A JAZZ JOURNEY - 1925-1994
by KEN RATTENBURY
|PART VIII: (1965 - 1970)|
BY THE TIME this slab of reminiscence had started to solidify, the fiery revivalist sprint and cultish, partisan-ridden fever in the jazz business had slowed down and cooled down respectively. The Beatles and their many followers simply swamped the scene; it was a predominantly teen culture and, for a time, popular jazz was shunted into the sidings and loop lines. The problems of finding regular, gainful employment for a six-piece Dixie/mainstream group grew quite alarmingly acute; so much so that I reluctantly decided to start again from scratch; to cast around into wider possibilities and, in short, ) to go out on my own - full circle, this, in fact.
But we all kept in touch and got together as and when the chances arose. Scuffling, they call it in the trade: taking on anything (can be a little humbling at times!), everything (likewise, only a shade more so!) re-examining one's motivations (at times like these, I suppose, the notion of sheer survival becomes the fizz&t catalyst), researching into unfamiliar markets and finding that the experience tended to spawn a whole raft of problems, which, in a strange sort of way, tended to be attractive by reason of their own diversity and unfamiliarity.
Yes, so I hoiked the old horn round some very unlikely habitats, but kept on blowing like there was a doubt about tomorrow. Not unfailingly rewarding aesthetically, but - no play, no pay - the truest truism ever accepted by the journeyman jazzer, or, indeed, by any other sort of musician for that matter. It's always been like that and, without question, ever will be.
But, in no time at all, the diary bulged again and even though some of my most cherished ambitions had, of practical necessity, to have been parked on the back burner for a while, the urge to make even gentle ripples was still lusty - far from rusty . . . And a good job, too: who would want to tread safe water when oceans are still to be navigated?
What I did find, swimming in my ever-widening circle of fellow strugglers, was that one occasionally encountered Egos (the capital 'E' is entirely intentional) of such towering stature that, by comparison, they could make the Empire State Building seem like a bungalow . . . A little hint of arrogance is essential - I prefer to regard this a sort of self-respect in truth, but one rarely can accept, with equanimity, the experience of being talked down to from a great depth, if you get my drift. A distinct pain in the ears (and that's an anagram!). All part of life's rich bitch of a pattern, I guess.
But there it is . . . . Yes, a spectrum of competition, battle, valid argument, invitations to new, distant horizons, yielding, sometimes reluctantly and obstinately to grafting effort and not a little good luck and, of course, everything still for the taking. Back to the drawing board, sharpen up the pencil, vaporize the after-hours oil. Get on with it. So I wheeled around the gig scene, met some darned fine men, skirted round the other kind and found some new markets.
Here's one . . . Late in the afternoon of Saturday, 18th May 1968, the phone rang. A few moments prior to that, I had been watching the Cup Final on television and West Bromwich Albion had just won the F.A. Cup at Wembley. Now, I'm not really a complete sports person: The Boat Race, The Derby, cricket (this the exception - I've always been a cricket freak!); Le Mans, the Cup Final and that's my lot! The call was from a record company (who recommended me to them I never knew, but thanks, late though it is!). Could I write two pieces, words and music, to commemorate the Throstle's victory? One to be a Club Song for Albion; the other to incorporate all the action in the match, mention all the players' and the Club Manager's names and come up with a rousing end chorus to wrap it all up. Sure, I said - in for a penny, hope it's a pound . . . When for? By Monday, because we want to record it then and have the discs in the shops by Friday.
I got the distinct impression that they really wanted it immediately, or sooner than that! I dashed out and bought the evening's Sports Argus (for the first and last time, I have to admit!). And here's the miracle ! I'd actually recorded the Match commentary off the television for a pal of mine who didn't see so well and didn't have a telly of his own. Armed with this, I sat up until midnight transcribing the material - pages and pages of it.
During the rest of the night, I wrote the Club song, The Albion Way. Then versified the commentary into singalong doggerel, wrote another tune (Albion's Day), scored it for my regular band, plus the redoubtable George Watts on alto saxophone and Roy Edwards, a popular singer of the day, copied out the parts, rang the lads and we rehearsed and recorded it on the Monday. It sold in thousands and actually made the BBC's "Pick of the Week" programme on radio. For a guy whose head is crammed with the works of Duke, Satchmo, Miles and so on, that sure as heck is diversification!
And this one-off spawned a whole new line: I did a T.V. series, for which I produced a string of compositions to match the various celebrities featured in the show; there was a politician (for him, a light, frothy, indecisive, inconsequential jingle (!) and a farmer (a Mozartean re-vamp of Strawberry Fair, which I later expanded into a full-length fantasy). Plus, later, a TV Christmas show, an adaptation of Hans Andersen's touching tale, The Fir Tree; jazz-tinged incidental music, more verses, all put over by a splendid actor and actress duo, with the clever use of specially-drawn cartoons.
We recorded the music first; then, on the day, I piloted the voices through the cues and entries, just out of shot. It was a nice exercise and it threw out some problems. But it just has to be challenging, otherwise things, I find, have a tendency to stay at a stultifying "status quo".
Back to The Albion: never imagined I'd been so closely involved with football - with cricket, perhaps, but then nobody in that business ever asked me to immortalise even one brilliant over, or one hotly contested LBW, or one century innings, or - this most regrettably - even one salty aside from Fiery Fred. There's maybe still time.
Well, it's a funny old game, as someone's nowadays-catchphrase has it. And I guess that a generous half of the attraction of being in the music business is the sheer unpredictability of it all, not an easy ride for anyone. So much to learn. Trial and error the only real way to come up with some of the goods: I say "some" since there always seems to be a better way of doing the job once you're committed to what you've submitted as the finished product. I've found, though, you can be prone to polish, edit and re-arrange until you have possibly drained every last drop of sustaining blood out of the thing and - much worse than that - have missed the deadline . . . and the ducats!
I've found - now in my 59th year in music - that the more I learn, the less I seem to know and that's why I stick with it - the challenge. (I guess I've overworked that word a bit, but it's so "right" for musical endeavour), yes, the challenge is the challenge is the challenge.
It's a funny old world, so it is. And, to employ a venerable aphorism, isn't it best to try and make it "funny ha-ha" rather than have to endure it as "funny peculiar"? Music makes that first option the guaranteed winner every time. It's everything that is good . . . . . . . . .