Blog of the Inevitable Curry

Saturday 04 May

There’s Curry, and then there’s Inevitable Curry. Although very similar in appearance, and virtually identical from the point of view of the chap manning the tandoor, they are ideologically quite different. As we all know, Curry is a popular meal choice involving various strands of Indian cuisine, served either in restaurants or delivered to the home in, as my “Visit Britain 1971” guide from the Maltese tourist bureau would have it, elegant foil containers. Inevitable Curry is a different kettle of Corica Soborna altogether, and is more of a convention than a meal per se. In our business, Inevitable curry most often occurs in between a soundcheck and an evening concert. After the final notes of the souncheck have been sounded, if any mention of eating is at all made, it will simply be one of the chaps saying “Food?” There may be a response from one of the lads of “No, the ex is having my guts for garters over the house and I’ve had to bring sandwiches,” but the nature of the dining is never dicussed. Pointless really, as experience tells us that within five minutes, the Raj Poot Contemporary Indian Cuisine located conveniently by the stage door will be occupied by the half of the band which didn’t fancy just beer at the Wetherspoon’s.

It is never discussed, it is inevitable. Last Wednesday, I found myself waving my arms about in front of a band for Kevin Fitzsimmons’ Sinatra Spectacular in Windsor. As I was in charge, I had to hang back after the soundcheck to sort a couple of things out, and I found myself on my own. No matter here, I thought and asked a passer-by where the nearest curry could be procured. I got my directions, and when I arrived, some of the lads had already commenced on the Inevitable Curry proceedings. This is where Inevitable Curry differs from Curry, as it is always consumed against a backdrop of mild tension resulting from the opposing factors of – 1-The showtime-created deadline
2-Lads coming in one by one, ordering at different times and creating a cloud of confusion in the kitchen
Factor 2 usually leads to the main courses hitting the table just on the edge of the acceptable time for getting back, so another hallmark of the Inevitable Curry is the mild heartburn and indigestion through the first half of the show. Equipped with this knowledge, next time you go to a band concert, see if you can work out who’s been to the Inevitable Curry, who’s had liquid dinner at the Frog & Gearbox and who’s having their goolies pulled out through their wallet by the ex..

Mind you, there are few things in life so enjoyable as the anticipatory early stages of an Inevitable Curry. Prior to the soundcheck, there will have been the drive to the gig, with concomitant traffic fun, loading in and setting up, and then the run-through itself. By the time that the opening shots of the Inevitable Curry are fired, your average chap is completely ready for a big chilled bottle of Cobra, and the customary too many poppadoms. These latter are essential for getting a good foundation for the heartburn to come.

At this particular I.C. in Windsor (The Mutton Xacutti, by the way, was absolutely first-rate), there was an excellent example of another common phenomenon in the Eating Out Arena, which of course is that if you’re dining out with Her Indoors, her food is likely to go wrong. I checked with the chaps about this, and it seems to be the case that a woman eating out with a man or group of men is statistically far more likely to have a meal which is burnt, raw, frozen, wrong, or containing hair than a man is, or as far as we can tell, a woman dining just in the company of other women. In this case, Her Indoors’ nosh didn’t turn up at all. She was starving as well, and when the pageant of indian goodies turned up at the statutory five minutes to going away time, her Chicken Bhopal was OperaHousesadly absent. The lads in the kitchen tried to salvage the situation by knocking something together quickly, but what they could do in the time didn’t look too appetising, and so H.I. made do with vegetable side dishes and a bit of the Mutton Xacutti. She was left a bit hungry and jaded, we all felt guilty for having had a slap up meal. The First Law of Mixed Dining Out had been upheld.

On Sunday, I was in the Royal Opera House to play my nine notes with the BBC Concert Orchestra for the Olivier Awards. Like any prize-giving ceremony, it became a curious concatination of the grandiose and the tedious, featuring lavish set-pieces from West End shows interspersed with old luvvies banging on as they do. The orchestra sounded great though, and the opera house is just magnificent. I took a shot from my seat at the back left hand side of the band to give an (admittedly rather murky) idea of how it looked.

mdf-pdfOutside, there was a resonant mixing of the opulent and the slightly tacky. God alone knows how much they paid to shut Bow Street down and then cover it in red carpet, but then the decorations were pictures of the actual Awards themselves glued to hardboard backs. PDF on MDF, if you like. With the temple-like appearance of the opera house itself, and the cheering throngs of folk, it all added up to give a cheerful frissance of a school production of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”. Anyway, here they are-

Aren’t Swedish people fabulous? You may recall that the entire Dr. Marten feet in ribbons trauma started on a site visit to the Waldorf to meet a lady from the Swedish Chamber Of Commerce about their annual Knees-Up, or Knan-Upp. Well it was the gig last Thursday, and what a belter! Right from the word go, the dance floor was packed with very groovy Swedes of all ages, who surprised us by requesting loads of Abba stuff. I say surprised, because us cynical old English gits couldn’t imagine a do for the British Chamber of Commerce in Stockholm where cynical old English gits like us would prise themselves away from the free bar for long enough to request that the Swedish Function band do a load of Beatles numbers. And then dance like billy-o to it as if not only was there no tomorrow, but not much left of today. Originally, they had wanted a twenties theme, but changed their minds along the way for a more top of the pops approach. Hence, we were in white tuxes with art deco bandstands, looking like Jack Hylton’s mob whilst emitting disco-tastic sounds like Earth Wind and Fire! Here’s a shot of us just before it all kicked off- royalhen

Sorry about the blurriness, by the way. I fear that I have something stuck in the iPhone. One of the Swedes actually came up to me and congratulated the band on the tightness of the phrasing of the trumpet section! Now that’s culture! They were also cultured enough to come out with a couple of trays of splosh after we’d done. What an excellent nation.

The last newsworthy item this week involves more experimentaion with The Golden Menu at Mr. Kong’s. We’d had a rehearsal of an Ellington set for a big dance festival this Saturday, and feeling happy with ourselves for having had a bath in the best harmony on our planet today we retired to the Dog And Duck to enjoy that wonderful mix of late afternoon sunshine and beer. A quick pint turned into a slow three or four, and then beer hunger came over us. Moments later, six of us found ourselves around the big table in the back room at Kong’s, and The Golden Menu was ordered up. However, the G.M is a four seater, and we needed more things. Callum Au was on the team, and being half chinese he made a couple of suggestions. Following on from his discoveries, here is the amandment to the Golden Menu, this time for six. For those of you who may have missed out on this the first time, here it is again, with the new bits added in. It’s a meal everyone needs to experience, but if you are going with a woman, watch out for the The First Law of Mixed Dining Out.

Hot Sake for six and a Tsing Tao Each. Drivers have green tea.
Prawn Crackers & Chilli Oil
Four portions soft shell crab
Two portions Spare Ribs in Salt & Chilli, baked in paper bag
Two Portions Steamed Prawn Dumplings, more chilli oil
Con ching baby squid
½ Drunken Chicken
6 Razor Clams
Re-order drinks*************
½ Crispy duck and Pancakes
2x Mongolian Crispy Lamb
Re-order drinks*************
Beef Brisket In Hot Pot
Braised Aubergine
Pork Belly with Garlic Shoots
Cantonese Stir Fried Beef
Seafood Ho Fun
Pak Choi in garlic sauce
Probably no room for rice or noodle, but order if you must

More from the shed soon,


Time Tunnel Blog

This has been a week of proper early mornings, like proper people have. After a quiet-ish couple of weeks, I’ve ended up having to work morning noon and night all week and I’ve arrived at Friday lunchtime with that faint feeling of having had portions of the brain replaced with a mixture of cotton wool and Blue Tack.

Friday lunchtime has arrived this week in a large rehearsal space in the Opera House here in London’s Glittering West End. It’s the luvvie highlight of the social calendar this Sunday, the Olivier awards, and I have a pivotal role in the whole setup as I am playing, oh, about nine notes on the baritone sax in the BBC concert orchestra, which is providing the accompaniment to the whole shebang. The BBC concert orchestra is one of the last bastions of The Good Old Way. Although I only have my nine notes to play, I am paid to attend all five rehearsals, and consequently have spent most of Monday and thus far all of today sat near my instruments playing Words With Friends, all the while relieving the BBC of a fair bit of its annual grant. It’s brilliant here-they skimp on nothing. Some of the music needs five Saxes, and so the BBC provides five of us, to prevent anyone watching from reaching in disgust for the telephone in order to complain that the band sounded a bit thin during the Top Hat medley. Long may this continue. Right now, things look like this-
Although you probably can’t see much, this is a picture shot from where I’m sat of the woman from the Bodyguard singing “I Will Always Love You”. None of my nine notes are involved in this, so I feel that it is a good time to get busy on the Plog.

rehearsalMonday’s sitting around occurred in the hallowed space of Abbey Road Studios, which because of the paradigm shift in the recording industry where so much of it goes on these days in home studios ( or sheds), now hires itself out as a rehearsal venue. I was booked to play my nine notes not only on the Bari sax, but also on both clarinet and bass clarinet. With the concomitant instrument stands I was faced with a baggage pile of biblical proportions and decided, as the size and amount of bags easily exceeded the carrying capacity of the size and amount of limbs on my torso, to try my luck on taking the Volvo into town and finding a parking space somewhere near the front door of Abbey Road. Even with feeding the meter, I reckoned that this would be way easier than suffering a slow death by dislocation and perspiration on London’s Glittering Underground. I reckon that since the unexpected victory in the battle of the Doc Martin’s, things have been looking up a bit, and a clear portent came in the form of, of all things, a free parking space in the small car park behind the famous white wall of Abbey Road itself! Not only right outside the door, but with nothing to pay all day, and just outside the congestion charge zone too! Driving to work and only having to pay the petrol? It will never catch on. The unexpected ease of this put me in a sunny mood all day, and by the time I’d finished with the fry-up available in the studio cafe (Olympic standard sausage, incidentally), I was in a state of uncontrollable glee. Here’s a shot of the sax section in situ in Studio 1 on one of the long waits in between notes. Left to right, Sam Mayne, Howard McGill, Martin Williams, Adrian Revell and me.

For St George’s day on Tuesday, I was involved in a rather fascinating do over in Whitechapel, which was the OAP’s tea dance hosted by trombonist Graham Hughes and the enchantingly entitled Sunshine Kings.

The bit of London around Whitechapel tube is quite a thing. The station itself is a magnificent piece of Victorian civic architecture with all its ornate arches and white glazed brickwork- you are made aware by this that you are in a bit of a different universe- accessed by miles of brick tunnels and riveted girders which from about Farringdon station onwards get more and more extreme in proclaiming the Victorian architects’ realpolitik of demonstrating Man’s control over nature by raw architectural expression. It is as if the Met Line has taken you on an Oyster-card fuelled journey through time. Stuff Harry Potter and platform 9½, this is all real!

On emerging up onto street level, the experience s quite intense- On one side of the street is the huge and imposing Royal London Hospital- Victorian splendour, turrets and gargoyles, and on the other sidewall the shops and seething market stalls seem to be given over to the Indian catering industry. Huge sacks of rice and drums of cooking oil are stacked outside shops called things like “Meat & Fish”, or “International Sweet Bazaar”. The aromas issuing from the curry cafes and jalebi joints gave rise to that irrational curry related hunger, which replaces feeling full to the gunnels from the recent fry-up with trembling, insane hunger in a matter of nanoseconds. To break things up a bit, here and there, there were small shops packed with bejewelled mobile phones, and bejewelled mobile phone accessories. It struck me that there must be an incredibly large amount of locked phones knocking around in order to support all those small businesses. All the phones I’ve ever bought have come from the factory unlocked. Hey ho.

Just one block behind the Asian hustle and bustle of the high street lies the Brady Arts Centre, an Art Deco beauty built in the 1930’s for the (then) local Jewish kids to have a youth club. Over the years, it became a bit of an underground rock venue, hosting gigs by the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and now, in a long line of illustrious popular culture highlights, Graham Hughes and the Sunshine Kings.

It was as if someone had re-united all the old birds who had gone for the role of Dot Cotton and equipped them with tea, pastries and flags. In the middle of modern multicultural vibrant East London, we had a small oasis of the old, old east end, and I found goose pimples forming on the back of the neck when at the end of the first set we were called upon to all stand and sing Jerusalem, and they were all stood up belting it out for St. George’s day. Lovely. It was also a beautiful sunny afternoon, and with the afternoon sun powering in through the Crittall windows, over the groaning table holding the brown buffet and onto the dance floor with the old girls cha-cha-ing away to Tea For Two, the sense of Met Line time travel mystery tour was again strongly felt- now I was away from Victorian Giganticism, and firmly in post-blitz austerity Britain, and going by the flags, around the time of the Coronation.

The Met line ended up dropping me off that day in around 1935, in the middle of Betjeman’s Metroland at Moor Park, which is worth a visit if only for its intense weirdness. Britain’s only privately owned tube station, Moor Park station stands in the middle of an unspoilt art deco housing development on a giant grass bank. Sort of like Fahrenheit 451 meets the Singing Detective. I’m sure the grass grows so well there because it was watered by the very tears of Betjeman’s joy! I think we may have to have a Metroland Photo special on the Plog one day. The last 150 years of London’s history on one handy tube line.

cheeseYou’ll be pleased to know that Her Indoors’ birthday, on Thursday, passed without a hitch. Rather than a box of chocolates to open the batting, I bought her a big lump of posh cheddar from the cheesemongers in Borough Market. As you can see, it did the trick. She likes cheese.

The special birthday treat this year was a visit to Berwick Street in Soho where the theatrical fabric merchants all have their shops. This in turn was to purchase some material so that H.I. can have some stage wear made by Our Woman over in Barnet, who does this sort of thing. Amusingly, Our Woman’s house is also used for sewing instruction, with the result that the dining room contains rows of small desks each with a sewing machine atop, and has the unusual look of the Coronation Street Knicker Factory to it.

High drama ensued during the post-material-purchase streetside Mexican snack. There we were, munching away in the sunshine when a great big chap came hurtling around the corner, hotly pursued by two slightly smaller chaps in civvies with one shouting (and I didn’t realize that they actually did this) “Police Stop!” whilst the other was running whilst giving location information down a walkie-talkie. I remember reflecting at the time that I’d have found it extremely difficult to operate the walkie-talkie OR run at any speed, let alone the Usain Bolt-like velocities on display by these august members of the Met. Highly exciting, and all for free.

Next week’s gripping installment of the Plog will contain the final episode of the saga of me, the Oliviers and my nine notes, and, if time permits, a progress report on the Seaplanes of the Axis Powers Diorama.
More from the Shed Soon,


Blog Of Winning Curry

20 April 2013

We have a winner for the caption contest! Thank you, all and sundry, for the plethora of entries, especially the ones involving clean humour. Always a difficult trick to master, that one. Anyway, without further ado, I can proudly announce that after many hours of deliberation and heated discussion, the prize goes to a Mr. C. Pauncefoot in glamorous East London. To refresh the memory, the picture was of the bell of Colin Graham’s sousaphone standing alone on the green opposite Westminster Abbey-


And the winning caption-

“Mrs Thatcher’s grave fitted with the Bodge and Phucket premature burial alarm system. (Sadly George Galloway had sneakily nicked the mouthpiece rendering the system null and void).
Can I have my curry now please”.

One curry coming up! Photos of the gala prize-winner night and curry presentation will be on the Plog soon.

The chiropodists amongst you will be pleased to know that the war against the new Doctor Marten’s is now largely won. For some reason, leaving them out in the Naughty Corner in the Shed (Or Home Studio) to have a Jolly Good Think about just how much they’d let everyone down seems to have done the trick, and like reformed school bullies, they are now my best friends. I’m still at a bit of a loss to explain this, as on their first outing the pain level they engendered was not far off having a Black and Decker workmate full of broken bottles and barbed wire clamped around each foot. Maybe it’s something in the air in the shed (or Home Studio) which has miraculous leather-softening properties. I guess we’ll never find out, but I can say that I am now free to roam the streets free of the curse of the hideous old green canvas deck shoes. Hurrah.

I was hoping to have some big news on the construction of the Seaplanes of the Axis Powers Diorama, but unfortunately playing music got in the way at the last minute, and I’ve had a week doing the early set at Ronnie’s. I got booed for the first time too this week. We were on supporting the great Kurt Elling, and during my announcement of Mood Indigo, I whimsically observed that Duke Ellington was a near anagram of Kurt Elling. I know it’s not that funny, but I feel that little bons mots of around funny factor 15% are handy for gluing the narrative together, and warm the audience up for the mass hysteria expected during the inevitable end-of -set innuendo. However, like Rommel fortifying the wrong bit of northern France, I had grievously miscalculated the partisanship of Mr. Elling’s fans, clearly to whom any reference their hero which isn’t praise constitutes major desecration. It was only a little bit of anagram humour, but an icy silence swept the room, like frost forming on the windscreen of a Boeing in a disaster movie. Then some low booing. It was a disaster movie!

Luckily, I am not in the business of stand-up comedy, in which I would be required to dig myself out of such an unexpected chasm all on my own. We are armed with music, and luckily James Pearson came in with piano intro just as the tension in the room would have cracked the hull of the sturdiest submarine. I’ve often alluded to the strengths of Ellington’s (see- it is a near anagram! See? See?)music in the Plog, and within seconds, the unique blend of complexity, sophistication and simplicity that is Mood Indigo soothed the crowd back into a calm and happy state, a bit like the soma van in the canteen riot in Brave New World, only without the chilly implication of state-led manipulation.

Suprise shocker of the week was doing two recording sessions on Friday. Just like buses, you don’t see one for months, and then two rattle up together! The first was one of the new breed. In The Good Old Days, if you wanted to record some music, you had to assemble all your musicians into a studio with an engineer, hand out the parts and count it off whilst the engineer pressed play and record on the tape machine out the back. Nowadays, we can democratise this process. Recording software is now pretty cheap, and it is fairly easy to set up a Home Studio. I often allude to my own Shed (or Home Studio) which in the grand tradition of Facebook self-aggrandisement is the same shed as I had anyway with a microphone which I can plug into a laptop in a corner by the lawnmower accessories. A recording is now often created by the composer emailing the track between the various musicians who can add their own parts without even having to get out of the dressing gown and slippers, sometimes on different continents. This also makes it much faster to stitch a recording together, as no-one has to wait to bring all the different bodies involved, dressed, cleaned and shaved, through the traffic into one room with all their heavy gear. Tracks can be added in the small hours of the morning, and so it was at 8a.m. on Friday that I found myself in the Home Studio (or Shed) playing an Alto Sax still in my kimono and fez (bedtime is a process laden with ceremony here at The Gables) into a microphone attached to the laptop for a track written by my new chum Jonathan, who wrote all the stings for the recent televisual extravaganza with Barbara Windsor. I might add that while I was doing this, he was on the school run, and received the finished article on his Blackberry.


Then onto session number two, which was to be done in the old fashioned way around at Drum session ace Ralph Salmins’ home studio in Welwyn. Ralph puts us all to shame! Not for Ralph the laptop, headphones and red plastic Tandy microphone by the exercise bike in the spare room, oh goodness me no! Ralph’s home studio is exactly that- a purpose built recording studio in the grounds of his house with a small kitchen and a lav in it. He even had the leather sofa and bowl of fruit. Now that’s attention to detail. We were there under the ever watchful baton of Anne Dudley, who gained fame as the keyboard player in ABC, and then formed half of the Art Of Noise. Anne had been put in charge of co-ordinating the music for a TV show in which there is a tea dance, and we were to be the tea-dance band. Three lovely arrangements of old jazz standards later and we were done. Here’s a picture of the chaps in Ralph’s home studio (Or Studio) L to R- Steve Pearce, Anne, Ralph, Me, Paul Dunne. Because it was a jazz session as such, Steve had elected to wear a jazz hat throughout. Groovy.

I was also experimenting with exciting new ways of playing the clarinet-


And so, smugly, I left Ralph’s that morning, having done two sessions by midday. Watch out for feeling smug! The Gods will un-smug you as soon as they can! I smugly parked the Volvo up to get a can of smug pop on the way home, and when I came smugly out of the shop, some bugger had driven past and smashed my wing mirror off! Wing mirrors, I’m sure you know, are no longer a mirror on a stick, but a theremoformed motorized colour co-ordinated heated clod of advanced technology, conveniently standing in price terms at just below the excess I’d had to have paid to the insurers anyway. Had I not gone out, the mirror would have been intact, and I’d have ended up slightly richer. Mind you, I did get to play some nice music. And eat most of Ralph’s fruit.


Carry On Doc Martin Blog

6 April 2013.

Big story of the week this end was asking Barbara Windsor out for a Chinese. Next biggest story of the week was being politely turned down re. the Chinese by Barbara Windsor. More on that later. In third and most painful place is the tragic tale of the New Doc Martin’s.

Not wishing to wax overly erotic, since about 2005 I have been prone to suffering from corns on the sole of my right foot (restrain yourselves, girls). Those of you who enjoy a corn or two will understand the horror of this, but for the blissfully uninitiated, having one of the little buggers down there feels roughly the same as treading on a lego brick. Except, of course, that this is a vile subcutaneous lego brick which follows you around and is there on every step. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Chiropody is a great and glorious thing, and my man Jonathan at the Happy Feet clinic in Bushey really knows his way around there with a Swann-Morton number 11, and does a commendable job in keeping things at bay. However, in the War On Corns, your biggest ally is a good pair of shoes. With its air cushioned sole and construction akin to the Normandy U-Boat pens, the bog standard Doc Martin’s lace-up Copper’s Special is the chap you need, and I’ve worn a pair of these every day since about 2005 and a half. From 2009 until last Tuesday, it has been the same pair. Roughly one thousand days of continuous wear-an amazing feat for shoes.

Some of you may have noticed the recent five months of rain, which means a lot of puddles. I noticed on Monday that the right shoe was taking on water, and listing a bit to port, in a similar way to those pictures you see of the Ark Royal going down off Gibraltar. Realising that their time had come, I made all the necessary arrangements for them to have a fitting warrior’s funeral. I am currently putting the finishing touches on a miniature Viking longboat in which I plan to push them out, ablaze, on the first leg of their journey to Valhalla over the canal at the bottom of the field by the cricket pitch.

Out with the old, in with the new. I had to go into London’s glittering West End on Tuesday to meet with an agent and a client for a big do in the Waldorf. I reasoned that I could pick up a new pair of Doc’s on the way, and break them in a bit on the site visit. Duly purchased, they looked great, and all ready for the thousand day ordeal which they were now in for at the hands of my feet. Clearly, these were not giving up without a struggle. By the time I’d walked from Covent Garden to the Waldorf, an almighty distance of tens of yards, and in spite of the best efforts of my Nice Thick Sensible Socks, most of the skin on my heels was now missing, and with every step it felt as if the thingy which Boy Scouts have to get stones out of horses’ hooves was being jabbed in with a considerable degree of gusto by one of Satan’s little helpers. The meeting came and went in a welter of wincing and sweating, but I think I managed to hold it together enough to get the business done. Either that or I just came over as servile with a twist of bonkers. I had to get a cab back to Euston, and luckily Her Indoors was able to meet me at the other end. After immersing the bottoms of my legs in greek yoghurt for the rest of the evening, the agony had abated long enough for clarity of thought to re-establish, and so I set about the heels of the new Doc’s with a pair of pliers, to soften them up in anticipation of round 2, assuming that my feet grow back.

My job mainly consists of walking around, lifting and carrying, standing up, driving, shouting and occasional bursts of operating musical instruments. As luck would have it, work on Wednesday through to Friday consisted largely of just standing up, with a bit of shouting except for doing a spot of teaching at The Gables, where I had to swallow my pride and walk around barefoot like some ghastly ageing hippie. Horrid. I was tempted to knock a bit off the fee, but sense and greed prevailed. The Standing Up And Shouting part of the week’s work actually was in the course of the fulfilment of one of my great life ambitions- I was to be the Musical Director for a television game show. Well, nearly. I was actually going to MD a TV advert which was going to be shot as a game show, and then cut up into little snippets to form an ad campaign. The ad was for an online bingo business called Jackpot Joy, the face of which is, of course, the great Barbara Windsor.

I don’t want to sound like a hideous showbiz nonce, but Barbara is really really lovely. An absolute gem, who, unusually actually likes musicians! She spent quite a lot of time in the quiet moments of the shoot chatting to us chaps in the band about her times on the road with Ronnie Scott’s band in the fifties. As we were planning to go out for a Last Night Of The Run (I know The Run was only three days long, but the insular effect of the showbiz life comes on quickly) trip to the Chinese after the downing of tools on Friday, I asked if she’d like to come. I asked Barbara Windsor Out! Bless her, she apologised and said couldn’t come because she had to go out for posh dinner with the producers and the money men. That doesn’t matter. I still asked her out. I’m up there with Sid James.

Apart from the searing pain from the feet, the TV work was fabulous. A real rare treat for us is to just be able to leave the gear when we finish and say stuff like “See you tomorrow”. I enjoyed trying to follow the script in order to count off the various musical cues, and it was really rewarding when we timed an entry so that it started right on the button, and finished neatly when the contestant or whoever had walked to the right mark on the set. More of that please! If that wasn’t enough glee, the Wardrobe Department had decided to go for Maximum Fun by kitting us out in gaily coloured shirts (I had a pink one) and whimsical headgear (I had the prince of hats, the Fez). Here’s a shot of Matt Regan and Ian Laws locked in a typically intellectual musicians’ conversation on set to give you an idea. I believe they were discussing how the middle bit of “Nut Rocker” was going to go, if memory serves.

Tomorrow, I have to play three hours of Trad Jazz outdoors in the rain and then put together the big band gig at Ronnie’s. Probably in my slippers. A quiet week next week, thank the Lord, so maybe some interesting developments on the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama for next time.


Egg Blog

1st April 2013. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley at the Bingo

If 2013 is going to be remembered for something, perhaps it could be remembered for record high levels of Easter Iconography Confusion. Traditional Easter Iconography, as we all know, consists of fluffy yellow chicks, bunnies in sunny meadows, sunny bank holiday afternoons in the beer garden of Ye Olde Bull And Vatman out in Thrumpton-on- the- Glutswold and, of course, that perennial favourite, mild domestic tension. This year’s different. Perhaps, now that the radio reports that these days only 13% of people who say that they are Christians actually go down to St. Hymelda of the Nine Wounds to celebrate the religious side of the Easter break, God and his minions have decided to broaden Easter’s appeal by making it look, as the song says, a little bit like Christmas.


We’ve all noticed the snow, and the arctic temperatures. It’s been so cold up here at The Gables, that I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find Captain Oates wandering about asking if anyone’s seen his mates. Strangely, as I was driving down to Moor Park tube last week to pick up Her Indoors, one of the houses near the station was fully decked out in the full Xmas kit- giant baubles hung from the eaves, big Xmas trees either side of the door with lights on etc etc. It was only upon closer examination that I spotted a professional photographer running about who explained that the family had decided to take advantage of the unseasonal snowdrift and have pictures taken for this year’s Christmas Card. Yes folks, confused iconography is all around this Easter. The Polar Express was on TV, and that well-known centre of global spiritual activity, the Radlett branch of Budgen’s had this on display above its selection of Easter Eggs. See if you can spot the deliberate mistake-

I remember reading once that in the 1950’s, the burgeoning Japanese plastics industry were making its early attempts at cracking the western nick-nacks market. Their researchers got a little muddled, and as a result of which, for the first and only time in Nick-Nack retailing history, Father Christmas on a Cross figurines were shipped to the USA. I reckon that if Easter carries on like this, they may have been onto something after all.
It was Andy’s birthday on Monday last, and a trip to Watford Mecca bingo had been arranged. I’d not been to bingo before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was fabulous. Cheap beer, and the reassuring tones of the bingo caller made for a pleasantly meditative atmosphere, spiked here and there with the eternally exciting sensation of raw greed if it looked as though the numbers were coming up. Food is available too, at knock-down prices. Mostly brown in colour, it contained large amounts of salt and fat, valuably comprising two out of a chap’s five -a-day (the other three being beer, fags and hot sauce). We started off with some small in-house games, but the juices really started to run when we were linked up with Mecca in Chadwell Heath and Andover. All of a sudden, the prize money had rocketed up to ten quid for a whole line! Best of all, the calling was being piped live from Chadwell Heath! White-hot technology! I know it sounds a bit like I’m taking the piss here, but I’m genuinely not- there was something indefinably exciting about the disembodied voice booming out over the speaker whilst all the staff in our hall stood reverentially still, and we diligently dabbed away. It had more than a whiff of Huxley’s Brave New World to it, I can tell you. Adding to the other-worldly aspect was the addictive voice of Geoff, the caller. We reckon he was half Chinese and half Essex, but trying to talk in a mid-atlantic accent. Whole new worlds of hitherto undiscovered vowels were opening up as we listened, and when poor old Anoop, who was doing the calling from our hall stepped up to the mike and took over the local game in his broad Watford accent there was a discernable lessening of the excitement. Chinese-Essex Geoff was back on hand later though, for the big national game. By this time, the beer had loosened my sense of things, and I was having a great time enjoying the sonic journey offered by Geoff’s revolutionary new ways with old familiar numbers. It really was feeling like a trip to the Feelies , and I found my mind wandering from Huxley’s vision of the future to the rather less cuddly offering made by George Orwell in his novel 1984. It was here that I noticed briefly that I had in my hand the logical culmination of Orwell’s newspeak- the Bingo Dabber! Back in the day, bingo veterans will explain misty-eyed, you made a cross on your book with a pen. A crosss. Two whole strokes. It took co-ordination, craft, and years of practice and self-denial. Now you get the dabber. An ergonomic masterpiece, the dabber marks the page with one addictively satisfying squelch. Dumbed down? It’s for the social analysts to decide. Within seconds, however, Man and Dabber had fused to become a lean, mean bingo machine. I was so struck with it, I took a photo. I assumed that I was in luck because I had been presented with a Wills and Kate Royal Wedding Souvenir Dabber, and was therefore vouchsafed with a highly prized talisman which would bring the dough rolling in. I was wrong. I won bugger all, but, as we all remarked over the inevitable curry later, it was a fabulous night out, and all for about twenty quid with the beer and brown things.

It’s been quite a quiet week in all other respects, really. Great work has been done in The Shed (Or Home Studio) on the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama, but all in all a very quiet week. When this happened on the BBC news in the 1930’s, the announcer would get on and explain that as nothing really interesting had happened that day, there would be some music, and it was over to Harry Roy for a rendition of “Keep Young And Beautiul”, or if you were especially lucky and it was after the watershed, “I Love Swimmin’ With Women”, as a saucy bedtime treat. Taking a leaf from the BBC’s book, I’m going to finish therefore with some music. This is the Bonus track on the forthcoming Benny Duke & Peggy CD, and as such doesn’t really have anything to do with any of them. It’s a tune I’ve really liked ever since I first heard Miss Piggy sing it on the Muppet Show when I was 11, and it is of course that old torch song, Temptation. The orchestra here comprises me, Spats Langham on Guitar and Jeremy Brown on Bass.
More later,


Blog RIP

28 March 2013. Derek Watkins

This is going to be a short entry, as the subject matter demands to be aired as a solo item. Last Friday, the 22nd, the world of music withstood a massive blow when Derek Watkins, legendary session trumpet star, died after a two year struggle with cancer.

By now, there have been many tributes to Derek in the national press, and Facebook virtually got jammed to a standstill as his friends and colleagues expressed their grief at our shared loss.

I only knew Derek as an occasional colleague, and already many who were closer to him, and therefore way better qualified than I have put pen to paper and have given beautiful portraits of his life and work.
However, this is primarily a music blog, and when music gets a seismic shove on this level, the only fitting thing to do is to pay tribute.

I worked in the reed sections on a few gigs that Derek did, depped in some of the shows he was on, and played on, I think, three out of the million recordings he made. When Derek was in the room, the music got all special. As the lead trumpet, his was the job to play the top note in every passage. He did this with a unique gift, which was to simultaneously sound exactly like the composer intended whilst sounding like no-one but Derek. And then turn whatever it was into one of the best things you’ve ever heard.
With such a flawless command of his instrument, one of the big thrills of hearing him play was knowing that even when he had stretched the trumpetic envelope further than you could imagine, he still had power in reserve.

If I had to sim up his playing in one word, it would be just that- power. Whenever there was a big gala concert, a hugely important recording session or a massive prestige gig, and the powers That be had had the foresight to get Derek along, the resultant music was riven right through with a bright burning authority which at once amazed, entertained and rendered awestruck.
In short, Derek’s vast presence loomed over the entire profession in a way we are unlikely to see again. If I liken the Music business to a picture of the London Skyline, it is as if St Paul’s has somehow been removed, leaving the rest of us confused and bereft.
Next time you’re having a drink, raise a glass to Derek and the family he leaves behind.


Educational Supplement Blog

22 March 2013.

Today’s new word is Feague. Feague is a verb, meaning “To insert a live eel into a horse’s bum”. The reason we have this verb is that feaguing used to be a common activity in horse markets of old. Apparently, the inclusion of the eel in the lot for sale made Dobbin look really quite lively, and therefore easier to sell. Watch out for eel DNA in Lidl meatballs, that’s all I’ll say. I merely present this fact without comment, but it is germane to a matter from this week.

It’s been a good week so far for having Duke Ellington around the place, as he’s been cropping up in a variety of different locations in a variety of different roles. Recently, in the periods when I need to rest from the fervid activity that is the construction of the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama, I’ve decided that all my old Ellington sheet music needs archiving, as the vast bulk of it is quite unique and exists only in hard copy. I’ve therefore taken time out in the shed to scan into the computer one Ellington arrangement from the stash per day.

It’s quite a thing, Ellington’s music, and it is an unusual experience passing it sheet by sheet through the scanner as I have on average 20 seconds to contemplate the scanned image forming on the screen, and I find the brain visualising the sound of the whole piece whilst hearing in close up the sound of the part in front of me. Making the link between the little squiggles on the paper in front of my eyes and the magical sounds inside my head brings it right home just how brilliant that music is – to see the various pellucid textures that make up Ellington’s tonal palette reduced to dots and dashes is to understand it all from yet another angle.

In a curious Jungian way, having racked up enough Ellington score karma after six weeks of scanning in the shed, I was called to explain exactly this to a load of A-level students on Monday. My chum Maxine has a daughter at Wanstead high school, and it transpired that the A-level music group was foundering badly on the Duke Ellington set work in the syllabus. Inconceivably, the group was finding Ellington… boring! Knowing that I would react to this cosmic wrongdoing with a mixture of fury and despair (the housemaid had to duck when I threw the kedgeree tray across the breakfast table, I can tell you), she suggested to the head of music there that I go in, and try and interest the pupils in the Duke. Quite frankly, I was cacking myself. It’s one thing to effuse brightly on the joys of Ellingtonia when preaching to the converted at a gig, but another thing entirely to try and galvanise bored teenagers who perceive the great treasure chest of sonic goodies that Ellington brings as yet more archaic tedium.

To be fair to them, part of the problem is the way in which the study notes are laid out. Ellington and his music have been two large causes of joy in my life, and it was with some surprise that while boning up for the lesson by reading through the official study notes that I found myself nodding off by paragraph 2. To get things in perspective, it’s brilliant that someone in the ministry of Education has made the music A-level course inclusive of all genres. It is also brilliant that the syllabus contains an Ellington piece when it gets to the jazz bit. What isn’t brilliant is the tragic fall at the final hurdle- the facts are presented in a style so dry and out of touch with any cultural references the students may have, that the glorious invention and vitality of the Music is subsumed in an oppressive duvet of academic droning. It’s a bit like preparing a pamphlet to interest people in sex by showing them images of fallopian tubes.

The piece in question for study was “Ko-Ko”, a miniature masterpiece from 1940. At this time, Ellington’s creative juices were flowing at an unparalleled rate. Ko-ko is one of a number of pieces from this time in which Ellington would compress the full emotional force of a symphony a two and a half minutes 78rpm track. Ko-Ko occupies an important place in the Ellington timeline, as it represents an early example of Ellington working towards his greatest masterwork, the opera Boola, in which he was seeking to portray the history of the American Negro. Although Boola was never completed, Ellington has gone on file saying that Ko-Ko was intended to be a depiction of a slave dance in Congo Square, New Orleans. It is therefore full of every molecule of elegant yet foreboding Cotton Club-esque fervid exotica as he could throw at it. In addition to all of this, the band was at the very top of its mighty form, and the pulsating, visceral beat underpinning the whole shebang was generated in a large part by Jimmie Blanton on bass, on his first ever record date. Blanton re-defined the role of the bass in modern music, and this is the first recorded example of his amazing work, driving the whole orchestra with a beat that is both steady and fierce, and with a sound which is still the envy of every jazz bass player on the planet to this day. Sitting here at the kitchen table doing the Plog, I find myself getting all hot and excited thinking about the music and tapping all this away into the Wallytron 2000, and I wonder what was speaking to the students at Wanstead High louder- the universal truth that is Ellington’s genius, or me in my brown corduroy suit winding myself up and frothing at the mouth as I was trying to get my point across. In the cold calm of the whopping traffic jam on the M25 on the way home, it began to occur to me that it would have be a very good thing if none of the people in that class had heard of the verb To Feague.

Ellington was present at two of the gigs this week. Wednesday, I was at the Boisdale Canary Wharf doing the background music set with the great Enrico Tomasso on trumpet. We live in such a tribute-band raddled age these days, that even background music needs to have a theme in order to sell it, and it so fell that we were to perform an Ellingtonian set. One of the great joys of playing jazz around London is Rico’s playing, taught as he was by Louis Armstrong himself! The band played great, with a right Rolls-Royce of a rhythm section in Ed Richardson, Jerome Davies and Matt Regan, at always the right volume and with a rock solid groove. Given this, it was no surprise that the Duke’s great tunes worked their magic on the diners and by the end of the gig not only was the diners listening, but applauding heartily. As this is in direct contravention of the all the known laws of dinner music, we can only marvel at the magic weapon Ellington has equipped us with to fight the good fight.

The next night, at the early set in Ronnie’s, we dedicated the whole thing to Ellington’s tunes. We were warming up for The James Taylor Quartet, who has incredibly loyal fans. So loyal, that they are known to really only like James’ stuff, which poses problems if you’re in the huge set of people in life’s great venn diagram entitled “Not James Taylor”. A good driving version of “I’m Beginning To See The Light” opened the set up, and once again the Duke’s elegant, truthful, perfectly constructed music had them all in thrall! James Pearson, artistic director of Ronnie’s was at the piano, and was able to deliver an astonishing impersonation of the Duke’s unique clanky but hip piano! Amazing stuff.

Later that night, over the inevitable curry,(at the Maharani Of Berwick Street, W1-make sure you have the tandoori lamb chops there at least once before you die. In fact, it’s worth it just for the home-made chutneys which come with the poppadoms) James and I were discussing how Ellington makes magic out of musical elements which would appear, at first sight, to be virtually nothing. He related a story which sums the whole thing up beautifully, in which he remembered playing a version of Mood Indigo arranged for treble and descant recorders with his sister when th ey were both about 7. Even at that stage, he told me that the Ellington piece stood head and shoulders over everything else in the book, as it was completely three-dimensional and magical. Two kids, on recorders,playing music that sounds like magic. Sums it all up really.

In the next thrill packed episode of the Plog, we will have the ongoing saga of the cold water, the exiting episode of the mystery of the hot water, Mr Mellish at the call centre, a Guys And Dolls medley in Lithuanian and the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama! Stay tuned!