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


My son found himself the proud owner of one of those newfangled MP3 players this Christmas and no sooner had I installed the software that came with it than I found myself wanting to fill it up with all the songs "I" felt he should be listening to.
Luckily, for him, I managed to restrain myself on the grounds that it's his toy and I shouldn't interfere - he has to be allowed to develop his own tastes in music.

However, I had some misgivings at some of the stuff he wanted me to load onto it.
There seems to be a current vogue for gritty, brash hard-core rock - and whilst I feel there's room enough for every genre I still feel (after listening to the stuff) that it's a bit, well, crappy. OK, that's a personal opinion - but it's based on having listened to a lot of quality stuff down the years. I suspect too that some of the appeal lies in the, ahem, questionable lyrics.
But then this gave me an idea - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

One of my all-time favourite artists is the late Ian Dury (and the Blockheads). This band had that rare quality of being able to appeal to people on many levels. If you wanted raw, it was raw; if you wanted impassioned, it was passionate - and best of all, if you wanted real artistry it was there too, by the absolute bucketload. But more than that, they had wit.
So I figured that I could 'persuade' my son to listen to some quality music by selecting a track that would appeal to his schoolboy fascination with rude and naughty words (and in case you're a bit out of touch these days, this doesn't mean 'bum' or 'blimey').
I played him a track entitled "There ain't half been some clever bastards".

Ordinarily it would have been the very last sort of thing he'd listen to - and indeed, as the intro started 'a la Noel Coward' followed by Dury's deliberately whimsical approach to the subject matter, my son was pulling the sort of face we all pull (in private, hopefully) after receiving a particularly nasty hand-knitted pullover from a dotty relative.
Ah, but I was unconcerned - I had yet to play my ace - and when Dury swung into the title line my son broke into that sort of laugh that reminds you of bikesheds and whoopee cushions. When another 'rude' word popped up a few moments later, I knew I had him hooked!
He's taken his MP3 player off to school today - and no doubt a whole new generation of listeners are about to discover that you can get your point across without having to sound like a stuck pig falling into a box of anarchistic parrots. I suspect that in a few weeks time there may well be more than a few parents wondering just what to tell their sweet and lovely children when asked to explain precisely what hitting someone with a rhythm stick means.
Ian would be proud, I'm sure.

Anyway, the title of the song got me to thinking that someone should have done a counter-track, called "There ain't half been some stupid bastards".
We've all met 'em at some point in our lives - but every now and again you come across an example of stupidity that positively shines.
I'd like now to share with you a tale that always brings a smile to my face even on the very bleakest day.

Many years ago I used to play in what's generally referred to as a 'function band'. This sort of band appears at weddings, parties, corporate functions etc. and generally plays a broad range of covers. Some confine themselves to a particular genre - such as soul, or blues, but this band was an all-rounder with a leaning towards rock. What made this band different from the run-of-the-mill were the members.
Without disclosing names I can tell you that most of them were terribly well connected in what's known over here as 'the society set' (I was the band's bit of 'rough trade' I guess).
The advantage of this was that we had access to that elite set, and therefore got to play at some very prestigious affairs - for some very prestigious people...and I mean 'very'. Each time I lick a stamp I'm reminded of more than a couple of plush gigs. I'll say no more!
My initiation into the band was to be a baptism of fire though.

The very first gig I did with the band was at a military barracks.
There's an awful lot of tradition that surrounds our (remaining) regiments, and it can be rather daunting as a 'civvy' to find yourself surrounded by it as you enter the barracks and mess halls of a regiment that has a long-standing record of bravery in the field of duty - especially when you don't have the benefit of any prior experience. But I wasn't too phased, I tend to judge people on their individual merits rather than their status; and besides, as a member of the public I pay these guys' wages!
I'd been told that I'd be working with another sax player - and I'd duly spent several long nights writing out horn parts. I obviously had it in mind that we'd stand together on stage, reading the dots and impressing all and sundry with our slick, tight, horn licks. I was thus more than a bit miffed when the sax player, having been handed a wadge of carefully scribbled dots, told me he couldn't read music...
My next hour or so was spent on the parade ground, playing through the parts so's he could commit them to memory...which didn't seem a terribly likely prospect, considering he'd forgotten to bring any spare reeds and only had one rather chipped and split one left to play on.

We'd been asked to organise an impromptu 'dinner music' set. This was to consist of the rhythm section and myself, playing through a few vague standards. I say vague because the keyboard player wasn't really a jazzer, and the guitarist was an out-and-out r 'n b player - but we managed somehow, though it got a bit tense during what was an absolutely awful rendition of 'Albatross' when no-one could remember just how to end it. I think in the end we waited for it to die and fall out of the sky.
I should have had an inkling that something was going to happen that night because as we finished our set and left the stage a very well-spoken (and quite probably entirely drunk) gentleman at a table adjacent to the stage beckoned me over and said "You see that bag by the stage? Would you mind checking to see if there's a bomb in it - I AM a very important person, you know".
I didn't quite know what to think, or do - but I knew one thing for certain...I was in no way qualified to check for bombs.
However, I did have some inside knowledge - which was that the said bag was the guitarist's lead I wandered over to it and gave it a stiff kick and yelled out "Well, it ain't gone bang guv - so if it is a bomb, it's a dud".
I wasn't sure if the expression on his face was one of relief or shock - or if my hearing had gone funny, because he had his mouth open but no words issued forth.

The gig itself was great fun. The other sax player had decided that discretion was the better part of valour and played only the bits he already knew - but mimed proficiently the rest of the time. No-one would have been any the wiser, which is what counts in the end.
We finished up at some unearthly hour, and given that the barracks themselves were obviously secure it was decided to stack the kit up under a nearby covered walkway and sort it all out in the morning.
This done, we all toddled off to bed.

As we were guests at the barracks we'd all 'enjoyed' the hospitality that the British army were legendary for (in other words, we'd had a few) - but this clearly ran out when it came to finding comfy beds, and I found myself having to sleep on a rudimentary camp bed that had a dip down at the head end. Consequently I woke up with the morning with an absolute corker of a headache - and only then realised that I could have slept the other way up!
It was patently far too early for a musician to be up and about, so I decided to stagger out to my car and fetch some painkillers - thereafter to return to my bed so as to wake up just in time for lunch.
As I crossed the parade ground I noticed that the squaddies had been busy, and during the course of the night had entirely cleared away the marquee that had stood there. It was then that I noticed that one of the guitars was missing from the stack of kit we'd built earlier on.
There were three guitarists; lead, rhythm and bass. The two former had two guitars each, as is the norm - and from looking at the cases I worked out that the lead guitarist's hallowed Fender Strat wasn't there.
I was concerned.

It was then that a passing officer approached me. He asked me what I was doing wandering around the grounds, so I told him I'd been to get some painkillers and was just on my way back to bed - and then I mentioned that I thought one of the guitars was missing.
Now, when I said missing I didn't mean "Hey, someone's stolen a guitar!", I simply meant that it seemed odd that one of his guitars wasn't there along with the rest of the kit, considering it was there when we went to bed.
It seemed though that the officer assumed I meant the former, and he began asking me such questions as "What are you implying?" and "Are you accusing us of being thieves??" in an ever-increasingly loud voice - which didn't particularly help my headache.
I felt rather alone, I had apparently besmirched the regiment's reputation and nothing I said seemed to calm his mistaken anger - and then a few of the other band members appeared.

They were obviously concerned at what was going on, but I couldn't get a word in edgeways over the now high-pitched ranting of the officer. It became clear that he had more than the inferred theft on his mind, and as he engaged the other members of the band in his tirade he made it pretty clear just what he thought of 'civvies' and musicians in general.
It just so happened though that one of the chaps who'd just turned up was an ex-military officer himself - but even a ticking off from a former officer from another regiment didn't seem to quell this officer's ire. Things were getting progressively worse - and then our singer strode up.

I'd not really had much of a chance to get to know him yet - he couldn't always make the few rehearsals I'd had with the band, and in any event it seemed to me that he had a sort of carefree attitude to his role. He could afford to too, he was quite a front-man for the band and more than capable.
What I did know of him though was that he was a serving officer in the army...and of quite a high rank.

He joined the mêlée, and was immediately treated to a stream of invective from the officer.
I noticed that the rest of the guys had become strangely quiet, and upon their faces was a look that seemed to be a combination of a cringe and expectation.
I didn't have long to wait to find out why.
Having listened to the officer's ranting for a good minute or so, our singer put his hand in his breast pocket and pulled out a small booklet.
He held it up to the officer's face, barely 6 inches from the tip of his nose.

It was his warrant card. Our lead singer was an active Major in the British army.
There was a brief, dreadful pause - even we bystanders could feel the whole world falling away from under the officer's feet - and then he shot bolt upright to attention.
I'm afraid I don't remember too much of the ensuing 'lecture' the man was given - I was experiencing the sort of euphoria that makes you want to jump up in the air and punch the sky, accompanied by a resounding "YES, OH YESSSSSSSS!!!" - but I seem to recall that it went along the lines of how we were guests and should be treated as such, how badly any pertinent information had been gathered and assessed and, much to my delight, a bit of a dressing down as regards the officer's attire...which was something I thought only happened in films.
I could see by the look on the officer's face that he realised he'd made probably the biggest mistake of his career - but at the same time I couldn't help but feel that he'd been the consummate 'stupid bastard'.

He was quite literally given his marching orders - right off to the C.O's office. No doubt the dressing-down would continue at some length - possibly followed by some uneddifying ritual involving a several hundred potatoes and a sharp knife (referred to, I believe, as 'jankers').
By now we were all trying hard to suppress grins, and I'm afraid I broke first - but only because as our singer marched the officer off to the C.O he turned back and gave me a wink.

And what of the missing guitar?
The remaining band members arrived on the scene, minus the lead guitarist. Turns out that he'd got up early and gone home, as he didn't live that far away. He'd taken his guitar to put some new strings on ready for the other gig that evening.
That's really all I was trying to find out.

I felt a bit bad about the incident later on in the day - it was my first gig with the band and I'd caused what appeared to have been the most amazing scene they'd ever witnessed - but the guys understood where I was coming from, and the lead guitarist thanked me for looking out for his guitar...and that's the sort of thing you ought to do in a band.
That incident led to our adopting the "You can't park there sir" award, which was given to any bumptious official that we encountered at our gigs. There were quite a few.

If you've enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to contribute
towards the cost of creating this independent content, please use the button below.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2017