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-
THE FOUR CATEGORIES OF BANDROOM BANTER
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 –
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.
This 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…
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.
Some 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.