Poor long-term wardrobe management has dominated this week’s proceedings, along with the tail end of the hay fever. Sunday saw a trip to Southend, to wave my arms around in the Palace Theatre there directing the orchestra for the Golden Glottis of Great Wakering himself, Kevin Fitzsimmons. All was going well, no traffic to speak of on the way down; a nice helpful theatre staff, all the chaps turned up on time and the short bandcall went off without a hitch. All the way through this I had a sneaking suspicion that something was going to go hideously wrong, but I dismissed these preternatural twinges as irrational and, spurning the inevitable pre-gig curry packed myself off to the chippy for a traditional English seaside tea, in the traditional English seaside horizontal high-velocity pissing rain. Should you ever find yourself down in that neck of the woods, by the way, I can heartily recommend the Dolphin Fish Bar- hand cut chips like little individual shards of high art were on offer, and the establishment boasted two floors of sit down dining, both of which were rammed solid. We therefore elected to go back to the theatre, and enjoy the nosh in the palatial luxury of the Artists’ Meditation and Relaxation suite, or dressing room number three.
A quarter of an hour before curtain up, it was time to don the white tux, and I made my way down to the wings. I always get changed for a theatre gig in the wings, because it saves carrying yet another bag up a rickety staircase, leaving it at the venue in my haste to get home at the end, and then having to drive back the following Tuesday to get it. In fact, I have long opined that as a child someone saw fit to blight me with the dreaded Curse of the Million Bags, in which in any given situation I have luggage which exceeds my capacity to carry it by a factor of at least four. Despite being issued by The Maker with the usual amount of limbs, I continually end up in lifting and carrying situations better suited to an octopus, or on a really bad day, a giant me-sized millipede. It seems that whether I’m going out to operate saxophones, or just off to the petrol station to buy a pint of milk, I will end up with two bags in each hand, and one over each shoulder, which usually detach themselves from said shoulders and slither in a grating manner down to the wrists just as a revolving door needs to be negotiated. I am now something of a master at the delicate art of walking sideways along corridors whilst toting three times my bodyweight in rucksacks because my baggage has rendered me too broad in the beam for conventional locomotion.
Kev’s gig on Sunday was no exception. The Southend Palace is a beautiful old Victorian theatre, and as a consequence has beautiful old Victorian car parking facilities, or to put it another way, absolutely no car access. You have to park down the nearby streets, and given the driving horizontal rain mentioned earlier, I reckoned that with my years of training under The Curse, I could do it all in one go. Carrying as I was all the bandstands, lights, clarinet and my evening wear sideways along the narrow pavements of the residential streets of Southend I took on the appearance of a hideous mix of rag-and-bone cart, giant anthropomorphic hermit crab, and in the aforementioned rain with the wind lashing at my shirt, Heathcliffe.
It’s easy to understand therefore, that when so much different stuff has to be packed, Thunderbird-2-like, into the Volvo to undertake a mission, situations can arise due to, shall we say, administrative error. One of these was about to bite me quite literally on the bum. Remember, folks, that it is now Gig minus fifteen minutes. I am walking around in the wings getting changed, and take the black dress trousers of the hanger. As I was looking down into them whilst stepping in, it struck me that all did not look well in terms if the circumference of the waistband. Even before I’d got them over my knees I’d realised what had gone wrong- in my haste to fill the Volvo with all the stuff I needed in time to set off for work without missing any of the Archers Omnibus, I’d been a bit hasty at the wardrobe, and packed the Trousers That Time Forgot.
I can’t imagine that I’m the only person in the world who hangs on to old clothes which belong to a nicer, thinner version of self from somewhere in the distant past, in the hope that there’s a nicer, thinner version of self waiting up the path in the future who will be glad of a £12.99 pair of black strides from Man At Halfords. I’m a hoarder anyway, but this is vanity hoarding. Vanity is a sin, and bearing down on me like that big stone ball in the opening sequence of Indiana Jones was the retribution. For reasons I cannot explain, over the years these trousers had, er, shrunk. To the tune of five or six inches. I could pull them up over my legs, but the fly was spread out so far that any thought of even bodging something with safety pins or gaffer tape was right out of the question. Catching sight of this in a full length mirror nearby, I was struck by how much my trousers and I resembled a bri-nylon python engaged in the activity of swallowing an elk. Twelve minutes to go now, and I was staring at the possibility of standing up in front of eight hundred fee-paying punters with no trousers. The classic anxiety dream. It occurred to me also that if I did that, I would be perfectly entitled to ride on the top deck of a bus in my Speedos, and it then occurred to me that my brain’s defence mechanism of piling on the irrelevance in the face of despair needed to be reined in.
I’d come to work in my brown pinstripe suit, and so I checked out how the brown trousers looked as part of a white Tux ensemble. As the pinstripes were broad, I could have passed them off as some sort of sepia morning suit bottoms, and was working on a jive story to tell the public along the lines of “I’m wearing these brown morning trousers as a mark of respect to the Day of the Ocelot, a little-known fertility celebration in Tierra Del Fuego”. Luckily, Nigel my lead alto sax man had just come in to get changed himself, and he pointed out that my white tux was double breasted. If the black pants could stay up, then the tux would cover up the affected area. He was right- pulling the trousers, with pliers I might add, up my legs as high as they would go, there was no risk of them budging an inch. My tux was cut low enough, and we were all systems go, as long as no-one noticed that my dress trousers were of such drainpipe like proportions that it looked for all the world that my own legs had gone missing and the management had rented me in a pair previously owned by Max Wall.
As the gig wore on, I felt the resemblance to Max Wall becoming more acute. These were always a cheap and nasty trouser, with all the porousness of cling film. In addition, although there was no danger of them falling down, they were maintaining their altitude by simple constriction across my bum and gentleman’s area. Anybody who’s played Rugby will know about the feeling when the chap behind you in the scrum’s hand comes up between your legs to get a good grip on your waistband. It was a bit like that, only with the added sensation that the chap behind was a bit too keen and pressing on rather too hard. With a large cat. Whilst the goodly BHS tux was keeping all this unpleaseant imbroglio a visual secret in itself, I was becoming aware that the Max Wall effect was beginning to infiltrate the way I walked, and given some of the temperatures being attained down there in my own bri-nylon encased, stage light and friction powered underpant kiln, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I got the bulging eyes and the start of the trademark hair loss too.
Conducting a band can be quite physical- in the intro to World On A String, the pressure nearly burst a seam when I brought the trombones in at bar 9. After that, I really had to watch my movements and tone it all down. I spent the bulk of the second half conducting with my right index finger only, in a curious contrast to the huge controlled detonations coming out of the brass section in front of me. In the end, it was all over. Back in my position in the wings, I removed the trousers (with a wallpaper scraper) and had a good old stride about in the cotton boxers to allow a much needed cool breeze over the trossacks. Then it was time to pack everything down and stagger sideways back to the Volvo.
Ironically, after an evening of narrowly averting flashing the concert going public of Southend On Sea, the only person to get flashed that whole evening was me. By a bloody camera on the A127.