone on for about an hour and a quarter, split 60/40 in favour of Amusing Hatch Family Anecdotes, I was getting really quite concerned that I was going to have to go Oliver Twist-like to the Money men and meekly ask for “More”. Luckily, Grade, the old pro that he is took much more of a commanding hand in the second half, and like a championship level shepherd, guided the Collie that was Mr. Hatch quickly and economically through the hoops of the second half. What a relief.

Relief was short-lived, though- at the inevitable drink-up afterwards, the sneezing and itchy eyes started. My body, with whom I have a touchy relationship at best had decided that it hadn’t been getting enough attention and declared a cold. A series of overnight coughing attacks through to the Sunday morning reduced the glottis to sandpapered ribbons. This was especially splendid, as my work that day was to do the educational outreach thing at Ronnie’s (loads of shouting necessary), then take the rehearsal for the soul jazz show that night (loads of shouting necessary), then present the outreach concert (loads of shouting necessary) and then do the main gig (loads of shouting necessary). Needless to say, by the end of all that lot I could hardly speak, and The Man-Flu had taken full hold. Drenched in my own sweat even more than normal, I just about got self and The Volvo home and collapsed into the winceyette paradise that is the master bedroom at The Gables.

The body kept me awake most of that night too, with the fun of coughing up what felt like bags of carpet tacks augmented beautifully with gallons of snot and a headache. Just as well, because I was up early the next morning to drive to Abbey Road to do a session on my Tubax for a Dutch pop band called Urgleflurgle, or something like that. Cunning use of industrial quantities of Strepsils held the demons at bay while I was working the low register under pressure for folding money, but there was the predictable complete meltdown upon my return to The Gables that afternoon. This was unfortunate, as that Monday marked the beginning of a week-long State Visit by Her Indoors’ mum. As you can easily understand, under such circumstances an atmosphere of effortless domestic bliss is the desirable objective, but, my bumping around and groaning upstairs in the fashion of Bela Lugosi in The Beast from the Snot Lagoon didn’t go too far in achieving this.

By the Wednesday, I’d decided that all normal life needed to be put on hold, and that the only way to try and get some Normal Service out of the week was to own up, go to bed and let the cold have its evil way with me until it was done. By now, the self-pity had reached near astronomical levels and I was a fully paid up, card carrying member of the Man-Flu society of Great Britain. This all evaporated in a second, however, when I found a message on my voice mail from a worried sounding woman who lives opposite my folks saying that Mum had been taken to hospital. This was a double emergency, because my Dad suffers from Motor Neurone disease and is paralysed from the neck down. Within nanoseconds I was being driven to the family home in the Volvo by Her Indoors, so that I could liaise with my sisters en route and do my best to fend off the man-flu. Ninety minutes later we arrived to find Dad sitting in the living room with a nice young bearded paramedic in a green jump suit called Andy. Andy informed me that dear old Ma had had a stroke and was undergoing treatment in the local hospital. By now one of the sisters had turned up, so she and her indoors went off to find Ma in the hospital, leaving me to mind Dad. Looking after my immobile and worried Pa took some degree of inner strength, and I consoled myself with the fact that he’d done it all for me when I was a tiny nipper, but elements of it took quite a degree of steel, I can tell you. I became aware of the vast army of folk in Britain who work for the charities who provide round-the-clock care in situations like this. On that night, a nurse called Carla turned up whose job it was to sit in an armchair all night in a room adjacent to Dad’s to make sure that he was OK when asleep. I was upstairs snoring my flu ridden head off at this point, but I would urge you, next time you have an idle moment, to raise a glass to the Carlas of this world. Bloody amazing.

I won’t dwell much longer on all this, as this is meant to be a jolly look at the ups and downs of a life in the enthralling business of music, but on the other hand I didn’t want to glibly dismiss or ignore it, so suffice it to say here that it now looks as if Mum’s on the mend in a magnificent stroke recovery facility. Pa had a long career as a bank manager, and therefore has set great store by saving up for a rainy day, can now afford round the clock care in a five-star residential home. It’s a rotten situation, but at least it’s as un-rotten as it can be for now.

Luckily, the back end of that week contained work which was easy enough to achieve on no sleep, a family crisis and a head full of snot. God bless the BBC concert orchestra! Two days of mainly sitting around and Strepsils, interspersed with very infrequent bursts of easy Saxophone operation- just on the saxes alone, 15 licence payer’s annual subs had gone up in smoke before you could say “Friday Night Is Mu”. This cannot last- but while it does, let’s all give thanks for the fact that there is one tiny island left in the great sea of the music business where the bean counters don’t seem to have any influence at all- enjoy it while it’s here, folks.

There is a gig every year which qualifies for the title of “Unbearably sweaty function in a marquee in someone’s back garden”, and last Saturday was that gig. In a Plog about a year ago, I wrote up about the one last year, so I shan’t dwell on that aspect of the evening further, except to say that Dave Jones on bass ended up looking, as last year, like a wax effigy of himself covered in aspic. As we’d got the job through an agent, who’d been subcontracted by another agent, I’d guess that the poor sod who was having the do was paying between two-and-a-half and three grand over the odds. The plus side of this for us was that because we were expensive, the expectation was that we were a tight cohesive unit with Years Of Experience, and this in turn made our audience very much more receptive. Never mind the truth, which was that the band actually consisted of a load of itinerant freelance functioneers who were doing it by the seat of their pants, and that the reason that there weren’t as many songs from Simon on Guitar as normal was because he’d come straight to work from having a vasectomy. Thanks to our rigorous survival training in the harsh world of the professional environment, the illusion of seamless showbiz magic remained, as far as I can tell, untrammeled. Maybe I shouldn’t have written any of that down and then put it on the web. Mt Potts, the client, may be reading. We shall see. If you are reading, sir, sorry about the two and a half grand, and the rather falsetto version of “Satisfaction”.

Monday and Tuesday were spent seeing the folks, and watching for signs of improvement in Ma, and Wednesday and Thursday were spent on a gig which comes up every year which could easily comprise a round in the popular Japanese game show “Endurance”. This is of course the graduation day celebrations at Brunel University, held mainly outdoors in the spacious grounds encased in some rather tasty concrete brutalist halls of residence. In order to lend a suitable atmosphere of cultured levity to the queuing for the presentation and subsequent cocktail levity afterwards, someone a long time ago hit on the splendid idea of having a small gang of chaps along dressed in stripey blazers and boaters to play some Dixieland jazz. It’s a lovely idea, and good honest work, but it starts at eight forty-five in the morning, and the first set is an hour and a half long, on your feet, sounding jolly. The Cold was still upon me, and coupled with the acoustic properties of playing outdoors, which demand a higher volume than usual, quite quickly a nice load of pressure had built up in the front of the head. During our magnificent rendition of “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball” I felt as if I was having an attack of the bends. It could have been worse- I could have driven there straight after a vasectomy, and at least this year it was sunny- we have in previous years have found ourselves playing “The Sun Has Got His Hat On” in horizontal rain whilst the punters wisely cower inside the marquee enjoying warm champagne in little plastic glasses.

Playing that loud for that long- we knock off at 5.30 after playing for a total of around five hours- makes a chap’s chops very strong- for a couple of days later, any form of gigging feels like running downhill. The game is to not duplicate any of the material, and as it all has to be done without sheet music, this can result in some extraordinary trad jazz fudged versions of things like “Theme from Nationwide” and on one magnificently rainy afternoon, “Summer Holiday” By the end of the second day, we were unable to speak, walk or think, but we did manage to bash out a version of “Tainted Love” just before home time.

Because of the ongoing situation at home, it will probably be a while before any new chapters to the Curry Underground will be added. However, I am rehearsing this week with the Concert Orchestra once again, playing very small amounts of tenor sax in a collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys for a do in the Albert Hall on Wednesday. Stay tuned for tales of Gay orchestral fusion, and hopefully some good news about Mum.


Blog of Cholesterol

It’s happened yet again. Will I never learn? A lifetime of smug glib snidey digs and then I get bitten on the bum. Having been born and raised a devout omnivore, I have, I must confess, been one of those chaps who gathers in a certain corner of the Great Playground Of Life from time to time in order to say “Nerr” at all things vegetarian. Equipped with pithy one-liners such as “If God had meant us to be veggies, then animals wouldn’t taste of meat, would they?”, I have, until very recently, felt alternately condescending pity and then mild ire towards the plant-eating bretheren for not being able to wallow in the majesty of a bacon sandwich on white bloomer, and then invoking dank and maudlin feelings of guilt in myself for being able to partake.

I am, after all, the chap who has come up with a theory that there is actually no upper limit on the amount of lamb chops which can be eaten at a single sitting. Does anyone know anyone who has ever reached the point of having had enough? I thought not. Assuaging my carnivorous conscience that if I was ever caught for long enough in a wild and inhospitable environment I would eventually tire of berries and have enough gumption to catch a vole or similar, skin it, remove the nasties and cook it over a small fire. I figure that as well as making them taste of meat, Him Upstairs has also given me molars and fingernails- and so if push actually came to Bear Grylls shove, I could harvest a meat dinner from the countryside myself, instead of the current system which mainly involves trips to Northwood in the Volvo to pay Mr. Waitrose to do all the messy stuff for me.

It seems that for the time being, however, the meat-munching nose-thumbing era has had to come to an end. A visit to the quack last week revealed the unsavoury truth that my cholesterol levels had got a bit high, and whilst it would be unfair to say that were I to fall over and cut my knee, raw Lurpak would ooze out, the expression of concerned seriousness on Nurse Brunhilde’s face was enough to jar me into action. Research revealed that a good way of getting cholesterol down is, cleverly enough, not putting any in. Cholesterol comes from animal products, so the quick fix is to cut those out. Not only did I need to eschew the mocking grin of the omnivore bully, I had to upgrade from standard veggie class to the full-frontal hardcore lentil-griding hessian wearing world of the vegan! Once this had happened, the kicks up the backside from the Gods came thick and fast, exacting moral recompense from the years of sneering. For example, on Sunday last, I had a large band out to do rather a smashing do in the ballroom at Claridge’s. As is the way, we were billeted in an unused banqueting suite, and a nice big table had been set up for dinner. We’d needed quite a soundcheck, as the star turns for the night were not only Her Indoors, but the tight harmony male vocal sensation that are the Four Skins-

What with the crew and the rhythm section we were twelve for dinner. The big trolley of nosh is wheeled in, and lo and behold, because of my new regime, I couldn’t eat any of it! I then had to ask the waiter discreetly if I could have a meal with no meat or animal products. Now I’m all for welcoming our friends from the Former East to our green and pleasant land to travel here, join our workforce and generally muck in with all things UK plc, but in this instance, I must have had a new boy, who was clearly having a problem with my finely rounded Croydon accent, and, as unfortunate as it was predictable, I had to repeat the question a few times, getting progressively slower and, er, louder. It was only when I’d finished asking in my best International Desperanto at a reasonably high volume that I realised I had all the eyes of the table. I had become the long-mocked veggie who sends the food back at the bandroom dinner! Never say Nerr, folks. It wasn’t all bad though- my meal, when it arrived, was an incredible delicious and virtuosic concoction of fried teriyaki lettuce leaves on a cheese risotto, which being full of cheese, I couldn’t eat either. I bottled out of sending back a second dinner and ate it anyway. With probably more cholesterol because of the cheese than all the other eleven dinners put together, the come uppance was complete. It tasted good though. Even though I can’t indulge, I still think the point about God and Meat stands.

The three of you that read the Curry review kept on another page here will be pleased to know that every two weeks or so I will have a night off the strict veganism in order to keep the torrent of culinary information flowing. After the walloping success of the trip to Canon’s Park, the dart thrown at the tube map which hangs in the ground floor tranquillity suite, or downstairs lav, has landed more or less on East Putney, and so a trip to the leafy south west looms. On the home front, Her Indoors, being a game sort, has mucked in with a high level of support for Project V, with the result that the contents of the fridge now resemble a set design for Linda McCartney the Musical. A week in, I have developed a taste for Quorn. The burgers and sausages are ok, as long as I am careful to blacken them a bit-a little bit of burnt crust helps take away the feeling that you are eating mulched eraser, but I did find that the bacon was what I’d imagine a J-cloth would be like had it been used to wipe the floor at the Frazzles factory. The pepperoni is so bizarre that I have have every confidence that it could well become a cult food.

As I actually have a separate food blog, I feel that that’s probably enough from the gastric department for now. There’s not been a lot of playing over the last couple of weeks, so alas there are no great stories of harmony, hilarity and wit on from our voyage of discovery over the high seas of the music industry. The hiatus has allowed some welcome time in the plastic aeroplane department, and I hope to be publishing soon some pictures of the new work not only on the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama, but also on my new range of Classic British Jets of the 1970’s. This in turn depends on the purchase of a camera. Oh the excitement.


Blog of Big Band Jazz

Good Sight of the Week was definitely whole families up and dancing at the big band concert in the Cadogan Hall last Sunday afternoon. Richard Pite’s curious attraction to treat his deposit account as a kamikaze pilot would his Mitsubishi, results every so often in a Pitey Productions do down there presenting various facets of the jazz repertoire, often with your jaded scribe enlisted in the role of the jaded frontman. Being as it was an historical overview of the last 100 years of big band music, entitled appropriately enough, 100 Years Of Big Band Jazz, it didn’t really contain anything which could be described as New or Innovative, and it will therefore come as no surprise that it was a venture completely devoid of funding. As such, it needed to survive by being of actual interest to the general public. Being something of a whistle-stop tour, the problem was as ever deciding what to leave out- in order to present a balanced history, major contributors such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie were rationed to one number each, in order to make room for such iconic sounds as the massed piccolos on Soul Bossa Nova, the amazing Electronic Valve Instrument in the Mike Stern composition from 1994 or the Sousa-esque proto-jazz of James Europe from 1914.

The concert raised the interesting question of Nature Or Nurture- had Pitey and I have nipped round to Hughie Green’s house and while one of us kept his wife on the doorstep with double glazing brochures, the other nipped around the back, got in the garage and “borrowed” the old clapometer from Op Knocks, we’d be able to present the following information in a more statistical manner. It did seem, though, that by far and away the most popular choices of the afternoon were the ones which had been the most popular in their day. Unsurprisingly, these were Sing Sing Sing, and if I may say so, a magnificently galvanising rendition of In The Mood. As I’ve touched on earlier, the demo graph in the auditorium was interesting. As well as the crowd you’d expect of ladies and gentlemen of a certain age who have been fans all along, the placing of the concert on the afternoon of Father’s Day and its marketing as a family treat with discounted tickets for parties of four meant that there were, most unusually, quite a lot of children in, and even a few toddlers. As an aside, I was faced with the interesting challenge of introducing a concert without being able to say things like bugger or poo on the mike- no small challenge, I can tell you- but notwithstanding that it was immediately obvious that within nanoseconds of the jungle tom-toms at the top of Sing Sing Sing firing up, the power of this music to transfix the young is still every bit as potent as it was back in 1936. No-one’s told them that this stuff is good, they just reacted to it. I feel it’s more a case of Nature. Frantically gyrating youngsters were in evidence all around the room. Up on the balcony an Indian dad in a turban and his three nippers were going at it like not only was there no tomorrow, but not a great deal left of today. Perhaps those at the funding bodies who grant a hundred thousand quid a pop for people to go around supermarkets with percussion mallets in order to investigate ways of making a soundscape of available sounds from foodstuffs (I’m not kidding, alas) could divert a share of this dough to send big bands (and classical ensembles) round primary schools to interest the young in the visceral power of music. In the long term, who knows, perhaps the huge cultural wasteland that exists in our green and pleasant land between the X-factor at one end, pumped up with ordinary folks’ money by Simon Cowell, and the X-perimental at the other, pumped up with ordinary folks’ money by the Government could actually be filled with accessible art enjoyed by many. God forbid it might even provide a career or two for some of the terrifying hordes of young virtuosos piling out of the conservatoires in manner similar to commuters disgorging themselves from the 8.46 from Cockfosters.

Talking of Accessible Art and the 8.46 from Cockfosters, I have a new page on the site-have a look at the Curry Underground (link above this post). In a way reminiscent of those magazines you see advertised where you get on off cut of balsa a week and eventually end up with a model of HMS Victory, the Eiffel Tower, Felicity Kendall etc etc, The Curry Underground will build up week by week into the only comprehensive guide to the tube system in terms of the Indian food on offer near the stations. It’s going to be a lot of weeks-there’s a lot of stations. This, of course is much needed information for the working musician- we are often found at strange times in unfamiliar places, and knowledge such as a tea dance at the Hawkey Hall which can be easily accessed from South Woodford, but then followed by a Tandoori Mixed Grill and A Chilli Nan at the Meghna for £13.50 on the walk back to the train will, I’m sure, make the lot of many a happier one. Normal people with proper jobs are welcome to use the guide too- it’s not just limited to the Hogarthian human zoo that is the music profession.

As Hogarthian as it is, there seems to be no shortage of volunteers to join up. I saw this up close and personal last week as I experienced yet another indication that rather than being a thrusting Young Turk of British Jazz, I had now become one of its venerable old farts when I was called upon to mediate at a series of final examinations in jazz arranging at a London Music College. There, whiskery pierced young men and willowy young ladies submitted their works to the panel, and we all sat and listened as a band of professionals breathed life into the computer printed scores. In the prober binomial way you’d expect, a few were very good, most were fine, and there were a couple of clankers. No one actually failed, though, except for one feckless lad who downloaded something one of our lads knew off the internet and then wrote it out hoping we wouldn’t notice. What I learnt from this is how terrifyingly easy it is to spot blatant bullshit, and in the case on some others, poorly concealed bullshit. Every time I was asking Incisive Questions of the candidate and getting monosyllabic squirming back, I was transported down a time tunnel of vitriolic horrors to my own viva voce for my business studies A level project, where it was me stuttering out syllables, and occasionally, in horrendous moments of utter meltdown, individual letters under the steely gaze of the examiner. Because I hadn’t really done the work. I felt every bit the poacher turned Nazi. Mind you, these days, by the time you’ve got to the third year at Music College, you’ve probably racked up a good sixty grand’s worth of debt and with the current state of the business this will represent most of your income for at least the next twenty years. It comes as doubly surprising therefore that some of them were trying to fob us off with excuses about the college printer going down that morning, when a more cunning use of yesterday would have taken all that in its stride. Answers to questions like “So why is the first chord of the bridge passage two bars later than it said in the brief?” which went like “er-I don’t know….whatever” will always cause the radar to snap on. It’s difficult not to get carried away with the pomposity and really get in touch with your inner twat though- a trap I’ve alluded to before when ensconced snugly in a conductor’s suite in a concert hall. When it’s five hours into the day, and yet again the college hard drive seems to be the root of all evil, it gets harder still- but I really had to concentrate on the fact that as a direct opposite to what goes on in most of my life, what I say will actually have an effect on these people’s lives. Parish notice now-please, please, please come to the Benny Duke and Peggy gig at the Watersmeet Theatre on Friday 19th September. It’s a lovely gig anyway, and there’s a clip to look at the bottom of the page. The reason I’m getting in a tiz about this is that as well as being the Jazz Event Of The Season, it is the first time that Her Indoors has stepped up to the plate as a promoter. This is good and brave of her, but if it flops, life at The Gables will be downhill all the way to Xmas. However, if she breaks even, or better still, goes into the black, all will be sweetness and light. So come on! Get that plastic out and book right now while tickets last!
Have a look on YouTube – what about those natty brown shoes, eh?
Better still, to buy a ticket , and some more for your chums-


Blog of a Do

Not to be outdone by H.M. the Queen, Her Indoors has had an official birthday this year, alongside the actual one. The actual one took place some weeks ago here at The Gables, and was a low key do, involving a great deal of Marks and Spencer’s macaroni cheese, chocolate éclairs a boxed set of 1980’s Coronation Street, and not a great deal of moving about. By contrast, Her Indoors’ official birthday celebration was something of a Mardi Gras, and ground to a start in the early evening of last Friday.
Being a Signficant Anniversary, she had had it in mind that a Do of appropriate proportions was the thing, and being of good Lancashire stock, she felt that she’d like to create a little bit of Wigan right here in the Home Counties. More specifically, the Wigan in question was to be the one from 1986. In order to achieve this, certain criteria had to be fulfilled-

  • Venue needs to look like a Labour Club
  • Late Bar
  • Brown Buffet
  • Dance Floor
  • Live Music
  • Nice Lavs
  • Room for about 60 people
  • Staggering Distance from The Gables

You can understand that the run-up to this went on for months, and many options were investigated and ultimately rejected. A bold scheme to use The Gables themselves was looked into, involving several miles of purple Lametta, a marquee and a £30 Iceland voucher, but all came to naught. Things were getting a bit dicey- had this been a ball achingly cheap reality TV show entitled “Festa or Fiasco-When Party Plans Go Wrong” there would have been grainy slow motion images of Her Indoors and I on the bridge of The Volvo driving round the neighbourhood looking for venues, terse moments thumbing through the Yellow Pages, passing the local paper back and forth and a spot of storming out into the garden doing the international gesture of desperation, while all the while the voice-over would be coming out with buzz-words like “Party in Peril”, “Big Day In Tatters”, “How can they survive from here”, “If this party doesn’t go ahead, will it be the end of the road for them too?” and “Malaria risk”, all accompanied by a bearded young man called Giles or Ben back at the studio trying to make a threatening underscore on his keyboard on a budget of 9p. Karma went in our favour at the eleventh hour, however, on polling day at the local council elections.

Our local polling station was up a little alleyway nary two hundred yards from the front gate of The Gables, and was a small but tidy 1970’s prefab labelled “South Oxhey Community Centre”. Within, there was a largish room containing all the polling station paraphernalia to form the precision axis upon which the finely milled cogs of the engine of democracy runs in our modern age. You know- a painter’s trestle table, a big box of primary coloured plastic toys and an inflatable triceratops for when the room is used for playgroup and a couple of booths made out of plywood, all under the secure and ever watchful eye of two old birds and a chap with a rosette on. If a riot were to break out, I guess that the mob could be quelled by being pelted with Peppa Pigs. Or something. Anyway, whilst Her Indoors and I were actively involving ourselves in the process of local government, we heard unexpected noises of clinking glasses and general glee emanating from the next room along, and peeking through the door at the end of the room, we saw a magnificent little bar, all adorned with mock teak and fairy lights, and doing a roaring trade into the bargain. A brief chat with Marion behind the bar later, and we’d found our venue!
Giles back in the studio could switch from minor to major and the producers could be relieved that this week’s episode of Festa Or Fiasco could be broadcast as a Feelgood triumph. Marion also had the number of a local caterer called Jim who could provide the required brown buffet, mysteriously for rather less than it would cost you to buy it all yourself, Her Indoors went to poundland and spent tens of pounds on decorations, her chum Emily brought the disco lights and I came up with the idea of having the live music from the Bob Holloway Duo. All ingredients present and correct.

Music at a musicians’ party is always an odd one to fix. Some people like to have everyone get up and play who wants to, but this often ends in the musical equivalent of a drunken chat propped up at the bar. Also, having been in that situation myself a few times, if you are at a do as a guest but are also invited to play, you invariably end up being a rubbish guest and a duff player. Then again, for the chaps faced with the task of entertaining a bunch of musicians with, er, music, there is the question of what to play- should it be clever stuff with lots of flashy notes, or things you’d play for anyone? You can end up with versions of Valerie here with the middle bit from A Love Supreme, if you let this sort of thing run unchecked. Far better to engage chaps on a proper basis and have them do a proper job, and no-one I know does a more proper job than Bob, seen in the picture here with his mate Terry on drums.Bob is old-school, and clearly its undefeated champion. With one foot on the master volume, the other, shoe off, darting around the bass pedals, a separate keyboard in each hand and a vocal mike on the go, very little of Bob’s being is left unused in the act of creating his art. Given this, it is quite remarkable that when I’ve been on jobs with him, people come up to him from the dance and start trying to bark requests down his ear. I’m quite surprised that he hasn’t imploded by now. Leading off the dancing with a magnificent rendition of “A Man And A Woman” and then getting stuck straight in to a fifteen minute Beatles medley, Bob had us all on the floor for hours.

In other parts of the building, the Brown Buffet had been unveiled and was rightly receiving the critical acclaim it so richly deserved. Two vast pies formed the centrepiece, in the proper sequence of one meat, one meat and potato, shouting “Wigan” to even the most casual observer. Being of orthodox school pie oblong construction, each offered the full gamut of crust texture from black and crunchy to golden brown and moist with the mysterious saggy white bit underneath. Flanked on either side was a vast expanse of hot pot, and two huge catering pots filled to the brim with home made curry brought up the rear. On top of this there were enough French sticks to keep Beau Geste and his mates happy for a week, and a cheeseboard which read like the A-Z at the dairy counter at Costco. Which, of course, it probably was. It was a work of art- right down to the paper plates and bowls arranged in the number 40 to chime in with the theme of the night. I’m normally a fiend for Buffets, as my Ma brought me up with the good old ethos that somehow if I finished my dinner, I’d save a starving African village, but as I was mainly in the grips of Terpsichore, flailing helplessly as I was in the magma of hot rhythm emanating from the Bob Holloway duo, I stuck to a portion of steak pie drowned in curry. It was brilliant. It was also plentiful- at the end of the night there was enough left that if my Ma’s theory about Third World famine was correct, Her Indoors’ 40th would be high on the agenda at the upcoming Oxfam conference.

At the after party party, back here at the Gables, things wound down in a very genteel manner, with the last bit of drunken rubbish being spoken at around 4.30 a.m. As I had the impressionable young of Hertfordshire to teach the next morning, I’d retired at the positively crepuscular hour of 3, so as not to smell too much of booze and general rotting matter whilst croakily explaining a melodic minor scale to a nipper in return for folding money. Before that, the Men of the group had made a visit to the Shed in order to visit the ongoing work that is The Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama. In its way, it was curiously Victorian, with the chaps withdrawing and the ladies still at table, near the chocolate. I took the opportunity to drunkenly bang on about the travesty of the TSR 2. to a captive audience. I think I got away with it.

There had been no fights, no crying and not too much sick. Perhaps we’re all getting older.


Blog of Cheap Flight

Blimey! Five months since Christmas already! Where’s all that time gone? In another blink it will be Christmas all over again. Perhaps we could slow down the perception of the passage of time by permanently keeping the festive season on and therefore making things pass as one kind of giant amorphous Yuletide blur. The Picallili industry would do well out of this for starters-thinking that through though, leads me to realise that the rate of heartburn induced mortality would shoot through the roof. Better leave things as they are and keep the season of Domestic tension to its current August-January timespan. Harking back to the original question about the ever increasing rapidity of the passage of time, this week has seen a lot of hours frittered away on the grinding medium-level misery which is modern air travel.

It’s been an extraordinary week for the miles of travel per tune played, as my three engagements this week have been-in order- in Rome, Cockfosters and Monte Carlo which represents an aggregate distance from the front door of The Gables to, I’d say, Omsk, and having had a quick count up, has resulted in the playing of a grand total of twenty eight pieces of music. Google maps inform me that this represents 2906 miles, give or take, which works out at 103.7 miles per ditty. Tunes 1-8 we’re sounded off in Rome. This was originally presented to Her Indoors and me as a standard Commando-style raid sort of gig, where the deal is to fly in in the early morning of the gig on the cheapest, and therefore, most obscenely early flight available, hang around in a large room which for some reason will be devoid of chairs for hours while bearded chaps in three quarter length black trousers with big bunches of keys build a stage rig large enough for stadium rock and encroach on the allotted rehearsal time to the extent that the allotted rehearsal time then encroaches on the alloyed dinner time with the result that the dinner ceases to exist, play the music through the previously mentioned stadium rock PA system to around twenty four conference delegates attending this years’s mastitis research awards and inspiration dinner, get bundled into a minibus for a forty minute drive to another, cheaper hotel for three hours sleep before getting on the cheapest, and therefore most obscenely early flight home and find yourself in the Gatwick South Terminal car park feeling dazed and slightly mugged.

Boxing clever, Her indoors and I asked if we could have our flights out a couple of days early, and so last Monday, we found ourselves walking out on the balmy boulevards of Rome, in search of Balmy Roman Lager. I don’t want to sound too hippy dippy here, but there is a very different energy to Rome, and I reckon that it is due to the fact that so many human beings have lived and died there in a recognisably modern civilisation for the last two thousand seven hundred years. Being right in at the hatching of the entire rubric of western civilisation, the place just feels emote experienced and wiser than, for example, Milton Keynes. The Grub’s good too- just off the Via Nacionale is a little restaurant called Santa Cristina. In there some of the greatest dinners of all time are created- regular readers of this column will quake with awe when I guarantee that the nosh in there is on a par with such classics of modern cuisine as the Lobster In Squid Ink served at Galvin at Windows, the set dinner at Mr. Kong’s, or even, and I don’t say this lightly, the liver and back dinner at Sunny Side Up Cafe in South Oxhey. There’s also an Indian quarter out there, which led to a spot of Roman curry tasting. I now have enough data to start compiling a European curry ladder, which runs more or less as follows- in first place, by quite a long chalk, oddly, is Malta, then Us, then France, Monaco, Italy, Greece and Spain. It was a tough thing between the Italians and the Monagasques- things could have been very different for Italy if they’d eased off the cumin in the vindaloo.

Here’s a picture of me at the Vatican last Tuesday. Perhaps even more startling a feature of this place that the Michaelangelo stuff inside is the incredible scope and quantity of Vatican Tat available in the surrounding gift shops. Given that we are led to believe that His Holiness the pope not only has the ear of The Almighy, but also his private mobile number, twitter handle and access to His Facebook page, and that quite a lot of those visiting are the most ardent supporters of this whole system, it came as quite a shock to find the bulk of the iconography then applied to tea towels, clock radios, and my own personal favourite, fag lighters. We got my mate Paul, who is partial to a drop of Catholicism, but being from Glasgow, a drop of lager too, the perfect gift. A bottle opener with a picture of the Pope on.

The Rome gig itself was pretty much what we’d expect- in a huge off-airport hotel, an awards ceremony was taking place, and the event organisers had decided to entertain the forlorn looking group of international delegates with the medium of Opera. Sensibly, they’d booked five cracking singers from London, but presumably because the budget was running a bit tight, the production team had to make the difficult decision on where to save the dough. Being a musical show, they made the obvious decision to reduce the band size to something way below the bare minimum. Heaven forfend they should want to cut back on the stadium sized PA, in case any of the conference delegates from Brisbane, Dar-Es-Salaam, Kalamazoo or Worksop who couldn’t attend could probably just hear it from home anyway. Armed with the line-up of Trumpet, Sax, Keyboard, Bass and Drums, we were able to bring that all-important atmosphere of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum so crucially omitted by Puccini in his original orchestration of Turandot. At least it was nice and loud.

Home on Friday, and over to Cockfosters for ten more tunes in the 100 Years Of Jazz gig at the Chicken Shed Theatre, which strangely seemed to have no lapped wood units construction and a complete absence of chickens. Smashing curry after, though. Exceptional, in fact. A fuller review will follow when I start on my Great Curries Of The Tube Map project.

Then, at 3am today, the whole commando raid thing got going again when Nathan Bray and Miles Ashton turned up at The Gables to join me and The Volvo for a journey down to Gatwick, and as a result of this I am sitting here tapping this into the iPhone in the conductor’s room at the Sporting Club Of Monaco to deliver this week’s final instalment of tunes via the means of jumping up and down and shouting at a big band, while Iain Mackenzie and some other chums bang through the ten allotted Rat Pack Classics at 11.40 pm to the great and the good of the Grand Prix dinner. You remember that I’ve plogged from here before- it was last summer and we had had the benefit of a few days off to enjoy the riviera by rail. Not so this time- as soon as we’re done here it’s back on the coach for a long blink at the Nice Airport Ibis and back home in time for egg and bacon on a flight so obscenely cheap that had they known, the Wright Brothers’ investors would have deemed the whole aeroplane project commercially untenable and withdrawn their support.

Bad Sight Of The Week was yours truly on BBC4 talking about Duke Ellington in a programme about Jazz History. I’d heard that the TV puts three stone on you, but as I seem to have been Espescially Blessed by the gods of beauty, my televisual extra three stone had been entirely applied to my face. I looked like a cross between a bread and butter pudding and a collection of other people’s buttocks. Still, they do say that all publicity is good publicity.