Blog of Sessions

Students of global geography will of course be aware that the Former Colony of Barbados, like the eastern seaboard of the Former Colony of the United States, runs five hours behind us here in Blighty. Modern travel in a passenger aeroplane will bring on a phenomenon known as jet-lag, the side effects of which are pretty much known to all, and need no further explanation here. Most sources say that jet-lag can last up to a couple of days, so I guess that I have been specially blessed with some hideous form of Super Jet Lag DeLuxe. From the moment I stepped out onto the tarmac at Gatwick the Monday before last, I have been knackered. Gloopily spreading its gloomy way through the whole weeks proceedings in the same way that the Lib-Dem conference stuffs up an otherwise good week’s telly, my jet lag has made the last ten days or so feel like I have been wading uphill through treacle in an hideous French art house film about life in zero gravity shot in slow motion. It got so bad this afternoon that I even found myself nodding off in front of the Bank Holiday airing of Carry On Up The Khyber. I appreciate that I shouldn’t be immune from the laws of physics, but with all the stuff I’ve got on with researching Japanese seaplanes from the thirties, hoovering, attempting to play complicated modern jazz on the clarinet and sampling local Indian cuisine, there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is. I reckon the cosmic jet-lag apportioning thingy has gone out of whack, and somewhere there is someone bounding about, full of the joys of spring for whom I seem to have picked up the international fatigue bill.

Still, it could be worse. There have been no one-nighters in Carlisle, or horrendous early starts. In fact, I often find that work goes in phases, and this last two weeks I have been earning a crust as a session musician. This is quite a rarity for me. One of the endearing traits of our business is that you tend to get pigeonholed, and so what can start off as a jolly wheeze can sometimes end up as a bit of a straightjacket. In my case, the jolly wheeze involves standing in front of bands and shouting, with occasional bursts of operating woodwind instruments. Over the years, the woodwind aspect of this tends to be overlooked in favour of the shouting. Don’t get me wrong, the shouting has a crucial role in a live performance, as it serves to keep audience and musicians alike from drifting off to sleep, and therefore leads the show to be deemed by all to be a success. Shouting can also pay pretty well, and serves a secondary but equally crucial role in keeping the wheels of the Volvo turning. However, in dark moments, especially those dark moments which occur when the diary has consisted solely of a streak of shouting work, I can end up feeling that all I can do is shout. Therefore, a little run of recording work where all the shouting is done by others and all I have to do is twiddle is most welcome both as a change and as a bit of reassurance.

Session number one was the day after I got back. This was a good old fashioned big band thingy, assembled by Callum Au, who, if I had a Ministry Of Plong to organise, would get the triple job of being Head of Department of Trombone, Medium Swing and Eating. All three were strongly in evidence that day, as the recording went from 10 am-6pm, punctuated with a rather splendid inevitable curry for lunch at Bombay Spice in Paddington Street, off the Marylebone High Road, and then all off to the Gold Mine in Queensway for tea. A really nice thing about studio work is that you often knock off at the same time as most of the rest of Britain. Briefly, just briefly, you can kid yourself that you have a proper job. The music was good too. With old-school sounding tunes and a splash of contemporary zeitgeist in the arranging, it was all done by a dashing young man from the Golden City of Croydon by the name of Anthony Strong. Anthony, who has talent to burn, might sell enough copies for the record company to recover its costs and burp him out a small fee. It can’t hurt him that he sounds vocally a bit like Jamie Cullum, pianistically a bit like Oscar Peterson and looks a bit like Prince Harry either.

Session number two was on Monday, and was the stuff of dreams. It was the full rock and roll do. I had to report to the private home studio of a very heavy duty producer down in the wilds of Somerset to overdub clarinets and flutes onto an indie-jazz-folk project. We now live in an era where musicians are so easily replaceable by electronics, that virtually every time we go to work the budget imposes upon us a frenzied feast of clock-watching and bean-counting. Whatever the job is, money is often stretched so thin that we have to get in at the last minute, get whatever the job is as right as we can on the budget and then try and get back in the car as quickly as possible to enjoy the drive home. Not so last Monday. There I was, in a beautiful studio on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, playing microscopically different versions of the same two bar phrase until the producer, the engineer and the bearded young chap who was the songwriter felt I had given them what they were after. All very organic, slow and every aspect looked after. Over the magnificent and very organic lunch laid on by Mrs. Producer in the adjacent farmhouse, I got chatting to Mr. Producer, who has in the fairly recent past worked with Paul McCartney. Apparently, Sir Paul still plays the same two bass guitars he had when he hit the big time with that beat combo he got going in the early 1960’s. With the eBay value of those equalling thrice third world debt, it is no suprise that they have their own minder when they go out of the house. Emailing the invoice afterwards to Capitol Records in the Former Colony was exciting too. Being a huge multinational corporation, they even got my travel paid at the government rate of 40p per mile, just like a normal person. I managed to belt up the A303 back to the Gables that evening just in time for the vile and giant twenty foot warm swimming cap of Jet Lag to come and subsume me.

Session number three found your jaded scribe standing in for one of the regulars in Jools Holland’s band on Thursday. It’s always lovely to see those chaps, and when it’s a recording session at his place, JH always gets the local caff round to put out a magnificent spread of sandwiches. Jools’ man is one of the few who understands that a good cheese and pickle sandwich must never, on pain of a lingering and painful death, be made with grated cheese, and if at all possible using very fresh white bloomer. By the time I’d arrived, the thought of this had been playing on my mind most of the way around the M25. I was in a near-erotic frenzy of Branston-based lust. Disaster! A new caterer had been engaged! She’d made some egg and anchovy doorsteps though. All was well. The job of the day was to provide some backing for an album track over which a celebrity girl vocalist from the nineties was going to place some vocals. She turned up two and a half hours late, pushing the session into overtime. Rude cow.

Easter will see me in my role as the Dennis Thatcher of Jazz, looking after Her Indoors as she does a lunchtime guest spot at a big band gig in sunny Southport, selling the CD’s and home-made jams and chutneys, and then retiring to the family seat in Wigan for the traditional Chinese nosh-up. Next week we have a Very Significant Birthday here at The Gables. Don’t miss the next thrilling instalment, folks!