Driving back to The Gables in The Volvo last night, I popped the radio for a spot of light relief after once again successfully negotiating Death Junction at the bottom of the Finchley Road at Swiss Cottage. On the radio, there was a woman whose name I didn’t catch speaking in such a faux German accent that I thought that I had tuned into some of the extremely unfunny radio comedy that is an occasional hallmark of the output of Broadcasting House, Instead, what I had stumbled across was some extremely funny reality. Chatting away merrily, she had an accent which I’d not heard before- she was a German Luvvie, or, I suppose, Gluvvie. Sounding for all the world as if she was on the way to an ‘Allo ‘Allo cast reunion party at the Schavoy, she also had a strange touch of the Sean Connerys thrown in with the mid-atlantic Frankfurt accent. “Scho, there I wasch, schtanding on the schtage at the very schtart of my schojourn into schowbusiness”, sche hisched on. Then it was over to the recording of the reschent conschert, where after more schelf-aggrandisching “Little Me On Broadway” kind of schtuff, we got the schong. We were in luck. Being, to quote the great Mel Brooks, the good little Teutonic Titwillow that she was, we were to receive a medley from Cabaret. Sensing what was coming, and in the interests of road safety, I pulled the Volvo over up by the incredibly overpriced kitchen showroom at the top of the hill as you go round the corner. A good job I did, too as within nanoseconds of the first line tripping from her lips I was doubled over laughing. The first line goes “What good is sitting alone in your room?”
Extraordinary singing has cropped up recently in other areas over the last couple of weeks, as the Friday before last Her Indoors and I went down to the Festival Hall to watch Tony Bennett do his stuff with his trio. The Festival Hall is always a bit of a treat, as a wise chap in the past slapped a big preservation order on it, and as a consequence when it got rebuilt a couple of years ago because the roof was letting the rain in, it had to be restored to the original spec. As a consequence of that, the hall itself is a beautiful arena of polished wood, funky brass trim and groovy 1960’s upholstery. It’s what the World Parliament would look like on an episode of Stingray. As groovy turns from the 1960’s go, Bennett must rank in the top five, so we were well prepared for a good slab of Kennedy-era zeitgeist. I made sure that Bert Kaempfert was playing on the stereo in The Volvo as we drove past the post office tower, too.
At the gig, the modern world was camped out, almost as if staging a picket in the face of all this gloriousness from the past. Outside, on the bit of concrete by the stage door where you used to be able to park there is now a selection of stalls selling international nosh to people who enjoy eating off paper plates on benches in the drizzle. Given that this is most of the population of Britain, it was doing roaring business, and rightly so, as it all looked and smelled delicious. Being an old git though, a couple of things niggled- when did good old fashioned snacks turn into modern poncy street food? There was a bloke selling quirky chips out of a quirky hand painted vintage van under the banner of Belgian Street Food. Bangladeshi Street Food in a quirky hand painted tent thing turned out to be Curry in wraps and over in another corner, in a quirky hand painted caravan Spanish Street Food, or Paella was on the go. To wash down your quirky snack, why not try some more quirky marketing, in the form of Craft Beer? Craft Beer comes from small independent breweries, who deserve all the applause in the world for creating drink for chaps, but can’t it just be called “Beer”? It is, after all, beer. Chaps who drink beer will be familiar with all the major breweries, and will know instantly that a pint of Grunston’s Old Frottocker is going to be a very different proposition to a pint of Red Barrel. It’s dumbing down and poncing up all in one hideous blow. While I’m at it, why do the staff in the quirkily painted temporary quirky retail outlets all wear black aprons? Has Mosely got going on the quiet again or something?
Meanwhile, in the concert hall, away from my ranting, most of Stanmore had turned up to watch Mr. Bennett, who walked on stage to a reception from his devoted fans which wouldn’t have disappointed Caesar returning in triumph from Gaul. Now eighty-eight years old, and stooping just a tiny bit, Tone is still able to radiate showbiz pizzazz and suntan as intensely as ever. In my job, it’s always a good thing to watch a master at work, and learn. The big lesson here was focus. He was there to present a concert of song, and so we got a gigantic medley, an hour and a half long, of I’d say around forty tunes. There were very occasional solos from the trio, and the odd bit of chat, including a very funny reference to Rod Stewart, and all the great songs he, er, wrote for “Those” albums, but in the main it was zap-zap-zap through the Great American Songbook, with the bulk of the stuff being only sung once through. This gave the gig an incredible amount of pace, and enabled him to please all his fans with the big hits, whilst leaving him plenty of room for the songs he liked. By now, he must have sung The Good Life about a trillion times, but by keeping it down to thirty five seconds, he can probably knock it out every time he goes on a stage without driving himself bonkers, whilst delighting the folks like me who now have the memory of those big burnished arcing first notes delivered in the flesh to treasure for ever. Everybody won.
Mind you, there was some fairly extraordinary microphone technique going on. Tony is clearly aware that sometimes he sings small and intimate, and sometimes huge and vivid. He does the right thing, in holding the mike away for the huge bits, but either he’s forgotten where his big bits are, or his soundman needs to guess where to ride the fader on the desk a bit better, since we were treated to some extraordinary jumps in level. The effect if this was to make the lyric delivery of the songs occasionally sound as if it was unpredictably jumping from lower to upper case-“Every TIME IT rains IT RAINS PENnies from heaven”. You get the picture.
On leaving the hall, 1960’s Britain was back again, but in an administrative rather than an architectural form. Two and a half thousand people, all happy and in party mood, were now disgorging from all the many levels of the auditorium. On a lot of these levels, lovely great big bars with big comfy lounges have been built, and I’d say, based on the sample size of Her Indoors and me, a great deal of these people would really like a drink to celebrate, so the management of the Festival Hall did the obvious thing and shut them, forcing everybody into the great British pastime of queuing with shoving on the stairs. Outside, things were little better- Quirky Food Court had also shut down, leaving only the drizzle, overstuffed bins, and the odd paper plate on the odd wall containing some empty mussel shells (Sorry- Breton Street Food) and a plastic fork to add to the party atmosphere. Two and a half thousand hungry inhabitants of Stanmore in the wilderness with nothing to eat! It was a bit like the Exodus, and a scene which could so easily have been averted with a bit of thinking things through.
Last Sunday provided further grist to the mill of the argument that you can actually sell Jazz to people, and that they can actually like it. It was the first time we’d tried the Jazz At The Philharmonic formula in a concert hall, in this case a Sunday Afternoon do at the Cadogan in swanky Sloane Square. Learning from Tony Bennett, and the original recordings, we reckon that a good presentation of jazz needs the following elements-
- Regular Rhythm
- Hooks, or Riffs in abundance
- Short Solos
- Focus- For example if it’s a drum solo, the drum solo is the whole number
- Really good playing.
It was another huge success. Looking out from the stage, the overriding expression on the faces of the audience was relief. Relief that here was a concert of Jazz which they didn’t need a critic to tell them that they could like. I think the Brylcreem helped too- here’s a shot of Ray Gelato, Dean Masser and Me looking correctly rather 1950’s doing the three tenor sax knockabout at the end of the first set on “Rifftide”. Hours and hours of tenors chasing each other all up and down the stave. Great fun.
My arch nemesis, Madame Gravity’s been up to some worrying new tricks of late- my mobile phone keeps going down the hole in between the driver’s seat and the gearbox housing up on the bridge of the Volvo. As we all know, this is a situation which can only be rectified by stopping the car, getting out and kneeling in a puddle. The phone itself normally joins in with the inconvenience and irritation by launching a barrage of message beeps and ringing like crazy, reducing your jaded scribe to an infuriated jelly. It’s not just me though- my mate Chris and His Mate Kev both dropped their phones down two separate drains within a week of each other. Madame G seems to be recalling all the phones. Why? Is she trying to stop Facebook? Thoughts please.