Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Inspired by a Snake

Many years ago, whilst living in Kent as a teenager, I would often catch the train up to Charing Cross, London and buy a cheap ‘student ticket’ to whichever concert was currently on in the South Bank concert halls.

As now, there were three to choose from – The Royal Festival Hall, The Queen Elizabeth Centre (containing the Purcell Room) and the Hayward Centre. Outside, the halls are, to my mind, an uninspiring mass of amorphous concrete. However, inside they are world-class concert venues, hosting everything from international orchestras and operas to jazz, popular music and dance.

My teenage mind would be stretched well beyond its boundaries by the magical sounds and sights I beheld there. I have no doubt that the halls played an important part in fashioning the great love for music which has continued with me through life.

The South Bank Halls were also influential for another similar, but slightly different, reason.

On leaving any given concert, one would exit the glittering colour and lights of the halls and step back into the grey world that existed outside. Even the cover of night did little to hide the starkness of the concrete walkways, the grey and foreboding waters of the River Thames and the metal structure and harsh lighting of the railway bridge which stretched across the river, connecting the South Bank with the Charing Cross Station.

It would have been easy to quickly lose the magic of that wonderful music, so eagerly absorbed over the previous few hours. However, salvation was at hand. As one climbed the concrete steps up to the pedestrian bridge alongside the railway line, the mournful but alluring sound of a lone tenor saxophone would, almost without fail, penetrate the gloom of the London night. Instantly, my plummeting soul would be rescued and once again lifted by an unseen melodious hand, this time to soar on the melodies of jazz and blues music. Even now, some thirty years later, I can remember walking across that bridge to the sound of the Pink Panther theme tune or Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.

There can be no doubt that it is because of that, almost invisible, busker, crouched into a corner of the bridge, that I developed the need to learn the saxophone.

Alas, the time for such a venture did not arrive until my fortieth birthday, when my wife decided to put my aspiration to the test and presented me with a tenor saxophone. (An alto saxophone followed two years later). I warmed to the challenge and, with the aid of a masterly tuition book, taught myself the rudiments of playing. Alas, though the spirit is strong, time is pressured. As a result, even though I can knock out a good few tunes, I have not progressed within the past year or so.

That was until last Saturday.

The Sands Venue is a high-class jazz venue in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire (www.the-sands.co.uk), attracting world-class musicians. One of the greatest pleasures is the opportunity to meet and informally chat to the musicians during the interval, as they will often sit on the edge of the stage, signing CD covers. My wife and I frequently attend there, enjoying the sophisticated environment, high quality food and excellent live music. It is where we were on Saturday night for an evening’s entertainment by the Snake Davis Band.

Snake Davis (www.snakedavis.com) is well-known as one of this country’s leading saxophonists. Many people will have seen him as the resident saxophonist on the Jonathan Ross Show and he has additionally played for bands such as the Eurythmics, Smokey Robinson, Amy Winehouse, Lisa Stansfield and Will Young, to name but a few.

The band is a quartet, comprised of keyboards, drums and bass guitar, along with Snake Davis on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, flute, tin-whistle and shakuhachi (very similar to the Peruvian queena). In short, he is a multi-talented virtuoso.

To say that I was mesmerised would be an understatement. His playing was inspirational and I could once again feel the powerful urge to blow my own horn, so to speak. By the time of the interval, I was a fully-paid member of his fan-club (well, at least in theory) and the proud possessor of three of his CD recordings. However, the best was yet to come. For, on glancing at the back page of the ‘forthcoming attractions’ leaflet, I noted with astonishment that his partner lives in a village only eight miles from me. What is more, Snake Davis is holding a saxophone workshop in the same village in a few months time.

Apparently, he teaches a small group of fifteen for a two hour period, discussing a variety of techniques and allowing an opportunity to try out the same under his watchful eye. All he asks is that you can already ‘knock out a few scales and a couple of tunes’.

Well, it is a fact that, by the time the evening was over, he was only looking for another fourteen students. What an excellent opportunity!

Come Sunday morning, my saxophones were dusted off and the scales were being once again practised. Now, as for the pieces…perhaps The Pink Panther theme and Take Five would be appropriate choices?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Clue is in the Words

Whilst rummaging through a bookshop in Sedbergh in Cumbria a couple of weeks ago, I came across a biography of the former Poet Laureate, the late Ted Hughes. It is entitled Ted Hughes - The Life of a Poet and was written by Elaine Feinstein shortly after the poet's death.

Ted Hughes was married to the American poet, Sylvia Plath.

It was therefore with interest that I noted an article in today's Sunday Telegraph by Mark Sanderson, writing in the Literary Life section of the Seven magazine. Having read his article, I plucked a copy of Sylvia Plath's Selected Poems (edited by Ted Hughes) from my library shelves and studied her poem entitled Edge. It commences:

The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

On this day in 1963, one week after that poem was written, Sylvia Plath committed suicide.

How often is it that do we not listen to what people are really saying to us?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Not Quite What the Doctor Ordered

The following was sent to me this morning. Whilst perhaps not quite what the doctor ordered, it is certainly ‘food for thought’:

After an exhaustive review of research literature, here's the final
word on nutrition and health:

1. Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

3. Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks
than us.

4. Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart
attacks than us.

5. Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer
fewer heart attacks than us.

Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you!

Thought for the Day

Man - a being in search of meaning.

The Power of Love

Looking through my writing archives for the month of March, I came across the following article, initially published in my weekly column for...