Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

Monkey business



I wasn't sure whether to put this tale on the site, but a discussion with a client as to how resilient bari saxes are brought this story up...and he, in his capacity as 'Joe Public' assured me that I should chronicle the facts as presented to me in the interest of public amusement and amazement.

As far as the story goes the first part is based on unequivocal fact.

It concerns a baritone sax that belonged to a professional musician.
This musician earned his living on 'the boats' - that's to say that he worked aboard cruise liners, playing for the great and the good 7 nights a week, plus lunch on Sundays.
He was also an alcoholic.

That much was evident from the state in which he arrived at the workshop, every six months or so after a tour of duty.
I'd never seen anyone with a case of the Bona Fide 'D.Ts' (Delirium Tremens) but this chap would turn up in the early morning with a couple of instruments and would stand there anxiously brushing imaginary bugs off his hands and generally wobbling about like a character from an early black and white newsreel whilst I diplomatically extinguished all naked flames in case the chap exploded, such was the potency of the remnants of his last 'snifter'.
Alcoholism notwithstanding, he was a nice enough chap though.

I didn't envy his life. When I first found out he played the cruise liners I had visions of a cushy number. You get to see the world, all board and meals found, and in the evening you get to do something you love doing anyway. And you get paid for it! How bad can that be?
It turns out that life as a ship's musician isn't such a glamourous one.
I once asked this client if he'd seen much of the world. He hadn't - sure, he'd been pretty much everywhere, but had never got off the ship. Too drunk, he said. Boredom is the big killer, it would seem.

He was one of those clients who would never play in front of me. I have quite a few like that, though for the most part they're simply shy schoolchildren.
I'm always curious as to the credentials of my professional clients, so I'm often pulling the old "I'm not sure...you try it" ploy - whereby I blow the horn, make a fluff of the low notes and generally frighten the punter into thinking I've made a hash of the repair.
Given that I'm about to ask them to empty their wallet in my favour, this usually inspires even the most guarded client to don a sling and put on an impromptu performance for me (I bet there are a few such clients reading this even now, and thinking "You sly old bugger, you").
I pulled this stunt on this client - and even taking into account that your average alcoholic is hardly likely to be on top form much before midday this chap was good. Oh..not just good..but 'good!'
Made me wonder what he played like when he was warmed up (i.e. full of booze) - I bet he rocked!

But I digress.
On this particular day he arrived with a bari sax in tow.
An examination of the sax revealed a most unusual problem. The bell had two holes punched through it, both covered with masking tape. One hole was smaller than the other, and around the smaller hole the metal was bent inwards. Around the larger hole the metal was bent outwards.
I'd seen enough 'Starsky & Hutch' and 'Ironside' to know a bullet hole when I saw one.

It's here where the known facts of the matter end...and what follows is the client's account of how his bari sax ended up with a couple of bullet holes.
It seems the ship he was working on was carrying a female passenger who was traveling with an ape of some sort (presumably NOT in the cabin with her), and this ape had escaped and gone bonkers.
As anyone who has been to a zoo will know, even the smallest apes look as though they could cheerfully pull your arm off without even breaking into a sweat - so obviously a mad ape rushing round a cruise liner isn't going to be a laughing matter, especially if you're a First-Class passenger. Even more so if it quaffs all the complimentary Pimms on the sun deck.

After much shenanigans (the sort, I imagine, they could make an entire Laurel & Hardy film about...which some muscle-bound modern-day film star could remake badly in later years, starring alongside that little fat geezer that used to be in 'Taxi') they managed to corner the agitated ape in the ballroom.
It was there that the decision was made to shoot the unfortunate beastie (though why they couldn't have simply locked the doors and waited 'til it went so sleep beats me), and so the ship's revolver was brought forth and the ape ceased to be.
Unfortunately though, the stage was set for the evening's function and the band's instruments were all neatly lined up on stands.
The bullet had gone clean through the ape and continued towards the stage - where its progress was only very slightly impeded by the relatively thin walls of the baritone sax's bell.

Does all this ring true?
Well, the holes were undeniably bullet holes - and if you're the owner of a bari sax that's been shot why on earth would you need to jazz up the reason why someone decided to plug your horn? I mean, it beats "I knocked the horn off its stand" hands down as an excuse for visiting the repairer.
You've only got to say "Hey, my horn got shot once" to command instant respect and kudos from your fellow musicians...no need to monkey about with a story about an ape that's gone AWOL.

If his story is true then somewhere there will be a ship's log that reads "Captain's Log: Fair weather, made good speed today. CPO Briggs shot an ape in the ballroom - though there was some brief speculation as to whether it might have been a third-class passenger with a touch of the Lurgy. Band played particularly badly at tonight's dinner/dance".

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015