the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
Don't just do something: stand there!
First up was John Keating's 70th birthday, so I went over from Spain and stayed at a hotel in Notting Hill Gate, just around the corner from his luxury apartment. As usual John didn't look any different from the last time, while I was visibly getting older by the day. People keep lying to me, telling me how young and well I look, and so on. Very kind of them, I'm sure, but John has a room full of training equipment up there, including one of those moving belts where one can run mindlessly in the same surroundings for hours on end. The other bedroom is crammed full with his computer, keyboards and music stuff, so he has to sleep on a pull-down bed in the lounge.
I forgot to look this time, but in the old days the only place he could have the television was over the bed, so he had a large mirror opposite where he could watch everything backwards when he was in bed.
His two boys Martin and Kevin I know well, since they were born, in fact. They are both busily engaged in the rock music world. Last time I was up there Kevin came in from the studio opposite and told me that he'd just done a session using John Dankworth. I rushed over there as quick as I could but JD had already gone. Must have known I was coming.
Not long ago Kevin was doing his usual gig at the London Hotel playing everything that he does with his guitar and there was a guy in the front who applauded every song or number. He did the same thing the following evening with his lady partner. At 11.00 pm when Kevin was putting his gear away, he thought he must go up to the couple and thank them for their applause. The man turned out to be James Last. They had quite a conversation, especially when John Keating's name was mentioned. The upshot was that James Last's 75th birthday is next March, 2004 in Hamburg and he has invited Kevin to play there. (I am indebted to Colin Campbell for this item).
When I flew over this time the plane went very low over London, flying in a dead straight line up The Mall towards Buckingham Palace. The funeral of Lady Diane had only just taken place and from the plane we could see all the thousands of flower tributes lining the roads. I guess the pilot had done this especially for us. It was extremely thoughtful of him, and a very moving experience for us.
Once in my hotel I was straight back in the Oh to be in England situation that I seem to fall into every time I visit the old country. It was a fine hotel, no doubt about that, and run by pleasant enough people. The trouble was that they appeared to cater only for small thin guests and I am not small and thin. Once in my bedroom, dirt cheap at £100 a day (dirt cheap if you lived there, but not for people coming in from the rest of the world), I found that the gap between wall and bed was such that I could only disrobe if I squeezed my way somehow into the bathroom, and even there it was touch and go. The toilet seat had broken, so that once seated upon it one wobbled dangerously. No one was able to fix it, but I discovered a way of bracing myself wobble-free with elbows on sink and radiator, thereby developing some slack muscle tissue at the same time. Every cloud has a silver lining.
The birthday party was held in John's daughter's nightclub in Cambridge Circus. Parts of what followed may be found elsewhere in these pages, but they are worth repeating, especially the bit about Vic Lewis. I found my old bandleader sitting talking to the trumpeter Ronnie Hughes, whom he has known, to my knowledge, for about fifty years. They talked together for some time, nodding and laughing while I helped myself to a drink at the bar. When Ronnie got up and left I went over to talk to Vic.
"Who was that?" he asked. I shouldn't be so cocky. I was forgetting names back when I was in my twenties. There was one guitar player who was on practically every session we did in the 1950s and I could never remember his name. Always had to ask. It got so that I only needed to look at him, and make a half turn towards the trumpeter Stan Reynolds sitting beside me for Stan to say, "Jack Llewellyn".
The location of the club seemed familiar to me. I remarked that it looked a bit like Oscar Rabin's old office. Vic said it was Oscar's old office. John's daughter Jill came over and said hello. Jill is a breathtakingly beautiful girl, and, to me at least, is a mirror image of her equally beautiful mother, Emily. We were all very close, the Keating family and I, but Emily died tragically some years ago.
Pete Warner was there, with his lovely wife Margaret. Derek Healey, Stan Reynolds, Duncan Lamont and many other musicians had turned up to wish John a happy birthday. We didn't sing it, of course, and neither did we play. But Kevin went on stage and started playing, so I sat at a table nearby and listened to him. When he came off again I sat for a while finishing my drink, went back to the bar and found that everyone had vanished. There wasn't a soul to be found anywhere, just myself and the barman. I couldn't hear anything either.
I couldn't find any other rooms there so I hung around for about an hour, all on my own in the empty club. I reckoned they had all gone out somewhere, and they'd be back. I sincerely hoped so. Finally they all burst out of a room I hadn't noticed. No one seemed to have missed me. They were all leaving now, and I met John's two sisters and a whole lot of other people for the first time that evening just before they went home.
When I checked out of the hotel the clerk handed me a bill that was completely blank. Shades of Daventry! When I drew her attention to it she said that the machine had run out of ink. I needed the bill for my tax, and I had to do a great deal of persuading before she grudgingly wrote one out by hand.
I wrote an article about the party later on, mentioning the fact that while I was waiting around all on my own I had to pay for my own beer. John told me later that he had run out of cash around midnight. I included the tired old joke about Scotsmen in the article and got myself accused of racism. That Christmas John sent me a death threat in a Christmas card. Remember Salman Rushdie, he wrote.
I was away in Germany when the card arrived. Conny opened it and freaked out. She didn't know who it was from. She was just about to take the card to the Dutch Embassy and get Scotland Yard, Interpol and, for all I know, the Musicians' Union on the case when I walked in and told her it was just a joke. Hahahah!
"Fine friends you've got," said Conny.
When I phoned John he repeated the racism accusation and castigated me verbally for about ten minutes. Then he paused for breath for a moment, said, "But I still love you," and put the phone down.
The next birthday on the calendar was Peter Herbolzheimer's 60th. This was to be a surprise for him, so we flew to Cologne in secrecy, but using our real names, of course. Not that secret. Peter's daughter Mickey (great singer) had arranged for the party to be held in a big hall with a stage, bar, and everything. She had pretended to be doing a concert there and Peter's wife Gisela had to drag Peter there to attend, using any excuse she could think of. He came in and was visibly startled to see about two hundred or more people all standing up and clapping him. "What are you doing here?" he said to me. I don't think he had grasped that it was his birthday party yet.
Everyone from his bands seemed to be there, except for the ones who were working. Ack van Rooyen, Erik van Lier and Heinz von Hermann made a little group at my table. Right behind me was Charlie Mariano, now with a large mane of snowy white hair. There were even some old school mates of Peter from Rumania, where he had been brought up. I got into a long conversation with Charlie Mariano because I was convinced that he had, at one time, tutored the Aw Saw big band belonging to King Bhumibol of Siam, but he said it wasn't him. I can't remember who it was did that, and neither could Charlie.
We were royally entertained by two of Peter's talented young discoveries, Claudio Puntin and Steffen Schorn, with a selection from their incredible CD Elephant's Love Affair. There are just the two of them on the CD, playing all the saxes, all the clarinets and all the flutes. The result is breathtaking, and often hilarious. What they did on stage that night had us all doubled up, gasping for breath, slapping the table, thumping one other with glee. The CD is on NCC 8002 New Classic Colours, distributed by FONO/MVD and well worth a listen.
Outside was well below zero, for Peter's birthday is on December 31st. The taxis had stopped running so when it was all over Conny and I had grave doubts about getting back to the hotel. I could see us spending the night in the empty hall. But dear old Ingfried Hoffman, pianist extraordinary, drove us home very carefully, dropping us off by the famous Cologne Cathedral and we slithered our way, giggling, over the ice rink of the forecourt to our hotel in the railway station. I had, not too long ago, re-recorded a four-piece trumpet section on sixteen titles, all by myself, to repair a session that some guys in Stuttgart had messed up, so I knew Ingfried well. That night he was our Guardian Angel.
The most recent birthday was my own. Conny put on the mother of all parties, as Saddam would have said. About forty or fifty people came, maybe more because I forgot to count - even though there was monsoon rain and widespread flooding. Only Gloria Duval, who sang with the Sampson band in 1949, and her husband couldn't make it from nearby Denia because the way here was mostly under water.
Eric Delaney was coming by taxi from Benidorm so I fetched him from the motorway exit. Just as I got to the motorway a huge truck pulled off right by the exit, so that I had to park a long way away. The rain was coming down so hard that I thought the car might float away. There was no way I was going out in that. So I sat there and waited. After a while a figure waded up and knocked on the window. "Well get in, then," I said, crossly, because I didn't want to miss the beginning of my birthday party. He looked like a drowned rat. But back in the house there was still nothing happening. Conny took wet Eric away and he appeared soon after in a pair of my trousers that were many times too big for him, a shirt, ditto and a pair of red socks that I used to wear with my tuxedo. "These are gay socks," he said, with distaste. "Well now you finally know the truth about me," I said.
Most amazing of all was that Conny had booked a marvellous Spanish band - one we often have on birthdays, but never had in the house before. She had turned the lounge into what looked like a large dance hall, with the chairs all around the walls. The band turned up now with a truck load of electronic junk, synthesisers, keyboards, guitars, giant loudspeakers and huge boxes of cables. I thought they would blow all the house fuses. Not the traditional idea of a Spanish group. But then they played like angels descended. Not too loud, but powerful, well rehearsed, and even if you don't understand the words the Spanish songs are so damn romantic you can't keep back the tears.
Then the guests started arriving and there were very many wet handshakes, cuddles and kisses. Over here you give the girls three kisses each, and hug the men, so that took some time. We gave them all a pink champagne and they sang Happy Birthday. While we were doing that the back door opened once more and a guy started bringing in huge trays with enough food to feed the five thousand. He is the owner of the delicatessen in our local supermarket, and makes the most wonderful things to eat. We got to know them all well, because we were still finishing off the rest of it one month later.
A pretty girl turned up to act as waitress and washer-up, the band struck up and the party began. There seemed to be more people than I'd reckoned for, but even when I looked for gatecrashers I could find none.
Conny's brother-in-law had fixed up romantic lights all over the place and her sister and her cousin Marco never tired of moving around filling up glasses, dancing with everybody and contributing greatly to the festive atmosphere. I got up to dance with the plump butcher's assistant, Pepa, who is the wife of Angel, our gardener, who drives a huge truck for the local council. But by the time Pepa had coaxed me out on to the floor the music had stopped. I can't dance, anyway, only shuffle. I remember that Ted Heath's trombonist Johnny Edwards once won a free course at the Streatham Arthur Murray School of Dancing. Someone had picked his name out of the phone book. We all laughed, of course, and took the piss, but he said that he was going to do it, and he did. He was probably the only one in the entire music profession who knew how to dance after that.
Most people gave me booze, so I will be liquidly refreshed for quite some time now. Conny gave me some of the most beautiful red roses I've ever seen in my lifeno, not 75that would be stretching things, but there were a great many of them, and they are still there on the table now, dried and shrivelled, preserved for posterity.
Then our cleaning lady, Elpi, dragged me out for a short session on the floor, close contact, of course, because she is a bit of hot stuff. Mostly, though, she was dancing in even closer contact with her husband Augustine, our Italian butcher, whom she loves madly, as Duke would have said. She gave me a beautiful model Porsche for my birthday present. She is here now helping to clear up, and has just told me that if I water the model Porsche every day it will grow up into a real one.
Eric just sat there with his mouth open. He has seen a few things in his life, and attended a few high class parties (and some low-classRonnie Verrell told me all about Eric's parties in the old days), but he just couldn't believe this one. He was staggered by the house, too, even though he could only see the garden through heavy rain. I do believe he enjoyed himself, apart from the red socks
Throughout the party an elderly man sat quietly over in the corner of the dining room, by the kitchen. No one knew who he was, but even if he was a gatecrasher he looked harmless, so I gave him a drink. Eric reckoned he was the band roadie. He turned out to be the singer's husband, a charming man and a very nifty dancer when he took to the floor with his wife later.
Luckily no one asked me to play the trumpet. The band was playing all
romantic stuff and I don't do romantic.
No one trod on him.
Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved