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Biography (part 18)


JANUARY TO JUNE 2017

The year 2017 started with piano inspiration at the house of Tim Richards, author of the best-selling ‘Improvising Blues Piano’, and a lovely meal cooked by his partner, Sally England. We examined, amongst many other things, the fingerings of the great James Booker, the self styled ‘Blues Maharajah’ of New Orleans. The third chorus of Big Maceo’s ‘Chicago Breakdown’ remains a mystery to both of us but a few weeks later I was delighted to find an accurate transcription which solved for good something that has tantalised us for forty odd years! They suggested I join ‘The Blinking Buzzards’ who meet up twice a year at The Cinema Museum near Elephant and Castle to view the complete works of Buster Keaton. I attended my first meet of this eccentric club of enthusiasts the following day on the 7th January. This was hugely enjoyable and I was able to see some of his work from the 1930’s which I hardly knew existed.
As usual January launched the year in a gentle fashion. On the 24th I went to The Royal Opera House to see an opera I love (one of the few I have really been bowled over by): Richard Strauss’s ‘Der Rosenkavalier’. His orchestration quite sublime, I found myself close to tears on at least three occasions. However I was startled by the sheer rudeness of many of the rich old women pushing past me in the bars at the intervals - grim faced and oblivious. They might be decorated with expensive jewellery, clothed in haute couture gowns, but they are still old bags and I found this thought extremely comforting; a source of extreme secret satisfaction.
The weekend of the 28th and 29th found me in Cambridge at the farm of Gavin Hughes meeting up with old school friends from Lancaster. Gavin lost his wife, Joanna, last year and we mourned her passing with a fantastic meal and lovely memories of her - and our youth. I was reminded that many had been present when I jumped from a tree into the River Lune wearing a bra full of pebbles. My advice to you all is: don’t - as you hit the water the pebbles, propelled by the water’s surface, can cause a certain amount of bruising to your face. This I have found to be useful advice to any potential fool whose ambition might be to do something along those lines.
Musically, Rhoda Dakar got us off to a start with a performance for Robert Elms on Radio London. Outside Broadcasting House I was hailed by a bulky women shouting at me: “Hey! Mick Jones . . . you’re Mick Jones!’ waving a piece of paper in her hands. Tad, helpfully agreed that - yes - I was Mick Jones. There wasn’t a lot I could say but I took her pen and paper and signed; however being innately truthful the signature read ‘Louis Vause’. As we entered the studio Robert Elms looked up at me and said, “Oh no - not you again”. I suppose I have done quite a few live sessions there now with The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra, with my own band and with Bitty McClean. As he introduced us on air he added “ . . . and on piano we have Louis Vause who’s been coming here since - oh at least 1953!” Thank you Robert. However it was a very funny and well played session and he subsequently played our EP ‘The Lo-Tek Four’ on a number of occasions - he genuinely likes us!
At the beginning of February I attended a reunion gig of Andy Neal’s band, ‘Shout Sister Shout’ at Camden’s Dublin Castle. Here was Rhythm and Blues of the highest order with a side helping of quirky incidents. A women at the front with the befuddled smile of the extremely drunk kept putting her guitar on the stage and causing general mischief to such an extent that Lee Thompson, standing next to me, said “That’s normally my job”. You’re not wrong Lee! Meanwhile Boz Boorer was guesting on saxophone minus his front teeth after a bizarre shower accident in Japan on tour with Morrissey. “How are you going to play Sax without teeth?” I had asked him outside Sainsbury’s the day before. “Easy” he had replied, “Side of the mouth; like smoking a pipe”. Nothing fazes Boz.
On the 15th February we - Rhoda Dakar - played Rough Trade East in Brick Lane. Poor Rhoda was half delirious with a bad cold but that didn’t stop her performing though it did contribute to the general hilarity - and length - of some of her song introductions in which she wondered where she was and what she was actually doing.
The 21st of February saw the death of the novelist, poet and broadcaster, Frank Delaney. I have been reading ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce with the help of Delaney’s excellent ‘unpacking’ of the novel line by line and paragraph by paragraph which has been an ongoing project for the last ten years or so. We (me and the three or so millions who subscribe to the blog) have reached the halfway stage of the book - alas we will have to continue without the wonderful Frank. It feels like the loss of a good friend - I hope you meet up with old ‘Jim Joyce’ in whatever passes for the afterlife, Frank.
The following day I got the train to Edinburgh for a pair of gigs with the wonderful ‘Buckley’s Chance’. But - on arrival - the first thing on the menu was the Cup derby at Easter Road between Hibs and Hearts and what a thrilling match! My granddad was a Hibs supporter and - each time I have attended such a derby Hibs have won. This was no different with the home side beating Hearts 3 - 1. The match was a real scrap - it looked to me like Hibernian just wanted it more; and an ecstatic home crowd helped. So it was back to Susan and Malcolm Ross’s house where the win was toasted over a drink or two before bed. The following morning I had breakfast at a Turkish Cafe on Leith Shore and sketched the wonderful building over the road. Then the afternoon was spent in a freezing Leith Cricket Pavilion wrapped up in overcoats preparing for the gig there that evening. We had our work cut out - over forty songs in two sets but this band is a fantastic rhythm machine; playing with them is never anything less than a joy. A great crowd in the evening and a good live rehearsal for the next days ‘Country and Western Night’ at Portobello Town Hall.
After setting up the gear and sound-checking there we went to an ‘old mans pub’ (the type of pub that is rapidly approaching extinction in the gastropub blighted London) next door to the town hall and were soon witnessing customers of all ages turning up clad in stetsons, holsters and Indian headdresses. No half measures here. And another joy of a gig!
On the Sunday Susan and I went for a drive along Leith’s coastline but the weather was so awful we could barely leave the car, driven back by gales and heavy rain. So it was back to London and on Tuesday 7th March I went to see Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony at The Festival Hall. I was in the second row (a Time Out offer) and was able to observe at close quarters the musicians setting about their work. Elizabeth Leonskaja played the Greig Piano Concerto in the first half of the concert and when she executed a particularly difficult set of arpeggios perfectly I noticed two of the cellists nod to each other in a ‘she’s got it’ fashion. As for the Prokofiev towards the end of the final movement I couldn’t see the face of one of the viola players for flying hair, both from her bow and her own, such was the frenzy of the climax and after the final chord her colleague blew out his cheeks in relief and the whole orchestra stood for the applause in something approaching ecstasy. What a great gig! The most exciting performance I have seen for some time in ANY genre!
Three days later I was accosted by someone (again - outside the supermarket) who said, “You’re a star at Birkbeck College”; “I am?”. I stood there, baffled, wondering how I had managed that. Then he continued: “I do a media course there. That Boots advert - it’s you isn’t it - on the piano?” I agreed that it was. “Our tutor told us that - when you turn to the girl interviewing you - that focus’s our attention on what she is saying.”; “It does?” I said. I laughed to myself as I walked away: that was news to me!
On Monday 27th March Melody and I went to Bingham’s on the bank of the Thames in Richmond to attend the surprise birthday party of an old friend, Susan Tapp arranged by her husband, Robin. Also there were Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue both of whom I hadn’t seen since a previous birthday celebration for Susan some years ago. The food was fantastic; the surroundings beautiful. Moffat, when I congratulated him on the success of ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Dr Who’ since I had last seen him, sighed and said that he thought he was just about done with the latter series now. I mentioned Frank Delaney’s blog re. ‘Ulysses’ and he said he had never had any patience with work so dense and convoluted. I recommended the blog nevertheless.
On Good Friday I cycled to The Islington to see Paul Tadman (Rhoda’s bassist) play with Clive Langer’s ’Clang Group’. This was a particular joy as Phillip -‘Payney’ - Paine turned up on his bike. He was long time sound-man with The Nutty Boys (‘Crunch’) and it was great to see him again. It always amazes me how bonding long tours can be and we all had fantastic (and hilariously disastrous) memories of our 1992 tour of Germany. ‘Clang’ were very good - though Langer’s guitar was deafening - and at the end of the night Payney rhapsodised about how ‘brilliant’ it was ‘cycling in London in the moonlight’: “We should be looking for a late night bar, Louis. Come on - lead the way!”. Oh - the good old days!
The following day found me at Luton Airport meeting up with Rhoda Dakar and the band for the journey to Tramore for the Ska Festival there. This was a two or so hour journey from Dublin to the south coast of Ireland - a mere stone’s throw from Waterford. On this occasion we had Kevin Burdett guesting on guitar and Mark Norton on Saxophone. The gig was to be in the ballroom of O’Sheas on a narrow street leading down to the sea front. We checked in and were taken to another hotel for a meal and drinks overlooking the bay. The local pork was fantastic and we headed back to sound-check only to find that a German band who had played there at lunchtime had driven off with the back-line. The organisers set off after them into the hills to retrieve the gear: their attitude was completely unfazed: “Sure it’s a misunderstanding”. As the gig wasn’t until 1 a.m. the soundcheck was re-scheduled for 10-o-clock. Meanwhile we ran into Darren Fordham who was there acting as guest vocalist to another band. He was - um - highly refreshed and told us that a different band had invited him onstage. Then he had returned to his hotel to change into his suit for the big event and they had forgotten to call him up. Poor Darren: “So if this other band hadn’t asked me up the whole trip would have been for nothing. Ha ha ha!” Darren finds most disasters quite funny thank goodness. Bands had been playing all day at the various pubs so the audience was - shall we say - chatty; boisterous conversations being held throughout the performance. A highly memorable gig and Kev and Mark played very well. We had to be up early for the drive back to Dublin so at 6 a.m I was sketching on the street when I heard a ghostly whisper: “Louis . . . what are you doing?” I looked around. I could see two lost souls further up the road finally staggering home. Looking up I found the owner of the voice to be Tad chuckling from his Hotel bedroom window. Our driver turned up (‘Morning lads. Fine night?”) On this quiet Easter Sunday we made it back to Dublin in two hours in good time for the flight back to Gatwick. Then it was home for a quick sleep before hopping on my bike and cycling to Islington Town Hall to headline the International Ska Festival there. Rhoda turned up fifteen minutes before showtime groaning: “I should still be in my bed”. Despite the unrelenting events of the previous two days the gig was superb - quite effortless to play. Exhaustion often does that. As I left a punter shouted “What will Lee think - moonlighting with Rhoda?”; I cheerily replied, “He can fuck off”. After all he’s moonlighting with Madness!
On Tuesday 18th April my mum and I went to an Air BnB cottage in Leith for a short holiday. She was born in Edinburgh in 1938 and I hoped that - being there - I would find out more about her childhood (and mine) simply by being there with her. Claremont Cottage was a fantastic base and our first night there we treated ourselves to a fish supper. In the chippie she was helpless with laughter at the very thought of deep fried pizzas. After eating I nipped round to Jim Francey’s flat with Malcolm and Susan for a quick run through of songs for a ‘Buckley’s Chance’ gig on the Thursday night at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms - the other reason for the holiday. The following day we walked up Leith Walk to see if the cottage where she was born was still standing. We finally found it behind the main tenements, roofless and covered in ivy. There in the late 1930’s my granddad woo’d my grandmother with endless cups of tea in front of a roaring fire; he had first seen her working at ‘The Jewish Tailor’s’ and my granny, having had her heart broken previously was no pushover. However his persistence paid off and it was here also that granny underwent a three day labour that nearly killed her supervised by a novice midwife. An experienced midwife saved both mother and child on the third day. They had married in time for the birth but my granddad had been a bit of a ladies man and shortly after the wedding a lady turned up, suitcase in hand, asking to stay with him. He had had to apologise: “I’m sorry - I’m newly married”. Just up the road was the site of an ancient ballroom where my mother worked as an eager teenager. They had one record there and it was a place to go after the pubs had shut for ‘tea and pies’. One customer turned up drunk (everyone was drunk!) every week and always politely refused my mother’s help with his tray getting to a table and every week spilt the lot as he stumbled across the floor in search of one. They had just one record which was played repeatedly for those who fancied a dance and she could recall really liking the ’Tritch Tratch Polka’. We spent the day in North Queensferry where we had lunch. My ‘Haggis Melt’ (a toasted cheese and Haggis sandwich) tasted of nothing but HP Sauce. I drew the lighthouse under the Forth Rail Bridge which towers over the village and we viewed the impressive new road bridge which is due to open later in the year. Thursday I spent revisiting the Modern Art Gallery asking directions from a one eyed man on the way who looked me up and down before replying “For you it’s about a 15 minutes walk”. Before the gig in the evening Stoddy - our brilliant drummer - said that his mother was ‘black affronted’ that he had sworn on television in a BBC4 programme about the Scottish Indie Scene of the 1980’s: “I told her that Malcolm swore as well but they edited HIS profanities out - black affronted she was.” I told him I hadn’t come across that phrase since reading ‘The Broons’; “Aye . . . it’s a traditional old Scottish phrase.” During the gig Billy on guitar had a problem with his leads so Susan shouted at me to ‘play something’. I launched into ‘Chicago Breakdown’ which the rest of the band joined in on. Apparently this was ‘class’. Another fine night for ‘Buckley’s Chance’.
On our final morning in Edinburgh, Susan and Malcolm treated us to lunch in the grand rooms of the ‘Whisky Society’ in Leith; sausage, mash and whisky mousse to follow. Wow!
On Friday 12th May I joined Lenny Bignall and Rhoda Dakar at Euston for the early train to Coventry for an appearance on local radio, promoting a gig we will be doing tomorrow at the Two Tone Village there. We are experimenting with a reduced line up when the fees are too small for the whole band: Lenny on acoustic guitar, Rhoda - vocals, and me on accordion. The show started at 10.00 a.m. and was being held in the foyer of Radio Coventry with a small audience of fellow guests. Our host was Vic Minnet who managed to gently poke fun at guests without giving offence - to Rhoda’s delight most didn’t even notice and she had to hide behind a screen for fear that her howls of laughter would ruin the entire show. We opened with a song we hadn’t rehearsed as the producer thought that the track we originally intended - ‘You Talking To Me’ - had lyrics in French which she thought might offend some listeners . . . is this some weird symptom of Brexit? We were certainly baffled. However we got through it. One of the other guests was a drummer from a local marching band who appeared to have Downs Syndrome. He was in full uniform with white gloves and marching drum and was clearly thrilled to be there. He asked if he could play a ‘short song’ which was clearly a surprise to Vic: “Well - yes. If it’s nice and short. We are running out of time”. He stood to attention and staring ahead in concentration started rat-tat-tatting on his drum. After a while it became clear that this was going on for rather a long time. Vic prompted a round of applause but still he continued, in a world of his own. You couldn't’ help but warm to him - this was the highlight of his career! The applause when he finally finished was deafening - we didn’t mind our last song being faded out as a result of this as the hour long show finished. All in all with this eclectic mix of guests we found the whole experience very ‘Alan Partridge’.
The following day we had to make the same trip again to play Two Tone Central. Here we were joined by Lynval Golding from The Specials for three songs. As an experiment in combining cajun accordion with Ska and Rock Steady this appeared to work. Certainly many in the audience appeared to really enjoy it (one told me afterwards that she had never seen an accordion played live before!). After the gig I had the honour of signing the Two Tone Wall of Fame and the pleasure of sampling the cafe’s very own ‘Jerk Sausages’. After this really enjoyable evening we were given a lift back to the train station for the 10-o-clock train which - unfortunately - stopped at every opportunity finally pulling into Euston at midnight.
On the weekend of the 24th May I had a break in Fressingfield in Norfolk at the home of an old U.A.E friend, Cindy Engel. The first evening we went out to celebrate the birthday of Baz who used to be in The Farmers Boys - the other Norfolk band of note from the early eighties apart from The Higsons with whom I was ‘raconteur and honorary stylophone player’ for three gigs (my first ever band in fact). Somehow I missed meeting the Farmer’s Boys at the time so it was good to meet them - older and wiser by their account (aren’t we all?) - for a few drinks in a good country pub. Also present was Ruth Selwyn-Crome who asked me if I would like to contribute some sketches from my diaries of 1977 to a blog about music at the University of East Anglia; this will be my next task. The countryside in this part of the world is breathtaking and Cindy and I had a great time talking, walking, eating and generally relaxing for the whole sun baked weekend.
Back in London I received my DNA results which confirm that I am a Jewish Viking! Plenty of genes from Scotland, Ireland and England, with a portion of Northern European and the Low Countries. But it was pretty thrilling to find that there are a few from the Middle East - Azerbaijan, Iraq or Turkey; they couldn’t be sure.
Paul Tadman rang wondering if I would consider doing a painting of his wife, Kry’s office for her business partner - they are shutting down their firm of solicitors in order to move to France. An unprepossessing building on a side street in Croydon this was something of a challenge but I think I got there in the end. I was told that a few tears of gratitude were shed at the presentation/wake party.
On Sunday 11th June I enlisted the fantastic Boo Oldfield to help in hiring a van and driving with me to Bristol to pick up Melody’s belongings. She has more or less finished university so is moving back to London - and it is difficult to believe that three years have passed since she moved there. It was great to meet her flat mates and after filling the van with her stuff we went to a new Caribbean restaurant for some bloody good Jerk Chicken. Then back to London. It is - of course - good to have her back. I won’t mention the suddenly chaotic house!
On the 16th June Rhoda Dakar had the third visit to Coventry this year - this time supporting ‘From The Jam’, led by Bruce Foxton. I was picked up in Camden by Mark Norton and we drove to the pick up point in the west of London. Passing Grenfell Tower we were both struck by the horror of what we were witnessing. Like a giant tombstone, stark against the sky, photographs simply don’t convey the horror of what happened there. There is no getting away from the fact that those that died, died as a result of choices made by politicians who - across the board - turned deaf ears to the concerns of residents in order to save money. This is an absolute disgrace and there should be an inquest rather than an Inquiry; Inquiries have a habit of being dragged out for years (Hillsborough for instance) and what we need NOW is answers and new ways forward to stop such an appalling tragedy happening again. A greater focus on humanity rather than finance (The Conservative Party’s raison d’être) would help. Back to the gig, we noticed two rather large middle aged men hanging around outside the Empire when we arrived and I could see that one of them was clutching a copy of ‘In The Studio’ by The Specials: “They are waiting for you Rhoda!”; “Oh no”, said Rhoda, “Have I the energy?” A little brushing down after the journey and she was ready - of course they were delighted. We were met by the tour manager, Richard, who told us that we would be better hanging out in the back yard of the venue rather than the dressing rooms which were roasting as they had clear plastic roofs. He also said that after we had played he would take us to an excellent Turkish restaurant round the corner. We had a minor problem with the fold-back monitors two of which had blown due to the sound desk brought by the headline act but we got through it and were surprised at how full the hall was as we were merely the support. And Richard wasn’t wrong about the restaurant. Absolutely brilliant and generous - I was thankful I didn’t order the lamb chops (as did Tad and Lenny): SIX chops each. You have to be kidding!
This six month spell was rounded off by a trip to the BFI with Melody to see the excellent ‘Midnight Cowboy’. The last time I saw this was in a cinema in Khartoum in 1977. The ending - which is a bit of a tearjerker - found me to be the only person in the cinema there who had a tear in his eye. The audience found the ending utterly hilarious! I supposed this was because death was more of an everyday event in that part of the world. I have rarely - in my life - felt so alone.



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