Jazz Was-Got Blog

5 July 2013

Am sat waiting at Platform 8 at Euston on the slow train to Bushey on this fine sunny Friday Afternoon, after a sweltering hot jazz session down at the Spice Of Life Friday Lunch shift. It is a new train, and thus it is air-conditioned. This is good news for me, as I am known for being prone to suffering from a mild bout of light perspiration here and there. In fact, at the first sign of moderate watery sunshine I can usually lightly perspire buckets. As it’s been a hot afternoon, and I took the healthy option of walking down into the West End and back rather than the Full Summer Horror of the tube, I now feel that we’re there to be a sudden Nook And Cranny inspection, I would fail with flying colours, and be taken off for a good old to-do with the wire brush and detail. Bon Appetit,

In fact, all in all its been quite a week for jazz and sweating. Last Saturday saw a really nice, if rather sweaty wedding go past, in which the cardinal law of nuptial music was transgressed to such an extent that I have been lying awake at night waiting for The Knock On The Door. All we were doing was innocently playing a spot of cocktail Jazz, which should, if the grand Book Of Rules is being adhered to, the correct procedure for the audience is to ignore us completely, at a safe distance of thirty feet, at which distance we should be in audible anyway. The only times a member of the general public may breach this rule is to- A- tell us that we’re too loud
B- desperately dance with one or more knee-sliding toddlers, making trombone gestures at any member of the band operating any wind instrument. Back to last Saturday, and no sooner had we started trying to break the world record for the quietest ever version of Satin Doll, than a huge crowd had formed, not only to listen, but to-wait for it-applaud. They even asked for more volume, and someone at the back requested some Cannonball Adderley. After having taken a quick look out of the window to see if there were lollipop trees, or a rainbow trout who was directing traffic, or something else to indicate that a breach had occurred in the time-space continuum. Alas, all seemed normal, there were teenagers smoking on the croquet lawn, a woman in a pink dress was weeping drunkenly to her chum. All as it should be. The inevitable conclusion was that all the stuff going on indoors was real as well, and our punters really wanted jazz.

What a brilliant night that was-got jazz being played and a room full of people dancing and clapping. Good topsy-turvy stuff. In keeping with the topsy-turvy feel, upon leaving afterwards drummer Bill and I noticed that we’d got something of an early bath on our hands, and so found our way to the nearest Indian for an inevitable curry. So, to briefly take stock, people liked jazz, curry after work, not before. Should be enough to put us away for years.

Thanks to the miracle that is the iPhone, I’m able to write this on the train, the air-conditioning in which has now mellowed the Nooks and Crannies to a more acceptable level. Pulling out of South Kenton station as I now am, I have remembered that as I left for the Station, Her Indoors was threatening to get a paddling pool from Argos and have her lady friends over for an afternoon of lovely sunny aquatic self-improvement and yoga. Will it be harmony vocals on “Keep Young And Beautiful” whilst gaily throwing the beach ball from fair hand to fair hand, or will it be Vodka and All Men Are Bastards?. It could be carnage. I’ll keep you posted.


Blog Of Boxes

28 June 2013

This morning, the white Ford Transit from QMW Courier Solutions drew up at the end of the gravel drive by the security gate here at The Gables, precisely on the dot of Between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Delivery vans only ever come when you are engrossed in something else, in this case trying to get the lime scale out of the kettle with a sachet of Oust, whilst simultaneously trying to reunite my friend Mike with his trombone which he’d left round here by mistake after a particularly vigorous night out at the Swan. I’d had to lurch out of the house ill-prepared with the left shoe on properly but in my haste I’d only got the right one on halfway, and thus it was hanging off like a genetic fusion of club foot and flip-flop.

They say that security is the watchword. They should also know by now that given the fact that delivery vans will only ever arrive during an episode of high domestic imbroglio, and that the poor deliveree will most likely be distracted by a crucial item of clothing not properly affixed. This can range from, in my case today, a badly attached shoe through the whole gamut of dressing gowns which won’t stay tied or the singular unpleasantness of pants on the wrong way round to the full horror of having to appear at the front door covered head to foot in shower foam with the inadequately-sized bath towel covering the naughty bits getting caught in the front door. Whatever the garb, the mind won’t be properly focussed on the job. In addition, as we all know, you get handed a thing which looks like a 1980’s TV remote with Ceefax, and asked to sign it on the screen with the pointy thing on the bit of string poking out of the corner. Even if you’re absolutely on top of it, these things can distort calligraphy to such an extent that the resulting LCD squiggle is about as reliable as the Times publishing the Hitler Diaries. Security my arse.

However, driver Mohammed seemed perfectly happy with my squiggle, and didn’t even seem to notice that by the time I’d got to the end of the drive I had one shoe and one sock on, on opposite feet. I was then presented with my consignment of things. I’d been looking forward to my consignment of things since the end of January. Months of fervid preparation, self-denial, practice, organisation, discussion, revision, visualisation, design, analysis, soul-searching and last but by no means least, expenditure, had finally resulted in this-

CD'sYes folks, it’s a big pile of cardboard boxes pictured here at The Gables in the forward merchandising storage area, or kitchen. Within them are the first thousand pressings of the new CD of the Peggy Duke and Benny project featuring the magnificent singing of Her Indoors. If you’d like one, or just want to know what I’m writing about, you can have a look on the band directory page here. For a small fee, you can have one sent directly from the Despatch Department (or Shed) here at The Gables to you. If you’d like to enjoy the full delivery experience, for a couple of extra quid I’m sure we could send it to you by some rather more de-luxe postal tariff so you have to sign for it, thus creating a knock at the door when you’ve got the dog in the sink trying to get it to hold still while you wash the fox poo of its shoulder. Or something. Don’t forget, Christmas is just around the corner.

Mind you, as fun as it’s been getting an album together, recording the chaps, having inevitable curries and post-session chippy teas, I’m now faced with the problem of what to do with all of these individually shrink-wrapped pieces of quality home entertainment until the listening public greedily snaps them up over the next couple of decades or so. The Home Studio (or Shed) is currently stuffed to the gunnels with Duke Ellington sheet music, small plastic Axis seaplanes and military history books so very dull that I’ve not yet dared to own up to Her Indoors as to my ownership of them. Occasionally I get really scared by my inner nerd. I’ve got my eye on a bit of space in the cupboard under the stairs, but I may have to put the Henry on eBay. I’ll think of something.

Whist I’m on a bit of a self-proclamatory roll, the Great Experiment to see if it is possible to interest a wider audience in the dark art of jazz is about to enter a new phase. On July 8, the good work began down at the Green Dragon is going to move into the rather swankier surroundings of the Hippodrome in Leicester Square. Essentially, it’s a Jazz At The Philharmonic concert, and will be two hour’s worth of wall-to-wall excitement. It was obvious to me that the basic musical formula was a winner from the word go, as the thing which music needs in order to communicate with the general public is a clear groove and hooks. Quite a lot of live jazz has by its very nature a disguised groove and no hooks at all. Not so here- we’re going to be as groovily hard-swinging as you like and by use of riffs and plenty of short solos played by a largish ensemble of ten musicians, have more hooks than a trout farm.

However, in order for the music to have a sustainable future, a new audience needs to be cultivated. To this end, M’Learned Colleague, Richard Pite has actually thought the unthinkable and formed a focus group of people between the ages of 20 and 30, and then sat them down for a whole month to find a way of getting the jazz gig as we know it to be understandable as a form of entertainment as they know it. The good thing about Jazz the Philharmonic way is that it shares quite a lot of common elements with rock and club music. As I mentioned, strong rhythm will be a big selling point, and the energy level will be set high, which it turns out are attributes not generally associated to jazz by the people we spoke to. This will be music which is about inclusion and communication. There will be battles of prowess, as prominent feature in Rap music as it was in the cutting contests of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. The lads who are doing it all understand the purpose of the mission- there’s going to be some delicious controlled musical explosions. I do hope the purists won’t be turned off by the “Higher-Louder-Faster” aspect of this- we are trying to sell raw excitement here, and hopefully in the long term open the jazz door to a greater public who may go on to love and enjoy Jazz in all its colours and moods.

It has been in the labelling of the gig where the largest amount of midnight oil has been burnt. Rather than calling the thing a Monday Night Gig, it needs, apparently, to be called a “Club Night” and then have a zizzy one-word title. Ours is called “Burnin!”. It also needs to have a genre. We’ve plumped for “Hot Jazz”, as we felt this would let the jazzers understand whilst imbuing it with a sense of postmodern cool-anti-cool for the newcomers. The band itself is called Jazz@The Phil:Reloaded. With all the spare capital letters and @’s and the : , it seems to me to be a new sci-fi version of its old self, but this is only labelling to try and communicate to a wider public. A ro5 is still a rose, after all. My theory is that as long as we can get the room nice and full, they’ll really go with it. It is my experience that whenever there’s been some form of accident in the booking and some good hot jazz has been let off in public, the reaction has inevitably been enthusiastic. I’ll stop this now, as I feel that I’m tempting fate a bit too much, and once again my inner nerd is frightening me with the thought that at last, I may be on the brink of being carried round a room on a giant silver salver by cheering women. In a nice way, that is, rather than in an about to be chucked onto the big blazing ceremonial fire sort of way.


Blog Of Midweek Miscellany

19 June 2013

To start where I left off, the do last Friday playing Ellington music in the fabulous acoustic paradise that is the Stables in Wavendon, just down the road from the fabulous architectural paradise that is Milton Keynes, went off extremely well indeed. As well as indulging in some incredible brass gymnastics, Principal trumpeter and hot-as-Hades soloist Nathan Bray (pictured) brought an interesting new strand to the already well documented train of thought that is the Inevitable Curry. Rather than waste valuable post-bandcall-pre-gig time seeking out the nearest Star Of The Raj, Nathan had cut straight to the chase by preparing a Chicken Madras of his own devising (pictured) earlier on that day and then allowed it to infuse on the dashboard of his Volvo in the hot Milton Keynes sunshine while we were all indoors getting to grips with the finer nuances of such jewels as “Diminuendo In Blue” and “Air-Conditioned Jungle”.

NathanCurry Toying even further with accepted form and protocol, Nathan had taken the idea of a home made curry to the extreme, in that all the veg (and there were many) were from his allotment. We’d done the bandcall by 6pm, and here’s a shot of Nathan at 6.02 opening up the foil to reveal what lay inside. I just had time to take this quick shot, before I got into a Volvo of my own to join the other lads at the Wavendon Tandoori. I also spared a moment, in the purely professional pursuit of truth, you understand, to have a quick taste. That lad can cook! When the time comes, as inevitably as curry itself, that we all eventually get replaced by iPods in some form or another, at least he’ll have another trade.

The Ellington job marked the artistic high spot of the year so far, but the weekend was not without other highlights. Her Indoors had a job on Saturday night, leaving me at home in the home workshop, or shed, with a few spare hours to put in on the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama. I spent most of the time on the Blohm & Voss 238, or in more user-friendly terms, Bloody Great Big Nazi Plane. I mention this only because I reckon it’s so Bloody and Big that it will cross over from the cloud of a chap’s personal nerd musk into the arena of something approaching general interest. When it’s done, I’ll put up a picture. Six propellers and huge great swastikas on the tail. Enough there to fascinate anyone.

Sunday evening was marked with a nice wedding gig led by the golden glottis of singer Iain Mackenzie. It’s not often I get to do a gig now where I’m not at the helm, and the simple pleasure of turning up, operating a saxophone and going home again was not lost on me. Poor old MacKenzie had had a bit of an intense time on the run-up to the do with an amount of emails from the happy couple -to-be which would have brought the central computer at the Pentagon. He’d even had several detailed communications about the song order for the background music on the iPod, and by the time we had to go in, he had shades of the whiskery gibbering wreck about him. I know how this feels, and so I was acutely aware of the joyous sensation of none of it being any of my responsibility! I can only liken it to the feeling I got when I discovered the joy of Compeed, back in the War Of The Ragged Feet earlier on this year. As it turned out, these two were really nice people, the dance floor was full all night and they gave us chocolate cake in the bandroom. A victory.

Mind you, watch out if you ever need to go in a car to the area of London between Whitehall and the Embankment. This hotel was slap bang in the middle of all that, just up a bit from the Liberal Club. What with virtually every building round there being a government office, I guess it’s an anti-terrorist measure or something, but there’s simply nowhere to park. Her Indoors and I had to walk a good mile and a half up from behind Parliament Square, and she had her pointy gig shoes on. A good job we were on business, and not going out for the night, the meal would have been shot before we’d even got close to seeing how her food was going to go wrong.

HeyNonny Things got stranger still on Monday. Once again, I had the luxury of not being in charge. This time, it was a job in a venue called The Crypt, near Hatton Garden. The Crypt is indeed an old crypt, complete with gargoyles and vaulted ceiling, and the party hosts had decided to immerse themselves in the Tudor theme by having a medieval flavour running through the whole evening. This they did by the rather brilliant masterstroke of hiring in a load of suitable hats from Angels and Bermans. It really did the trick- the mind can be easily fooled with a littBakerStle altered stimulus for the minces- The other thing they did to really seal the deal was to book a five-piece jazz band. Mark Armstrong on Trumpet was in control of this one, and noting that jazz bands don’t feature too heavily in Pepys, had prepared small arrangements for us to play of such sixteenth century classics as “Greensleeves” and “All Burpe Us In Goode Companie” or something. It was great fun. It got more fun when, rather than jazzing up the old stuff, we olded up some jazz. Working on, probably the inaccurate cliché that, the basic rhythm of Olde Englishe Court Music goes Daaa-Da-Da-Daaa-Da-Da, astonishing versions of “Little Sunflower”, “Star Eyes”, and particularly “Caravan”, or “Caravanne” were the result, the latter with some rather fetching nasal group vocals in the Steeleye Span way. Dave Chamberlain proposed a version of “Tudor, Night, And The Music”, but we never got around to it. Luckily.  Here’s a picture of us in our splendid headgear. I think you’ll agree that the clear winner here is Gunther Kurmayr at the piano, in the eerie half-light looking surprisingly like a Holbein sketch of , say, “Hennery’s Codpiece Primper”, but for the record, you see Mark Armstrong as Cardinal Wolsey, me as Archbishop John Whitgift, Dave Chamberlain as Young Henry, and Jerome Davies as Henry VII, or possibly Anne Of Cleves.

Finally, a quick observation. As you may know, I am fascinated by the architecture of London’s underground, and on a recent trip in on the Met Line, I noticed this. It is the end of the line at Baker Street. It has nowhere else to go. So why is it curved?

More from the shed soon,


Blog Of What To Leave Out

14 June 2013

MrKongs The more acerbic amongst you will have of course already noticed the rather loose interpretation of the notion of Thursdayness in this week’s Thursday Plog. I was all set to do it yesterday afternoon when, before I even had time to realise what was going on, there was a surprise trip to Mr. Kong’s. Ostensibly this was to discuss new research on the quest to popularise jazz, more of which later. A good ten rounds with standard menu #1 and a solid night’s sleep later, here I am on Friday morning, surrounded by a small residual bubble of Thursday Afternoon. It’s a weak excuse, but it’s probably better than getting my mum to write in explaining that “Peter Has a Verruca and won’t be at Blog today”. Just by the by, I reckon that Kong has got a new seafood supplier- the razor clams last night were of absolutely Olympian standard- fibrous without being stringy, and tender without losing firmness. Completely bloody marvellous. For the stat counters, Her Indoor’s grub arrived and was eaten without any technical mishaps. It can and does occur. Douglas Adams was right when he said the worst thing about time travel was the hell it played with grammar. For example-“In three month’s time, I went and bought myself a nice new time machine. I like it, but they’re not what they’re going to be”. Similarly, earlier on this morning, when I was still in today and not, as later on, back in yesterday afternoon, I found myself in my home sheet music archive and sorting office, or shed. The reason for this is that once I finish here in the creative writing study, or kitchen, this morning on Thursday afternoon I then have to go back forward to Friday afternoon, and a real gem of a gig. This will be the end of the time-travel-syntax fun now.
I’ve banged on at length about Duke Ellington in the past, and I feel another nugget of it coming on now. Tonight, I am the richest chap in the world, because I have a gig with the Echoes Of Ellington at the fabulous acoustic paradise that is the Stables in Wavendon, just down the road from the fabulous architectural paradise that is Milton Keynes. It’s all good- we’ve sold out, and I have a really strong team of chaps on. I am hoping that it’s going to be delicious, making all that amazing noise. It is also a little bit poignant, because the Stables at Wavendon has at its heart the room which John Dankworth had built specially to display amazing noise like that to its best advantage.

Duke2 The stakes, therefore are riding a little bit high, and I want to do a good job. Therefore, this morning in the home sheet music archive and sorting office, or shed, I was wading through all my Ellington music deciding which ones to pull out. I have two one-hour sets to fill, which is about twenty two tunes. Ellington wrote about five thousand, of which I have access to around four hundred of the better known ones. In the shed, these are sorted into files according roughly to vintage, or in the case of, say, the Newport Jazz Festival, according to concert programme. Here’s the rub. Every piece in there is a masterpiece. I’ve got to leave 378 of them behind. It was easy for Ellington- asked which of his pieces was his favourite, he would say “The one I’m working on today”. Elegant old flanneler. If you check through a live Ellington record, you see that this was pretty much the case. He’d use a few of his massive hits as cornerstones of the programme, and then flesh it out with all his current stuff.

Using this as the model, the cornerstones of tonight’s show will be Ellington tunes everyone expects to hear- Take The “A” Train, Solitude, Perdido, I Got It Bad. The agonising bit is deciding on the rest. It’s all brilliant. If someone gave me a 10 day festival to fill with Ellington, I could do a different programme every night with no duplication, and each one would be The Best Music You’d Ever Heard. I’ve not got twenty hours, I’ve got two. The first thing to do is to look and see who I’ve got in the band tonight, and think of which pieces will really show them off best. One of the strengths of Ellington’s music is that it is largely a layered conversation between all the solo voices in the band, rather than taking the more usual approach of having the sections in the band hunt in packs. If you’ve got great soloists, you can really let the music breathe. Luckily, tonight, I’ve got a lot of the very best. This means that I can go to some very exotic corners of the repertoire. For the anoraks, it means I can have Jay Craig play the breaks in “Jumpin Punkins”, or Ryan Quigley re-create “El Gato”.

This narrowed the choice down to around 150 must-hear numbers for tonight. I needed to get rid of another 128. I then considered the rise and fall of the gig . Ellington wrote so many beautiful ballads that if you take your eye of the ball for a second, you can lose yourself in the beauty and end up with nine slow ones in a row. Balancing fast against slow helps, but in the end you just have to get arbitrary and leave a load of gems in the shed for next time. It’s just a bit of a shame that next time’s on December the 8th, In Welwyn Garden City! Still, infinitely better than no next time at all!

Excitement is running high at the Sales And Marketing Department (or Her Indoors’ laptop) here at The Gables. The Peggy, Duke And Benny CD is now off at the factory being pressed, and sometime in the middle of next week a lorryload of cardboard cases will turn up to be safely stored in the merchandise warehouse, or shed, where they will obscure the view of the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama until they are sold. To that end, expect vulgar advertising to appear here shortly.

There’s been a bit of development on the Croydon Popular Jazz Front. Here in the jazz promulgation think-tank, or Pub, various schemes for central London venues are being examined, and negotiations with a leading venue have started. Given that most jazz gigs look like this-


We are going to attempt a weekly slot which will hopefully look a bit like this-


This will largely depend on the structure of the advertising. I am confident that the music formula will be fine, as earlier discussed, since the things jazz lacks to the ear of the casual listener are hooks, coherence and a regular beat. Research is currently being conducted amongst that most unfamiliar demograph for jazz musicians-Normal young people. Let’s see what happens.
More from the Shed (Or Home Studio) soon


Bandroom Banter Blog

6 June 2013

Many thanks to everyone who emailed into the consumer help and support desk here at The Gables about last week’s Plog regarding the parlous state of the jazz business. Two broad themes emerged. Firstly, there is no young blood turning up into the jazz clubs in significant enough numbers to make a difference commercially. Secondly, the preponderance of the mass media and internet is channelling all forms of the music business into huge centrally controlled retail conduits, thus stifling and ultimately suffocating any kind of grass roots activity. Since Jazz (and folk, and prog rock and a trillion other idioms) all exist on the grass roots, the future under the vast cultural Flymo of Mr. Cowell and his ilk could be considered to be looking rather bleak. It’s a vicious circle. Jazz won’t get popular because no-one wants it on the telly. The reason for this is those responsible for these things feel it is at best arcane, and at worse, repulsive. It’s a vicious circle. Circles can be broken, though. I have a notion of a plan. Watch this space. Probably for a very long time.

However, I feel that the Plog should represent more things than me ranting on about the perils of earning what is laughingly referred to as “A Living” operating musical instruments. Things aren’t all bad. As Alan Barnes says- “Not having to get up until eleven in the morning is worth forty grand a year to most people”. We will return to the British Overall Long Life Operational Career Kinetic Structure, or BOLLOCKS, in later Plogs.

The main thrust of this week’s activity has largely involved sitting around. My work last weekend was heading up the house band for the Boisdale Tent at the Epsom Derby. We had to start at 11.30 in the morning, play cocktail music for the reception, and then a few short spots in between the races. Towards the end of the day we ramped things up into a kind of Vegas rat pack thing and ended up with a full on cavalcade of party classics for the seriously refreshed. Therefore, lots and lots of sitting around. Sunday was spent driving to Malvern for an early rehearsal for the Benny Goodman show, which followed Sod’s law of bandcalls in which a rehearsal for which hours have been allocated will take minutes, and a rehearsal for which minutes are available will need hours. As we had hours to rehearsal, the result was more sitting around, interspersed with an inevitable curry. By the way, should you find yourself in Malvern and in need of Indian Food, I can strongly recommend the Flute Signature Indian restaurant- they have a unique menu with such tasty delicacies as “Chicken N. Morris”. Fabulous. The Nargis Kebab was of Olympic standard. Ed Richardson’s girlfriend was with us in our group. It goes without saying that her dinner went wrong.

Back to the phenomenon of at-gig-loitering, and I could be wrong, but I think it was Ronnie Wood who came up with the basic formula of a musician’s existence, which is that for every hour spent playing music, there are around eight hours hanging around in cars, trains airports, poorly lit back rooms, outside locked gates, at inevitable curries and, of course, pubs. Now, I’ve been doing this for over twenty years, and I’ve noticed that there are distinct trends, or categories in the nature of the chit-chat that goes on. It’s a funny thing, bandroom chit-chat, because by the freelance nature of what we do some people will know each other very well, some may have been close chums a few years ago but haven’t seen each other for years, there may be someone there who doesn’t know anyone, and a few will have a passing acquaintance. It is not uncommon for a couple of chaps to have to share a drive to Leeds and back who have never met before, and who are of wildly differing ages. It’s a nice thing that a man of twenty-two can have a pint with a man of seventy-four as an equal, as the process of organising noise into music is a great leveller. I can’t see this happening in Estate Agency, for example. However, it does seem that this odd backdrop for conversation will make those involved behave by certain patterns. Over the years these have been codified into-

Before I begin the description, I need to say that it seems that the categories are loosely dependant on age. You do see variation and exception, but this is by and large how it is. Category 1
Harrell Generally the province of the young blade from the age of 18 up to about 26, Category 1 banter reflects the energy and optimism of youth. It will be concerned with the latest developments in music, who’s doing what gig, how “Killing” their phrasing was, how many hours of practice are done a day, drinking and sex. The current figurehead in Jazz for the Category 1 exponent is a Trumpet player from New York called Tom Harrell. He is capable of weaving melodies with his trumpet in, around and out of the underlying harmony with a unique poise and beauty. Your Category 1 Johnny will nod solemnly whilst listening to this, quietly murmuring “Killing” to himself. It was the same back in the 1980’s, in my Category 1 days, except that we had Mike Brecker to idolise, and quietly murmured the word “Serious”. Back in 1947 it was Charlie Parker and “Groovy”. In 368,000 B.C it would have been someone called something like Rok-Bonk who still had a tail and the word “Nnng”. You get the picture.

Category 2

Twashinghis sets on in the middle to late twenties, and is usually the result of moving out of the eye-deep morass of Kentucky fried chicken boxes, threadbare carpets, faulty immersion heaters and Tom Harrell CD’s in their component parts which characterise the student digs phase of one’s existence. It’s all white goods and DIY here in category 2. Young George Hogg, trumpeter extraordinaire and matinee idol to boot, who could quite easily have spent his whole life in a descending spiral of George-Best like Category 1- based activity is now quite happy to discuss grouting his new bathroom on the band bus all the way to Southport and back. Jazz journal has given way to the B&Q catalogue. However, do enjoy Category 2 while it’s here, as it quickly gives way to the real biggie, the top of the bandroom pops, the lion’s share of the great pie chart of chat, yes folks, its…
Category 3-
hospital Illness and discomfort. As a breed, we seem to be interested in little else. From your early thirties to the MU gold card arriving in the post, Category 3 takes care of 95% of your conversational needs. You first notice it when you catch yourself complaining about a spot of post-inevitable curry indigestion during the interval of a show and it spreads out and down from there. Whole days in cars can be gleefully spent discussing rashes and sores, back pain and wheezing and stiffness in all parts of the body, except those already covered by category 1. It is all things discomfort, so recently there has been an amendment to the constitution to include complaining about traffic, especially if the concomitant overlong period of sitting down has led to a spot of back pain, or a numb foot.
Category 4
tombstoneSome maintain that this is really the logical end of Category 3, and it involves conversations which start like “I suppose you’ve heard about Norman?” . The current record for a Category 4 conversation is held by Tony Fisher and Roy Willox at a hotel breakfast in Spain, in which the roll call of departed chums would have comprised at least a couple of battalions before they’d even finished the Weetabix.

As I mentioned earlier, it is quite possible to flit between categories not normally associated with the regular age group. Anyone driving home from IKEA with a flat-pack bed (called Shagon or something) and thirty tea lights in a paper bag immediately assumes ownership of Category 2. I recently mentioned an Epic trip to Mr Kong’s after a Duke Ellington rehearsal with young Callum Au, Pitey, Lucas Dodd and a few others. Now then- Pitey and I are fully paid-up cardigan-wearing, Radio 4 listening, slightly rheumatic members of the Category 3 club. Callum and Lucas are still in the full flush of Category 1, and can sing you any of Tom Harrell’s recorded repertoires at the drop of a hat. Consequently, for Pitey and me it was as if someone had attached jump leads to our frontal lobes to be exposed to that much fizzing young energy. Pub, Kong’s Pub again- it was like the good old days. But it was only like the good old days. By 10pm we’d had enough and were pining for the armchair and Horlicks. Category 1 thundered ahead without us- It turns out that Callum and Lucas then stayed at the pub until closing time, then went to hear the late set at the Pizza Express, and then went to Ronnie’s for the graveyard shift where there was a big jam session happening and they had a play. At some point during this, Lucas had attracted the attention of a new ladyfriend, and finished the evening off by vigorously showing her his etchings. Somebody needs to buy that lad a dishwasher.


What Happened To Jazz? Blog

29 May 2013

CroydonTownHallI was in the Golden City of Croydon yesterday, mainly to visit the model shop they have down there in order to get some extruded plastic rod for the Seaplanes of the Axis Powers Diorama, but also to do a gig. The Jazz scene in Croydon exists in a converted high street branch of Nat West which is now a rather splendid boozer called The Green Dragon. Wisely realising that the target audience for this sort of thing now almost entirely has a free bus pass, they do it on Tuesday lunchtime. This ensures that the target audience can all get home in time for tea, draw the curtains and have a nice settle down. Very wise. I need also to mention that while playing jazz in the Green Dragon is never going to earn a chap enough for the new Jag, they do feed you there, and give you as much access to their magnificent selection of real ale as you can shake a stick at. I must also say that after three pints or so of the Dark Star Brewery’s “Erse of Beelzebubbe” or whatever it was called you’d be hard pressed to shake your head, let alone pick up a stick and discernibly wiggle it around.

This was a return booking for a project of mine which is also partly an experiment. It resulted from a chat with Alex Garnett during an inevitable curry back in January. We were indulging ourselves in an enjoyable moan about why the audience for jazz gigs in theatres and pubs seems to be in sharp decline, and being a bit beery as we were, introduced the strand of “Of course in the good old days, gigs used to be packed- couldn’t get to the bar-air thick with fag smoke-playing jazz for money was a workable career option-Club Eleven- Tubby Hayes etc etc”. Then the penny dropped. One of the reasons, if not the main reason itself is that since the Golden Days of, I suppose, the early 1960’s, Jazz has become progressively less and less easy for the Man In The Street to get hold of, and as he doesn’t have to, he doesn’t bother.

If we look at who was around in those days, Jazz here in the Golden Days was split into two clearly defined camps – the modernists, featuring such luminaries as John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracey, and the traditionalists, most famously Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball, all of whom earned a very decent living from playing the kind of music which they chose to play. As someone who has had to bash together a living playing “The Lady In Red” and “The Lambada” at weddings for the first fifteen years, and still is no stranger to the harmonic structure of “Tequila” when the need arises, I can tell you now that to be able to survive playing music of your own choice as a mainstream option is a luxury afforded to only a tiny minority now’ if at all. Ask any of the notable jazzers down a theatre pit next time you go in! Flautist Gareth Lockrane, one of the most invigorating and astounding jazz soloists this nation has ever produced, pays his way mainly by teaching. The fact that he’s teaching the complexities of contemporary jazz to an endless supply of volunteers who will, in their turn have to survive by either teaching, playing Tequila or roasting away for Sir Cameron is another matter entirely.

Back to the traders and the cool cats of the early ’60s, each camp had a clearly defined image- your modernist was all about the sharp suit, shades and looking cool. Your traddie sported a kind of proto-hippie get-up, built for comfort in order to withstand the long hours of dancing to the band. Either way, it was about a group look, belonging to a new gang, and going out. In Britain, music is fashion, and it was fashionably the thing to be interested in jazz. I’m not so sure if this is the case these days. The thing is though, if you listen to early 1960’s British jazz of any kind, it is immediately apparent why it had a much broader commercial appeal than it does these days. Broadly speaking, the reason is regular rhythm. Tubby’s great drummer Phil Seaman is not mainly remembered for his amazing technical facility on the drums. Ask anyone about Phil who remembers, and they will tell you about the time and the feel, and the fact that when he played, the whole room swung. . It’s the same with the trad bands. Last Friday, BBC4 had on a broadcast from 1965 of Acker Bilk’s band. His drummer, Ron MacKay played bar after bar of glorious swinging drums, and it was instantly obvious why this music had a wide audience. Modern or trad, being strongly rhythmic, it was fun to listen to. Once you’ve got that in place, the fashion can follow. If we look into all the times in history when jazz succeeded commercially, it is generally because the rhythm was regular. Benny Goodman and the swing era was all about that. I guess that you could argue that the only jazz musician today who is anything like a global household name is Diana Krall. Virtually every Krall recording has the lilt of the rhythm guitar gently, and most importantly ,regularly stating the beat. I remember in the late 1980’s there was a brief resurgence of Jazz in the wake of the Absolute Beginners film. Once again, something had happened to make jazz a little bit fashionable. Bands led by drummers Tommy Chase and Clark Tracey were able to go on well-paid national tours. This time the focus was on hard bop, and particularly that of Art Blakey and Horace Silver, but what do we find here? That’s right- a good heavy swinging backbeat. Put on Horace Silver’s record of Sister Sadie and try and keep still. Just try it.

Anyway, back to Croydon, Alex and the inevitable curry griping session. The upshot of it was that we would have an experiment to put some old fashioned 1960’s British jazz out there to see what would happen. I had a Tuesday lunchtime quartet gig in my book for a week later down at the Green Dragon, and reasoning that as the playing fee was bugger all already, and that half of bugger all was still bugger all, why not double the size of the band and have a proper old jam session in the style of the great Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts of the 1950’s? Armed as we were with a selection of hotshots on Saxes and brass, it was an absolute smash hit. A Jazz at the Phil concert is highly structured. For a general music listener, structure and regular rhythm are the things. Despite looking like a collection of soloists taking it in turns to blow over a rhythm section, there are in fact lots of rules. No solo is longer than three choruses. On the third chorus of each solo the other blowers set up a riff. By doing this, the performance has variety, pace, and perhaps the thing which your average chap in the street needs most, but which jazz has least of – hooks. I remember on that first gig whole rows of people in the audience singing along with the riff we’d set up on Lady Be Good as Mark Armstrong took his trumpet into the stratosphere- he was amazing, but our riff made him inclusive. There are no bass solos. Sorry, bass players, but you already know all the gags-“Marriage Counsellors are now employing jazz bass players in their premises as it has been proved scientifically that nothing gets people talking as efficiently as a bass solo”. To be fair, on that gig the bass solo situation was addressed when Paul Morgan got “In a Sentimental Mood” all to himself. With his sound and virtuosity, he brought the house down.

It’s a funny thing with drummers, especially those at college level, in which they will be perfectly content to sit on a rock or funk groove for hours on end, enjoying the accumulation of vibe in the room which ensues. Ask for a jazz groove, and all of a sudden a Need To Be Inventive steps in, and no two successive bars are the same, thus not permitting the accumulation of vibe. Maybe it’s a fear of the jazz turning into Rock and Roll. However, Elliott Henshaw was at the kit that day, and being a massive Buddy Rich head he understood the task immediately. By half time the whole room was shaking and quivering with regular rhythm. The whole room was also packed. Not only was the room packed, but everybody was smiling. Everyone in the place, band, puntes, barstaff and Molly the greyhound was included in the jazz. Ken, who puts the gig together, had never seen anything like it. I had- film of Humphrey Lyttleton’s band in the 100 club in 1952 had audience shots which looked like that.

Now then- please don’t think that I’m on a one-chap crusade here to turn the hands of time back because The Good Old Days were better, or that I’m becoming a rhythmic and harmonic luddite in warning of the perils of contemporary twenty-first century jazz. Oh dear me no! If music is to survive, it has to grow. However, what does seem to be the case is that it was certainly easier to earn a living playing Jazz in the Good Old Days, and I think that making jazz accessible and trying to reach new audiences with it is as crucial to its survival as the efforts of those on its cutting edge. To play it with regular rhythm, structure and hooks is by no means dumbing it down. If anything, it makes its execution rather harder, as a sense of discipline has to be introduced into the mix. A well-rounded jazz musician should be able to work happily in either context, and be able to really enjoy both parts of the spectrum. Having your music connect with a couple of hundred cheering people in a pub is a very different pleasure to really making the changes on “Heyoke” in the reverend hush of a concert hall, but if as a business we aren’t connecting with the public and drumming up interest in jazz, it is possible to imagine a situation in which there won’t be either pubs or concert halls to play in. Big Jazz Festivals now have to import turns from the world of Rock & Roll in order to survive. Montreux this year is boasting an appearance by ZZ Top on its main stage.

Now I’m as big a fan of ZZ Top as the next chap, but headlining a jazz festival? The reason that there’s not a jazz big hitter of the magnitude of Louis Armstrong, Errol Garner or Duke Ellington these days is that as a breed, we as jazz musicians have largely shut the pub door on our potential audience in the interests of driving the outer limits of our craft to new and unimaginable heights. It is well documented that Einstein would run courses in classical music appreciation, and the first item on the listening list would be a spot of Mantovani. He, with his atom-splitting intellect, that you can’t serve people heavy-duty contemporary music without getting their ears and minds accustomed to the sounds it makes. Recently there has been a campaign “Creating Opportunities For UK Jazz Musicians”. I think we need to re-jig it and bring out “Creating Opportunities For UK Jazz Audiences”.
What do you think?


Beer Blog

23 May 2013

It would appear that the main item on the agenda this morning is a mild but persistent hangover. Not the full head-in-a-Black-And -Decker-Workmate whilst the tongue has been magically transformed into a portion of Bombay Dak stuck to the side of the mouth affair, but more like a feeling of having one of those things for getting stones out of horses hooves being held against the back of the skull. In this case just a shade too tightly.

Last night, there was beer, you see. Mitch, my chum from school had come round to play. Often, where beer goes, inevitable curry follows. We are blessed locally with beer and inevitable curry facilities on offer. The beer was furnished by a little two-up two-down pub called The Swan, in the middle of a row of terraces up in Bushey. Quite the finest pub I’ve ever been in, The Swan has a plaque on the wall stating that it is the only unreconstructed Victorian boozer (my words) within the M25. It’s got the lot- shove halfpenny, darts, fags for sale over the bar at shop prices, no music, a roaring fire when it’s cold, lovely beer and no poncy blackboard advertising such items as “Oak-Smoked Corn-Fed Oven-Baked (this last one really gets me- where else can you bake something?) Breast of finest hand-reared Watford chicken in organic rosemary Jus with finest Sicilian polenta in lemon and anchovy sauce”. Not in The Swan, mate. If you do want a bite, Sue behind the bar will run you up a roll. She has cheese, ham and tomatoes. You can therefore have a cheese roll, a ham roll a tomato roll, a cheese ham and tomato roll, a tomato and cheese roll, a plain roll, a plate of ham and cheese or a plate of ham or cheese. . The list is endless. No wonder there’s no blackboard, you’d never fit all that lot on. Bloody brilliant. There are no Ladies’ lavs either, but as a concession to equal rights modernity, one has been installed outside the back, accessed via the ginnell. Apparently, to cheer the ladies up, it is festooned with images of topless firemen from the Watford Fire Station charity calendar. Her Indoors is particularly fond of Brendan, 24, from Hemel. The Gents’ lavs are similarly enhanced with a quite extraordinary series of images furnished by the Jolec electrical supplies company. Clearly boasting an all-female staff, if the calendar is anything to go by, this is an organisation which apparently serves the electrical needs of tropical beach life and has a unique minimalist attitude to protective clothing. Some would even argue that they are coming down quite hard on the anti-clothing side of things. I can’t imagine one of their girls turning up at The Gables to sort out the outside front light dressed like that, if you get my drift.

We finished in the Swan at closing time. As I intoned earlier, we are very lucky up this way with the combined beer and inevitable curry infrastructure on offer. Just a short stumble away lies the India Garden, which has been patiently furnishing the hungry, needy and drunk of WD23 with inevitable curry for the last 35 years. Quite happy to remain open well after the pubs have shut, Mr. Garden is always polite, incredibly good value for money, and inexplicably, really really tasty. It was the Tuesday night banquet special, which essentially meant that you could have two courses of anything you liked with side dishes for a tenner! And it still tasted good. Somebody should get the lads in there a Queen’s award for outstanding services to Curry.

Back to the hangover. I’ve noticed that when a hangover is in residence, the laws of physics change a bit. Lying in bed this morning, going over the body checklist-arms-present, knees-present, etc etc, it came to me that birdsong was somehow about three times louder than normal. Maybe the skeleton crew working the hangover shift on the bridge of the U.S.S. Plong have to have all the sensors turned up to help them run the ship on 5% of the normal complement. Out in the garden, there was a woodpigeon in extremely fine voice, going “W’Whoo Whoo” as they do. As well as everything being louder, time seemed to be running a bit slower than normal, and this led me to really focussing on the bird’s song. After quite a while, it struck me that this woodpigeon had a perfect sense of rhythm. In about fifty or so “W’Whoo Whoo”s she didn’t budge off the beat an inch! She was an avian metronome. It made me wonder how a woodpigeon’s perception of music would work. Would Mrs. W. Make a good conga player? Was it just her, or are all woodpigeons, and by implication, the whole animal kingdom demons for rhythm? There was once a drummer called Des who was, quite simply, awful. He said birds never came in his garden. Makes you think.


Mid-Month Slow Bit Blog

18 May 2013

Not too much to report this week on the saxophone-operating front this week, as we are in the usual mid-month slow bit. On the kitchen wall at The Gables there is one of those year at a glance wall calendar thingies, made, I believe, by the rather splendidly named Nobo corporation. Upon this is put the mighty display of the year’s engagements partly as a backup for the diaries held in crash able form on various hand-held electric devices around the home, and partly so that we don’t organise an appearance at the Bell and Sideboard in Gripton with the local trio on Her Indoors’ Mum’s birthday or similar. After a few years of keeping the engagement schedule in this way, you get to notice trends, and for reasons I cannot fathom, beginnings and ends of months tend to be busy, and the middle weeks are, in the main, rather slacker. Maybe it’s just the way people think when they are organising a do- I suppose you often hear the expression “We’ll aim at having the Dockets Inwards Department Cocktail Party at the end of June”, or similar, but rarely “Do you know, I’ve always had a thing for the number 17. Let’s have the reception then”.

Blohm&Voss However, in The Shed, or Home Studio, things are seldom quiet. Taking advantage of not having to spend the usual seven hours a day in the car in order to play Days Of Wine And Roses, I got really very busy on the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama. I actually finished the pair of Blohm & Voss 138’s I’d been fiddling away at since Xmas, and commenced work on the large and exciting Blohm & Voss 238. I’ll stop this now, as I can feel a cloud of e-tedium building up on your end of things and I don’t want to lose my audience. Suffice to say, there was a great deal of Geek Musk in the air. The lull in proceedings also permitted a spot of work to get done on the forthcoming “Benny Duke & Peggy” album, where the idea is to present the songs of Duke Ellington and Peggy Lee in a sort of Benny Goodman-ish way. Why? Because a client asked us to for their annual do (On the first weekend of a month, I hasten to add,) and we liked the sound of it so much that we kept it on. As you’d expect, it largely features Her Indoors singing songs with me in the role of The Dennis Thatcher Of Jazz sorting the band out and operating the clarinet. There have already been some free clips of this on the Plog, and these are nestled away over on the Benny Duke & Peggy section of the Band Directory page of this site. Tempted though I am to put another track on today, I’d have nothing left to sell when the CD finally emerges, and I’ll need to get some dough in to pay for the bloody thing in the first place!

It’s always exciting when you enter the final stages of a project. Instead of various tracks in various states of completion lying around in the highly organised infrastructure of the various laptops in The Gables, there is now a finished fully mastered CD, where the tracks come on in the right order one after another, just like on a real record. I’m particularly jubilant about the first looks I’ve had of the sleeve design from my man Phil. Phil is particularly good about boiling a concept down until just the original zeitgeist remains. I’d asked him for a spot of late 1960’s chic to sort the mood of the jazz on the disc, and when I saw what he’d come up with I could swear that I was back at the record counter in Woolworth’s in Oxted in 1971! Won’t be long now, folks. It’s Phil who’s done all the work on this site too. Have a look around- he’s a very clever boy!

My best friend at primary school was called Dave. Dave was Australian and therefore, in terms of an eight-year old from Croydon, impossibly exotic. He knew about stuff like Vegemite, poisonous snakes and spiders and had different words for wee and poo, and a very liberal un-British attitude to fizzy drinks. In 1973, we were just out of the Austerity years, in real cultural terms. I know we’d had the swinging 60s and the Summer Of Love, but I reckon that that only happened to about 800 people around Chelsea. For us down in Croydon it was The War, Rationing, Austerity and then all of a sudden, aspirational 1970’s chic as personified by Bob and Thelma in the Likely Lads. Round my neck of the woods, you got one can of fizzy pop to share with your sisters every other Friday. Dave, coming from tropical colonial areas, had a supply of the stuff virtually on tap. It was like the introduction of whisky to the Navajo, I can tell you! His mum was the first woman I ever saw in culottes, and his sister had a cello. Aside from the recorder, and to quote Molesworth, “The old skool piano wot go clang”, Dave’s sister’s cello was the first musical instrument I’d seen up close and personal. Extraordinary droning sounds emanated from it whenever she operated it with the stick thing. I was fascinated. It was also the first time I’d seen anyone in my peer group doing something other than playing on bikes, making Airfix or eating, and so it came as quite a shock. It was the first time I’d seen someone my age doing something grown-up. It’s just dawned on me now that eating, Airfix and musical instruments is all I do now. That’s quite a shock as well.

Back to Dave, though. Co-incidentally, at the end of primary school in 1976, Dave’s dad got transferred back to Oz and so that was the end of Dave, Vegemite, Coca-Cola cut 2/3 to 1/3 with orange squash, and the hypnotic sound of the cello. Thanks to the gift of the World Wide Facetweet thing, Dave appeared out of the interweb ether to say hello about a year ago. It would appear that he’d survived the ravages of all the domestic creepy crawlies he’d waxed so lyrical about as a lad, and appeared to be quite normal, despite ingesting as a child (as we all did) enough sugar to keep the south American economy afloat for a year. More excitingly, two weeks ago he got in touch to say that he was coming over to London on a business trip, and would I like to meet up. It would, after all, be our first opportunity to have a beer together.

Naturally, as any right thinking chap should do when faced with a visitor to these shores, I whisked Dave off to Mr. Kong’s for the standard menu. It was odd in a good way- we were still the same mates, but with a 36-year gap in the conversation. Dave is now an accountant, and I’d guess a pretty good one if they can send him over to the other side of the planet to drum up trade. Evidence of this was the terrifying memory which a financial chap needs to squirrel away all the tiny minutiae of their craft- he could remember virtually everything about our Primary School, right down to the names of the dinner ladies! Apparently, one of them had tattoos. I wouldn’t even have known what a tattoo was then. A very strange phenomenon, talking in great detail to someone about stuff you’ve not even thought about for all that time, and then not having to pay them and book another appointment! Hopefully it won’t be another 36 years!


Sporting Blog

Sunday 12th May

Unusually, and perhaps uniquely, the focus of this instalment of the Plog isn’t curry of any description, travelling to gigs or model seaplane construction. No, this time, it is going to be sport.

Before I crack on, though, I briefly need to touch on the developing saga of the phenomenon that is women’s food going wrong in public. The feedback has been tremendous, and it seems that there is a definite trend for Her Indoors’ nosh to deviate from the straight and narrow. Not a rule, but a definite and perceptible trend. Only today, during a simple purchasing operation involving two cans of Tango and two plastic cups, her plastic cup had bits in. Bits. It seems that no public catering establishment from the Savoy grill to the Mr Softee Van in Ruislip is immune from the risk of Bird’s Nosh Malfunction, hereinafter to be referred to as BNM syndrome. I had an email from a wise female Plogee with a couple of sorry tales of overseas BNM, hinting that this is a global pandemic, but also with the corollary that if the dining party includes a woman and her mother, the BFM peril probability is exponentially increased. In these instances, it appears that the usual roles of chap and ladyfriend are transposed into those of bird and mum. It also appears that the probability of disaster is increased, as is the magnitude of the emotional fallout upon receipt of, say, the hairy Lasagne Al Forno. It may be that further research will demand that the whole Mother-Daughter arena of this research will need to be classified under its own heading. Watch out for MNM in future posts.

Back to the sports desk here at The Gables now, and this weekend has been marked by two significant incursions into the Wild Whacky World of Sport Firstly, and most spectacularly, it was Ferret Racing day down at the Ruislip Lido today. It was a beautiful sunny morning for it, and so it was with a spring in the step that Her Indoors, her folks who were down for the weekend and I set off for the big event. I had in my mind’s eye a sort of miniaturised greyhound track with the ferrets furiously chasing after a mechanised toddlers hand or something at high speed whilst betting slips, tip-offs and bungs changed hands amidst the cheering throng. I was also a little unclear as to the precise appearance of a ferret, being only familiar with the usual Ferret-In-The-Trousers sort of half-arsed pub humour, and was expecting a sort of rodent pantomime horse affair made from two guinea pigs in line astern in a rugby sock. Whilst I got the general proportions right on the internal drawing board, a ferret is a highly streamlined muscular missile of a rodent, with a fierce face and a big squirrel’s tail poking out of the back. Friendly enough to be stroked by the children when held carefully by the minder, ferrets have a powerful bite which really marks them out as the bovver boys of the riverbank. Not for nothing did Kenneth Grahame have hordes of the chaps play the part of the unwanted rough squatters at Toad Hall. Revved up now and excited by the thought of these miniature marvels of the animal kingdom approaching the rodent sound barrier, I bought my betting slip, but I suppose there was a bit of a clue in that the stake was in units of 10p, maximum bet, 10p.

The race track itself was not what I’d expected. It consisted of three rather beautiful wiggly transparent pipes suspended in a frame. Each tube was about one ferret in diameter, and it turned out that the race consisted of each ferret being placed at the end of the tube, going to the far end (about 15 feet) and then coming back again. I thought it would all be over in a flash. I was wrong. There is great excitement in a ferret race, but it’s not really about raw ferret-on-ferret speed. A ferret race is one of pure inclination on the part of the beast itself, and is impossible to predict making it more like ferret roulette, or Ferette. The one I’d backed, in the green collar came rocketing out of the trap at a fairly slow amble, and then stopped for a bit to sniff the air. It was getting hot, and I’d imagine that it must have been getting like a strange tubular greenhouse in there. Being a seasoned pro, I can only guess that my ferret than recognised the smell of hot polymers and previous ferret related exertion, and continued his amble to the far end of the pipe. The watching crowd was going bananas, but from observation I deduce that ferrets are not overly concerned with the notion of playing to a crowd, or perhaps are just too damn cool. Having sunned himself a bit at the large chamber at the far end, he started to amble back, but his rivals in the blue and red were now hot on his heels, and I could have sworn that Greenie nearly broke out into a semi-trot on the return straight! I’d won! Presenting my betting slip at the end, I was offered the choice of a can of Tango or a Ferret key fob. Still smarting from the earlier Tango-related BNM, I opted for the key fob, where it now resides in pride of place near the desk fan in the home office, or shed.

I mentioned earlier that Her Indoors’ folks were down for the weekend. The reason for this was that we’d come into some tickets for another sporting event, the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley, and as they’re all from Wigan, excitement was running high. Now I’ve always had a bit of a funny relationship with soccer. I have absolutely no hand to eye co-ordination at all, a trait I share, incidentally, with Her Indoors. To digress briefly, one of the saddest things you can ever see is us attempting to play Frisbee over at the park. Where other couples effortlessly spend graceful laughter filled afternoons elegantly transmitting the beautiful shimmering gyroscopic disc to one another over daisy filled pastures, our game consists of the eponymous ice-cream lid flying erratically all over the place, or in fact more often than not refusing to fly at all and rolling into the undergrowth like a stray wheel in a Keystone Cops movie. Our afternoon of Frisbee fun mainly consisted of Frisbee retrieval, involving far too much going to far flung corners of the field and bending over in gorse bushes, I can tell you. It’s Barnes Wallis’ worst anxiety dream, folks.

Having hopefully painted the picture now, you can understand that as a seven-year-old I ended up being the PE class cliché of “We don’t want Peter this week, he was on our side last week”. Although I can clearly remember wanting to be able to fit in and play The Beautiful Game with my chums at Downsway Junior Mixed and Infants, I had such a total lack of aptitude that in spite of trying to memorise all the players’ names from my Tiger Book Of Football 1971 and having Mum sew a big number four on the back of my red T-shirt to make it look a bit more soccer-savvy, it was clear from the first blast of the whistle that this was not going to be a path for me. I took solace in the world of Airfix planes, and later on at secondary school when you could have music lessons instead of doing Games, playing the sax.

Wind forward forty two years and I have a shed, or home studio, stuffed to the gunnels with Airfix planes, and a series of woodwind instruments in the boot of The Volvo ready for instant deployment at any venue around London or the Home Counties. It was therefore with some surprise that I found myself taking time off from the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama in order to go to Wembley, and oddly, not for a curry. This was the first football match I had ever attended, and was really my first engagement with the world of soccer since I put the Tiger annual 1971 back on the bookshelf in the bedroom and got out that year’s Airfix catalogue.

It was great that Wigan won. I’m sure that you’ve seen it all over the news. Aside from feeding the very English desire to celebrate in the victories of the underdog, it is a wonderful thing for the good people in Wigan, who will hopefully see an upswing in business and commerce in their home town as a result of this. Having never been to football match, It was quite different to how I thought it would be, making an interesting parallel for me with the Ruislip Lido ferret race. For a start, on the TV, the crowd noise is very compressed, and it seemed to me that the chants, cheers and songs, although loud were not as deafening as I’d expected. It all seemed gentler and sweeter than I’d expected. Eighty-four thousand people had turned up to watch, which is an astonishing number of people to behold, even with my experience of the huge droves of jazz fans who turn up to the monthly do at the Beckenham Rhythm club. So many, in fact, that it just becomes a giant swaying mass encircling the green acre on which, if there were no ball, Her Indoors says, twenty two men would be just dancing a piece of free form improvised ballet.

Mind you, they didn’t half dance it quickly. Just in terms of running, my powers of comprehension were left benumbed. Up and down the field non-stop for two lots of forty five minutes. Laid out straight, each chap must have sprinted a distance at least equivalent to that between The Gables and the Big Waitrose over in Rickmansworth and back. And then they kick a ball around. As someone who can’t even push a spacehopper along in an intended direction for two feet whilst standing next to it, the marksmanship of these chaps was stupendous. All in all, it was like being dropped suddenly into a parallel world with an altered reality from the one I normally inhabit- huge eager crowds, mind-bending standards of physical co-ordination and fitness, and short sets- two forty fives! In a funny way, I’ve always thought of the Football world as existing on a parallel track to the one I’ve ended up on. Not kitted out by nature with one atom of the necessary sporting DNA, I’ve proceeded along with my set of stuff occasionally glancing over at Planet Football, as you sometimes do out of the train window when the tracks run alongside a motorway. It was odd therefore to find myself at the level crossing. Mind you, when we got back to the Gables, it was time for the Wigan Victory Party. History had been made, and so to add appropriate gravitas to the event, Set Meal C from the Rice Wok was ordered, with an upgrade to king prawns. Food as a reward for success. All back to normal then.


Blog with the Significant Other

Thursday 9 May

Just a quick update –
At the Inevitable Curry before the big band gig at Ronnie’s last Sunday, there was much amused comment from the chaps about my theory put forward in the last blog that there is a tendency when dining out with your Significant Other that her meal will go wrong. Just to recap, while you are piling into your Steak/Chicken Phall/Seafood Ho Fun/Saveloy and Chips it is often likely that you notice that she’s gone all slow and quiet and is diligently examining something on the end of her fork. This signifies that her food, whilst everything over on your side is hunky-dory, has Gone Wrong.
I must be explicitly clear here. She’s not being fussy or difficult, there’s something technically at odds with what she ordered. Her Thai Fishcakes/Caesar Salad/Lemon Chicken/Vegetable Pasta Bake suffers from one or more of the following-

It is still frozen in the middle
It is burnt
It is a different dish to the one she ordered, and she is allergic to it
It has a hair in it (Funnily enough, this must be more common than we think, as most of the lads have a hair in the pizza story)
It is absent altogether
If it is a salad (likely), it may contain woodlice.

This could of course all be karmic. As chaps, when we take Her Indoors out for a slap-up, it has a primeval echo of the old hunter gatherer proudly returning from the kill, and garnering favour with the allocated female of the breeding group with a delicious array of gnu components. Similarly, these days, we want the Meal Out to reflect well on us. We want to provide and ensure pleasure for the mate via the medium of restaurant selection, and appear generous, sensitive and able to provide. One finger mark in the crème brulee can scupper all this, so maybe it is our fault for throwing all that expectation out there.

It may also be that all restaurant food is awash in stray hairs, fingerprints and other miscellaneous detritus. It is widely known that the Female optical set-up is way way more accurate than the Male when it comes to close-up work, which is why a lot of electrical component manufacturers employ only women on the factory floor, so I guess it’s quite possible that us chaps have been happily munching away on all kinds of chef’s “specials” for decades.
Alongside the ongoing work on the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama, I will be conducting ongoing research into this phenomenon. I need to fid out if this works the other way around-perhaps it is possible for a chap’s tea to malfunction if it is a lady taking him out.This could add weight to those who maintain that this is a karmic rather than a gender-based issue. Marks will be given for the following-

Disaster Magnitude (amount of hairs in pizza, size of woodlouse etc)
Differential disaster magnitude (Applies if your meal was amazing, and partners’ behaved as we’ve come to expect)
Content relating to humiliation
Food still alive
Other miscellaneous
After our team of human relations experts has sifted through the mounds of information, I will publish the findings.

Off to the garage now, to pay for the Volvo’s wing mirror which got sheared off by a passing van, the driver of which thoughtfully didn’t leave a number. 470 smackers! Ouch! Infernal Mumchancer!