Bandzilla. The Rising of the Trumpets - Part 1: The Journey
You will no doubt recall the classic scene in the Blues Brothers movie where Jake and Elwood stroll into the Soul Food Cafe and order dry white toast and four fried chickens from a somewhat bemused and ultimately dismissive Aretha Franklin. When she takes the order to the kitchen, chef Matt “Guitar” Murphy knows immediately who it is and, before you know it, they are putting the band back together.
The reformation of Bandzilla, for me, was akin to a vegetarian version of that - but without my wife feeling the need to strut around the dining room in her slippers with the dogs in tow wailing about ‘Freedom’. For her, the extraction of a promise to bring back duty free perfume was sufficient protest.
And so it was. Dates were agreed, flights were booked and the trumpet parts were emailed, accompanied by a Government health warning.
Which I ignored…..
In the usual mode of someone with too much to do and too little time to do it, I only got around to looking at the parts the day before I left for Los Angeles. Oh dear....
At first I thought the printer was broken. You know, when your printer goes haywire and covers the page in ominous dark swathes and crazy smudges of meaningless black ink? But……. hang on. On closer inspection it became horribly apparent.
That’s what he wants me to play. He really wants me to play that......
After 35 years of working with Richard, I guess I should have known. But it seems that, as is so often the case, the years had polished the happy memories to a sheen and correspondingly dulled the painful ones. And believe me, they were often painful.
Not mentally. Oh no. On the contrary, the 15 years that Richard was the ‘go to guy’ in the UK music industry and I was his trusty trumpet sidekick, were amongst the happiest (and most profitable) of my professional career. Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Grace Jones, James Brown, Pet Shop Boys, Mariah Carey. You name it, we did it. And we had a great time doing it, too.
No. The pain of which I speak is physical. That pain which all trumpet players experience from time to time where, on opening the music, you instantly forget every stitch of technique you’ve amassed over the years - and panic.
I’ve lost count of the number of times we arrived at a studio at 10.00 in the morning, all fuzzy - still waiting for the coffee to kick in and the chops to follow suit, and we open Richard’s parts and suddenly we’re all wide awake. Fight or flight I believe they call it. All I know is, we always wore brown trousers on Richard’s sessions.
To you, those nimble little lines peppering the Swing Out Sister hit “Breakout” may be just the icing on the cake. But to me, they are in F# Major. The cruellest of all keys.
Thankfully, with a 14 hour flight between me and Richard’s studio, I was able to press into service the trusty ’Sandovalves’ * (oh yes, that’s really what its called!!!) to run through the Bandzilla parts in my head. If my lips weren’t ready then hopefully my fingers would at least have a head start.
I’m not sure if it was the hours of diligent practice (and the consequent irritation of every passenger within a 5 seat radius) or the regular supply of Jack Daniels and coke but, by the time I reached LAX I was raring to go!!
It’s a bit of a tradition for me that, whenever I go to Los Angeles, I rent a convertible Mustang and allow an extra day to drive it up the Pacific Coast Highway as far as I can get. And this was to be no exception. I picked the little beauty up from Alamo at the airport and hit the road, heading for the bright lights of Mission Viejo and the home of the family Niles, dreaming all the way of Aylin’s cooking.
With the sun shining and the wind in my hair (the only one I have left) I cruised down the I-5, heading like a lamb to the slaughter, for certain death at the hands of Colonel Richard.
In the conservatory.
With a semi-quaver........
* ‘Sandovalves’ - a plastic reconstruction of the valve section of a trumpet, developed by the great Arturo Sandoval (see what he did there?) It means you can practice fingering techniques whilst the clicking of the valves annoys everyone around you.