Sharp-eyed visitors to my workshop have often asked me about an
unusual instrument that inhabits this hallowed portal. I say sharp-eyed
because it sits atop a set of shelves - a position it's occupied
since day one - hidden behind other seldom used items, covered in
an array of cobwebs and dust. The instrument is a tenor sax...a
pink tenor sax.
How it came to be there is a story I always enjoy recounting -
so for the benefit of people who may never get to see the instrument,
here is the tale of the pink saxophone...
It all began some 15 years ago, in my London workshop. I was sitting
at my bench in my basement workshop when the intercom squawked into
life notifying me that a 'party of clients' were being sent down
the stairs to see me. I heard their descent on the stairs...much
laughing and stumbling, snatches of foreign conversation.
As the clients rounded the corner my eyes fell upon four or five
gentlemen of 'eastern origin'. I shall remain suitably vague about
their identity for reasons that will become apparent in a short
The gentlemen were, as the euphemism puts it, somewhat the worse
for wear...or in plain English, drunk.
One of them carried a large black box, which I assumed contained
a tenor sax. Between the language barrier and the veil of alcohol-induced
merriment I managed to ascertain that they wanted me to have a look
at the sax and quote on a repair.
It wasn't a great instrument, a student Czech job, and in need of
a thorough overhaul. I attempted to explain as much, but alas my
words fell on deaf ears - mainly due to the fact that the party
of gentlemen appeared to be using all their available senses just
to stay standing up. Somehow or other we managed to agree on them
leaving the sax with me, along with some contact details so that
I could run up a proper quote and discuss the job at a later date.
I was handed a business card. I took a double-take on the card -
this was no ordinary businessman - the card belonged to an ambassador,
a foreign dignitary!
The gentlemen left, I listened to their excited chatter as they
stumbled back up the stairs and out into the Portobello Road.
The next day I examined the instrument in detail, drew up a quote
and prepared to call 'the ambassador'.
I expected a certain degree of formality - such people are important,
and often busy, but I could never have expected the response I got.
I dialled the number, a secretary answered, I told her who I was
and asked to speak to the gentleman named on the card. I was then
asked what the nature of my call was. I explained that he had visited
me yesterday and left a saxophone on the understanding that I would
call and advise him of the cost of the repairs required.
I was then told - and in no uncertain terms - that this was impossible.
The ambassador had not left the embassy yesterday, he could not
have visited my workshop, he did not leave a tenor sax with me.
I protested, and was politely - but firmly - informed that I was
mistaken. Something in her voice told me that it would be pointless
to pursue this line of enquiry.
I put the phone down in complete puzzlement.
It occurred to me that having one of your diplomats roaming around
the streets of a foreign country somewhat under the influence of
a few good drinks was probably not considered to be good protocol
- presumably someone, somewhere was 'embarrassed' and a decision
had been taken to limit this diplomatic faux-pas by categorically
denying the incident ever took place. Heaven knows what else these
chaps got up to on their drinking spree!
Or perhaps it was a practical joke - albiet it a convoluted, and
I decided that the best course of action was to hang onto the sax
in the event that the diplomat would seek to contact me discreetly,
or at least via a third party.
I waited... and I waited, and as the days turned into weeks, then
months, then years I finally figured that in all likelihood my diplomat
had been called home for a good drubbing down, and was now working
as a sanitary inspector for local government... or worse.
So I had a non-too-spectacular tenor sax going spare. I was loathe
to sell it; sod's law states that no sooner have you sold it than
the original owner will turn up - with some amazing excuse that
involves grappling with crocodiles in some far away swamp, and living
off boot leather for six whole years.
So I decided to do the horn up and use it for those gigs where I'd
rather not take my expensive horns (pubs, clubs and the like).
And just for fun I thought I'd finish the horn in bright pink!
The sax was silver plated - which meant a lacquer job would have
been expensive (and I'm none too keen on them anyway - cheap horn
or not), but I figured that if I made sure the plating had enough
key on it I could probably get away with using spray paint. It was
only for fun, it wouldn't matter too much if the horn looked a bit
So I set about refinishing the horn.
It went pretty well, all things considered. I'd chosen some Day-Glo
pink paint, given the horn a layer of primer, sprayed a good few
coats of pink over the silver and finished up with a coat of clear
lacquer - all from spray cans. I let the finish harden for a few
weeks before settling down to repad and reassemble the horn.
It was then that I discovered the flaw in my plan.
The paint chipped off with even the lightest touch...not only that
but as soon as any heat was applied to the cups in order to fit
the pads, the finish spat and bubbled under the smallest flame.
Within about an hour or so the horn looked a mess. I persevered,
I could always touch-up the rough spots later - but after getting
halfway through the repad I decided that I'd had enough of it and
gave it up as a bad job.
I stuffed the horn away in a darkened corner, which is the position
it's occupied ever since. And when I moved to my new workshop some
ten years or more ago it was the first thing that got stuffed up
on the top shelf. It hasn't moved since. I suppose I could strip
the horn back to its silver finish, repad it and out it as a student
horn - but I never seem to have that much time. So it'll stay where
it is, serving as a conversation piece for one of my favourite stories.