the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
Go somewhere else and
There is this Royal Air Force Warrant Officer (retired) who comes in to the Cisne of a Sunday, regular customer he is. I always snap to attention when I see him and fling him one up (i.e., salute him). Having done that one Sunday I was on my way past when he grabbed my sleeve.
"Here," he said, keenly. "That man Barry there, he's an absolutely brilliant musician, isn't he?" He was referring to a man holding on to a saxophone on the small stage.
"In what way brilliant, sir?" I demanded.
"Well, you knowbrilliant."
"Ah! That kind of brilliant! Why, Bless him, of course he is!"
I was hearing utterances like this on almost a daily basis. Most people used to say them while looking into my eyes earnestly, practically begging me to agree with their opinions. The man he was referring to had recently started running his own jazz group. He was so brilliant that the first time they heard him play the rest of the band threw him out.
We had played a gig in one of the big towns a little south of Alicante. Eric Delaney had been featured on the show, doing his marvellous percussion act. During the interval the woman who had booked the concert came over and said that she'd been talking to the theatre manager. He was disappointed with us, she said. There was a local band that played a hundred times better, with a better drummer, and, looking at me, four far better trumpet players. Well, this band we had to hear!
They came up to our next big jamboree, about twenty of them, all British, all quite elderly. I spoke to some of them in the restaurant and, yes, they were hot stuff. Brilliant, in fact. People had been telling them that for years.
On the concert, the leader sat tiredly on a low chair facing the band. He didn't even need to turn towards the audience when announcing as the microphone was in front of his chair. The music was period Glenn Miller, oh, what a surprise that was. The band was amazingly bad, sorry I can't surprise you on that. Most amazing of all was that the people clapped everything they played enthusiastically. If they had been the Kenton band or even the James Last band they could not have received more riotous appreciation. Maybe they had brought their entire local geriatric fan club with them. When they came off they were triumphant, as they well should be, their being the best band in town and all. If my friend had come up then and said that they had been brilliant I was going to sock him on the jaw, warrant officer (retired) or not, but he kept well away from me. He must have seen the nasty glint in my eye.
Not long after that I was booked for a three day jazz festival. The man running it had asked a local musician to book the players and he had booked the front line of our band, all professionals, with his own rhythm section, none of the members of which could read music, but we didn't know that yet. The job was going to pay us an obscene amount of money. He had asked me to bring along certain of my arrangements, one of them being the Kenton head arrangement of The Peanut Vendor that I'd written out for our band.
On the first rehearsal we quickly discovered that the rhythm section could not make any sense out of my scores, while the rest of the music, written by the bandleader himself, beggared description, being mostly slow, mournful dirges of barely recognisable standards.
While I was putting my instruments back into my car afterwards the bandleader came out and spoke to me with great enthusiasm. We would be starting the show off with Peanut Vendor. He was rubbing his hands with glee.
I looked at him for a moment. "I thought this was going to be a jazz concert," I said.
"Oh, it is, it is a jazz concert. Great stuff, eh?"
"OK, if you say so. Where's the jazz?"
"Where's the jazz? I didn't hear any. And you can't start off a jazz concert with Peanut Vendor. We'd get lynched."
But he wasn't listening to me. We were to wear a special T-shirt he'd bought for us with the name of the band written right across it. He showed me one. It said The Costa Blanca Juveniles in big letters. I thought he was kidding. Would we have to wear short pants as well? Yes, of course. He wasn't kidding.
When I got home I phoned the other guys from our band and said I was going to back out of doing this festival. Next thing I knew the others had all backed out and the entire festival was cancelled. Of course, I got the blame for that, but I hadn't worn short pants since I was ten years old and I wasn't about to bare my knees for a show like that. Especially for a show like that.
Whenever I look at my mobile phone I get a flashback to the day when Stan Reynolds quit the Tommy Sampson band to join Ted Heath. It must have been some time in 1948. I was at home in Coventry, on a weekend pass from my RAF camp in Birmingham, when my mother said that there were two policemen at the door. I looked out the window and there was one of those black two-seater Jaguar sports cars the Coventry police used in those days.
The policemen told me that a Mr. Sampson had phoned the station from somewhere up north and asked them to get me to a phone-box. They gave me the number to call. It meant nothing to me. At twenty years of age I had still never used a telephone. Hardly any private houses had telephones in those days.
The policemen were very kind men. They drove me to a phone-box and dialed the number for me (and don't ask me how the three of us got into a two-seater Jag). Tommy was on the other end, and he was in a panic because he had no first trumpet player for that night. I had to get on the train and get up to Doncaster by eight o'clock. I said that I would love to, but I couldn't because I had to get back to the camp by midnight. He said that if I didn't turn up he would sue me, and hung up.
The police car drove me home to get my trumpet and then took me to the railway station. The policemen were jazz fans, and, because I was a member of the famous Tommy Sampson orchestra, they spoke to me with a considerable amount of awe. I had just missed the train so I asked the local taxi driver to take me to Birmingham. He had an ancient Morris Cowley that he refused to take over 30 mph, however much I pleaded with him. When we arrived at New Street station in Birmingham I threw some money at him and ran. The train to Doncaster was just pulling out of the station. I reckoned that by sprinting I could just catch the last carriage, and was doing just that when a porter brought me down with an unintelligible shout and a very neat rugby tackle. Next time I played with Tommy he never mentioned the incident, and neither did I.
The day before I moved down to Spain from Germany I bought a BMW 325i automatic. It had previously been owned by an industrialist in Aachen. One careful owner, low mileage. A beautiful car, my pride and joy, 240 kph, no problem at all. I was king of the Autopista in that car and nobody tried it on with me. Not even the Mercs.
After fourteen years of faithful service the automatic gearbox went. I backed out of our drive OK, reverse was working. When I gunned the engine in Drive the car shot backwards downhill towards the baranca. I just managed to stop before plunging to certain death.
Our local garage could do nothing. I had the car shipped to the BMW garage in Alicante, and they wouldn't even look at it without a thousand Euro down payment. A repair could cost up to eight thousand. And how much was the car worth? Silly question.
I called up the local scrap merchant, he hummed and hawed, phoned his partner several times and finally condescended to take the car off my hands for nothing. I drove away in our jeep without looking back. This morning I could have sworn I saw my car on television, driving through the streets of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, my wife Conny, had obtained an enormous discount on a new Citröen C3 Exclusivo from our local garage, the owner of which she had known for about thirty years. She had signed the contract, so we couldn't back out of it. We had to wait for three months for the car, because it was a new design and they were having problems with the electric sunroof.
It's an amazing car. Everything automatic. You name it, they've got it in there, all automatic. Even the windscreen wipers are automatic. There is also an automatic rattle in the sunroof somewhere that I can't pin down. There are two automatic gearboxes and a manual clutchless gearshift. An incredible engineering feat. On the Autopista I now get beaten up by everybody. Even the old bangers go roaring past me up the big hills. Well, they can do what they like, can't they? Crashing that lever back and forth, in and out, feet tramping on pedals all over the place, hanging on like grim death. I just flick on the cruise control, close my eyes, stay cool in the (automatic) air conditioning and let them get on with it.
Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved