the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
All of a sudden, nothing happened.
November 12th, 2004
Give us a hand, can't you? snarled one of them, but oh, no, I couldn't do that. It's my fingers, you see, very delicate, musician's fingers. Mustn't damage them, know what I mean?
I didn't have to play fourth trumpet in the big band after all. Well thank Goodness for that because they had built a rostrum on stage for the brass that was very high and so small that the trumpet section could only get a purchase on it by standing on the balls of their feet, with their heels dangling over the abyss. One step back during the heat of the moment and you take everyone else with you, clutching out wildly as you go down. I've seen it happen. I wasn't on that rostrum, but standing all alone behind Eric when I played so it didn't worry me at all.
Eric was walking around before we started with a worried look on his face. He couldn't find the bag containing his drum sticks and beaters and he couldn't play without them. We began looking for it. There were about fifty people on stage there, all looking for this bag. We looked in the weirdest places, behind the back curtains, in the empty instrument cases, under the clothes in the wardrobe, in the music skips, upstairs in the flies, down under the stage, in the toilet even. No bag of sticks.
After about half an hour I said, "Are you sure you brought it in out of the bus?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Are you sure you're sure?"
"It's not in the bus, OK?" I had been the fifty-first person to ask him that.
Things were getting critical. What the hell were we going to do? He was the star of the show. Without him there was no show. We kept on looking. We could hear the sounds of the audience, the place was packed and we were ready to start. Then I saw him coming in through the stage door, clutching a large cloth bag. He brushed past me on his way over to the drums.
"Where did you find it?" I called.
"In the bus," he muttered.
On the concert three or four of the Spanish guys came late, creeping on stage abashed over the next half hour or so. They'd probably had to work late on their day jobs. The band sounded no different, and no louder when they joined in, even though one of them happened to be the lead trumpet player. As a matter of fact I could hardly hear anyone when we played, due to the drastically damped down acoustics of the place. Eight brass and five saxes should make some sort of a noise, but I heard very little, and the saxes were completely blocked from my view by the brass rostrum.
I only had the one number to play so I listened all the way through the first half and then went into the bandroom to get out my horns and twiddle the valves a bit. I never warm up, or anything like that. Save it for the gig. So I was standing there when the bandleader came in and asked me if I was going to change, then?
Into what? A frog? I was ready to play. But he was referring to my shirt, a rather stunning one, with pale blue and white vertical stripes. I'd chosen that to wear because I couldn't find a white one that fit and the stripes made me look less fat. All right - so they didn't, but it was a good try. Eric was wearing his cream Mexican El Combanchero blouse with the enormous billowing sleeves. We went on.
The engineer had fixed me up with a microphone with no on-and-off switch this time. On the previous concert I was supposed to switch my mike off after we'd finished, but I'd been taken by surprise by the tremendous applause we'd received for that number and forgot. When the clapping died away and we'd finished grinning and bowing and pointing at one another, Eric turned to me and said, "That was marvellous. Now f___ off while I play the next number." He was only a couple of feet away from my mike when he said that and his words boomed out all around the auditorium. There was a gasp from the audience, someone tittered and then there was a great roar of laughter and another round of applause.
So I got off the stage, taking my music with me. Unfortunately I picked up one of Eric's pieces of music with it, don't know how that got there, and it was the one he was supposed to play now, called the Bleedin' Races, Good Lord, did I just say that? I mean the Blaydon Races, one of his party pieces in 6/8. He was rushing around shouting where's my music, as if he hadn't played it a thousand times before. I played that one with him way back in the 1950s and the ink on the parts had now turned brown with age. Still, they found his part after I'd slipped it back on the music stand as if it had been there all the time.
Anyway, this wasn't all going to happen again apparently because the engineer was going to switch my mike off right sharpish after I'd finished playing.
Off we went, with me playing the lovely melody of Image (I told you all about this number in the previous chapter). The tricky bit went by beautifully, all my valves working like silk, as they say. I couldn't hear anyone else. The band may as well have not been there. The bass player, standing right beside me, was connected by a long cable to his loudspeaker way over to the back of the stage. All I could hear was a bit of drums and a dull murmur from the rest of them.
It was on the repeat, just after I'd done my Dizzy Gillespie Special hot lick in one of the ad lib bits that I noticed that the dull murmur from the saxes had jumped ahead half a bar. What to do? Will they realise this eventually and jump back again? If I follow them and they do that I'll be right up the creek. So I did what I've always done in such situations. I pressed on regardless, with my customary brute force and ignorance. The saxes also pressed on regardless, with the result that I was now playing the tricky bit half a bar behind them. This transformed the whole thing into a canon and I was told afterwards that it had sounded absolutely brilliant. (Click here to see the tricky bit). If we'd have continued like that afterwards, however, it would have turned into chaosthe kind of thing that the bandleader Ken Mackintosh would have referred to as That sod's opera at the back there. But, miraculously, it all resolved itself suddenly, without anyone falling over or rushing around screaming, and I've seen that happen as well.
Afterwards I got talking to a British bandleader from London who was going to phone everyone back home and tell them he'd just seen me. He seemed to know all of my colleagues and had seen us all in many of the big bands of the past. Then another man came up and damn me if he wasn't from my home town of Coventry. I asked him if everyone in this little Spanish town was British and he said more or less.
When I finally got away from the adoring crowd I went into a bar next to the hall for a beer while everyone else loaded all the gear back into the bus. Bought the beer but before I drank any of it I nipped into the Gents. When I emerged once more the crowd in the pub all stood up and gave me another round of applause, shouting Bravo with it.
God! I thought. Did I forget to do my pants up? But they were still on about the concert, like it was the best one they'd ever had there, and so on. Heady stuff.
On the trip back Eric paraded up and down the bus with a tray of sandwiches and what looked like weird Cornish Pasties. He had his wicked grin on his face so I didn't take anything he offered me, just in case he wanted to get his own back for that lost piece of music. I took a banana out of my trumpet case and ate that instead. Always prepared for emergencies, we trumpeters are.
Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved