Friday, 30 July 2010

On Reading a Post by Dick Jones

Reading a post on Dick Jones' Patteran Pages today has got me hitting the "new post" button. As Dick says: "maybe a little off-the-cuff blethery might help to kick-start a dormant blog". Thought I'd give it a try myself...

The last few weeks have been made of notes, not words. I've just joined a band, Trio Gitan. Our starting point is gypsy jazz (think Stephane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt), but our interests are wider than that and the result is a lot of gypsy-influenced music-making which is very exciting for us and, hopefully, the people who listen to us. We've spent several days playing together intensively, working hard and playing hard. We're lucky in that the place we rehearse is out-of-town and right by the River Swale so, when we've had enough, we can pile out onto the river bank and admire the view. It's so good it's as if we've got iron underpants on and the chairs we have arranged on the riverbank have magnets in their seats. Getting up is an effort - but the playing has been so much fun that it's not been as hard as it might have been. I've not enjoyed myself as much creatively for ages. We haven't recorded any tracks yet to put on the net -although we will, soon- but we have got several gigs lined up, including one on Tuesday August 10th at the Hartlepool Tall Ships Race. (Details are on the Trio Gitan blog, along with a write up of our last gig).

I've been reading too, recently. I've forced myself, just as a way to unwind. I reread Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. I finished it the other day. This account of the Second World War and the bombing of Dresden as seen by the time-travelling captured American Billy Pilgrim is one of the best tragicomic reads I've ever read. If one wants to choose an excerpt to quote, one is spoilt for choice:

The Americans halted. They stood there quietly in the cold. The sheds they were among were outwardly like thousands of other sheds they had passed. There was this difference, though: the sheds had tin chimneys, and out of the chimneys whirled constellations of sparks.
A guard knocked on a door.
The door was flung open from inside. Light leaped out through the door, escaped from prison at 186,000 miles per second. Out marched fifty middle-aged Englishmen. They were singing "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here" from the Pirates of Penzance.
These lusty, ruddy vocalists were among the first English-speaking prisoners to be taken in the Second World War. Now they were singing to nearly the last. They had not seen a woman or a child for four years or more. They hadn't seen any birds, either. Not even sparrows would come into the camp.
The Englishmen were officers. Each of them had attempted to escape from another prison at least once. Now they were here, dead-center in a sea of dying Russians.
The Englishmen were clean and enthusiastic and decent and strong. They sang boomingly well. They had been singing together every night for years.
The Englishmen had also been lifting weights and chinning themselves for years. Their bellies were like washboards. The muscles of their calves and upper arms were like cannonballs. They were all masters of checkers and chess and bridge and cribbage and dominoes and anagrams and charades and Ping-Pong and billiards, as well.
They were among the wealthiest people in Europe, in terms of food. A clerical error early in the war, when food was still getting through to prisoners, had caused the Red Cross to ship them five hundred parcels every month instead of fifty. The Englishmen had hoarded these so cunningly that now, as the war was ending, they had three tons of sugar, one ton of coffee, eleven hundred pounds of chocolate, seven hundred pounds of tobacco, seventeen hundred pounds of tea, two tons of flour, one ton of canned beef, twelve hundred pounds of canned butter, sixteen hundred pounds of canned cheese, eight hundred pounds of powdered milk., and two tons of orange marmalade.
They kept all this in a room without windows. They had ratproofed it by lining it with flattened tin cans.
They were adored by the Germans, who thought they were exactly what the Englishmen ought to be. They made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Regular readers will know I'm a bit of a Vonnegut fan: I posted about another of his books, Cat's Cradle, a while ago. As for Slaughterhouse-Five, I passed the book on to my daughter, Amy, who had been dying to read it since her brother had read it and passed it on to his other sister, who had passed it on to me. I was left wondering what to read next.

Then, lo and behold, I walked into a charity shop today and the first book I saw was The Andy Warhol Diaries, edited by Pat Hackett. I've been wanting to read it for years, but had never come across it since I first briefly glimpsed it. I've got Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries waiting to be read, too. That's plenty to keep me busy enjoying myself. The two books have three things in common: they're both diaries, both by men who were shot (although Warhol survived) and both have very humane, moving introductions by people to whom they were very important. More later, probably, what with all the reading and playing I've got to do; and then there's watering the pumpkins and the tomatoes and goodness knows what else to do as well...


Elisabeth said...

It's wonderful what you can find when you least expect it. Thanks Dominic for a fascinating stroll back to Vonnegut.

jinksy said...

Gypsy jazz, you say?

Must be why I wrote this a couple of days back...

Gypsy Music

The music goes dancing and swirling about
and makes you rejoice and indulge in a shout.
"Keep playing I beg you Oh, please never stop!"
The violin knows you will dance till you drop
as Fiddler plays faster, his twinkling eyes
go flashing with glints bright as stars in the skies.

So boldly the notes whirl around in the air,
while you and the music abandon all care...

patteran said...

Good news about the trio. I look forward to the first recordings. Presumably two guitars and bass. Unless you're actually the proud owner of one, feast your eyes on this:
Olly, our ceilidh band guitarist (also in a Gypsy jazz outfit), has one and it's perfection.

Rachel Fox said...

Glad to hear you're out and about playing music - great news!

I just read 'SH5' - partly because you mention it now and again and that always reminds me I haven't read it. Well, I have now. It's a wild ride...


The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad you have decided on a name for the trio - not sure what it means but sounds good.
I read Slaughter House 5 years ago - but found it almost unbearable in its intensity.

Argent said...

Oh, to be in a band again! Trouble is, I'm not much more than three chords to my name - but the joy of playing with other people...! Pleae, we need to hear you soooon!

George said...

An interesting posting, Dominic, with much fodder for thought. First, I love both gypsy music and jazz. The combination sounds great. I also loved "Slaugherhouse Five" when I read it many years ago. Vonnegut was a terrific and talented writer. Glad your creative juices are being stirred with the music and books.

Dominic Rivron said...

Elisabeth: It is. I've decided SH5 is a book I ought to stroll back to every few years.

jinksy: Cool bit of verse there! You might enjoy this (Dick Jones put me onto them):

patteran: Cool guitar. At the moment I'm trying to replace a double bass bridge, which is quite a daunting work of engineering. You buy them blank and plane and sand them to the right shape, without, hopefully, making it look like the sort of school woodwork effort I'd've taken home!

The band is actually violin, guitar and bass.

RF: It is, isn't it? Laugh/Cry/Laugh/Cry?...etc...

WG: Gitan is French for gypsy. The famous cigarettes are Gitanes with a final "e" - the feminine form, i.e., "gypsy woman".

Argent: Isn't it hard coming together with the right people? We'll be making a few recordings soon.

George: I've put one or two gypsy-ish tracks on my Deezer playlist (see main blog page, right sidebar). Check out After You've Gone by Stochelo Romane. The bank of the Swale I refer to is yards from the Coast to Coast path, I think, in Brompton on Swale.

John Hayes said...

Great news about your new musical venture--I'll definitely keep on eye on the Trio Gitan Radio blog! You also make me think that I should perhaps re-read some Vonnegut. Have been re-reading Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest" & thoroughly enjoying it.