Saturday, 25 September 2010

NAME, Tiddles and the Alzheimer's Society Walk

Hi Debs, Well, I feel another letter to you coming on.
Last Thursday saw Diane and me taking to the M62 and M6, Junction 15 and quite a prolonged map versus satnav "discussion" as we took the Stone turn-off to go to the NAME [National Association of Music educators] conference.
Diane was still on about the dual carriageway that we didn't take, to the east of the M6. I was pointing out that we were here, while conceding that the roads to the west had been small and bendy. We agreed to go on scoring small points till one of us got bored.

Which was sometime Friday afternoon.

Friday lunchtime we gave a short powerpoint on differentiation and inclusion in Music lessons. This seemed to go down okay. So we could go back to discussing the dual carriageway on the east of the motorway. And get back to networking, getting Diane to work out how to get my laptop onto the internet, a couple of pints of lager, and working out how to get back in time to play for the Alzheimer's Society Walk in Roundhay Park Leeds.

We originally agreed to play this gig some months ago, and I was going to come back Saturday. Then another steelband got booked, so I went back to staying at conference till Sunday. Then the other group dropped out, and we got dropped back in. And now I'm in the Midlands with no way home. And I'm still texting Foxwood, Doves and Steel Rising to see who wants to play in a bandstand in Roundhay Park to a couple of ducks, and briefly to 200 of the members of the Alzheimer's Society as they set off on their walk round the park. Or, another fine mess, as Charlotte likes to call these ad hoc ones.

Saturday morning and Morgan texted me to say that he fallen downstairs at the bar where he worked landing on the 14 wine glasses that he had just dropped. Just another Friday night at A and E, then. Saturday afternoon and I get another text to say Tiddles has been run over and they're holding the funeral now. So when Christine is going back north at 6pm I jump in her car. The map and the satnav discuss discuss the relative merits of the road to Uttoxeter and beyond. Curiously they were as one mind.

On Sunday morning it was wet and windy. We put the Events tent into the van in case, but no need. The bandstand did what it said on the tin. Kept us dry, as long as we huddled towards the leeward side; we had to do warm ourselves. In the picture you will see we were mostly wearing hoodies over hoodies. And you will also see the audience that was left after the walkers walked off. Actually I think Shaun from the Park and Mike from Oblong were still there, but sheltering on the other side.

In the end players were from Foxwood: me, Georgia, Bex, Stewart, Charlotte, from Doves: Danielle and Joe M, from Steel Rising: Vicky, Alli and Karen. Holly foolishly fetched up with Charlotte and strummed some mean chords on Charlotte's soprano pan. [These C sopranos are just excellent for high chords]. Foolishly for her, not for us.

My friend Barbara passed on this quote from her friend:
“Steelband was fantastic - kept on playing and the sound was marvellous!”
Well, let me tell you, the sound in that little bandstand half-way up the side of the Little Lake Roundhay park, Leeds, was to die for. If we did keep on playing it was for the sound we were creating, that joint shared music-making experience. And when those moments come along you don't want to let go.

So that was the weekend of the 18/19 September. I'm worn out all again just writing it all down.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Last Carnival of the Year

A moment in the playing year. Brotherton is the last Carnival of the season. And the first time without you, Debs. This year we had the lovely Steve as our float driver again. We wanted to take him home with us, but Helen said he and the lorry had to go back to Stourton. Oh well!

Players this year were myself, Georgia, Natalie, Bex, Stewart, Lizzie from the Foxwood Steel Bandits; Vicki, Ruth and Karen from Steel Rising, and Varshika, Amy, Henry and Joe M from the Leeds Silver Doves. Daisy couldn't play as Lola had worn out all possible babysitters.

The Brotherton and Byram Carnival is the brainchild of Helen Finister, who left Leeds, a few years ago, to run a pub in Brotherton, just off the A63. Helen's father, William came from the West Indies to live in Leeds way back in the 50s and was one of the original players in the Esso Steel Band, famous and fondly remembered in these parts in West Yorkshire. It is great honour that it is his daughter who books us year after year to wobble around over the A1M1 playing all this year's favourite tunes. [Sorry, Steve, the driver, not wobble at all].

The rain just held off, and I believe that it is also rainy season in Carriacou. Debs, to whom this letter about life in Leeds -schools and steelbands -is addressed is actually having to return, temporarily, to the motherland next week, having fallen foul of the CRB check expiry date experience.

I will spare you all my thoughts on the value of these money-spinning private business slips of paper till a later date. Meantime, here's hoping Debs will be back in the UK long enough to join Foxwood on its autumn season of gigettes here and there [or as Charlotte usually describes them . . "another fine mess . . " Well, there have been moments along the way].

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Letter One: Leeds Carnival

Dear Debs

Drank too much lager at the Queens Show on Friday. Saturday, consequently didn’t happen. Sunday was spent by the side of the Bolton Road in Bradford playing for the bike riders, while James [aged 2 and 1 day] worked out how to crawl backwards under the bars at the edge of the road. Laminated a few setlists Sunday evening; forgot to give them all out the following day.

Also had to explain to Andy [from South Steel] that I couldn’t fit two sets of big bass into the Works van, and that playing tenor bass was not a demotion. In the end gave myself tenor bass, as a, I’m not proud, and b, you don’t have to spent whole songs with your back to the rest of the band in the keys of F, Bflat, C and G . This is the only known disadvantage of rearranging the big basses into whole tone scales. And if you stand the other side of the stage it’s just the same in the flats and sharps keys!

Well, we put the congas and the smaller bits of the drum kits under the basses, but it was a tight squeeze, and Bex’s place in the cab was taken by one of Natalie’s guitar pans. [Don’t think Bex minded getting a lift in the comfort of her own car].

When we first got mainstage and not a float, five years ago, we were disappointed, but after spending what seemed like a fortnight on the float at Manchester Carnival this year, the miked up spacious stage at Leeds seemed like a palace. We did get our usual warm welcome from this lady, who was suggesting that I must be visually-impaired to think that there was a parking space behind the stage. But there was such a space for us, and, for those of us whose task it was to set up 25 pans and sets of pans, all the stands and 2 drum-kits, it made it a relatively easy task.

Shock horror: I dropped Magician and Sweet Soca from the repertoire. Put in Wavin Flag and Buffalo Gals, Not everyone had had a chance to practise. Held my hands together in the shape of a U and mouthed “unison” at them, “What, said Morgan, mistaking my U for a cup, “ does she want a drink?” No unison happened.

The first time we were miked up, was it four years ago, I struggled to get the band to understand that we could play sweeter, and still be heard at the back of the arena. Debs, you once famously said to me, “Put it down to enthusiasm.” Well, nothing’s changed. Four years later, enthusiasm’s still reigning. And so we belted out our massive setlist of 18 tunes, and we were great, loud, but great. Clocks had its brief moment of melody only, and Natalie managed to established similar for one verse of Nah Goin' Home, so there were two moments of near subtlety. Then again, enthusiasm reigned.

One picture is the packing away bit. Let's face it: when it comes down to it, 25 people can't all pack away at the same time. This year Debs, I made sure that I turned left onto Harehills Avenue, then left again up Avenue Hill, this way avoiding anyone mistaking the van for their girlfriend.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Dear Debs, I'm sending you a letter

Let me explain. In August, my dear friend, Debs tore herself away from her newly-made academy of a school, South Leeds Academy, South Leeds Community High School as was, Merlyn Rees High and Matthew Murray High as were

- it was only four or five years ago that you, Debs, were battling to induct an endless succession of new Science teachers into the newly merged riot of a school, and you succeeded. Against all the odds, you, as Head of Science, and all of the rest of you who saw it through, you at the newly-merged school, you finally convinced Ofsted that you could win,

- and from largely white Belle Isle, you all also fell in love with the enrichment of culture that the large Asian population from Matthew Murray School brought into the mix.

Well, “the last thing” that the Ofsted inspectors told your school as it fought its way back to sanity and a stable work-force, “The last thing you need now is to be made into an academy” But it was the first thing that Education Leeds, our uncaring private education firm [and wrongly-named on both counts], and Education Secretary, Ed Balls, had on their minds.

So, jumping forward in time, it is hardly surprising that the love of a lovely West Indian man weighed against the contempt in which our education leaders held the above-average working teacher was, as they now say, a no-brainer. And somewhere on a West Indian island the children now will get the benefits of Debs’ learning, hard work and experience.

But Debs, you were/are also a key member of my Foxwood Steel Bandits, and, unusually for us, would practise between gigs, whereas, on the whole, most Foxwood players regard every other gig as a practice.

So, that’s it. Debs is 3,000 miles away, somewhere hot, and we’ve just played Leeds West Indian Carnival, and it was still quite hot, even in the UK. And accidentally I included Debs in the email circulation list telling all the players what time to be on stage and all that. When she replied hoping that it had gone well, I in turn replied, how insensitive of me [bonkers] to leave her on the list. And you, Debs said no, keep me on it. Let me stay in touch, gig by gig. And that’s when I decided to write my letter to Carriacou.