In the words of the great Arkwright, it’s been a fer-funny old week. Busy, but definitely fer-funny. As a teenage nipper, I was seduced away from the Great Master Plan of a career in the airforce (with attendant high levels of parental delight) mainly by albums of Benny Goodman and his band playing live to delighted screaming audiences of thousands of teenagers at a time taken from radio broadcasts in the late 1930’s, to the extent that I fancied myself as the bringer of an original swing revival, and replacing the likes of Haircut 100 and Duran Duran at the top of the hit parade with Jimmie Lunceford and Harry James (with attendant high levels of parental despair). In my mind, I was going to achieve this with my chums from the School Band, and, as long as we put the hours of practice in, we’d be on our way. You will of course know from pop culture history that one of the defining features of the early 1980’s hit parade is a complete absence of the Whitgift School Dance Orchestra, and so you can see that apart a few incursions into the showbiz universe at local PTA dances for the great and good of South Croydon and Purley Oaks, all the stuff like the planned concert series at the Hollywood Bowl and the resultant triple album, playing live to delighted screaming audiences of thousands of teenagers, was to remain a pipe-dream.
What I did glean from those experiences, however was to prove valuable experience for survival in the music trade in later years- I quickly got to recognise the look of abject despair on the dancers’ faces when it came to the point, usually three minutes into the gig, that we were going to play them jazz all night. I can now pick up from a distance of three hundred feet, even in a crowded and hideously humid marquee the international gesture of “The Band’s Too Loud”, which essentially is the same as the sign language action for compressing towels into a drawer which is too shallow. I’ve even learnt not to wince when I get the angry, but incomprehensible request from the floor- “Can’t you play something a bit more in-beat?”, or best of all, “Can You Play The Girl From Ipanaema?”. In itself, not an unreasonable request, but to put it in context, in order to listen to the chap speaking, I had to stop playing my sax. I was playing The Girl From Ipanaema .
What all this has to do with it being a fer-funny old week is essentially that although I’ve been out of The Gables all week, leaving at 9am from the beautifully sculpted relaxing 1960’s loveliness that is Moor Park tube to thresh around in the broiling hubbub of London’s Glittering West End, only to return at dead of night all knackered and sweaty with a long-expired iPhone battery, It’s been to do a variety of things which the spotty (and no less sweaty) 15-year old who started this whole grisly process off would never have even considered as part of the game plan. I was going to become the best clarinet player in the world, and therefore be a pop star. Simple. What’s actually happened is that although I might be one of the six best clarinet players in my postal district, the art of survival in these turgid times requires a chap to be versatile. Oddly, having said all that, the week started last Sunday afternoon with something which resounded heavily with the original plan in terms of direction at least. It was a recreation of the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert of 1938 with an stellar band in the Hawth Theatre in Crawley. It differed wildly from the original in terms of scale- instead of the delighted screaming audience of thousands of teenagers so prominent on the original recording, we drew 192 local pensioners. Nice attentive lively pensioners, mind, but still 192, in an 850 seater room. I know this, because we were getting door money and I counted them while they were sitting there. Twice.
So it was with my bankrupt promoter’s hat on that I wrestled the music stands into the boot of the Volvo on my own in the driving rain in the theatre car park, and set off for my Sunday Evening appointment at the Beeb in London to speak on the Clare Teal show on Radio 2, about, of all things, the Carnegie Hall Concert by Benny Goodman upon which I’d just lost a shirt, or at the very least have had to abandon all imminent plans for the motorisation of the dockside railway in the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama. Apart from my moth like urge to bask in the flame of media exposure, the Beeb had also promised me a free trip to Pizza Express, so who was I to say no? I enjoyed the interview- I managed to croak out some facts without saying “Er” too much, and very successfully managed not to say Bum, Willy, Poo or Jimmy Saville. So feeling a little happier with my day, I returned to The Gables with my Modern Media Celebrity hat on. Better.
Monday came and I found myself in a Mews studio in Holborn with the turns for the upcoming Irving Berlin show rehearsing all the stuff, with the redoubtable Bunny Thompson on Piano. A master musician, Bunny is the all time number one theatre rehearsal pianist. Whereas a normal piece of piano music is written for the usual format of two hands with five fingers on each, a stage rehearsal piano score has all the orchestral stuff condensed onto two lines, with up to four extra lines of music on top for the turns. To get round that you’d need to be Edward Scissorhandsand have a rudimentary knowledge of time travel to come back and fill in the missing bits. Bunny is able to condense all this at sight and re-create the sound of the orchestration, sometimes with one hand if the page turns get a bit heavy. And all on the same money. Remarkable. I was sat next to him waving a stick about, practising for Tuesday week when I have to wave the stick around in anger in the Festival Hall with a sea of violinists in front of me, and all of Stanmore listening behind in the stalls. If I wave the stick wrong, the chain will come off and it will be the worst nightmare in the world. Right up there with being on the bus in just a t-shirt. I was glad of the practice.
Monday evening, and I was up at the Royal College of music, this time with my Modern Educator’s hat on, directing their big band. Mainly shouting, this work, and it must be said that the technical standard in that place is unbelievable. I don’t think anyone’s played anything out of tune in that building since the flu epidemic of 1919, and then Basil Hermitage-Scruggs, the culprit, had a doctor’s note.
Tuesday was an odd Groundhog Day repeat of Monday, and Wednesday was the actual concert at the RCM for which Monday and Tuesday were the rehearsals. 96 gainful hours of employment, on the supposition that I knew what I was talking about, without having to play a note. A Fer-funny old week indeed.
I spent Thursday largely asleep, and yesterday there was a chippy tea and Coronation Street. The chippy excelled himself to an extent that I feel compelled to publish his work to the world. Here, ladies and gentlemen is half a plaice, two saveloys, chips, mushy peas and a wally. Look at that oil and vinegar glistening! Phwoarrr! On the plate at 7.30, it was all over bar the shouting by 7.35