I have, after many years and quite unexpectedly, joined a new union - that of the behatted bass players (official chapter). In lieu of a scheduled Helstock this year - times are tough for all of us, and the expense and inconvenience of assembling any number of bands to celebrate the official annual passing around the sun of La Mulley is tantalisingly beyond all of our reaches this year - I have been invited to step in to do the low notes for the Tony Winn Big Band in support of the estimable Marty O’Reilly at The Kelvedon Institute, and a mini-cheese fest has been laid out backstage in a nod to our traditional Helstock repast. Not in metaphorical terms - there’s actual cheese.
Marty himself is being filmed for what promises to be an - if you will - Rockumentary and is gamely discussing the journey so far through a fug of fatigue and Lemsip fumes. Tony, Helen and I are running through the set, which involves a selection of his back catalogue, and old song of hers, and me gamely thumping through the tunes channelling my finest Billy Peterson on a Westone Thunder bass which is - in common with de facto promoter, sound engineer and road mangler James - a veteran of the punk wars. Gamine co-support Lily Talmers enquires of these punk wars of which we speak. “He was listening to Neil Young” remarks James. “And we won” I respond.
Compere with the good hair Tony steps up on stage to set the scene and I remark that it would be amusing if he got his own name wrong during the introductions. Later he will throw his arms in the air despairing that he had got Lily’s name wrong during hers, but this is yet to pass. After a flawless rehearsal I inevitably fluff a couple of notes but, employing the tried and tested method of bass players through history in repeating them in verses two, three and four I present to the audience that when the progression resolves itself during the last chorus, it’s almost as if it was a deliberate attempt to build the tension throughout.
Nevertheless, the post-show reaction is positive - in Kelvedon it is rarely anything but - both from front of house and from the Old Soul Orchestra sequestered behind the velvet curtain and stage door which separates our backstage lounge from the packed auditorium. It’s very kind of Jeff - another paid up member of the (BBP/O) union - to not point out my unique, jazz-inflected approach to doling out the low notes as he, unlike myself, does not play the bass like a guitarist who has been handed an octopus. Lily is magnificent. Marty and the boys even more so. They play an hour and a half of intense semi-improvised wild country-blues-jazz folk before they finish with a call-and-response gospel singalong, unamplified on the floor. It is wonderful.
Tony thanks me once again. “Any time” I say out loud. Internally I’m thinking “And I hope I passed the audition”.