This has been a week of proper early mornings, like proper people have. After a quiet-ish couple of weeks, I’ve ended up having to work morning noon and night all week and I’ve arrived at Friday lunchtime with that faint feeling of having had portions of the brain replaced with a mixture of cotton wool and Blue Tack.
Friday lunchtime has arrived this week in a large rehearsal space in the Opera House here in London’s Glittering West End. It’s the luvvie highlight of the social calendar this Sunday, the Olivier awards, and I have a pivotal role in the whole setup as I am playing, oh, about nine notes on the baritone sax in the BBC concert orchestra, which is providing the accompaniment to the whole shebang. The BBC concert orchestra is one of the last bastions of The Good Old Way. Although I only have my nine notes to play, I am paid to attend all five rehearsals, and consequently have spent most of Monday and thus far all of today sat near my instruments playing Words With Friends, all the while relieving the BBC of a fair bit of its annual grant. It’s brilliant here-they skimp on nothing. Some of the music needs five Saxes, and so the BBC provides five of us, to prevent anyone watching from reaching in disgust for the telephone in order to complain that the band sounded a bit thin during the Top Hat medley. Long may this continue. Right now, things look like this-
Although you probably can’t see much, this is a picture shot from where I’m sat of the woman from the Bodyguard singing “I Will Always Love You”. None of my nine notes are involved in this, so I feel that it is a good time to get busy on the Plog.
Monday’s sitting around occurred in the hallowed space of Abbey Road Studios, which because of the paradigm shift in the recording industry where so much of it goes on these days in home studios ( or sheds), now hires itself out as a rehearsal venue. I was booked to play my nine notes not only on the Bari sax, but also on both clarinet and bass clarinet. With the concomitant instrument stands I was faced with a baggage pile of biblical proportions and decided, as the size and amount of bags easily exceeded the carrying capacity of the size and amount of limbs on my torso, to try my luck on taking the Volvo into town and finding a parking space somewhere near the front door of Abbey Road. Even with feeding the meter, I reckoned that this would be way easier than suffering a slow death by dislocation and perspiration on London’s Glittering Underground. I reckon that since the unexpected victory in the battle of the Doc Martin’s, things have been looking up a bit, and a clear portent came in the form of, of all things, a free parking space in the small car park behind the famous white wall of Abbey Road itself! Not only right outside the door, but with nothing to pay all day, and just outside the congestion charge zone too! Driving to work and only having to pay the petrol? It will never catch on. The unexpected ease of this put me in a sunny mood all day, and by the time I’d finished with the fry-up available in the studio cafe (Olympic standard sausage, incidentally), I was in a state of uncontrollable glee. Here’s a shot of the sax section in situ in Studio 1 on one of the long waits in between notes. Left to right, Sam Mayne, Howard McGill, Martin Williams, Adrian Revell and me.
For St George’s day on Tuesday, I was involved in a rather fascinating do over in Whitechapel, which was the OAP’s tea dance hosted by trombonist Graham Hughes and the enchantingly entitled Sunshine Kings.
The bit of London around Whitechapel tube is quite a thing. The station itself is a magnificent piece of Victorian civic architecture with all its ornate arches and white glazed brickwork- you are made aware by this that you are in a bit of a different universe- accessed by miles of brick tunnels and riveted girders which from about Farringdon station onwards get more and more extreme in proclaiming the Victorian architects’ realpolitik of demonstrating Man’s control over nature by raw architectural expression. It is as if the Met Line has taken you on an Oyster-card fuelled journey through time. Stuff Harry Potter and platform 9½, this is all real!
On emerging up onto street level, the experience s quite intense- On one side of the street is the huge and imposing Royal London Hospital- Victorian splendour, turrets and gargoyles, and on the other sidewall the shops and seething market stalls seem to be given over to the Indian catering industry. Huge sacks of rice and drums of cooking oil are stacked outside shops called things like “Meat & Fish”, or “International Sweet Bazaar”. The aromas issuing from the curry cafes and jalebi joints gave rise to that irrational curry related hunger, which replaces feeling full to the gunnels from the recent fry-up with trembling, insane hunger in a matter of nanoseconds. To break things up a bit, here and there, there were small shops packed with bejewelled mobile phones, and bejewelled mobile phone accessories. It struck me that there must be an incredibly large amount of locked phones knocking around in order to support all those small businesses. All the phones I’ve ever bought have come from the factory unlocked. Hey ho.
Just one block behind the Asian hustle and bustle of the high street lies the Brady Arts Centre, an Art Deco beauty built in the 1930’s for the (then) local Jewish kids to have a youth club. Over the years, it became a bit of an underground rock venue, hosting gigs by the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and now, in a long line of illustrious popular culture highlights, Graham Hughes and the Sunshine Kings.
It was as if someone had re-united all the old birds who had gone for the role of Dot Cotton and equipped them with tea, pastries and flags. In the middle of modern multicultural vibrant East London, we had a small oasis of the old, old east end, and I found goose pimples forming on the back of the neck when at the end of the first set we were called upon to all stand and sing Jerusalem, and they were all stood up belting it out for St. George’s day. Lovely. It was also a beautiful sunny afternoon, and with the afternoon sun powering in through the Crittall windows, over the groaning table holding the brown buffet and onto the dance floor with the old girls cha-cha-ing away to Tea For Two, the sense of Met Line time travel mystery tour was again strongly felt- now I was away from Victorian Giganticism, and firmly in post-blitz austerity Britain, and going by the flags, around the time of the Coronation.
The Met line ended up dropping me off that day in around 1935, in the middle of Betjeman’s Metroland at Moor Park, which is worth a visit if only for its intense weirdness. Britain’s only privately owned tube station, Moor Park station stands in the middle of an unspoilt art deco housing development on a giant grass bank. Sort of like Fahrenheit 451 meets the Singing Detective. I’m sure the grass grows so well there because it was watered by the very tears of Betjeman’s joy! I think we may have to have a Metroland Photo special on the Plog one day. The last 150 years of London’s history on one handy tube line.
You’ll be pleased to know that Her Indoors’ birthday, on Thursday, passed without a hitch. Rather than a box of chocolates to open the batting, I bought her a big lump of posh cheddar from the cheesemongers in Borough Market. As you can see, it did the trick. She likes cheese.
The special birthday treat this year was a visit to Berwick Street in Soho where the theatrical fabric merchants all have their shops. This in turn was to purchase some material so that H.I. can have some stage wear made by Our Woman over in Barnet, who does this sort of thing. Amusingly, Our Woman’s house is also used for sewing instruction, with the result that the dining room contains rows of small desks each with a sewing machine atop, and has the unusual look of the Coronation Street Knicker Factory to it.
High drama ensued during the post-material-purchase streetside Mexican snack. There we were, munching away in the sunshine when a great big chap came hurtling around the corner, hotly pursued by two slightly smaller chaps in civvies with one shouting (and I didn’t realize that they actually did this) “Police Stop!” whilst the other was running whilst giving location information down a walkie-talkie. I remember reflecting at the time that I’d have found it extremely difficult to operate the walkie-talkie OR run at any speed, let alone the Usain Bolt-like velocities on display by these august members of the Met. Highly exciting, and all for free.
Next week’s gripping installment of the Plog will contain the final episode of the saga of me, the Oliviers and my nine notes, and, if time permits, a progress report on the Seaplanes of the Axis Powers Diorama.
More from the Shed Soon,