Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why-at-all? (a.k.a. 'Mr. Benn saves the day!')

Ok- after 2 great corporate shows we were due a rough one and here it is...

After a quick coffee with the legend that is Steve 'Eastberg' Holt to discuss the latest RADIO PRICE developments (see The Price website for details) I took a tube train into Charing Cross. We're playing at the Banqueting House in Whitehall at a trade union event sponsored by Thompson's Solicitors who, I'm told, are a well known legal firm. Among the likely guests are a Mr. & Mrs. Blair of Downing Street, along with other M.P.'s, journalists etc. In one of the earlier posts ('Up on the roof') I remark how we take our surroundings for granted- in that case St. Paul's cathedral; in this case Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, The Houses of Parliament... what a tourist I must have looked, wandering around with my guitar on my back.
The Banqueting house is opposite Horseguards Parade- we're playing in the hall upstairs. It's big- the ceiling must be 60-odd feet high (apologies to younger readers but I still think in feet & inches!), not good for sound... I meet up with the rest of the lads who all look a bit worried about things. As Squirrel remarked, 'you have to put a different head on' i.e. it's not a 'gig', it's something you're playing at. As if to underline this fact I spotted a suited lady walking towards the stage- she was looking at the drum kit like she was looking down the barrel of a flamethrower. You've guessed it, she's one of the organisers. She asks if we can put screens around it or cover it or something, we can't have people seeing it, these sort of things are fine at a pop concert but not in a place like this. We soundcheck- it's echo-ey, too loud, the drums sound like bombs going off, the suited lady looks suicidal as does Geoff (Jeff?) behind the mixing desk... we turn down but it still sounds bad... it's going to be a long night.
There's a jazz quartet playing before us; they're soundchecking at around a tenth of our volume when our suited lady friend asks the keyboard player 'does this have to be on the stage?' whilst pointing at his keyboard. At this point I decided it was time to leave.
You may be aware that in Denmark Street, just off Charing Cross Road, there's a very high concentration of musical instrument shops. What better way to cheer myself up than to spend some time there looking at things that I don't need, can't afford and will never own but that are nice to at least be in the same room as. And it works- sort of... somewhere in the course of my wandering around I manage to 'put a different head on' and decide to get back to the venue and get on with it. I'm lucky to be able to play guitar, to be in the band I'm in, to do what I do when I do it- it's just hard to remember that sometimes!!!
Back at the Banqueting House the evening becomes not only worthwhile but, for me at least, unforgettable. I'm back in the building a couple of minutes when I meet Tony Benn, the 'veteran' Labour M.P. and in my vastly bigoted opinion one of the most interesting political figures of our times. And what a gentleman he was- 'what do you do with yourself young man?' he asked in that unmistakable voice of his. Leaving aside the fact that anybody who calls me 'young man' goes straight onto my Christmas card list, it was great that he was interested in me- I wonder how many other politicians would have preferred to talk about themselves? I mumbled something like 'I'm a musician' and before I could say anything else he said 'Of course you know what happened here don't you? They carried King Charles the first out of the window and beheaded him. Makes you think doesn't it? Not that I'm in favour of capital punishment you understand'. All I could think of as a reply was 'don't tell this lot that or they'll do it to us' which amused him greatly- fortunately Gary came over and rescued me before I went completely mad.
Up in the main hall the jazzer's are doing their best but with only us clapping or for that matter noticing that there's somebody playing live music in the room it's something of an uphill struggle. Mind you as previously discussed that's the nature of a night like this- they're not there to watch a band. Still there's plenty of people in with lots of faces that we recognise- isn't that the bloke off of the telly that does the political stuff? And was that John Prescott earlier? Could have been... my Mum & Dad were at sea with him- I wonder if he remembers them? No sign of the Blair's either, though maybe that's just as well.
9.15-ish and it's our turn. And as we start 'Peter Gunn' half the people leave. As usual. But the ones that are there seem to enjoy our efforts- there's a bit of applause and, eventually, dancing. We even squeeze an encore out of 'em. Just. After packing away and loading out it's time for the tube home. Trafalgar Square looks even better at night and, if anything, is even busier than earlier. There's police outside the tube station- something's gone on, or gone off. As I walked through the station entrance 2 young ladies wearing witch's hats crossed my path.

I wonder if that's lucky?

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