Monday, 20 February 2012

Ragtime Parlour!

One of my favourite covers.
Here's something you don't get very often. A combination of stompingly good Ragtime, and the Parlour songs that preceded it, and the songs that were informed by it after, and a band that doesn't really need amplifying. It's genuine, hundred-year-old fun. If there are ANY Titanic Centenary events that do not call on us to perform, they are extremly silly. Beyond silly; certifiable.
My first-ever piece of sheet music.

This IS the RMS Lusitania Ragtime Orchestra, Matt on piano.

I've collected old sheet music since I was at least nine. I've gone through mountains of it. I collected it from neighbours, abandoned shacks, benches in used piano shops, charity shops, and through classified want ads. I put out the word, and people gave me boxes of it.
I still have the same system today: I sit down at the piano, play through it and sort it into as many as ten different categories, then take it out and try it on audiences everywhere. I take it to hospitals and to nursing homes where people are brutally frank. If a song makes it there, it will make it almost anywhere.

I've done gigs for Matthew Redman, wunderkind of yore (he's now a wundermann) with his RMS Lusitania Ragtime Orchestra, and I've done gigs for Nicholas Ball and his Flying Aces. Putting together elements of both, and adding my chintz and parlourishness, what we have is this:
I have had people advise me that I should take all mention of Parlour out before going to North America. There was a revival of Parlour in the 1970s, and it wasn't all good. So, they tell me, it is doubly, triply, stuffy. I ask you! Is this stuffy?
For one thing, you'll never hear a Sousaphone imitate a bumblebee anywhere else.  

We are like a Renaissance "Broken Consort" in a way, because we take on different combinations through the concert. I started a capella with Stephen Foster, then we launched into Oh Johnny all together, then the four instruments did a fresh and bright rendition of "Aeroplane Rag of 1912", then Nick came out and sang a solo, then Matt and I scaled right back with a guitar-and-voice "Love's Old Sweet Song", and then he sat down (not on his tails) at the piano to play "Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar", and then we were all of us back with "Moonlight Bay", and so it went.

Simon can't resist touching it.
Footage is still being edited from this concert, and then you can see Nick's fabulous singing-trumpet and hear how mellow his voice is through it. He made it out of a metal waste-paper basket, part of a vaccuum hose, and some red enamel paint. Works a treat. Simon Marsh's marvellous clarinet, with its beautiful vibrato, developed specially for this project and era, you might remember from "Our Lovely Day". Listen for his little counter-melodies through the music. Bliss.

At Mayfest. Hence my flowers, hence Nick's boater.
And what does one say about the Sousaphone? It is an edifying sight. And played by Dickie, an edifying sound. This is a man who has played in symphony orchestras, but doesn't mind dragging his massive, hundred-year-old instrument on and off night-buses for gigs at the Experimental Cocktail Club, or in this case, to a church in Notting Hill.

The audience was very happy to see us again. We had appeared in the Notting Hill Mayfest 2011 and believe it or not, when I was wandering along Portobello Road a few months ago, a very respectable lady actually stopped me and said "Did you sing all those wonderful songs, with the sousaphone and the banjo and everything? I never had so much fun in my life!"

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