I love a good colloquialism, as any reader of these pages will realise.
The English language (and, no doubt, many other languages) is peppered
with curious phrases and terms that must baffle many a foreigner
struggling to learn the lingo - and not a few Brits too on occasion
- and no matter how well versed you might consider yourself to be
in terms of a culture's rich lyrical tapestry there's always a sneaky
euphemism waiting around the corner to 'knock you in the Old Kent
I came across one such example whilst playing a gig in Salisbury.
Salisbury's one of our oldest 'Cathedral cities'. Set in the heart
of Wiltshire, the magnificent Cathedral dominates the landscape
and the town around it, and lends the place a faintly pious but
nonetheless imposing atmosphere.
We were booked to play a ball in one of the town's largest halls
- a very grand affair, so the order of the day was to arrive good
and early to get the stage set and indulge in a lengthy soundcheck.
I sort of knew it was going to be an eventful evening when we had
a little set-to with the hall's caretaker over the use of the rather
splendid grand piano that sat upon the vast stage. It transpires
that you may only use the piano if you've paid the £50 fee to hire
it - which we promptly offered, and which was equally promptly rejected
on the grounds that the fee included having the piano tuned...and
as the piano hadn't been tuned, we couldn't hire it. All this completely
disregarded the fact that the piano was already in tune.
A good ten minutes or so of arguing the toss, interspersed with
non-too-subtle gestures of non-declarable financial renumerations
(or bribes) brought forth the classic "It's more than my job's worth"
- always a treat to hear that old chestnut.
So no piano then. I did rather feel we were a bit mean making the
poor fellow move the piano off the stage by himself, but then that's
what messing with a rock band gets ya!
Soundchecks are the bane of the sax players life, there's so little
for us to do really. Once you've assembled your horn and sorted
out a decent reed for the night, all that's left is to check the
balance on the mic and adjust the EQ to suit. This takes all of
Ideally what should happen next is that the band plays a song that
has horn parts, and the sound engineer keeps an eye on you as you
make assorted hand signals to have him adjust the volume and the
mix - or you just make the sort of assorted hand signals that would
otherwise fetch you a smack in the teeth....which is fine, 'cos
more often than not the sound engineer's paying bugger-all attention
In practice what happens is that you set your horn up and then hang
about for an hour while the rhythm section re-enact the battle of
the Somme - with fewer bullets and more noise.
I figured I had a good hour before the sound engineer would be
ready to set my levels, so I decided to wander off into the town
and find a pub. I walked along the high street, peering into pub
I'm a bit picky when it comes to choosing a pub, and before a long
night's blowing I quite like a spot of genteel geniality (AKA peace
and bloody quiet). Unfortunately it seemed that most of the pubs
in the high street had succumbed to the cancer of bright lights,
bland jukeboxes and pushy lager.
The high street began to taper off in terms of glitz - the shops
became less expansive and expensive, the lights dimmer and the pubs
emptier - until I found a pub that appeared to be completely empty.
A rare thing on a Saturday night in a large town. It could mean
one of two things - the pub was awful, or it had some strange and
terrible curse upon it!
Ah well, it sold Courage Directors bitter - so how bad could it
I went in.
The pub was dark, and small, and apart from the girl behind the
bar there appeared to be no-one else in - though I could hear evidence
of life coming from a room around the corner of the bar. I bought
a pint and sat down on a stool at the bar and got on with the serious
business of the quaffing of the beer.
Behind the bar was a hatch cut into the wall, which evidently opened
out into the other room - and it wasn't long before I noticed that
every now and then a face would appear at the hatch and then suddenly
disappear as soon as I returned the look. This little game went
on for quite some time, and I began to wonder if the reason for
the pub being empty was down to a private party.
Ah well, I'd got me pint, so it couldn't have been that private
And then a man appeared from out of the other room, wandered over
with a smile and said 'Hello'. I thought this pretty unusual...out
in deepest rural England it can be more than a decade before a newcomer
is on more than polite nodding terms with the locals, but replied
with an equally friendly 'Hi'.
We exchanged polite, stilted conversation for a while and then there
was a short (and at least on my part, uncomfortable) pause before
the chap asked me 'Are you a friend of Dorothy?'.
So that explains the empty pub...there was some sort of party going
on...maybe I'd missed a sign that said 'Private Function Tonight'
and no-one had thought to ask me if I was invited...up 'til now.
I smiled politely and explained to the chap that I was from out
of town and didn't know anyone from the area, and he too smiled
and said "Nooo, are you a friend of Dorothy?"
with an emphasis on the words 'friend' and 'Dorothy' that implied
she was the kind of girl who got very friendly indeed, and in the
biblical sense! I replied again that I wasn't from 'round these
parts' and didn't know anyone called Dorothy at all, but I somehow
thought that perhaps one or both of us was getting the wrong end
of the stick, judging from the overtly conspiratorial overtones
in the man's voice.
Thankfully he returned to polite conversation, with only one last
stab at asking me if I was sure I wasn't a friend etc... before
making his way back to the room behind the bar. Shortly afterwards
the girl behind the bar came over and asked if everything was OK
- had that chap been bothering me? I said no, and asked if there
was a private party in the pub that evening on account of the chap
asking me if I knew a Dorothy.
She laughed, and seemed surprised I'd never ever heard of the phrase
'a friend of Dorothy'. She asked if I'd heard of the film 'The Wizard
of Oz'. Of course - and did I know that the main character, the
girl, was called Dorothy? Uh-huh - and did I know that Dorothy was
played by Judy Garland? Err...yes - and did I know that Judy Garland
was a Gay icon??
Ahhhh, at last the dawn of enlightenment sprang forth across the
darkness of confusion!
It was a quaint euphemism, perhaps a little old fashioned but maybe
still required in the more provincial parts of old England.
No doubt the entire drinking population of the city gave this pub
a wide berth on this particular night - unless, of course, they
happened to be said friends of Dorothy - so my appearance at the
bar would have had tongues (and heaven only knows what else) wagging
in the back room bar, with the regulars presumably drawing lots
as to who gets to peer through the hatch next to 'check out the
Well, such things don't trouble me - so I sat at the bar grinning
to myself whilst I finished up my pint and wandered back to the
venue...just in time to do my brief soundcheck.
We ran through a couple of numbers, tidied up the stage, threw our
gear into the changing rooms and generally mooched around until
the general consensus of opinion was to nip out into the town for
a quick bevvy before dinner was served.
And as it happened, I knew just the right pub...nice and quiet,
very friendly locals...