If there has been a defining factor around the week’s activities, then I’d say it would be the various ways in which the jamboree fun bag that is the aging process makes itself felt. Really, there have been three main thrusts to this. The first one occurred last Friday. You see, something unusual is going on in the august offices of the Jazz Club of Mr. R.Scott (deceased), and to cut a long story short, I have been put in charge of a new band there. The unusual bit is that the club is very keen to see this new project to succeed, so a very reasonable budget has been made available for rehearsal time. For me and the chaps in the band, this opens up the tantalising prospect of paid daytime work, with no need to get in the car as soon as the bandcall is over to drive through the Friday rush hour to operate an instrument somewhere in The North. No! Instead, we decided to celebrate our new found temporary night of normality with a good old chaps’ eating excursion. The natural and proper course of events after six hours’ work in Ronnie’s would, as regular reader(s) of this column will know, would be to nip down Lisle Street for the ceremonial standard menu at Mr. Kong’s, to emerge a couple of hours later all fizzy with MSG and sake. Trombonist Callum Au, being of Chinese descent, and a very trusted member of the team when it comes to grub, really played with fire and suggested that we should all go to a place called The Gold Mine over in Queensway. After a short stunned silence from the group, he went on to explain that when his relatives come to stay from China and Singapore, they’re so keen to get there that a stop is made on the way into town from Heathrow. In particular, the roast duck was of near legendary status, and we’d need to get down there before about seven pm before it all ran out.
Wind forward an hour or so, and there were the chums sat round a lazy susan, groaning with goodies. It was fabulous. Reasurringly packed to the gunnels with London’s Chinese population, The Gold Mine did not disappoint on any level. It might sound a bit weird, but it was the smoothest Chinese food I’ve ever had. You’ll understand what I mean when you go. As Callum says, get there before 7pm, and as well as the duck make sure you order the char siu pork served on a bed of pork belly. All delicate and amazing, and a very different design ethos to Mr Kong’s. So now we have two best Chinese places in town. I’m looking forward to the Kong’s- Gold Mine face-off pub crawl thingy. Watch this space.
What all this has to do with the aging process is that we were out of the Gold Mine by 7.45, and in the boozer opposite by 7.47. The first inkling that I was getting a bit long in the tooth for this was that I temporarily turned into my Mum when the barman asked me for forty-one quid for a round of six drinks. Somewhere in my head, I am sure that a pint of lager is logged in at costing 83p, and I know that things have gone up since 1982, but I must say that forty-one quid came as a bit of a shock. However, we stuck with it, and as is the way with nights in the boozer, it was quarter to nine for ages and then all of a sudden it was half past eleven. By this time, I had began to feel a bit sorry for Nadim. Nadim was playing tenor sax with us, and had come out for the jolly, but being a Baha’i, he doesn’t drink. As the rest of us had become shouty, incoherent and tedious on the outside, whilst the lager was making us feel amusing, informed and incisive on the inside, I can’t imagine he had all that much fun with his Ferrari of a brain being subjected to the intellectual equivalent of a dump truck demolition derby. Still, he stayed to the end. His choice. Maybe he was viewing it as some kind of project. A short while later, I was being shovelled into the Volvo by Her Indoors at Moor Park tube and whisked back off to The Gables. And then, the glorious impenetrable blackness of beer sleep.
Mother nature is a great lender, but hell’s bells does she charge interest. The trip to the Gold Mine and the pub had fuelled a wonderful state of vigour and glee in your scribe, and so the next morning whilst administering a saxophone lesson to young Ben from Radlett, I was experiencing the exact diametric opposite of vigour, and especially glee. Ben was trying his best, but each note felt like a breeze block being dropped on my head from a great height. I waited all day to for the fog to lift, and for someone to remove the invisible G-clamp from the skull, but to no avail. Knowing that I had a very heavy Sunday, I gave in and wrote the rest of the day off and retired to the relative comfort of the dressing gown and my Dambusters DVD. It’s official, I’m old.
While Friday was the day of Food and Drink, Sunday was the day of Toil. I had to report for duty at Ronnie’s at 11.30 am to take Big Band In A Day. Big Band In A Day is the outreach thing they have there, in which young developing musicians can come for a day’s instruction at the club in the ways of the Big Band, receive a free plate of chicken and chips, and then do a short set at around 7pm to all the adoring mums and dads. They also get a certificate for the back of the door of the downstairs lav. Even though I had a reasonably functioning nervous system, and a mouth than no longer felt that it had been lined with the sheet of newspaper from the bottom of the cage of a McCaw, it was still like a symphonic version of Ben, but with drums and amplifiers thrown in, and for four hours on the trot. I firmly believe that in order to get such an ensemble to bond together, the energy has to come straight from the director, who in this case was me. Therefore, it represents a challenge in that one is playing a gigantic version of Just A Minute, with no hesitation, repetition or deviation for 240 minutes with as much vocal volume as can be sustained.
I also insist that the students try and play at a realistic volume for a big band. This is normally way way louder than anything they have come across before, and the way to get them to come in loud confident and tight is to shout, rather than speak, the count-in. As I try my best to make them all come in exactly together, which is normally way way more together than anything they have come across before, this results in a lot of false starts, and therefore a lot of shouting. So you can see that by the end of their rehearsals at 4pm, I’m knackered. No hammock time for me though, because 4-6.30 was spent rehearsing the evening’s show, and then at 7 we presented the youth big band. And then it was our show. When I got back to The Gables at gone midnight, I’d had it. I’m not sure if I’d completely recovered from Gold Mine Friday anyway, but when I woke up on Monday I could hardly move. Dressing Gown and Dambusters DVD all day for me. It’s official, I’m old, and the rule would now seem to be that if a day consists of anything more strenuous than sitting down and drinking tea, I’ll need a clear day off afterwards.
A huge victory occurred for the team on Thursday. Her Indoors is a woman of admirable social conscience, and so she’d got a huge fundraising event for the cancer research lab at the local hospital together in the Watersmeet Theatre in Rickmansworth. Loads of folk had donated their services, so we were able to field a show involving the Ronnie Scotts’ Jazz Orchestra, Her Indoors, Ray Gelato, Matt Ford and Clare Teal. And all for free. The do was a huge success- the theatre management told us that we could have filled the room twice, there had been so much interest. The crowd was responsive, and the band and all the turns did a great job. Interestingly, the dynamic in the band was incredibly positive. Because everybody had chosen to be there for no fee, everybody mucked in. I’ve rarely seen a better atmosphere at a rehearsal or backstage- with the dough taken out of the picture entirely, no-one could feel hard done by. It was an amazing thing. The medics from the unit were amazed too, and took all the boys and girls in the band out for an inevitable curry afterwards. The venue was the Rasal in Rickmansworth- should you ever be up that way, give the tandoori lamb chops a go- and a vast amount of beer and nosh ensued. It’s amazing what you can get on the National Health.
Knowing my limits as an official old person, I positioned myself in the dressing gown with the Dambusters DVD lined up first thing on Friday morning, and let events take their course. It’s Saturday morning now, and I’m nearly back to feeling as good as I did just before Gold Mine Friday kicked off.
It is official- I am old. I got up early to write this, as at twenty past nine this morning I will become 49 years old. It is currently twenty to, which makes me a mere whippersnapper at 48.9999. For my birthday treat, Her Indoors is allowing me to take her to the Fleet Air Arm museum down in Yeovilton, where she will endure me for about three hours at my most demandingly tedious. She’s a great sport- she’ll pretend to be interested as I bang on about such riveting topics as the different marks of Fairey Firefly, or even, now I think of it, riveting. I’ve dangled a carrot though, with a stay in a spa hotel down that way for tonight, and then it’s on to Weston Super Mare tomorrow for a date with the fabulous Kevin Fitzsimmons. Watch out for pictures of inevitable chippy teas soon!