July - December 2012
Listening to the radio, I heard that the subconscious does its bit to keep you alive when you are in intensive care. This confirms that I have a lot to thank Mike Batt for . . . I will explain:
When I came round after the transplant operation I realised that three pieces of music had lodged in my brain and refused to leave. The first track was 'Keep Yourself Alive', Queen's first single, which I hadn't heard for years. The message here is quite clear: keep living. I also used to listen to this as a schoolboy on a bashed up portable Sony cassette recorder as we (my friends and I) wandered around the fells of the Lake District. Mixed with this were the first few bars of Prokofiev's first Piano Concerto; a piece of music I listened to in Cuba late at night when I desired a flavour of 'Old Europe'. Now the third song was 'Wombling Free' by the Wombles. This is the most puzzling track. I was never a fan and goodness knows what my subconscious was telling me here. Perhaps it was keeping me alive by irritating me to consciousness - if so it worked; so thank you, Mike. I might try and record this (A Mash-up of all three) - it could be a big hit; my piano-man colleague, Seamus Beaghen, certainly thinks so: he said it could be the future of music as we know it. However I think he was joking (I hope he was joking).
Throughout July, August and September I was discouraged from going out (for fear of infection and general weakness) and, watching the Olympics, decided to have a cultural Olympics of my own. When friends heard of this I was inundated with DVD's, box sets, books and CD's. I have never had a chance to see things like the Sopranos and the Wire. The massive discovery here was Breaking Bad. This has to be the finest television series . . . ever! I now await the next series and am salivating at the prospect.
As my condition improved I started to work towards the future. On October 10th I supervised the mastering of 'Midnight in Havana' and two days later resumed, with Mark Bedford, work on the design of the album and accompanying booklet. Then, on the 18th October, the Consultants at the hospital gave me the go ahead to get out of London and spend some convalescent time in Langwathby, a village in the lakes at a cottage belonging to an old school friend, David Collinson. The countryside was beautiful and I timed it perfectly to catch that transformation into Autumn that is one of the glories of the seasons here. When I arrived I flapped my arms around my body to warm myself up; Colly said "Yer not cold are ya?' He thinks I've turned into a 'Southern Softie' and he's absolutely right. However spent a glorious week sketching, writing, walking (though I was shocked at how exhausting that was) and generally revelling in the tranquility. Langwathby once had an Ostrich Farm (recently shut down). I talked to a local at the village's only pub, The Shepherds Inn, and asked him why there had ever been an Ostrich farm there. He looked at me quizzically and said 'Why not?' Well . . . there you are.
Back in London I got a call from Graham Coxon who wanted some piano lessons. After the first one we went to the local, the Prince Albert, for a coffee. When I asked him what he wanted he stood there, looked at me sternly and exclaimed: 'It ruins your life - not drinking!' Poor Graham. But he's a fighter and a very fine musician. Great to catch up with him again and talk shop (music) and life (music and other things).
I also started a portrait class at the CityLit and had two attempts at a self portrait; one full length in hat and coat, and a charcoal and chalk study of my face. The tutor, Lucinda said 'That's fantastic; really good . . . Woody Allen?' I confessed that it was meant to be me. I later showed it to Alan McCulloch, a neighbour and drummer/percussionist who conceded that it did look a little like Woody Allen 'only with less hair'. Great!
On the 25th November Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra were booked to play the House of Fun Weekender hosted by Madness at Butlins in Minehead. We were due to play the lunchtime slot on Sunday but severe flooding meant that Madness had to send a car to pick up me, Seamus (Organ) and Tad (Paul Tadman, Bass). We got there just in time to play to a crowd who were just a little frail after two days of non stop partying. Suggs led a stage invasion at the end, Lee saying 'what's he doing here - in my space? My Space'. Nice to see 'Dad' (Madness's long time sound man) again who said 'I've been here a bloody week. That's enough Butlins for anybody.' We managed to get a train back which was rammed due to cancellations from the flooding.
Then, on the 29th November, I got the train to Edinburgh to spend time with Malcolm and Susan and play a double 60th Birthday Party with Buckley's Chance. Went walking around Edinburgh on Saturday morning; it's so great to be back at my birthplace: especially after such a critical year. I love this town. Had a 'Scottish Breakfast' which was: Eggs, Bacon, Haggis, Black Pudding, Sausages, Tomatoes, Beans, Scotch Scones, Toast and Tea. I asked the girl, 'If this is 'regular' what's the 'large' like?' She shrugged but this was an enormous plateful. That was almost it food-wise for the rest of the day. We rehearsed at a rehearsal room between Leith and Portobello and played the Saturday night. Fantastic gig. The whole crowd dancing and a group from Glasgow actually decided to miss the last train back because they were enjoying it so much. Then on the Sunday went with Malcolm and his son's, Fergus and Stan, to Easter Road to see the Hibs-Hearts derby. I had told Stan that my Grandad had been a Hibs supporter so they would probably win for him - and they did: 1-0. Stan is now convinced that I have to come up for every derby to ensure Hibs keep winning. I reluctantly left Edinburgh on Monday amidst the first snow fall of the Winter.
On the 7th December Melody was 19 and I took her for a birthday lunch at Cote Restaurant in Soho. I tangled with a lobster for the first time! Not the easiest thing I've ever eaten but (as far as I could tell) very good. A very fun (and fine) lunch, followed by a trip to a designers 'sample sale' in a poky little office over the road.
A couple of days later we (Melody and I) were invited to the Premiere of 'Quartet' in Leicester Square. The film was outshone somewhat by the entertaining Q & A afterwards with some of the cast; particularly Billy Connolly. On being asked about films aimed at the 'grey pound' he responded: 'When I wis young all the film stars were old. The romantic leads were ninety-five, and the love objects were at least forty . . . and nobody batted an eyelid!' The film itself could have done with a bit more of that kind of spontaneity.
Cooked Ham and Duck for Christmas and on the 28th filled in for the keyboard player of Billy Bones who was in Ireland. We were supporting Peter Doherty at the Brixton Jam. Good high pressure gig but soured somewhat by a supposedly 'right on, cool' promoter who not only didn't pay the band but seemed to begrudge even the issuing of drinks tickets to the band. Rod, the lead singer, paid me out of his own pocket (bless him) but these promoters are in it for the money; they are quite the reverse of 'hip'. It's a bizarre world where bar staff, bouncers, sound men, etc. all get paid but the musicians are somehow perceived as not working. You try lugging a piano/drum kit/whatever at one in the morning! Live music is being strangled by the very people who should be encouraging it. Pure exploitation!
I finished the year by playing piano till 10 o clock at The Happy Pig, a cocktail bar in Fitzrovia. Then I wandered through Fitzroy Square and up Tottenham Court Road observing the things people get up to when completely off their heads and wondering if I was the only one on the planet in this alternative world of sobriety.
So I am alive and it occurs to me, writing this, that actually dying is one of the few things you are not able to look back on with a sense of nostalgia.