Friday, 14 December 2012

Foxwood at Touchstone

Like buses, this set of gigs came in threes, and now finishing the trio off is Foxwood Steel at Touchstone. We are me, Bex, Nat, Tim, Gig and Katie. We are at the White Rose Banqueting Suite, Tong Road, playing between 10 and 10.30. I knew it was an AGM. I thought that meant a committee of 20 or so around a table, and I thought that a steel band was a bit of a luxury. Debs, it was about 200!

And this is the best load in in Leeds. Van - loading entrance - stage. 2 mintes. We are ace. Acoustics - ace. I was so buzzing that I bought too any samosas at the best vegetarian Asian food shop in town [Anands on Harehills Road], ran Nat to Seacroft, Tim to Burley, then came home and passed out!

In time I may have better pics. In the meantime, here we are, and also Stephanie from Touchstone. [I first worked with Stephanie eight years ago when I took the Sparrows across to the Roscoe Luncheon Club just off Chapeltown Road [Francis Street, I think].]

If it's Thursday, it must be Allerton Grange

On Wednesdays I usually go in to teach my little Allerton Grangers; this Wednesday it was a staff training staff, so I didn't.

On Thursday Mr M and I fixed up an extra little rehearsal for the pannistes. We had a choice: practise in the pan-room, then take the pans through and set them up in the hall, or set up first. We set up first; it started to rain [outside]; they set up the table tennis tables in the hall. They played table tennis; we played tunes, dodging the tennis balls. Some table tennis players tried helping me count to 4. Ace. Such is life.

I went home at tea time but didn't have time for tea; picked up an extra single second and soprano pan; went to Scholes to pick up some cello pans for Rick to take to Manchester the next day; stopped in Harehills to buy a carry-out [regretted it]; and back to A Grange for the show.

Now these little ones have been with me for a year or so now; some were even with me at Moor Allerton Primary School; they played Sledging [Russian Folk Song], Words [our tribute to Robin Gibb from the BeeGees], Brown Girl in the Ring [West Indian folk song] and Someone I used to Know [my concession to contemporary]; Alex played kit as we needed Claudia on pans [ - next time, Claudia!].

Our players this evening were Leila, Claudia, Ciara, Grace, Polly, Dezire, Isobel, Josie and Sophie. Annette was in the audience with her camera so we do have a couple of snaps. They are invited to do a guest slot at Tropical World next Wednesday at 5.30.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

East Steel at YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic Christmas Concert at Leeds Town Hall, and the Declines at the Viaduct

Dear Debs,

Tiz the season to play almost no Christmas tunes at all. East Steel's fetaured tunes for the Town Hall Concert are Magic Moments, Scarborough Fair, My Grandfather's Clock and Jar of Hearts. Over the prize giving we play [in honour of the West Park Centre, recently and pointlessly closed] We Shall Not be Moved and The Red Flag [aka O Christmas Tree]. Here's some sound check pics before the choirs and other bands take to the stage.  

This year we are  me, Bex, Joyce, Karen, Anne, Lynn, Cathy, Peter, Jeanette, Trish, Wendy, Becky, Cheryl, Katie, Vicky and Bart.

 Both my schools today were closed to me [Allerton Grange  has a training day, and Quarry Mount is replacing its windows], so I can spend all day packing the little blue Transit and wondering why I agreed to lend Nat the Foxwood drum kit today [durr!]. Anyway we nearly have two kits these days, and in the end, Bart plays for us with no hihat, and the snare balanced on a metal strip balanced on top of the cymbals inside their bag. Rock and roll, hey! Bart sounded great hihat-less, Anyway think all drummers should play thus; metal only give them ideas.

Now, Debs, it has taken me ten or even more years of playing Leeds Town Hall to discover that band leaders etc can park at the front. So, it's unload, van round to front, play gig, take pans to loading bay again, bring van back round, load back up. Got the edge on coming back the next day with one other person! Also, it really is so much nicer setting up at leisure and not bewteen schools.

After that some of us leg it down to the Viaduct to see Nat play with the Declines. Nice drum kit! Shame about the photo. [But I think you get the idea.]

In Recovery, grand-daughters, West Park Refugees Club and Philip Glass

So Debs, after a lovely event such as one of these Suzuki workshops, I should be feet up in pleasant remembrance . . . . but no! It's another day, and once more into the breach. Back in Leeds Maya has been sawing up the same piece of dowel all week. As her saw is upside down [and also plastic] she has not made many steel pan sticks yet.

Then on Friday, very sadly I decide against Benjamin Zephaniah at the Hudawi Centre, and babyist Lola instead. We have chips and cauliflower cheese, and bake buns.

On Saturday I set off to help Sue tidy up Royal Park playground but they forget to come down with the keys. I go home, and here I am  posing under the scaffolding on the front steps, and then I change into concert outfit. Which is the same as gardening outfit really minus yard brush and walking boots.

The City of Leeds Youth Training Orchestra is playing its first concert at City of Leeds School. Very nice, and I must say, conveniently near home. I am surprised to see my friend and colleague, Joe making his conducting debut. And he must say he is surprised to see me.

On Sunday we have our first meting of the West Park Refugees Club at the West Park Church on Spen Lane. [See other blog: VJ, Hyde Park, Leeds and the Wider World]. See, it's not just Royal Park and City they pick on! Here's a pic of Diane, Des and Lorraine after the rest have left.

It's dark early in the UK now, Debs, so I drive home in the dark, and then, yes, I'm going to push out the old boat and go to Leeds Town Hall to listen to and watch Philip Glass's violin concerto, which the first thing my ipod turns on when I am on the train or on my bike, and I am going be right in it, well not playing, obviously, I am gonna sit on the risers and be as close as possible to the band [okay, I mean orchestra: Opera North].

After Glass, Sibelius means nothing to me, but I stay to end, and arriving at my bus-stop I spot a large teacup on the back of a lorry.  And here it is just passing the Merrion Centre.

So, now Debs I am recovered and braced for the three concert three dayer that will end the coming week.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in Walsall

Dear Debs, I have agreed to do a steelpan workshop in Walsall for the Midlands Suzuki violinists on Sunday November 25 when I know that actually I can't commit to driving a long journey, on account of the unresolved panic attack while driving a van and also a car on a motorway situation.  Fortunately there is Daisy.

And so on Saturday 24 me and Daisy hit the road, the motorway and Walsall Strange Town Centre at 8.15 in the dark and very pouring rain. Are we mad or is Diz doing rehearsals for her new show? Maybe both.  In the capacious back, now denuded of seats, of my lovely little Skoda I have stashed away our luggage inside nine single steel pans. And two sets of chime bars.

I have booked a hotel which turns out has live music on a Saturday night. What a lovely atmosphere. We check into our rooms, change one pair of black leggings for another pair of black leggings - this is my attempt to "dress up" - Daisy's instructions.  And hit the bottle, the shared bottle of rose, and when the public bar closes, why not enter the disco from where I had earlier on mistaken the Abba tribute band for the karaoke. Oops.

Sadly for us, on arrival in the conservatory disco, Daisy immediately finds a fiver. One of says Let's have another drink which the other reads as Let's buy another bottle. Here's some pictures of us dancing. On a now nearly deserted dance floor. Got to bed at 2! Hmmm!

Next day, after the best mushrooms and tomatoes in the Midlands we find the wonderfully refurbished Forest Arts Centre, and put four groups of Suzuki violinists through their steel pan paces. The centre has its own steel pans and Louise has got them to agree to let us use them. Very generous; very grateful.

For the grand last joint number we played Louise's arrangement of Pirates of the Caribbean. Sadly for me, Daisy and the three parent "volunteers", we played it at a totally different tempo from the 80-odd violinists. Happily, someone said Encore and then we nearly got it right.

We hit the road north with tangerines and flapjacks. I drive about 15 miles and Daisy 100.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Foxwood play Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Well Debs

This was a nice gig indeed. In three cars and a van we decend into the winter Friday evening rush hour on the M621/M1. Deciding to avoid the motorway in case an accident stops traffic altogether  I am in the van with Stewart and Tim doing 5 miles an hour as we roll up to the accident on the roundabout on the Dewsbury Road.  Consequently Bex with Nat, Sarah with Amy and Vicky with Katie all arrive before us.  Nothing new here, of course!

Play two sets as guests tuck into Caribbean dinner at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Restaurant/Cafe, get watered and fed ourselves at half time. Then as we play the final hour and a quarter second set; the diners stop talking and seem to be treating it like a concert. In the absence of any dedicated melody players Bex and I am stagger out way through all the tunes, with Stewart and Natalie doing the odd number.

I ruin Help by playing the chorus chord sequence backwards on bass.  Bex sends everyone home with an Is Heat highlight moment. Sadly I have only got eight Sparrows CDs with me, as we could have sold twice that [and we are still paying off the studio recording!].

Then a peculiar incident to end. A teacher [in a primary school with a steelband] approaches asking for a copy of one of the tunes that is actually one of our signature tunes. I am taken aback by the boldness of the request, and I end up offending her by saying that I don't usually give our arrangements away. I don't mean to offend her but if everyone did the song, then we would have to stop doing it. [I think she thought we just read them out of a book]. Oh this is a conversation we have had before: what's fair game, and what is a question of we saw it first!
Thanks to Damon for booking us, for this cold November evening and of course for hosting us plus Sparrows in warmer times. Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Made for steelbands. See here:


Sunday, 18 November 2012

You can't have too many Pictures at an Exhibition

 Well, it's getting like one of those pictures where's characters are hidden and you have to see how many you can find. At first the pans, glocks and stands are packed in the hall, then a week later squirrelled away, here and there, under the basin, behind the shower, around the thingy at the bottom of the bannisters. Actually they all spotted the ring stands and Clippy's lodging a complaint.  Where can a geriatric cat kip these days?

Anyway, despite all this loading I managed to squeeze in a good stint on the allotment, and a second version of Mussorgsky's Pictures.

On the allotment I was as much amused as dismayed by the trimming of the hedges. See these pictures.

When there's a tree in the way, the tractor with choppers just goes round it, and the hedge that can't be reached is is left uncut; any branch thicker than a leaf is torn off.  A few years back they cut the top off one of the concrete posts. I should be grateful . . .

Anyway, it's November here, and daylight is soon over. It's off with the wellies and on with the suede boots. This time it's at the Uni's Grand Hall, and as the programme also included Bolero and Night on a Bare Bald Mountain I felt obliged to set the tele to record "The Killing"  and jump on my bike.

Sadly Bolero did not deliver for me, and I spent most of the 17-19 minutes worrying the the drummer wasn't going to make it.

The other stuff was great, and I cycled home in great contentment. Now I am writing my next two Foxwood Songbooks and here is a picture of how they look propped up in a tray.

Also I am making sticks a lot, so here's two fine examples of my other handiwork.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Russians are Coming : Half Term and the Last Concert

So many conferences and marches - well three conferences, one steering committee and one march, I've  been to London, Stone, London, Bristol, London.

Caretaker Dave F retires at West Park.

 So it's half-term, and I'm done in. I declutter my house a bit, hang out a bit on the allotment, do my Russian and Spanish homework a bit.

Then on Friday night, Diane phones me that we have been evicted from the West Park Centre, my place of work of the last sixteen years.  Heavens, Debs, I worked at Foxwood School from 1980 till 1996, which if my maths is correct is also sixteen years.  What is Fate saying to me, I wonder?

Actually the first thing Fate is saying is you have two days to rehouse a million steel pans.  [You can see the serious version of these events on my new Victoria Jaquiss: Hyde Park, Leeds and the Wider World blog.]

On Saturday I head off for what turns out to be said ex-place of work, and Diane tells me the Russians are coming. In the afternoon I sit in their midst saying спасибо and stuff, feeling like an intruder at a private party, but now I know, at the Last Concert.

Here above, I am standing for the last time in the new Seminar Steel Pan Room; here below we had only just moved into this beautiful spacious former Art teaching Room..
And here below the old gym ballet studios and long corridor with outside cover look over a deserted playground carpark.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Stratford Finally

I reach the Pan Conference for the last half day.  Whatever I missed it was worth the effort for Nestor Sullivan's closing speech. In which, at last, someone has the courage and the clout to criticise the status quo. I have often gathered the courage, but having no status in the right place, have left the pan-world an unchanged place. And that's enough talking in tongues, Debs. I bother because I care, and because I think I can make a difference.

This is the first International Steelpan Conference in the UK that I am not speaking at, which is just as well, given Purfleet. Obvioulsy it takes the pressure off, but also it takes the voice away. Anyway, you can't speak at them all. For me, however the agenda was not enough day to day steel pan teaching in the UK, which, above all, Debs, I think you'll agree, is what I do. And is where the future lies.

Thankfully Grafton is here so I get a lift back to Waltham Cross, meet little Skye Melody again. Next morning she learns how to be held on one hip while her parent or one other plays chords with two sticks in one hand.

Now I have tied a tuned steelpan to my blue trolley, and set off for Theobalds Grove. Liverpool Street [should've changed at Seven Sisters, damnit!] . Kings Cross. And the big signs tell me there's signal failure at Newark and environs. Eventually . . I jump on a train for York. The announcer says we'll know the eta after we have crossed the "affected area". It feels like foot and mouth.  But I am late home and then I am late for my Russian lesson.

Friday, 2 November 2012

From Bristol to Purfleet for no particular reason

Debs, As you may or may not know, and we don't discuss literature much, I love Charles Dickens and when I read a book [oh sadly less and less these past years] it's Dickens for me, Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby. Barnaby Rudge for the first time earlier this year. And it's that feeling of London being a series of dark villages, speckled by bright jolly inns, which only serve to make the night-times darker that is so gripping. So though I never meant to go to Purfleet . . . .

But first, Debs, on Friday, instead of chillin' out in dreams of the Rest of the Best I am on the train to Bristol and the SMA [Schools Music Conference] run by Carole of Lindsay Music fame.  The cheaper trains were early, so I have a couple of hours to check out the centre of Bristol, buy the Rough Guide and a Russian dictionary. [Can't afford to get behind on the Languages, and there are three long train revision sessions]. And inevitably, Debs, I have a trolley and an empty pan case with me - which will be worth it in the end. ...

Meanwhile it's the number 1 to the Arnos Manor Hotel. En route from my bus seat, I spot Sue from the conference leaning over her suitcase. Hmmm. I wonder about panicking that I should have got off, but turns out that Sue has decided to walk for the pleasure of it.

Carole's working us hard this evening. From 6 till 9.30 it's keynote speech, dinner, singing workshop. From 10 till 12.30 I'm on the old Mac, eventually booking the hotel in Purfleet and the train back to Leeds on Monday. Briefly I pause to go down to the bar, take in a pint and try to make a joke of the lost password and the disappearing hotels situation.

Next day's workshops were full-on. I have Lola's ukele and now I know how to use it; I've seen the apps, I'll be buying the ipad; Henry shows me how to edit an audio clip; I rescue Nigel's presentation by getting on the internet wifi and finding his needed youtube clips before his talk ended [teenagers the world over will marvel]; I remeet the Adamses; and Steve gives me a lift to the station.

Sadly as I got dropped off at Bristol Temple Meads I remembered that my train to London was from Bristol Parkway.  Is it only me, Debs?

At Paddington the best laid schemes come to an abrupt end, as it seems little bits of all the Underground lines that I need are closed for maintenance; and at one point I have to pay £2 off my Oyster just to get off the Circle line platform to get to the Hammersmith and City one. One tube stop later I get off at Baker Street to find that the Jubilee isn't stopping there, so it's back to Finchley Road to get it there; and every time I'm up and down steps also with the metal trolley and now laden with all the extra books I bought at Conference.

It's 5 past 11. It's Purfleet and it's nearly a quarter of a day since I left the SMA conference in Britol. I am only coping with this because paying for travel on a card doesn't seem like paying. It's Purfleet and there's no taxi rank. In fact, Debs, it's the middle of nowhere; there's no houses either. I accost a man on the level crossing. "Which way is the town my good man?" Well, not exactly. He unplugs his ears and advises me in a Scottish accent that he doesn't really know but it is posher to go that way, and waves his hand one way.

Now it's Dickens' England; it's dark, with the very occasional street light; the station lights disappear behind me and there's a sound from the hedge beside me. Unsure, I cross the road; looking back a fox pads alongside the hedge; in the distance I see the M25 bridge; the street lights get more frequent; and then, as Hope is springing, the Fleet does indeed hove into view. This weary traveller accosts the smoker by the door. "Are you open?"

Modern Britain reappears; the private birthday party, lava lamps and disco, lets me in; the barmaid offers me cola or juice; I buy a bottle of wine, and sit at a table with the first glass; waiting for the taxi; which takes me to the Premier Inn. There's a moment of doubt when the receptionists tell me that are three Premiers in the immediate; and someone else called called Victoria J-Something in my room. Was I Lithuanian? I opined that I wasn't and waved my mobile phone confirmation email at them.

It's Sunday morning and I should be at a Steelpan Conference in Stratford. Debs, I can't move.  Mysterious luggage -inflicted bruises cover legs and shoulders. It's cost me a packet to arrive nowhere near where I should be, so I am having a moment of going with the flow. Or, as it happens, not going anywhere.  But I wouldn't have missed the Dickens moment in Purfleet for anything.  And Purfleet, what a wonderful name.

[Here's two random pics from St Pancras from the week before - my phone pics seem to have burst the levees of the download world.]

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Rest of the Best on tour October 2012

On Monday morning we rehearse; Monday afternoon finds us at Milestone.

On Tuesday we sweep through Millfield, Oakwood Special and West Oaks Special.

Sadly over half the band had to do their after school music clubs, or had to pick up their own chidlren, so a band of 12 was whittled down to a road crew of 4, as you can see below as we wait for the wheelchair-bearing minibuses to clear the carpark.

Wednesday we return to the real day job.

Thursday it's Elmete Special, Hillcrest and Parklands.

We are me, Diane, Sophie, Mary, Fiona, Liz, Krish, Joe, Al, Hilary, Bart, Janet, Joanna, Cathy, Mike, Melvin, Tom [on work experience], Dan.

There was a lift in Hillcrest [and Joe was grateful], but it was still complicated. See picture.

And here below is Bart impressing the kids at Elmete, and the rest of the band with wheelchair wheelies [not that you tell from my useless pic!].

We play, in no particular order, as they say,  kit, saxophones, flute, cello, violin, ukele, steel pans, crumhorn, gemshorn, clarinets, keyboards, tin whistle, piano accordion, vocals, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vibraphone, hand percussion, ocarinas, balalaika, recorders. And we dance a bit.

This band, the Rest of the Best, is the highight of the academic year for me. We aim that it should be the cutting edge of educational performance. And if we have fun on the way, so be it.