Retirement and the morning after the night before. The morning being Sunday morning and the night before being the night of my big retirement challenge. That being my first live gig as a jazz pianist or at least my version of being that performer. Having given you a fair idea of my anxieties around having agreed to take part in the event, you’ll be wondering no doubt about how it went. Of course the fact that I’m writing about it at all and so close to the performance will give you some clue. I suppose I wouldn’t be writing about ‘it’ if it had been a disaster although, as I’ve often extolled the virtues of writing generally, and this blog specifically, as a therapeutic tool, it’s possible that’s what I’m doing now. A less messy option than hanging myself from a beam (and we do have beams but they are in our barn and I am not).
Anyway, beams not required, because the evening was OK. You’d be surprised if, as a regular reader of this blog, I’d been any more positive about my achievement, now wouldn’t you? I’m not exactly known for my wildly optimistic view of retirement life. Musically I didn’t, as they say, tear up any trees and, truth be told, there were one or two errors – I forgot that Black Orpheus had two sheets and so played the first one again thinking hmm, that doesn’t sound quite right. But there again is the catch 22. I won’t go over it because I wrote about it in the last relevant blog. It’s about needing to hear yourself to self-correct but then if I can hear myself so can ‘they’, the audience, and it might be better if they didn’t in case I make a mistake. I hope you’re following this because it’s an impossible conundrum and one they don’t teach you at college.
Nobody in the band said anything but then they wouldn’t, far too polite. People have said when I shared my concerns (and I did rather more of that than I would have wished and thank you to the friend who asked how many of us in the band and when I said six said oh, that means you won’t be noticed. Hmm)) about my up-coming performance, another friend said that I must be OK or they wouldn’t have me in the band and they, as I’ve written before, are all experienced and skilled musicians. But no, I say, it’s not like that. There’s very little by way of feedback – positive or negative – in this environment. And for perfectly good reasons, negative criticism would be destructive and positive comments could easily come across as patronising. Problem is, this void doesn’t help in a learning situation. Still, as for last night, I’m ‘happy’ to assume that nobody heard my mistakes and they thought I was overall OK. No more than that of course.
The whole evening must go down as one of the strangest of my retirement life. First I’d volunteered my van as the official band on tour, roadie vehicle, so I had to pick up drum set, key board and two other group members, one with his saxophone, and then deliver them all, early doors, to the venue. How the gigging terms trip off my (laptop) keyboard. At one point in the setting up (there’s another) I heard the words ‘sound-check’ and ‘mixing desk’ being used. Ooer missus this really must be a proper gig and ergo I must be a real musician. No you’re right that doesn’t follow.
The venue which we entered through the rear doors, would be described as a working men’s club. At least that’s how it came across to me. On the outside, as we arrived carefully navigating around the broken glass in the car park, I commented to the saxophone player (and band leader) that this was a rather unprepossessing (I think I used that very word) estate. An old, what used to be called, council estate. My son lives the other end of the estate, he said. Whoops. Too late to extract my foot from where I had firmly placed it. Ahh, I said playing for time, I bet they do up nicely, was the best I could come up with.
When I was a child we used to go to the local working men’s club every Sunday night and I am not exaggerating when I say the smell, the ambience and the rest, all came back to me even though that was more than 55 years ago. I had to laugh, well smile, I didn’t want the rest of the band to think I was losing it, even if, at one point, I was. I could sneak out and they’d get by perfectly well without me, if not my van. But I didn’t run away.
And there’s the good bit of all this weirdness. I turned up and I stayed when it would have been so easy just to cop out. You might even call it an act of bravery on my part, relatively speaking of course and hence my very mixed feelings about it all this next morning as I write this. It’s been hanging over me for the last few weeks like a cloud of doom and now it’s gone albeit leaving its own little scars. I may carry these with me to the next live gig I’ve signed up to but this is in July so let’s just enjoy a little respite until then.
My nerves were not soothed by the size of the audience. Well over a hundred people, I reckon, filling every corner of this quite large hall. True, most of them were members of the ‘acts’ that were to follow. The ‘act’ after us must have had more than 30 people (now in this band I really wouldn’t be noticed) on and spilling off a small stage, this was the Woolpack Social Club band. I was glad we weren’t on after them and in fact glad we were on first. We reckoned that if we’d been on last the audience would have walked out as we were playing. We will never know.
So there briefly we have it. As I’d told myself I kept it simple, no solos which hurt a bit but was definitely the right thing to not do. As somebody once put it, start slow and taper off, this will be my philosophy of jazz piano. But it was a challenge, a real one for me, and I rose to it and with only minimal damage to my self-esteem and I would have settled for that as I sat watching the instruments being set up and the crowd streaming in.
By now you may be wondering the significance of the image at the top of this blog. I had planned to use a photo of the gig itself and indeed I did take one or two photos at the time just to prove there were people, a lot of them, in the audience but then something almost supernatural happened. I was up in our attic, where my keyboard is, having a last practice (probably last ever) before the gig and I noticed this post card. This card must have been lying there for a very long time and I swear I had never noticed it. For some reason yesterday I did. I picked it up and read the back of it. It was a post-card from my father to my mother in 1946. It shows the location of the ex-navy boat (an MTB) in Scotland he and a friend were picking up and transporting to the Midlands (another story). A big challenge and quite brave. On the back of the card it said – the strength of all the good and great is theirs who boldly challenge fate. It almost seemed like my long dead father (he died in 1953 when I was four) was communicating with me in my hour of need after all these years. Well, that’s how it seemed to me but then retirement can make you a bit weird.
PS. I may write a follow-up blog to this, there is more and again, it is strange.