July to December 2011.
On July 23rd I went to Brighton to attend Chrissy Boy's house warming. He had 'Dollar Brand's One man Band' playing in the living room facing the gorgeous vista of the sea. Mark and Woody turned up with a cake and Jenny Belle Star and I swapped stories about how difficult it is to greet people appropriately in different countries: 'In France it's two kisses, in Argentina three. And in America they hug without touching bodies.' I added - as a joke but nevertheless based on personal experience: 'And in the Sudan they tear your trousers off and spit on your backside – takes some getting used to.' Jenny told me I was outrageous.
On the 29th the Ska Orchestra flew to Belfast to play the Feile an Phobail, a week long festival. We stayed in the Hotel facing The Crown Bar which was formally the most bombed in Europe – now overtaken by a hotel in Croatia I believe. The Crown must be one of the pub wonders of the last century. I hadn't been there since the Dead Dogs played here in the early eighties when the forts were still active (I stayed at Patmo's on the Falls Road). Beautiful carved interior with private booths in which you can eat, unbelievable Guinness and a friendly atmosphere. They recreated the place at Pinewood for the film 'Odd Man Out' which accounted for my confusion the first time I came here ( I was certain I had been there before despite it being my first trip to Belfast.) We were taken for a fantastic Argentinian meal in the evening before the gig. We played 'Valerie' as a tribute to Amy Winehouse who died last week, poor thing, which went down really well – and it was a very good version too. After the gig we returned to the hotel and Seamus and I took turns to entertain on the grand piano until three in the morning; then bed, exhausted. We were all, however, up for breakfast and found ourselves gazing longingly over the road at the Crown waiting for it to open so that we could say farewell to Belfast with a couple of Guinness before the plane back.
The 17th August saw me returning to Brighton for Jacquie's funeral. Jody, Emma and Lucy's mum, I had always like her and her vague eccentricities. She was also a link to the enthusiasm I had for British film as I grew up as she was married to John Boulting of 'Brighton Rock' and 'I'm Alright Jack' fame. She had a 'green' burial in a cardboard box, decorated by Emma. Yebga played Saxophone and I played accordion, at the head of the small funeral procession as it crossed the field to her plot (which will be a forest when the saplings mature) playing 'Take Five' and 'La Vie en Rose'. Then we all went down to some tables by the lake for drinks and eats. It was one of the nicest funerals I've ever been to and the rain held off until we got into the cars to return to Brighton.
On the 20th I played a wedding at Notley Abbey which was a strange co-incidence, it being formally the old residence of Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. Apparently there is a room here little changed from when Marilyn Monroe stayed here when she worked on 'The Prince and the Showgirl'. I walked around the grounds before playing imagining them on the tennis courts but somehow in my mind Olivier was always frowning – I don't know why. Lavish, working class wedding complete with bucking bronco on the lawn; a collision of two worlds.
On the 26th August the Ska Orchestra played a Scooter rally at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. I got there around two and the promenade was thronging with scooter clubs drinking and sporting T shirts advertising the fact that they had been all over Europe at similar events; it's a real scene! Met the boys for an Indian and we trooped down to the Skating Rink for the gig. The dressing room was the shower room and we had to be careful not to touch the walls for fear of covering our suits with powdered white paint because it was so damp in there. A fairly depressing venue all in all with a green cloth covering the ice. Our support was a high energy Jam tribute band. When it came to our turn to play people clearly weren't up for it – laid back ska wasn't what they needed after the 'Jam'; and – hell - they had been drinking all day. It wasn't our greatest gig but we did our best and were largely lambasted by the DJ on the mic ('Now let's have some real music') when we had finished. Oh well. Then got a packed night bus across the island and stayed at Jenny's in Ventnor where I watched two blokes who had been at the gig helping each other home: 'C'mon, nearly there' etc. They had a good time then!
In early September we laid down some more tracks for the Ska Orchestra album at The Ironworks in Brighton – a really good session, the band's groove getting more effortless and funky the longer we played. By the end we had fourteen tracks which – for two sessions – is pretty damn good. This coincided with the receipt of my degree results. I am now the proud owner of a First Class Honours Degree in Humanities with Music and Literature. And the study of this has been one of the more life enhancing experiences of my life and one I hugely recommend.
In late September we spent a day filming some Fast Show sketches for the Fosters Comedy channel: Jazz Club stuff (episode #4) featuring Charlie, Paul, Mark, Louise and Simon in various musical guises. We filmed at Bethnal Green Community Centre and were taken there by taxi at seven in the morning. My favourite sketch featured us as a progressive Jazz band, 'Quantitative Easing', playing a selection from our new concept album 'Arab Spring, European Summer, Japanese Nuclear Winter'. What a way to earn a living. Paul Whitehouse was very good as a Tony Bennett crooner with Alzheimers who couldn't remember what he was talking about and introduced Simon on Drums six or seven times to the rest of the band's apparent bewilderment.
Then back to Brighton to do a majority of the mixes on the Ska Orchestra album, Brighton looking beautiful in the Autumn sunshine. Then I had to dash back to play accordion with Billy Bones at the Bar Solo in Camden – a band that also featured, as guest guitarist, Pete Doherty's, Mick Whitnall. I don't know what it is about the super trendy Camden scene but it all seems a bit back slapping to me – but then I suppose I am a grumpy old man in some respects. And I generally enjoy myself if I have to, but I would be just as happy watching a class film like 'L'Atalante' (J. Vigo 1934) at the NFT; probably more so if I think about it.
On the 29th October the Ska Orchestra had a gig at Newcastle University: the Boss Sounds Festival. I got my train time wrong and missed it so had to get another on Saturday afternoon but had the added bonus of seeing Arsenal thrash Chelsea 5-3 in a Kings Cross pub as I waited for the train. Best moment: when John Terry slipped and was thus responsible for leaving the Chelsea defence wide open to another goal. This of course cheered the pub crowd up no end; 'Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke' was my ironic thought. Finally got to Newcastle at 8.00 p.m. (signal problems) and slapped some Halloween make up on for the performance. Again we had to back Owen Grey on two songs – as at Clapham earlier in the year – but this time he seemed to have over indulged a bit and spent some time telling the audience what a legend he was while we stood around waiting for him to finish; spoilt the dynamic a bit. We then went to a lavish apartment for post gig drinks and music and marvelled at the mayhem that is Newcastle on a Saturday night: ambulances, police, young girls tottering on high heels and skimpy skirts absolutely out of their heads trying to break up fights between lagered up young lads. OOWAY! Nice hotel at five in the morning and Mark and I had a civilised journey back to London on the 11.30 train reading the Sunday Papers.
Then we had the Christmas lights to switch on at The Galleria, Hatfield Shopping Centre, with Suggs guesting as vocalist on three numbers including 'It Must be Love' (A high pressure moment for me with the piano intro). It went very well but the levers and switches that apparently turn on the lights at the touch of a celebrity have nothing to do with the lights themselves. Suggs told us that he had turned some on recently and he had the whole crowd doing a countdown: 'The lights suddenly came on at three so I thought “Oh Fuck it” and pressed the lever.' Another showbiz illusion shattered.
On the 17th November I began a new treatment for Hepatitis C which I was told might well be 'torrid'. Initially not too bad but soon the side effects of Telapravir manifested themselves. I was able to take Melody to The Ivy as a special 18th Birthday treat on the 7th December, which we both enjoyed hugely and met up with Richard England from Cadiz to discuss the release of 'Midnight in Havana' next year some time and he seems up for it which is brilliant. But my condition continued to deteriorate. I was forced to stop work in December but managed to fulfil a BBC Radio session with the Ska Orchestra on the Robert Elms show on the 21st and supported Deaf School at the Jazz Cafe immediately afterwards which was possibly this bands gig of the year.
A very good year all round but have to stay the course with the medication: Telapravir until February 9th (easily the worst part) then 36 weeks of Inteferon and Ribavarin. The good news? At my four weekly check the viral count was down from one and a half million to 'undetectable'.
And long may that continue.