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Karaoke Circus Again!

I spent last Monday night in what used to be a public toilet. The nearest I’d come to such an experience in the past happened at high school. In an attempt to discourage students from meandering off-site to either of the two terrific nearby chip shops at lunchtime, the school decided to set up a baguette bar which would sell bought-in, thickly buttered, white baguettes, containing heavily oil-based fillings (coronation chicken, chicken tikka, more oily chicken etc.) and a trivial offering of salad, all of which cost twice as much as a bag of chips. The kids could also get their sweet fix from the chocolate, crisp and can machines on the other side of the room.

But of course, there was barely any space to teach maths, so it was never going to be easy to find space on site to hawk mass-produced sandwiches filled with oily goodness (OK, I did have a weakness for the tikka….). The most sensible option was obviously to convert the girls’ toilets (which I believe were relocated, though the pervasive aroma of the whole place made it difficult to be sure). Along came the apocryphal tales of the wide range of carnal activity that had taken place within this sacred chamber. Now, I chose not to believe these tales, because that kind of thing tended to happen in the park on a Friday night. The worst thing that went on in there was probably a bit of vomiting, a stray sanitary towel and lots and lots of smoking.

The conversion was successful, and they even managed to incorporate a seating area. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much with original brickwork (or whatever it was) so it still very much felt like one was eating lunch in the same place Kelly in year 10 first realised what she’d have to endure for being a woman.

No such problems at Ginglik in Shepherd’s Bush. After all, you’d hope that a public toilet isn’t the place where anybody would make such a discovery. Ginglik is situated under Shepherd’s Bush Green, and I think it incorporates a conversion of both the male and female conveniences that once sat there.

The venue is extremely intimate and cosy yet the bar area is very spacious and provided welcome sanctuary from the hotbed of excitement taking place in the ‘auditorium’ for the ninth instalment of Martin White’s and Danielle Ward’s Karaoke Circus. There was even a very comfortable-looking lounge, and an appealing aroma of food that made me wonder they kept the tagines (they didn’t have any).

If you don’t know the form of KC, you can read my post about Karaoke Circus 8 here. However, let’s not mess about, you’re all reading this because you were there or wish that you had been.

Just before the (delayed) commencement of proceedings, I ventured to the bar in search of dehydrating hydration. Fullers Honeydew! Excellent! Bottle of that please. It cost £4.80. Nearly a sodding fiver for less than a pint of beer. I commented to Steve, resident trumpeter for the evening, that such extortion left a bad taste in the mouth, though this is actually entirely untrue. Honeydew is a bloody lovely beer.

As they did in Bethnal Green in February, the irrepressible Foster & Gilvan opened the evening with Elephant In The Room. Straight away, I got a sense of how well the venue would work for the evening. A low ceiling can work for you or against you, but this one really helped the sound around the room rather than confining it to a small area around the stage. This is particularly impressive considering the venue’s former life as a bathroom.

Martin introduces the expectant masses to KC9

Martin stepped up to introduce the evening and the judges, with Gilvan taking up his customary role as ‘The Baron’. Stepping in for the indisposed Dan Maier on the night was Dan Tetsell, presumably so Martin could stay on auto-pilot (“Over to Dan and The Baron…”) when handing over to the judges. Dan made a quip about mimicking Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s “disappointing sex face” while judging the acts, and we were off.

As is KC tradition, the main event opened with an open slot, and the honour fell to Tim E who dazzled us all with a rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. I saw Tim as a proper have-a-go hero. He knew he couldn’t really sing but he was damn well going to enjoy himself, and provided us not only with, in Dan’s words, a vision of “what Kurt would have looked like had he lived” but an insight into how the song would have sounded if Frank Sidebottom had covered it. The tone was set.

Thom Tuck was up next, stepping in gamely as a late replacement for Tim Vine, who was still stranded in Australia as a result of the ash produced by that volcano you can’t pronounce. Thom sang Do You Remember The First Time? by Pulp. He’ll certainly remember the first time he saw the words to the song, as I think it was right then, on stage. Thom’s a popular guy and the crowd lapped up his enthusiasm in adversity. And I enjoyed knowing who he is, at last (see previous KC post).

Thom Tuck getting quite involved (or complaining that he couldn't read the words)

Next up was the second open spot and up stepped a very keen-looking Graham to sing Kiss by Prince. Or Tom Jones, if you prefer. Graham achieved neither the piercing countertenor of The Artist Formerly Known As That Funny-Looking Symbol Who Was Formerly Known As Prince And Is Now Known As Prince Again nor did he quite have the almost-erotic-but-ultimately-gravelly tenor of Tom Jones. In fact, it sounded a bit like a lazy Mick Jagger, which I found quite impressive. I very much enjoyed it, and Graham was to go on entertaining throughout the evening by getting gleefully drunk and telling all the star turns how well they did and how much he loved them all.

Howard Read was next up, though unfortunately Little Howard hadn’t come along (the Ginglik operates a strict over-21s policy, after all). Howard sang Delilah, which is very much a Tom Jones-only song. The great thing about Delilah is that almost everyone knows all the words, so will end up singing along, so it doesn’t really matter what you’re like. It’s just one of those sing-along songs. This was good fun, notable to my eyes for just how close Howard’s head was to the ceiling.

Look! He's practically part of the building!

The next open spot was taken by Nathaniel who took on I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor by the Arctic Monkeys. Nathaniel was pretty cocksure when he got on stage and delivered the words almost derisively. Mr Tetsell mentioned that it wasn’t so much karaoke as “reading out the lyrics til the music finished.” Which seemed fair enough.

Laurence and Gus (link) duetted on the next number, which for me provided one of the evening’s outstanding highlights. After announcing that their choice “almost certainly isn’t racist” they launched into a rehearsed and impeccably executed rendition of 7 Seconds by Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry. I don’t know if I can really explain this fully. Laurence Howarth sounded remarkably like Neneh Cherry, which I think says a lot for Neneh Cherry. This was brilliant. While the charm of the evening is its unrehearsed, hope-the-celebs-turn-up-at-all, nature, something like this just sets it off. Fantastic.

Another open spot followed: Matt took on Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads, which Dan Tetsell said was “a difficult number to do in such a light-hearted shirt”. This song choice epitomises why I love Karaoke Circus – some songs are so anti-karaoke you wonder why they haven’t been done before. In similar fashion, the first half was then brought to a rousing conclusion by the arrival on stage of not only Robin Ince but also Dan Maier, KC’s resident judge – not so much jet-lagged as jet-stopped, making the mistake of being the judged rather than the judge! Apparently It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) wasn’t Robin’s first choice but I think it suited his joyously ranty style of delivery, and it wouldn’t do to have him singing a song with an optimistic title. The crowd absolutely loved this, and rightly so. Kudos to the band here for a) keeping up and b) for stopping dead on cue for “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!”. Lovely stuff.

A sweet moment as Robin turns to Dan, whose mammoth journey from somewhere far away may just be taking its toll.

The second half rather flew by for me, but I think I managed to hang in there enough to do it justice. Humphrey Ker completed a full house of Penny Dreadfuls participants (thanks to Thom’s earlier croon and the perpetual presence of Dave Reed at the drum kit) with a lively stutter through My Generation by The Who. This was followed by probably the high point of the evening.

Andy Riley lays it down to Slim

The ‘blind date’ duet is a staple of Karaoke Circus and on Monday it brought together Victoria and Andy Riley. To start with, Martin co-ordinated the audience participation – a car crash sound effect. I think some people sussed the song straight away, but I certainly hadn’t, and I don’t recall it being announced before they started. You will never, EVER hear Stan by Eminem being performed at any other karaoke event than this. Victoria, obviously, had the easy gig of mimicking the ever-solipsistic Dido and did so with aplomb but Andy was a tour-de-force playing Stan, even being sure to get more irate with each verse. No better was this wonder of Home Counties hip-hop better celebrate than by a suited white man bellowing a perfectly-articulated “That’s pretty shitty, man!”. The audience nailed the car crash and Andy guaranteed himself long-standing renown by making Eminem sound like Peter Dickson doing an X-Factor voiceover. This was top class entertainment. (There’s a video of this marvel on Andy’s website – click the link from his name above)

Next up was Dan Antopolski singing Bossa Nova Baby by Elvis Presley. I’m assured that pretty much no-one else in the room knew this song, either, so I have no idea how well he did. A politely rapturous reception ensued. Dan was followed by Jenny for the next open spot, and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 went down an absolute treat.

Also going down an absolute treat were the very salty chips that I shared with Tim Minchin (apologies for the filthy name drop) by the bar just before he went on and sang The You And Me Song by The Wannadies, an absolute classic that I’d almost forgotten had existed. Let’s forget that Tim Minchin can actually sing and that that rails against the Karaoke Circus norm, this was a triumph. He’s very much the man of the moment – the Twitter vibe after the show was lauding his mere presence.

Tim Minchin lapping up the adulation. And singing. Simultaneously.

The last open spot went to Seb Patrick who sang National Express by The Divine Comedy. He did well, though I say it through gritted teeth because I wimped out of asking Martin if I could sing it myself. Is it old hat to say that everyone in the room loved this? They loved absolutely everything, and rightly so. Seb was acutely aware of his place in the running order afterwards, telling everyone who’d listen that Tim Minchin warmed up the crowd for him. That’s the kind of night Karaoke Circus is.

Chris Addison rounded off proceedings mere minutes after arriving from TV Centre having recorded You Have Been Watching with Charlie Brooker. Chris sang Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello. It was a crazy speedpunk version (his words, not mine) and was absolutely storming.

I do, however, owe Chris an apology. I didn’t actually note the song in my list at the time, and my choice of music on the tube was hundreds of years older and distinctly more death-ridden than Oliver’s Army. By Finsbury Park I’d completely forgotten what Chris had sung and had to tweet him for a reminder. Telling an entertainer that they were forgettable isn’t a very good idea. And I didn’t even mean it to come across like that. Chris, I’m sorry.

And that was it. Another great KC. Robin Ince and I were chatting towards the end about the atmosphere at Ginglik. It was absolutely buzzing in the auditorium but otherwise there was somehow more of a ‘joie de vivre’ about the Bethnal Green Working Mens’ Club. I put this down to the bar being separate from the main event at Ginglik. BGWMC worked because the bar was in the room, so there was always a full house and there was nowhere for anyone to spill out into. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, of course, and it’s not as if this detracted from the success of the evening.

The next one is at the 100 Club on Oxford Street on June 30. It’ll be nice to be there as a performer again – I got withdrawal symptoms being moored in the audience.

It’s already sold out, but keep an eye on Danielle‘s and Martin‘s Twitter feeds for spares nearer the time.

Thanks to Paul Bailey for the photographs. All of his photos from the night are available here. Additionally, the lovely Rose has compiled a Spotify playlist based on all the songs featured last Monday. It’s here.

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Karaoke Circus

Martin White

Martin White, focussed at the helm of Karaoke Circus

On Thursday night, February 11, a gathering took place at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.  It is a gathering that happens all too rarely, but is all the more wonderful by way of its rarity.  It is quite possibly the most fun that can be had while listening to people singing who otherwise don’t sing.

Ward & White’s Karaoke Circus is no ordinary gig. For a start, you won’t find it in the music listings. This is intended as a comedy evening, and comedy it is.  The premise is so simple.  Martin and Danielle ask notable members of comedy, television and radio circles (and Garry Richardson) to come along and sing a song of their choice with a live band (Martin on keys, Danielle on bass, the almighty Foz on lead guitar and Dave on kit). If they choose their song well they get a small orchestra in the bargain.  My first, and only previous, experience of this phenomenon was in July at the 100 Club on Oxford Street but that gig was nothing on Thursday night.

I arrived at about 5, as advised by Martin. As is par for the course with Martin’s gigs, there wasn’t the slightest hint of another musician arriving at any time remotely near to 5, so I went in search of a pint (though as the night’s bar was being unloaded off a white van when I arrived, I don’t see why I put myself to any effort).

I saw Martin before I saw a beer pump and having mucked in to get the stage set up (including creating the Bar of Tits), was able to take in my surroundings as rehearsals/sound checking got under way.

Dan and The Baron's Bar of Justice

The Bar of Tits

What struck me about the whole place is that it really is a Working Men’s Club.  My expectations were such that I imagined somebody took over an old club and, in that Hoxton chic sort of way, that calling his new venue Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club lent it some sort of kitsch.  The unmistakable aroma that hits you as soon as you enter leaves you in no doubt as to this place’s integrity.  It is an unimpeachable stale beer musk, quite different to that of any pub. You know what I mean, don’t you?  It was like popping back to my roots in the Welsh valleys for a night.

I won’t dwell on the pre-amble too much, as there isn’t much to speak of (apart from the heart-shaped balloons as shown in the picture above, which sadly were more evocative of Lolo Ferrari‘s breasts as they may have appeared today).  However I found Warren, who runs the club (I suppose that makes him the Steward?), an interesting looking character.  To look at, he reminded me of David Brent’s agent in the Christmas special of The Office, and looked like he’d have a similar portfolio of clients if he was an agent.  He seemed perfectly helpful, and looked very much like he wanted to be elsewhere, overseeing an act he’d just signed up playing to 50 people in a bar somewhere near Tottenham Court Road.  Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of Warren and can’t find one of the chap from The Office, so you’ll just have to believe me.

Foz and The Baron!

Foz and The Baron open the show

The show was opened by Foster & Gilvan, known as Foz & The Baron in KC circles, with their song Elephant In The Room, which worked beautifully in the intimacy of the venue, much like it does at The Luminaire, Kilburn, where I’ve seen them perform it previously.

A quick intro from Martin and bang!, we were into the karaoke. An anxious Josie Long opened up (she had to dash off straight away and we started a good 15 minutes late) with Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton. Good brass involvement in this, with Steve on trumpet getting the crowd involved immediately with that unmistakeable opening bar.

I love Josie; she’s always so good to be around and even when anxious to get on stage so she could get to Camden for what I think was gig, she was nothing but affable and polite. She’s also an extremely funny stand-up and not a bad singer at all. It was a wonderful way to start the evening.

Josie’s skit precipitated the first contributions of Dan Maier and The Baron. Now, for all the notes I took about the evening, I forgot to commit the highlights of the judges’ comments to paper (or, rather, to my iPhone’s Notes app). Suffice to say that Dan is very much the Simon Cowell of the operation (with an edge provided by Magner’s) and The Baron is similarly quite stringent, restricting his assessments to a mere two words.  If nay of you committed any of the judges’ comments to memory, paper or video recorder, on the night and would like to share them, please get in touch!

Then came the first of four open slots for the evening.  Steve Hewitt took to the stage to have a crack at The Power of Love, by Huey Lewis and The News with some awesome work on the synth by Martin. He did admirably, to be fair.

The audience participants are so keen and actually quite good. It really helps the whole audience get into the spirit of the occasion, I think. Steve was certainly game for it, and by the sounds of it he looked at this song on the list and snapped it up.

Andrew Collins was next up, with the “number one smash” That’s Not My Name by The Ting Tings. An early highlight! A song totally unsuited to anything approaching karaoke was carried off with aplomb, and not only by Andrew.  I have a feeling that the drum beat isn’t that easy to pull off, so kudos to David Reed for a startling bit of drumming.

Incidentally, Andrew and I were in the gents discussing his triumphant performance of the much-vaunted “number one smash” (which Martin hadn’t heard of before Andrew requested it!) when aforementioned Steve Hewitt contended that the song only got to number two. (A number two breakage?). While only using Wikipedia to vindicate our assertions, Andrew and I were definitely right.

Next up, Kevin Eldon and Liza Tarbuck sang Chas ‘n’ Dave! (now known, of course, as Chas)

There Ain't No Pleasin' Either of Them

Eldon and Tarbuck cockney it up with a rendition of "There Ain't No Pleasing You"

I’m fond of Kevin Eldon because of Simon Quinlank and the Evil Hypnotist. I’m fond of Liza Tarbuck because she presented a version of Blockbusters on Sky One ten years ago, on which I was a contestant. And she was brought up by Jimmy Tarbuck and turned out fine. She’s also partial to drinking, smoking and laughing. Finally, anyone who takes to an East End stage and takes off Chas ‘n’ Dave deserves a tip of the cap.

Up stepped Laurence Howarth for a sensational rendition of Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is.  Laurence really nailed it with this choice – the crowd went absolutely mad for it! Wonderful accompaniment by the house band too. A triumph all round.  After all, who doesn’t love a power ballad? And who has the balls to go on stage in front of 250 people and sing one? Laurence Howarth has those balls.

Open slot number two. Step forward Will Howells. I think Will is a regular volunteer, and he carried off Blur’s To The End really well.  It’s a tricky one to sing, this, as there all sorts of quick time changes, so that he knew the song already was a huge bonus, and the crowd got well involved too. Well done mate!

Garry Richardson sang Oom Pah Pah from Oliver! to round off the first half. I don’t really want to talk about it. Andy Murray was nowhere to be seen.

The interval came and went. Thom Tuck was first up, singing Two Princes by The Spin Doctors.  I’m not going to say too much about this, as I’m not a massive fan of the song and I’m still not entirely sure of who Thom Tuck is. But he is now following me on Twitter, so by the next time KC swings round, I’ll be much better placed! Sorry Thom.

Another open slot followed.  All that I wrote in my notes was that our performers were Dave and Kate, who took to the stage to really set the Valentines mood with the slushy Danger! High Voltage by Electric Six. To make up for not taking their full names down, here’s a photo of the two lovebirds in action. Mercifully, there is no photographic evidence of Kate shamelessly getting jiggy with Foz while on stage. The harlot.

Danger! (warned Dave, as Foz moves in...)

Danger! (warned Dave, as Foz moves in...)

Hattie Hayridge (or Holly from Red Dwarf to you and me) belted out Oh Darling by The Beatles to great acclaim before Robin Ince took to the stage and brought out Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Frankly, an astounding bit of song selection.  The crowd totally went with it.  If anybody is suited to singing a dour and miserable tune at a joyous occasion, it’s Robin (I mean that in the nicest possible way, obviously).

Waen Shepherd then took on Bowie. Modern Love, to be precise. I’m a big fan of the song, as I was when Waen picked Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide for July’s show at the 100 club. Brass involved in this again. It’s fair to say my evening wasn’t too demanding, involving as it did generally playing riffs around the bottom of the chord. This suited me, as beer consumption was not such a determining factor in adequacy of performance.

The final open slot went to Nina Davis who sang Dream a Little Dream by The Mamas and The Papas. She did such a good job she was declared the winner at the end of the night! I won’t ruin things at all by claiming that it’s quite an easy song to sing well (it’s like the flute of the karaoke world)! Seriously, very nice show from Nina and what’s more, she did a little curtsy at the end to acknowledge the acclaim of the audience. That alone won me over.

At this point I noted that string players never look like they’re enjoying themselves. Why is this? I’m pretty sure that Dan, Robert, Deborah, Tom and Ben enjoyed themselves immensely, but why does this never come across? Does it mean that I look bored when I’m on stage? The horror! I love every minute of it! If you were there, would appreciate your thoughts.

Tony Gardner sang Teenage Dirtbag. It was unbelievable. That’s all I can say. Apart from to add that, thanks to Twitter and the video below, Wheatus thought so too.

Sean Purdy rounded things off with Careless Whisper by George Michael.  I’m afraid I missed most of this as I’d quite a few beers and was talking to Liza Tarbuck. However, our sax player Arec did put in a sterling effort on the sax solo.

After Dan and The Baron announced the winner, Nina was invited to lead everyone in a rendition of Hey Jude. Everyone joined in and there was, again, much joy. I even managed to go up an octave or two and jazz things up.

Just like that, the whole gig was over. I had to have another beer. There was so much to treasure from this one and working with Martin always makes me feel brilliant. Nathan on French horn and Steve on trumpet, who sadly isn’t part of The League of Nathans, are great musicians to work with, too.

It occurs to me that all I’ve done is rattle off the set list and say a little bit about the singers. Yet I’m verging on 2000 words. Thanks for staying in there. And positively huge thanks to Paul Bailey for allowing me to use his snaps. Click his name to have a look at all of them, they really are super.

The Rehearsal Orchestra

The Rehearsal Orchestra is a band unlike any I will write about this year.  They exist solely to rehearse works of varying style during weekend or one-day courses in London, as well as a longer residential course in Edinburgh at summertime, when the repertoire list gets somewhat longer.

I'd never done a course before but my attention had been caught by two weekends on this year's programme, both of which conducted by Lev Parikian – good egg, mate and bloody fine conductor.  This one was dedicated solely to Mahler's 9th symphony.

I think I like Mahler 9. I like 1, I can't stand 2. 3 has its obvious plusses as a trombonist but overall is a bit much. I don't know 4. 5 is wonderful but 6 is his masterpiece. 7 is the other one I don't know and 8 is just impractical.  One thing that all Mahler's symphonies have is their fiendish difficulty.  I think this makes for rewarding music in 5 and 6, but as for 9 I think I remain unconvinced.  There are many wonderful moments in it, mostly in the first movement but also in the last and it can't be denied that it has a profound effect on many listeners.  I think it was Peter Stark that said that to conduct Mahler 9 well at all one had to be at least 45 years old. Maybe the same goes for appreciating it as a listener.

I'd played the piece once before, with I Maestri (who I will have to blog about, I've decided) and it was a horrible experience. Opportunities to play the piece come rarely to an amateur so I wanted to use this session to get the repertoire under my belt and get my lips seriously back in shape, while also deriving some musical pleasure from the whole experience.

Mission accomplished, I'm pleased to say. My lip held up well and by the time of the open rehearsal on Sunday evening I think I had the piece under my fingers quite nicely. I was rather impressed with the standard of the orchestra, actually.  I think this is one of those courses that really pulls in the applications, so Lev can afford to cherry pick, Yet I suppose he has to balance a desire to get the best available players to do the course with a tacit obligation to reward loyalty. The RO has a board of management, made up of people who I suppose would like to be guaranteed a place.  Many players seemed very familiar with each other from the outset, so there may well be a core of players involved in many of the courses.  I'd like to know how he goes about it, and indeed how much say he has in who is and isn't offered a place.

There are a few things that I noticed or that happened over the weekend that I feel are worthy of mention.

First up, I felt no little trepidation when, just before the first session on Saturday afternoon, I saw a chap wearing a black sweater upon which he'd the following words printed:

"MUSICIANS DUET BETTER"

It is this kind of humour which makes me want to run away. From everything. I recall a conversation upon which I eavesdropped when attending a British Trombone Society event (sshhhhh…..) at the Royal Academy of Music in February 2008. A young attendee had found himself sat next to a more mature attendee who had an alto trombone with him for the morning's Massed Blow (which I quite deliberately missed). The youngster asked an innocent question, along the lines of how long had this chap been playing the alto.  The response was nuclear.

"I like to say I've been an ALTOHOLIC for 15 years!!"

This was followed by unreciprocated mirth and quite possibly counselling.

The second thing I picked up on was something gleaned from a conversation with Steve, a French Horn player who, as a mate of Lev's has helped out Brent on several occasions. We were chatting about the cricket, actually. Steve was using his mobile to red the Guardian's over-by-over commentary on the England v South Africa test when his principal said "Come on, it's Mahler 9. Turn it off."

Now, look.  I know that it isn't the most professional-looking thing, using a mobile in rehearsal. And Steve was happy to follow his section leader's wishes, but I think, like me, he was most puzzled as to the emphasis of the request.  The truth of the matter is that it's not great behaviour whatever the music (note: this is already MASSIVELY hypocritical) but why get so pompous about Mahler 9? Is it one of those pieces which people (amateurs particularly susceptible to this I think) put on a pedestal? Beethoven 5 probably gets the same treatment, and of course Tchaik 6, like Mahler 9, ends with a slow movement and is all about death.  Does this mean they are more worthy of our respect and deference?

Finally, Caroline Stockmann, who, I believe, is the new money person on the Rehearsal Orchestra board told us some startling information about what it takes to run such an organisation.  My £47 course fee barely scratched the surface of what it costs for me to be at the course. My place was subsidised by a further £75. Students pay less to attend. this means that their subsidy was £115.  From what I can make out, the orchestra has a small group of generous benefactors for support, as well as funding from the Arts Council.  It is envisaged that this will prove insufficient to guarantee the orchestra a long-term future.

This is a huge issue nowadays in ALL arts, professional or amateur. In this case, I'm still trying to work out how everything costs so much.  I don't think music hire is as costly as it might be, as the open rehearsal that concludes each course is not classed as a public performance.  Lev needs paying, and the string section leaders need paying.  Percussion hire is certainly very costly, and I don't think this weekend's venues would have come cheaply either.  But there were about 90 people on the course, only about 10 or 15 of whom were students, I reckon. Let's say that the orchestra fees bring in about £4,200 or so. The extra subsidy signals a cost of over £10,000 per course.  How?

It would be interesting to know.  I'm happy to say that Caroline looks eager to muck in and help the orchestra better meet their financial challenges.  I just hope she has luck as well as determination and ability on her side.

Money troubles will rear their ugly heads again, don't you worry.

Addendum: Jonathan Burton, he of the sweater slogan mentioned above, and who played contra bassoon over the weekend, wrote a nice little piece about the weekend here

First of the Year

I started this in the early hours of Thursday morning but for various reasons have not been able to finish it. Here goes.

Last Wednesday, the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra gathered for the first time in 2010, to rehearse for a concert on 30 January at St. James' Church, Piccadilly (info here; tickets can be booked by clicking the 'Booking' link on the top menu).

I hadn't touched my trombone since putting it away after a gig at the Hammersmith Apollo on 20 December. Frankly, I'd spent so much time with it in December I was considering getting an injunction against it.  I'd been glad of the break, but over the last week I'd been highly irritable, and sometimes low. I genuinely wonder if I was suffering music withdrawal symptoms. Yes, there are many other things weighing on my mind, such as my decision to move out of the house, my complete and utter dissatisfaction with my job and more fundamental matters of the heart. At the nub of this, I am sure, is the simple fact that I hadn't participated in any musical activity for well over two weeks.

There is much to love about all the groups I play with in London, but to start the year with Corinthian is a singular pleasure.  This orchestra is justification in itself for writing about amateur music in this city. Since I left the National Youth Orchestra of Wales in 2004, I have never known such a wonderful group of people to make music with.  

The orchestra was formed in 1995 under the leadership of the late Alan Hazeldine (much more on him to come in future posts, I suspect), with, I believe, the intention of gathering together the elite of London's amateur musicians in one orchestra (though if the Salomon orchestra is as good as it claims to be, there may have been other motivations)

My first encounter with Corinthian was in May 2007.  Having moved to London in January of that year, I'd actually done little playing – only one concert with Brent Symphony Orchestra, I think, and a couple of interesting sessions with I Maestri.  I had an old university friend playing in the violin section, who often raved about how good the orchestra was and particularly the Brahms cycle that they'd recently completed.

I must admit to scepticism. My knowledge of amateur orchestras anywhere consisted of stewarding some concerts by Durham Sinfonia (ok but bolstered by a healthy Northern Sinfonia contingent), Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra (just don't….), City of Cardiff Symph (better but uninspiringly led) and Brent Symphony Orchestra, who were pretty scratchy when I joined.  I knew Corinthian was different before getting close to playing a note with them.  No amateur orchestra I ever knew wanted a music CV off me before deciding to give me a go!

I gave myself plenty of time to get to the rehearsal at the British Medical Association – despite it being two minutes from Euston station I knew I'd want to hang around outside until I saw another musician go in. This also gave me the opportunity of practising being a Londoner, by which I mean always looking like you know where you are, and where you are going. (by the way, I believe I've nailed this down to the simple act of never looking upwards)

I recognised three friends in the orchestra straight away.  It was as reassuring a sight as anchovies in a caesar salad, but not because this meant I had someone to talk to, but rather that it further enforced my optimism about the impending music-making.  Those three friends were (indeed, are) seriously excellent musicians and maybe had had more time to be choosy about with whom they shared their passion.

I was only involved in the Overture to Euryanthe by Weber.  It's a simple enough piece in concept and form, but obviously requires some skill to carry it off. Alan rehearsed it for nearly an hour and a half, which baffled me and thrilled me all at once. He worked with a level of precision I had only experienced under Chris Adey before, and the orchestra sounded simply wonderful for it. It was obvious that he and the orchestra had a real bond; and it occurred to me then that part of the ethos of the orchestra's founding members must have been not only to assemble the best amateur players in London, but to knit them together, with one man always at the helm, and create a real musical entity.

Well, that's exactly what's happened.  And even though Alan's cancer finally dragged him under in November 2008, Corinthian Chamber Orchestra continues to play with the greatest accomplishment and joie de vivre I may ever have experienced.

Our next rehearsal is next Wednesday, and I think I'll write about the aftermath of Alan's death and its effect on the orchestra's leadership and direction, which continue to be pertinent and conspicuous issues. Unless something epic happens in the rehearsal (unlikely!)

It's taken me so long to write this post I did a whole Rehearsal Orchestra weekend between starting and finishing it.  So, more to come tomorrow

This is rare

At some point during 2009 I decided that I'd like to write a blog (or at least SOMETHING) about my experiences of the amateur orchestral scene in London.  I had been cajoled into writing a blog for some time; for a start, my own mother is a constant champion of my supposed ability as a writer (if only to me and Mary, who she works with).  Others had insisted that I write about my ever humourous escapades on the N91 bus service.  However, soon after it was suggested that my attempts at getting home after a night out were worthy of written record, they stopped happening (for very good reason: the last time I fell asleep on the N91, this happened). The upshot of all this is, I' e actually sat down and written something. This almost never happens.

I suppose the music theme was inevitable. I was impressed with Rylan's blog, even though he's now dreadful at updating it, not least because it introduced me to new music, some of which I even enjoyed!  Rylan always said "Dude, just find something you want to write about".  

He always was a valuable source of practical input.  

To be fair, it did get me thinking.  It occurred to me that no-one writes about the amateur music scene. Amateur performances are very rarely reviewed in the papers, for instance.  I suppose Joe Public, the fickle beast, doesn't give two hoots whether a solicitor from Surrey had a great command of the horn obbligato in Mahler 5. But think – isn't something like that more remarkable than a professional horn player, with 30 years training and professional experience behind him, trotting out the same part he was reading from an excerpt book at the age of 15?

Amateur music is, in some ways, music-making for the purist (though it is a fair argument that the best-loved classical music of today was, in more cases than not, written at the behest of 'the establishment', however you choose to define such).  Amateur orchestras and brass bands and wind quartets an choirs and trombone octets and whatever combinations one cares to think of come together to make music for the sheer pleasure of doing so.  Of course, sometimes there isn't much pleasure involved, and sometimes it's not exactly 'amateur' in the truest sense of the word.  I can comfortably guarantee that I will have reason to elaborate on these points over the coming year!

I'd like to do this once a week – so if you know me and are reading this, you are charged with prompting me. Let's just hope it's interesting!

First instalment tomorrow, I think.

Is this angry enough?

I play with Brent Symphony Orchestra (http://www.brentso.org.uk) and we are playing a Christmas concert tomorrow. Last evening our tuba player, Robert Augustsson, resigned by email, which I suppose explains why for the second consecutive week he hadn’t come to a rehearsal. He said he wanted to play more brass band music. I’ve been pretty livid about this all day, so I thought about writing an email to him, if only to vent my frustration without resorting to kicking office furniture.. Tell me what you think.  This hasn’t been sent to the guilty party.

 

Dear Robert

I have this morning been informed by Heather of your decision to leave Brent Symphony Orchestra, and wished to express my utter contempt at the lack of respect you have shown to your section and the orchestra as a whole by taking such a decision.

I forget when you joined us. It was nice to have a tuba player at rehearsal – something I hadn’t actually experienced since I joined Brent in January 2007. To be honest, you were ropey, but not beyond hope in my opinion, so when Heather asked my opinion I said that you should be asked to stick around. I’d like to say that that was a good decision, because after a few rehearsals for whatever was your first concert I thought you were playing quite well with the rest of us.

It was noted that you’d occasionally not come to a rehearsal without having given us prior notice. We (certainly I) didn’t worry too much about that. Not many amateur orchestras have a regular tuba player at all, so you were given the benefit of the doubt.

The seeds of doubt were sown in my own mind in the summer. You may recall that our summer concert featured a varied but light-hearted programme, including Tam O’Shanter by Malcolm Arnold and Little Red Riding Hood by Paul Anderson. You may not recall how many rehearsals you attended in advance of the concert day. I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting, Robert, because you didn’t attend one at all. Not a single rehearsal. I was angry with you. I didn’t tell you this at the time; I had quite a lot of things to worry about in that concert, not least my numerous solos in Tam O’Shanter itself, none of which I was really confident about playing well. I expressed my concerns to Heather and Lev, and hoped that they’d be addressed.

The concert went well, but you were terrible. Again, I wasn’t surprised – you’re not a great player and you hadn’t been to any rehearsals. If I hadn’t been informed already that you’d be there, I’d have booked somebody else to come in. Despite being a professional player, that person was willing to give up a Wednesday evening to rehearse with us. Which is more than could have been said for you.

Then we had the Tchaikathon. I think you attended some rehearsals for this, and one in the weeks immediately before the event. You pulled out with illness, a few days before the event. At least I think it was illness. Your email said “the family have caught the swine flu which is a pain”. Far be it from me to directly suggest that this was a convenient get-out clause so that you didn’t have to sit with us for an entire day, but in light of your prior behaviour I can’t help but be suspicious.

Your sole involvement in the November concert was in the Stravinsky. You attended a maximum of two rehearsals. Stravinsky is not easy to put together, particularly when Lev pretty much leaves the brass to their own devices while he works on the strings, in particular. Because you didn’t attend enough rehearsals, you had your head stuck in your music during the concert and the whole section very nearly came apart, because you had no idea what was going on and frankly, playing in time was not something you were inclined to do off such little rehearsal.

I discussed things with Heather afterwards. I’ll be honest. I wanted to get rid of you. You added nothing by your presence because you refused to come to rehearsals. Your performance and shameless disrespect in the summer still rankled. But, as I’m sure you know, amateur tuba players are a rare breed, and Heather and I agreed that we would give you a stay of execution, on the condition that you attended every rehearsal for the Shostakovich concert and fixed a dep if you were not available.

You attended one rehearsal for tomorrow’s concert. It was a shame I wasn’t there as I was going to have a word with you. The worst thing about missing the other three is that you only told us on one occasion that you wouldn’t be attending, and left us to fix the dep. My resolve by now had stiffened and I was going to ask Heather to tell you that you were no longer required. It would, of course, have been her decision but I feel that she would have trusted me to be making the right call.

You didn’t even give me a chance to do that. To resign from the orchestra by email, about an hour before the final rehearsal, which itself was a mere 48 hours before the concert, defies explanation. Heather told me that you wanted to play more brass band music. How much brass band music did you intend to fit in between yesterday and tomorrow? Not much, I’d wager. Your actions seem cowardly, yet I cannot think of a single mitigation for cowardice on your part. No-one had expressed to you any dissatisfaction – indeed, I think we’ve been most benevolent.

If you’d said, after the concert in November: “I don’t think I can do the Christmas concert, and I don’t think I want to commit to the orchestra anymore, because I want to play more brass band music”, we’d have wished you well and thanked you for your contribution. I’d have been sad to see you go, because I’d have believed you could have still formed part of a really good section. Now, my only regret is that you have denied me the opportunity to sack you.

I hope you show your brass band more respect and loyalty than you have shown us. If you don’t, they will be far less forgiving, and far less polite when the game’s up.

Regards (low ones)

Nathan