the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
Tijuana Brass...now there's a
band plays like the Salvation Army!
Chris and Maria
It was like that wherever he played, whether he was on guitar or drums. He couldn't read music but he had a chord system on guitar that fit everything, don't know how he did that. On drums he had no technique whatsoever but he was a terrific timekeeper and also sang, marvellously laid-back, while playing.
Always a cheerful man, full of jokes, Chris was by trade a builder. He had also played bit parts in several films back in Britain. When he died we went to his funeral in Denia. There were quite a few musician colleagues there to pay their last respects, and about one hundred and fifty other mourners, none of whom we knew, all dressed in black. The service was strange to my ears, because Chris departed this earth, as he had lived, a Jehovah's Witness. God Bless you, Chris, you really brightened up my life.
Our friend Maria Weinreich died a few days after her 90th birthday. She was the widow of a man who had been, for many years, the Bavarian General Manager of 4711 Eau de Cologne. As a boy, Heinrich was adopted, and brought up, by the Mulhens family, whose forefathers had owned the little perfume shop in Cologne that later became the huge 4711 company. He told me that during the 1794 French occupation of the city all the houses in Cologne had been numbered consecutively so that the inhabitants could be taxed more efficiently. The house of the Mulhens family was number 4711. Reportedly Napoleon bathed in a diluted version of this scent. German submarine crews of WW2 were regularly issued with 4711 Kölnwasser, and used to slosh it over practically everything in an attempt at hiding the dreadful smell those boats used to kick up after several weeks of active duty.
Maria and Heinrich were both very kind people, with a wealth of stories gathered in their countless trips around the world. They were very fond of mountain climbing. We saw videos of them doing it. Heinrich was a very tall man, about twice the size of Maria, so we saw mostly shots of him striding up the slopes at full pelt with Maria waddling along bravely trying to keep up behind him. Alas, after all the mountaineering and other sporting activities of his youth, he wound up in a wheelchair. Conny used to go up to the house sometimes just to help Maria and their Putzfrau get him out of bed and into the chair.
He told me a story once of a trip he made to New York. Said how badly the NY cops used to dress. He stopped one in the street and asked him the way to Central Park.
"I'm not a porter," said the cop.
"You look like one," said Heinrich.
It used to be a lot of fun going out to restaurants with Heinrich because he would invariably get fed up with the place, the food or the service, and he once got himself forcibly ejected after throwing his dinner out the window. He had an old wartime air raid siren installed on the roof of his house, which was up the top of a hill, the highest house in the area. At midnight on New Year's Eve he used to turn it on for a couple of minutes and scare everyone in the neighbourhood half to death. It's not the up and down whooping that frightens so much as that ghastly moaning sound that takes ages to die away after it has been switched off.
We had some marvellous birthday parties at Maria's house, with all of her friends, including the Spanish rep for Zeiss Ikon and his wife, who was from Chile; a former German Army Major with one eyehe lost the other at Kursk; two famous painters, Swiss and Italian; a German schoolteacher; a millionaire who had invented an x-ray device that detected metal fatigue in bridge girders, with his wife, who had no stomach; a former member of the Verband der Deutschen Mädchen, which was a kind of Hitler Youth for girls; the German farmer I mentioned in chapter twenty-one, who eats fish, Weisswurst and most other things, in a manner not suitable for onlookers of a nervous disposition, and one English guy who was in the Royal Navy during the war and appeared to have spent most of his service locked up in the brig below decks on the battleship HMS Barham. What fun. No, I'm serious. They were colourful characters, with never a dull moment. I could write a book about them. We valued their friendship and greatly miss both of them.
I began the New Year with my usual resolutions: drive carefully, don't get drunk on the job and, above all, be Mr. Nice Guy. That last one went right down the drain when I almost at once lost my rag with a man serving me in my local ironmonger's. This is a shop staffed by some of the most insolent, unhelpful Belgian gits of all time, and after I had been subjected once too often to this guy's intolerable behaviour, when he and some of the other gits were all having a good laugh because I was deaf and couldn't understand what they were shouting at me in their Flemo-Inglese, I grabbed him and called him an asshole about five hundred times - inserting that extremely useful descriptive noun between every other word, in long explosive sentences, until I do declare he got the message and went as white as a sheet. I ended up this display by getting him to finally shake hands with me, as if nothing had happened, and actually smile. Didn't hurt, did it? Now he's as nice as pie, but bang went my resolution.
Not long after that I fell over very badly. Could have broken my neck. Must have been retribution for something. It happened at the Sunday gig market in Benidorm. I was standing on some steps talking to Eric Delaney, took a step back and fell two meters backwards down on to the concrete path. I went down like a ton of bricks. WHOMP! People rushed over to help me and there was a lot of shouting and worrying going on. Suddenly I reared up, like the Frankenstein monster, brushed the dirt off my pants and walked away as if nothing had happened. I didn't have a scratch or bruise. I got a round of applause for that, without even having to play the trumpet.
This is somewhat better than what happened to the bandleader Ken Mackintosh, who recently fell through the side of his greenhouse and cut himself rather badly. He's eighty something now, so maybe he's a bit unsteady on his legs. His son Andy played for years in the American bands, lead alto with Maynard's band, Bill Holman, the Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin band, Supersax and many others. Very talented family, that one.
We had a lot of rain around Christmas. So much came down that it filled up our swimming pool to the brim. It won't filter properly like that so I had to go down and drain some of it off. Pumped it out for about fifteen minutes, until it had gone down enough, then switched off the motor and left it. Next morning Conny said Oh, look at the pool! It was empty. After twenty-five years of working the damn controls I had forgotten to turn the valve back from Waste to Filter. Now I am not allowed down there any more without a minder. It had to happen one day, I suppose. My mother, when she was getting on a bit, quite often went into the kitchen, bored a little hole in the top of an egg with the plastic gadget, then put the gadget into the boiling water, and the egg back in the drawer.
I've mentioned before that many viewers of this website write to me asking about their musician fathers. What were they like, and so on, because they were too young to remember them. The latest to write were the daughters of Bill Russo and Bobby Burgess, and the son of my colleague in Jack Parnell's television orchestra, Basil Jones. What do I tell them? I tell them that their fathers were lovely people. This is because almost every musician with whom I came into contact during my long career was lovely people. I'm also in constant touch with Bobby Pratt's widow Tina, their daughter and the grandchildren, all now living in Australia. More lovely people. The eldest grandson is already showing great prowess on the trumpet and has already had his first gig.
The very latest message came from a girl who lived next door to me in Hutton Village, near Brentwood in 1939, a girl who says she was deeply in love with me in those days. How romantic that must have been. I was eleven years of age at the time and she was eight. I can hardly remember her at all.
I have just put on a subdomain for the Coda Club. Stan Reynolds, the chairman of this club, asked me a long time ago to do this and now it's there. The photographs were taken by Pete March and you can see much more of his work on John Wright's website: Vintage Jazz and Dance Band Music. There are some great shots on there, including one of the Squadronaires, all in full uniform, and some wonderful biographies, especially one on Spike Hughes that is almost a history of British jazz all on its own.
I also had my regular three-yearly Los Angles Newsletter from Bob Efford. Well he's busy isn't he? He gave me the news on the recent Maynard Ferguson Tribute. Take a look. Everyone appears to have been on the band. Bob is looking good, same age as me, but he seems to bear it more gracefully. Must be all the exercise he gets lugging that baritone around. I once carried Heinz von Hermann's baritone case a hundred yards or so and I swear that my right arm has been longer ever since.
Conny's sister Mia and her husband Brien, (who solders my trumpet together when it falls apart), have just returned from Johannesburg, where they spent Christmas with their son, Eros, (who builds my computers), and his wife Anina. While they were there they took a trip to Zimbabwe and sent us this postcard. Delivered by runner with forked stick who must have fallen over several times on the way after wading across the Zambesi.
The photos of Chris Mason were kindly supplied by Gloria and Dave Horn
Copyright © 2005, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved