19 August 2013
Now this may come as a surprise to you, given the wonderful images of me available on this site and others dotted around the internet, but the outward appearance of total physical perfection implied therein is something of a facade. Yes, there is a flaw in my otherwise untrammelled beauty, which lies in the fact that for close-up reading work, I have to wear bins. Bins have come to me later on in life, and I have found that like wristwatches, they don’t want to stay around me too long. Whereas I can normally render a watch inoperative in under two weeks, either by somehow eroding through the strap, or simply stopping the action altogether with my involuntary anti-wristwatch mind-ray force field, with glasses it’s easier. I lose them, or better still, tread on them. In a way, I was quite pleased when I found out that I would need to wear specs- it brought on a frissance of excitement that I hadn’t felt since I was about seven, when as all seven year olds do, I could get rid of an afternoon with my exotic Australian chum Dave trying on dad’s clothes. You know- jackets like tents, trousers which go on forever, shoes we could canoe in, and that most coveted moniker of the grown-up- big proper glasses. Therefore, when at the age of 43 I finally made the journey to the opticians, I was content in the fact that I too had finally grown up.
In a matter of weeks I had either lost or destroyed the first few hundred quid’s worth of designer eyewear. If I allowed this to continue, it became clear to me that I would soon have an account at Specsavers which would, to all intents and purposes, resemble the national debt of Ghana. I made a policy decision- it was to be a maximum spend of £2.99 from the chemist’s counter in ASDA from now on. Good robust plastic specs, and lots of them.
Wind forward now to last Saturday’s gig. It is Britain, it is August. It is therefore the season for standing in a marquees at weddings belting out “I Will Survive” and “Valerie” for the very drunk, whilst sideways rain which could awaken the Kraken herself lashes in from outside. At this particular do, we were at least blessed by the fact that we had nice people to play to. Sometimes the ceremonious rendition of “Time Of My Life” is accompanied only by a solitary knee sliding toddler in a kilt and a glowering bride’s mother. This sort of thing can make the sideways rain look strangely welcoming. In common with many marquee wedding jobs, it was held in the back garden of a private house, which usually means that we get billeted in the living room while we wait, like coiled string, to go on. Last Saturday, the Ministry of Horizontal Rain really had the big guns out, so after we’d got all the electrical stuff into the tent and out of the rain, we were shown into a very comfortable living room and given very comfortable plates of Spag Bog. With the rain driving down on the window panes, the telly on, and the big comfy sofas, my body clock assumed that in view of the fact that I’d spent three and a half hours at the wheel of the Volvo, and then done quite a bit of what would amount in the normal world to light removals, that my day’s work had been done, and promptly sent me off to sleep. It was wrong, though, my day’s work was just beginning, and I soon found myself wrestling with the PA system in the corner of the marquee trying to get it all ready for the first dance, while parts of the cranium were still fast asleep, and so my brain felt as though bits of it were made from that unheady mix of ground up hob-nob, sand, and blu-tack. Because of the rain, it was close enough in there to be the equal of a national humidity emergency in Bangkok. Within seconds, everybody’s nooks and crannies had gone completely for a Burton. Big Dave Jones on bass was so sweaty that he had taken on the appearance of a wax effigy of himself which had been dunked in aspic. God alone knows what I looked like. Had there been a nook and cranny inspection by the authorities, we’d have been cordoned off and I’d be writing this to you from the quarantine block at Porton Down.
Eventually, the gear was up, and the merriment commenced. They were a great crowd, and the dance floor was heaving. I always think that a wedding job in a marquee has elements of the battle of Rorke’s Drift to it-the band is rarely on a stage, which puts us at white-of-the-eye level with our adoring public. As there is no physical barrier in these instances between Us and Them, and so part of the job if you’re up on the front line like me is to stop the punters from banging into the PA, music stands, Her Indoors, the drums, etc, etc. In a beat classic such as “Don’t Stop Me Now”, where vigorous group gyration is the norm the gentle restraining motions to keep our beloved public at a safe distance can take on the appearance of brutal hand-to-hand combat. To give you an idea, here’s a picture taken by Barney Dickenson in the trombone section of me trying to keep the mob away from the saxes at a do in London’s Glittering West End. I spent the whole of that night fending the buggers off, and didn’t play a note all evening! I feel that the grainy quality of the image lends a sense of emotional urgency too.
Unlike the scene in the picture, last Saturday’s do was a small affair, and for reasons of space and budget, the serried ranks of brass players had been honed down to, well, just me. There was no one to protect me, and so inevitably, as the dancing on the floor reached a particular high spike in its already kinetic curve during Her Indoors’ version of “Young Hearts Run Free” a big burly chap in a kilt banged into my music stand. I was taking a breath at the time, so my tenor was out of my mouth. Chap, kilt and stand banged into the bell of the sax, causing the pointy top end of it to smack me right in the eye. This is where the story ties up-had I not had my robust plastic ASDA £2.99 mens’ readers on, the thin end of my hooter would have probably gone right into my eye socket, I’d have been knocked out on the floor with shock, and maybe even blinded in the left mince, and all before you could say “King Lear”. Worse still, there would have been a chance that I could have missed the tenor solo on “I Feel Good”, thus depriving the gyrating masses of the majesty of my creative magma in full flow. As it was, oddly, my myopia and cheap ASDA specs saved my eyeball!
It was boiling hot in that tent. Outside the tent it was cold and rainy. Later on that night in the air-conditioned calm of the Volvo, the sniffles started, which was smashing because on the Sunday evening I was down to be Benny Goodman at the Mill At Sonning. On the Goodman gig, we re-enact the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, but with the added extra dimension this Sunday of how it may have sounded if Goodman was in the early stages of man-flu. I managed to keep it mostly together, but, to quote Alan Barnes, the hands felt as if I was wearing rubber gloves full of custard, and there was only one bad attack of the sneezes, luckily during Bunny Thompson’s dark and moody quiet piano solo towards the end.
It’s a great acoustic in there, though- dry as desert sand, which is just right for an acoustic band show of period jazz. From Monday to Saturday, the Sonning Mill is a working theatre, specialising mainly in Farce, and the Sunday concerts they put on there have to work on the sets for the shows. As it’s normally a production of “Whoops! Where’s My Trousers?” the set normally resembles that seen in an episode of Terry and June, but this time there was obviously something a little more contemporary going on as the set was a modern minimalist hotel room. Richard Pite observed that it looked more like a waiting room at a vasectomy clinic. I will find out how he knows this and report back. All I will say is that sometimes the elements of life can combine to make the overall experience utterly surreal. I was simultaneously experiencing room 69 in the Swindon Premier Inn, trying to play really quite difficult things on the clarinet with a headache, snot, and nice middle-class people sitting raked up in front of me in rows tapping their feet. Unlike the denouement in Standard School Essay number three, I haven’t as yet woken up to find my mum there with a cup of tea telling me it was all a dream. It must have happened. I’ve got a cold, therefore I am.
Not much work on the Seaplanes of The Axis Powers recently, what with Benny Goodman, Monaco and man-flu. However the researching it on the internet has trawled up this rather fabulous image. What are these Germans up to? If anybody knows, please write in. An Airfix Messeschmitt for the winner.