Oh yes, I wasn’t kidding about this title series…
December should have started easily enough gig-wise. A Kindred Spirit gig in a venue we’d played before, and while we have some fairly new repertoire, there’s none of it I haven’t gigged at least 2 or 3 times by now. What could go wrong?
Lesson for life: if you think you have the postcode for a job, check it is the right postcode. I haven’t had the guts to check where I copied down this postcode from, but it was the code for the wrong Home Counties village social club. As I realised when I got off the bus having followed my carefully planned public transport journey, and found myself very definitely not in Ottershaw but in Binfield.
At this point luck of the draw clearly decided to play with me a little. I resigned myself to the fate of disorganised or forgetful people, namely, to spend their money undoing their errors, and got an Uber to the correct venue. Now I did get there with 10 minutes to check settings before we started playing, but I would have had rather longer, and a lower blood pressure, if I hadn’t chanced to hire the only non-aggressive taxi driver in south-east England. In the motorway sections of the roughly half-hour journey, he calmly pootled along at 55mph in the crawler lane, keeping in the shadow of the articulated lorries, while I sweated in the back and held in the impulse to yell at him to go faster.
Second lesson for life: do not believe device descriptions which tell you that you can simply plug and play. After a succession of battery, battery contact, battery compartment and battery lead dramas and failures, I have invested in a new wireless system for doing silly rock violin jumping around. This one is of the ‘digital’ type (whatever that actually means), and so both is cheaper than getting another old-style one, and consists of a transmitter and receiver each with internal phone-style rechargeable battery and only the size of a largeish keyring, with flip-out jack plug. Supposedly, stick one in your guitar and the other in your amp and away you go.
In my case, stick the receiver in the overdrive pedal input, fine; stick the transmitter in the violin and get a continuous high-pitched whine. A jack extension enabling me to keep the transmitter in my pocket turns out to be the solution; some piece of the instrument electrics, probably a switching power supply on the active pickup, causes the interference. So plugging the transmitter straight into a Strat should be fine, but not recommended for anything active (including any electroacoustic instrument that takes a battery, which is most of them) without literally giving it some space.
Perhaps surprisingly, our performance with these unpromising starts and the not always inspiring context of a social club bar gig with an average audience age of about 60 and some overt requests for ‘something we can dance to’ won us some of the warmest plaudits we’ve ever received:
Lifts back to London are much appreciated after late-finishing gigs even slightly outside TfL’s reach. However, I much less appreciate the logistical problems of trying to get to Lee by TfL after midnight! In this case, the nearest compromise was a night tube from Hounslow to Green Park, then another one to London Bridge (where I spend so much time these days, as it seems to be the gateway to south-east London), then a protracted hunt for a bus stop around the multi-level surroundings of that defeater of cartographers, fortunately successful shortly before the arrival of a night bus that took me to a mere 10 minutes’ walk (with instrument and sundry other gear) from home.
In the morning, I was up – well, I was up while it was morning. First stop was Archway, for my second outing with an iteration of Buswell & Nyberg’s pop-up orchestras. One for the borough council (I think it’s Islington, but I’m not Londoner enough to really grasp the geography of the boroughs) at a space-themed event had been impressive enough to lead to a repeat booking for a Christmas market / light switch-on / etc. (yes, on 2 December. But at least it was within Advent (by the narrowest possible margin)).
The deal with these is to gather whoever is willing, produce or adjust arrangements for the forces thus available, have a brief optional run-through and then perform on a one-off basis (most of the group probably sightreading most of the music in performance). In this case, an unusual abundance of violas (well, 3, out of about 18 players) and total lack of cellos (we had bass guitar) led to a split viola section underpinning the relatively normal violin cohort, together with flute, 2 alto saxes, horn, tuba and keys, bass and percussion; fronted by male vocals where applicable and with a great deal of work being put in by a conductor who was also sight-reading! Great fun if cold, windy and with occasional panics induced in more highly-strung or well-equipped players by rain blowing onto the portable stage and some of the very valuable and delicate string instruments thereon…
One particularly revealing Christmas-musical moment occurred not in performance but in rehearsal. Running through an arrangement of ‘Away in a Manger’, without vocals, the conductor urged the strings to stop rushing: ‘Imagine you’re singing it, not playing it.’ At least two of us (yes, including me) responded that we would definitely sing it faster than that! Personally that is one I just like to get over with as soon as possible … but I also literally grew up with having no patience for wallowy sluggish approaches to hymn/carol singing.
Once we had finished (about half an hour after the ‘final’ schedule, which had already been pushed back half an hour from the original schedule) I picked up music stand and viola, bought a portable lunch and headed back into the tube and suburban train system to cross most of London diametrically, for a concert with St Bartholomew’s Orchestra in Norbury. Plus as much of the rehearsal as was left by the time I was able to get there (I had warned the conductor this would be the deal!).
I do a lot of bumping amateur orchestras for concerts, as regular readers will have realised, though this fell more under the heading of ‘favour to a friend’ than ‘meaningful contribution to the rent’. This was the second one I have done in a few months where the entire viola section was made up of ‘extras’, there being no violist members of the orchestra actually active at the time of the concert.
There seems to be a uniting factor between these and the three concerts I’ve done with SELO (where they had respectively three, two and one of ‘their own’ violas), albeit a rather alarming one: motherhood. I hear the odd account of someone leaving the country, or just mysteriously disappearing from the orchestra; and an awful lot of ‘we had violas, but they all seem to have gone off to have babies’. In the case of one of SELO’s violas, she gave birth between playing one concert on a Thursday night and not playing the next on the following Sunday! I think I’m relieved it would be very difficult indeed to get me pregnant, otherwise I might feel such life plans as I have were precarious in the extreme. In the mean time, whatever gets me bookings, right? Right? … Maybe not.
Coming up next time: another Kindred Spirit gig and another amateur orchestra concert. Because variety is the spice of life.