There was no sense of any musical genius as a young lad. I was forced to play the piano at school during my lunch break and watched jealously through the window at my mates playing in the playground whilst I was doing my scales. So the skill never really took even though I guess some of the note reading may have layered itself in my memory somewhere. In our music lesson we would play a mouth organ and the music teacher would walk around the class and anyone out of tune or playing a wrong note would be feeling the sting of his shoe on their backside – so I opened my instrument up and removed the metal plates so that it made no sound, risky as this strategy was the teacher never suspected & certainly never heard me play a bad note so I escaped any humiliation every week for over two years until I moved school!
It was in my early thirties, living in my own flat that I woke up one morning and decided to play the trumpet. Two hours later I was sitting back in bed with a shiny brass trumpet that I had no idea how to play! So I joined the Lewisham music academy and I ventured into night school. My first teacher showed me how to blow a raspberry through the mouthpiece and handed me a glass & told me to fill it with spit. After half a dozen hour sessions of debasement he grudgingly started to show his ‘honky’ student how to play a few notes. Tenacity kept me going and in a year or so I was able to play the odd tune, even to heralding ‘auld lang syne’ to a thunderous applause at the packed cafe rouge restaurant on New Year ’s Eve after a good service! Although my notes were technically correct as I practiced to the annoyance of my neighbours I was more brass band than the sweet tones of Louis Armstrong, then I fell in love with the beautiful lines and lacquered wood of a pair of congas……
Back to Lewisham academy and more ‘white man has no rhythm’ to which they were probably right! Albeit the poorer cousin my tenacity over the months won me a ‘scholarship’ session with Clifford Jarvis of the rhythm of the gods fame who re-confirmed my lack of rhythm but showed me some great sounds that I could “go to the park” with. I kept going and as most percussionists my range of instruments grew with my intrinsic start with a pair of bongos on a stand that could give me four drums played by hand with a lovely set of tones and a cymbal for great accents and finish. I carried on lessons with a great drummer called Paul Canton with whom I joined for some great jamming sessions in various clubs & pubs. One of my favourite evenings there were up to a dozen jazz musicians yet only one old man & a dog listening & then the old man walked off with just the dog sitting in front of us ears pricked up watching in fascination! At Pelican we formed a work band and played fun sets at manager’s party’s’ et al….it became a cultural and welcomed norm! As I got better I was even allowed to play with the James Earl band and played a few times at Les Cafes des Artists. One of my most fun gigs was playing percussion (bongos/congas) at a melody fm rave at a nightclub linking my tones to the DJ booth! Once the kids arrived; the prospect of me going off to a bar or nightclub at night was shortly tabooed so my musical career came clashingly to a halt.
Always being a bit of a workaholic I relished any opportunity to do things with my kids. When they were 7 & 9 we went to Venice and watched a concert in this amazing old church. They sat us right at the front and the boys were completely transfixed as the orchestra played the four seasons with tear jerking musical soul. Two weeks later to the horror of Claude (Mum) three shiny violins appeared at home. A lovely Sloane ranger came to our house on a weekly basis to teach us how to play all together and within time our cat screaming screeching started to take some harmonious tones. The Suzuki method is around a parent learning with the kids showing that all can learn together & that the parent knows what the homework needs to be! We made it fun by playing fiddle battles between us. A year later they lost interest and moved on, I tried to continue for a while but realised I was in denial and it was only ever to give us quality time together, but it was not lost time and as the boys enjoyed it so much that knowledge will stay. To Claude’s great relief the violins ended up on e-bay and to my relief we actually made a profit!
A year’s break and we managed to get the boys back into music with Max learning piano & Eliot learning guitar. It didn’t take long before the jealousy of Eliot’s guitar led to a shiny new larger version for me. Eliot took his lessons back to back with Max at SWS music and I took lessons on a Monday night with a group of similarly middle aged crisis males plucking great classic rock songs. We were incredibly fortunate to have Dee from the famous group Roachford for a term “Only to be with you!” as our teacher and I enjoyed myself so much I don’t know why I didn’t start at 16…..! A couple of terms later and the boy who Eliot shared his lesson with went back to France and Eliot suggested Papa joined him and ever since the due have lessons together. We both took our first RGA exam and I got a distinction and await Eliot’s result which I have no doubt will be good as he loves it. (we were supposed to do the exam together but a laser quest party led to his moving his exam leaving me alone in a room where I was the oldest by at least 30 years!)
At Christmas we booked a recording studio with Max on piano and Eliot & I on guitars. (very cool electric guitars of course followed the acoustic acquisitions!) The resulting disk is of course ridiculously bad but we all had a brilliant fun time recording it and some incredible memories.
There are certainly more stories to follow ……………………..