Blog of Discipline

It’s been a while since I’ve put pen to paper to fill the interweb with yet more personal trivia. Apologies for this, but just at the moment I have something of a rarity on my hands, a great big arranging job. What I actually have to do is sit down with two hours’ worth of Irving Berlin music in orchestral score form, and re-distribute the parts for a conventional 16-piece big band, more or less. As I’m being paid by the hour, I’ve calculated that I can do around thirty bars in an hour, which sounds slow, or one bar every 120 seconds, which sounds much faster. It’s made me feel a bit like I did when I worked for the Nat West Bank briefly and disastrously in 1984. Constant attention has to be paid to tiny pettifogging facts in order to construct the final score, which is not a skill I normally boast. Luckily for me, I’m interested in music and so I find that my enthusiasm for organising noises coming out of the instruments involved outweighs the temptation I feel to run screaming from the Home Studio, or shed, and so I am just about able to hang on.

It’s a big job, though. I reckon I’ll be done sometime in early January. On day one, I went hell for leather and sat in front of the computer screen for hour after hour, doggedly goading myself on until I’d finished the overture. Clearly, that scene in The Glenn Miller Story where Jimmy Stewart (as Glenn) sits up all night re-orchestrating the band’s entire library before the big opening left a big impression on me- If JS can rewrite two hour’s worth of band music in one night, then surely so could I. Just to get to the end of the overture took six and a half hours, and apart from a short but necessary break to address the thunderbox whilst catching up with the letters column in Diorama Monthly, I was at the computer centre and media suite, or shed, here at The Gables the whole time. Unlike JS, who was only armed with a sharpened 2B and a huge sheaf of music paper, I have computer software, which I’d say speeds the whole operation up by around 300 per cent. Even so, by the end of it, what remained of the brain was stuck to the inside of the skull like those little burnt pools of Cathedral City which can be found in dark recesses of the grill pan the day after Her Indoors has a cheese on toast frenzy. Reflecting in the bath that night, in between the various chapters of the customary re-enactment of the Battle Of The River Plate involving the Airfix Graf Spee and Cuddles, the foam rubber sea horse, I realised that another ten weeks of that and I’d go completely gaga. I decided that as I temporarily have an office job of sorts, I need to apply office discipline to it.

Thus, on day two, I clocked on at 9 a.m., worked through till eleven, where I took half an hour for the customary mid-morning mug of Horlicks and a modest portion of anchovies on toast, then worked from 11.30 until 1.30. An hour for lunch and a bit of a lie down, and then back to the grind at 2.30 until 4.30. Ten minutes break there, and then through to six and clocking off. I was a time and motion miracle! It turns out that Mr. Griffiths, my business studies teacher was right all along. Although by the time I knocked off, the brain had aspects of singed Cathedral City about it, it was more in the way of an underdone lasagne than the aforementioned baked on Magma Of Dairy Origin. Days three to five passed in a similar fashion, and I was lucky in a very odd sense of the word in that no-one had asked me to operate a saxophone for money that week. A routine had been formed, but an upshot of it all is that by knocking off time at 6, I’ve really had my fill of staring at a computer, and the thought of doing more of it makes the burnt bits of my cheese-brain ache and sting. This may come as a surprise, but there is no typing pool here at The Gables, at least not at the moment while the recession’s on. I hate to dispel the mental image you obviously have of your languorous scribe propped up on one elbow upon the chaise longue all dressed up in smoking jacket and fez, dictating to Gretchen who is frenziedly tapping away on the Olivetti to record the subtle depths of the finely wrought reflections on the week’s activity, while Helga stands eagerly nearby with a tray of handmade Turkish delight to aid the creative brain to its next pinnacle of invention, but this is mainly the work of my own index finger doing the job only slightly better than the proverbial infinite monkey cage. You can see therefore that me, my brain and my index finger have really had enough of the Gabletron 3000 by the time that 6pm has rolled around I am no more able to get going typing again than I am trying to learn Cantonese. By the time I’ve got back to feeling normal, it’s generally been off up the hill to The Swan for last orders and a refreshing pickled egg.

Mind you, the week wasn’t without its contrasts, as at the weekend, Her Indoors and I got into the Volvo and headed east for the Southend Jazz Festival. A brilliant idea, this, consisting of 48 solid hours of largely mainstream jazz in a great big hotel in Southend all MC’d by the largely mainstream Derek Nash. Back in the day, in such a grand palace up a big hill such a do would have had the feel of a benign version of Colditz, with everyone packed in together in a communal sort of way, but with jazz on the bill rather than interrogation. It is a sad reflection on the parlous state of the mainstream jazz industry that it would appear that the escape committee’s plan has finally worked, and so we were subject to the sorry sight of fabulous ensembles led by such luminaries as Alan Barnes, John Horler and Bruce Adams playing to houses of around twenty people. We could have done with that contraption you see in “The Great Escape” which had loads of shoes (I think) attached to a bicycle wheel which simulated the sound of applause in the gang show when all the lads were going down the tunnel, I can tell you. For those who did turn up, there was a magnificent musical smorgasbord laid on, but by the Saturday evening I was feeling the need for curry. Her Indoors had an early evening set to do, and so I found myself alone in a charming old-school Indian complete with flock wallpaper and illuminated pictures of the Taj Mahal. I even had a view of the railway station, and so all was in order. A solo curry is an occasional massive treat to be administered with sparing care- too many and you become a lonely obsessive git- it’s that fine balance between own space and own vacuum again. It actually took me longer to order than normal. Freed as I was from the need to fit in to the ordering schedules of m’colleagues, and not having to divert any mental energy from the high chance that Her Indoors’ portions would have something technically amiss, I entered a Zen-like state of curry contemplation, with the Victorian majesty of Southend Central station providing a glamorous backdrop. In the end, I knuckled over and played a complete safety shot- Prawn Puri, and Chicken Vindaloo. It was old-school Indian grub at its finest, even down to the complimentary brandy and cash-and-carry After Eight copy.

Uncowed by the bad prognosis about the future of jazz, I’m off to the golden glittering city of Croydon now, to fight the good fight once again with the Jazz At The Phil experiment. Let’s hope we get double figures!