Monday, December 11, 2006

"It was a very good year...."

“Who’s in charge here?” A question like that this early in the evening can only mean one of two things – either we’re about to be handed an inordinate amount of money or we are to be informed of some restriction on our activities – either a line we have to stay behind, a sound level we must not breach or, as on this occasion, a dire warning about the state of ‘the electrics’. “We’ve got trouble with the electrics” a man informs us succinctly. We enquire further as to the nature of the ‘trouble’, mindful that we will be holding electric guitars for a period of time later, plugged into electric amplifiers and very possibly singing into microphones which are routed into a PA amplifier which, in turn, will be connected to the ‘electrics’ with which there are, apparently, ‘trouble’. “We’ve had problems with the supply, so if you could just plug in the bare minimum of stuff you need, that’d probably help”. We consider what the ‘bare minimum’ entails and reflect that the laser show spelling out the name of the band in fourteen foot high letter against the night sky will probably have to remain in the van. ”You should see our fuse board” he carries on mournfully, “charred black, it is”. The Singer and I exchange glances. “If the lights go down, who should we ask for?” he says, mindful of the need for calm heads in the event of a crisis. “If I were you I’d ask for an electrician” is the guileless reply.
We are in a good old-fashioned social club on the outskirts of our home town at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, and setting up the gear in front of the regulation sparkly gold curtain and stashing instrument cases in a box room behind the stage which is festooned with stern notices concerning band running times and dark warnings about the abuse of the ‘one free drink for the band’ rule on Saturday nights. We are to play at a birthday party for The Old Drummer’s Mum, an irony not lost on those of us who nodded sympathetically as he explained his reasons for leaving the band some weeks ago and are to share the stage with a conjuror, a choir, and The Old Drummer, who will guest behind the kit before closing the show with a bit of Frank Sinatra to a backing track, for which he needs simply a microphone and a stand to perform – a long way away from all that setting up of drums and stands and cymbals that he used to have to put up with on these sorts of occasions. I ask where he is. The Singer replies that he’s gone home as he forgot to bring a microphone and a stand with him. Any old irony? Any, any, any, old irony? Slightly later, as the room fills with the young and the old, the long and the short and the tall, The New Drummer, resplendent in his “Uzi does it” t-shirt, is setting up his drums and stands and cymbals in the midst of a swarm of ‘tweenagers, all variously helpfully tapping, crashing or tightening things around him. It’s like a post-My Chemical Romance ‘Lord of The Flies’ up there and he mouths “Help me!” silently toward the rest of us, now happily set up and recumbent (as all mindful bands at this sort of function should be) at a table conveniently close to where the queue for the buffet will start. We wave brightly back and reflect that it’s lucky he’s not wearing his glasses as surely by now there’d be one of the kids trying to use them to magnify one of the stage lights we’ve (recklessly, in view of the parlous state of the electrics) left shining brightly stage left (and which will later give one of the Choir a frankly demonic hue throughout her performance) before smashing them and leaving him crawling around, a pitiful mewling wreck in a circle of baying children, their faces painted with scary, primal patterns. Well, they start wearing mascara so early these days, don’t they? A member of The Choir wafts past, resplendent in their purple stage robes. “I do wish you wouldn’t smoke” she sniffs at our Bass Player “It makes me feel sick!” Clearly she is of an age where you don’t have to introduce yourself to someone before being rude to them. At the bar, another member is polite enough to introduce herself first before asking someone what they think of the stage gear. “Er…very nice” replies the interogee, not sure what to say. “Really?” she replies “I think I look like Aladdin….”. The spectre of The Good Life’s Miss Mountshaft hangs eerily in the air.
After the extensive buffet - we are back in our seats and chowing down on chicken drumsticks and nibbles and dips before The Choir has made its way half way across the dance floor toward the paper plates, although to be fair a good number of them are walking with the aid of sticks – we are treated to a selection of show tunes, a couple of pop numbers and some beat poetry of the Pam Ayres variety. Clearly the smoke inhalation has done Rude Lady no good at all, judging by her solo number, but you can always learn from a fellow musician, if only if it’s what not to do. Attempt a three octave song with a two octave range being the obvious example on display here. There is also a solo piano number featuring the overture from “Kiss Me Kate” which is an object lesson in how to put songs together, and is terribly well played. From our vantage point behind the charming and friendly young lady on the keyboard we can see the chords being played out with the right hand and the alternating bass notes and fills courtesy of the left. It’s fascinating and, being an overture, you get all the songs packed into one handy five minute package which in my own humble personal opinion is, frankly, the best way to ingest your musicals. It’s always a pleasure to be able to appreciate a talent first hand and see the magic which can be weaved with what (I believe) Fats Waller once referred to as ‘a handful of keys’. Our own, dear, Bass Player, who doubles as onboard keyboard monkey and whom I strongly suspect is several grades behind her in terms of exams is looking slightly less enthralled as he has to follow her by opening our set with a pop song in ‘E’ which he still hasn’t quite mastered satisfactorily. This, it will transpire, will be one of the three songs he is required to play this evening, thus making it one of the highest pound-per-chord evenings out he’s ever experienced, and if he can avoid the choristers now circling the room armed with charity collection buckets, he could be quids in on this one.
Once the chairs that the ladies have been resting on between exertions have been cleared from the stage (by us) it seems that the funky beat rhythms of The Scissor Sisters are not strictly to the tastes of the majority of our support act and they gather together their bags, shawls, fleeces and sheet music to their persons and sweep out majestically into the night, a squadron of song, an armada of Andrew Lloyd Webber. To be fair “Take Your Mama Out”, a deliberate choice to mark the occasion, isn’t strictly to the tastes of the band either, as The Old Drummer declines the opportunity to sing it on the grounds that it’s “fucking rubbish”. The things you find out about that you never knew about someone, really. He contents himself with some absent-minded percussion tapping, and some tambourine waving in the distracted style of someone who’s popped into the office where he used to work only to find someone else at his old desk and his workmates a bit too busy to sit and chat about how he’s getting on these days. After a couple of numbers TND is however ejected affably from the stool and TOD takes his place behind the kit. Thus, similarly, The New Drummer seems to have spent more time as an unofficial children’s entertainer than he has as a drummer (and was not only more enthralling to the kids than the actual conjuror, but in his bow tie and dinner jacket combo, actually looked more like one too). The show closes with The Old Drummer’s big Sinatra number – mic in one hand, whisky and cigarette in the other, he croons like a good ‘un, living the dream, dinner jacket secured with a single button, the glittery curtain a suitably Vegas backdrop. We’ve been here five hours, for around twenty minutes of actual onstage playing time. Still, like the man says, that’s life.

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