the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
...if I ever do see Kenny G anywhere, at any
A man called to see me yesterday. I didn't invite him. Conny asked his wife over for coffee and he came along with her. Nicely tanned from the sun, beautifully turned out in the latest designer gear and with so many gold chains and medals and other junk hanging around his neck it was a wonder he could walk upright. Last time I saw the guy I'd had to strong-arm him out of the club where I was playing. He'd insisted upon singing with the band, I wouldn't let him, but he kept insisting while I manhandled him all the way out into the street. He remembered that with a smile now. Skin like a rhinoceros.
I have never heard him sing, and never intend to, but he must be the greatest singer in the world and he managed to talk about himself, non-stop, for the entire two hours while we were going through the coffee and cakes. He only stopped once. Looking around at the sun, the sea, garden, flowerbeds, pool, goldfish pond, cats, he said, This place is Paradise.
Sure it is, I said to myself. Especially when you're not here.
He brings all his gear with him on holidayspeakers, amplifiers, mini-discs filled with his repertoire, orchestral backings for his star appearances, the lot. He is never booked anywhere to sing but he barges into any place where someone else is singing and asks if he can do a number. Then he takes over the entire show and you'll need a shotgun to get him off again. It's a wonder to me that somebody hasn't disappeared him yet.
He showed me his mini-discs and asked if I had a player. No, sorry, I said quickly. No problem, because he could hook up his player to my amplifier, what a coincidence that he had brought it along with him for coffee and cakes, and oh, what a shame that my amplifier is of 1965 vintage and doesn't do mini-discs.
Never mind. He ran through the titles on the discs, all standards, giving me a bar or so of each one just in case I'd never heard of them. Unforgettable.....that's what you are.... he crooned softly. That was Nat King Cole, he explained, kindly. Oh wow. Really?
I came across a guy like that in an Indonesian restaurant in Alicante many years ago. He was coming across as if he were Dean Martin reincarnated. Must have studied Dean, had the same lazy drawl, same mannerisms, the same face, even. And loud, very loud. Earsplitting, especially when you're eating Indonesian. When he saw me looking at him with distaste he must have misunderstood it for a look of admiration, because he was over to our table in a flash.
Do you have any special requests, he drawled.
Yes, I do. I drawled back. Go and sing somewhere else. Preferably Madrid.
I'm not particularly proud of that, but what else can you do? It's like having a dog barking at you non-stop, and paying for it.
I know that lots of people do take their instruments on holiday and do this, but I have only played as a guest in a band once. This was when Kenny Clare and I were in the air force. I stayed one weekend at his mum's house and we went to a jazz club. He was already the local hero in Leytonstone and they asked us to play. I borrowed the trumpet player's instrument and played Roy Eldridge's Little Jazz. As I was now using the only trumpet available in the place I had to play the band parts and the solo all at the same time, don't ask me how. Lots of applause, very gratifying for a young semi-pro. Kenny's dad was a drummer, too. Very nice man. Played in a local band for a guy called Les Brown.
After listening to our guest for two hours I started to cough heavily. Oh dear. Must have picked up a virus. I excused myself, went into the bedroom and got into bed with all my clothes on, shoes and all. It's called brainwashing. He should get a job with the CIA. Never asked me once about my job. My wife found me there hours later, after they'd left. I was still shaking.
I knew a man in West Berlin whose main occupation was translating Cuban newspapers for some organisation in East Berlin. He used to spout off about politics for hours on end even though he knew I wasn't interested. He loved the way of life in Communist East Berlin but preferred to live in the capitalist West. When I asked him what the solution to the East-West problem would be he said, anarchy. Yes, well. I said how would he like it if I were to sit talking to him non-stop for hours on end about the music business and he was speechless with amazement for a good thirty seconds before starting up again. When the Bay of Pigs business became critical he disappeared like a bat out of hell to the Canary Islands, leaving his wife and kids to face the music.
I used to have a girl friend who had another friend, and she had a friend called Margot. All three of them once went to Benidorm on holiday and one night they painted the town red. When they drove home they were in two cars because Margot always liked to drive herself around alone, big deal, in her Porsche. She got stopped by the cops because she was driving slowly along with two wheels up on the pavement at the time. When the cops came to talk to her she wound up the windows, locked the doors and sat staring straight ahead with her lips pressed grimly together.
The cops knocked on the window a few times, then they called up a tow truck and carted her off to jail. A professional burglar who just happened to be staying the night there as a guest opened her door and she was shoved into a dark, dirty cell, what else did you expect in Spain, filled with gypsy women.
Next morning she was fined 20,000 Pesetas for resisting arrest and released. She went up and kissed the magistrate, left the place, only to return an hour later with a load of food that she personally gave to all the gypsy women. I really admired Margot, for that, and for the many kind things she was always doing for others. I could never fancy her, though, because she reminded me of Margaret Rutherford. She tried to partner me off once with a rich widow, but when the three of us met for dinner the rich widow reminded me of Edward G. Robinson so I graciously declined.
While I was in the air force I worked for a time in the Orderly Room at RAF Wythall, near Birmingham. All of the WAAF girls working in the place were beautiful and heart-achingly desirable. We were gangling and clumsy and they spurned and rejected us. After I'd left the service and started touring around with the big bands they all suddenly appeared again, in civilian clothes, and now I was the one who was desirable. Just to say she knew one of the guys in the band was enough to elevate a girl to star status among her friends. We enjoyed the adulation experienced by the rock stars today, but without the money.
One girl used to appear everywhere I went, all over the country. I remembered her as being one of the achingly beautiful creatures who had spurned me so brutally in the camp. Even now she never spoke to me, just appeared in my field of vision while we were playing, and stayed there until disappearing at the end. This went on for about a year. Then, one night, just after I'd finished playing the premier of the Titanic film A Night To Remember she was waiting for me at the stage door. She wanted me to walk down with her to the Thames Embankment where she'd catch her all-night bus.
It was only a short walk from Leicester Square. We held hands. She was soft and warm and utterly desirable. I walked beside her with my heart banging. We said little. Had she enjoyed the film, and so on? Small talk. I couldn't even remember her name. When we reached the Embankment she grabbed my arm and said, urgently, "Listen, I've told my mother all about you, about us, and it's all right. She's agreeable. She wants to meet you. The problem isit would never work out. I'm a Catholic, and you aren't." While I digested that she added, "But you could convert, couldn't you? Lots of people do."
Before I could answer her the bus came and she boarded it. I never saw her again.