the b flat is strongish, the g isn't bad. then cometh the d. where the band pick it up on e maj7 and all harmonic hell breaks loose. i am overpowered by a swirling miasma of tones whose fist grabs my timorous harmonica sound by the throat and pummels it like a sardine in a tsunami. for the second time in two minutes i recognise the sensation of being, embarrassingly, comprehensively and irrefutably stuffed. my bottle evaporates big time. i grab my coat. i have fortuitously left the pork pie hat at home. intent on leaving my troubles on the doorstep on the way out, i walk.
only to have my exit blocked by the expansive mc who encourages me to finish what i've started. by now i'm so shook up i can't even say my name. but i do what the big man asks. and stumble weakly through the tune, accompanied only by the keyboard player. miraculously i get to the end of the first chorus. now for the next bit.
during rehearsal i had decided on a strategy of once through the head (the tune) and improvise (er actually in my case, jam it) to the end. so i now find myself at the point where, in my plan, the exciting part starts. however i am so shell shocked and we are playing so slowly that i don't have the tempo to take off. so i do a few garbled phrases, fake it for another chorus and signal the keyboard to finish. which he promptly does giving me the opportunity to limp out on the d that had been sucked to a watery grave a few minutes earlier.
i am grateful to the compassion of the audience who give me a rousing round of applause. i thank them more sincerely than i have thanked any group of people i have played in front of. ever.
i return to my seat to find the comradeship of my fellow jazzers a little cooler than when i left. but not to worry, there'll be plenty of time to re-arrange that particular dynamic. the big mc comes over and asks me if i've got another number. which i don't have. and certainly wouldn't be playing now if i did. he then explains that the night is for those who want to learn to play jazz, not experienced players, and invites me back. and i will be. in a month.
'all that pain,' you may ask, 'why?'
best i can do in reponse is 'who can say?'
what is surprising is that i am back close to where i was at fourteen years old. apparently by chance here i am walking the streets of swansea in a lived-in bomber jacket with a harmonica in my packet. do we ever grow up? i suppose some of us do. but i'll leave that to those who think its important.
i've done loads since then of course. trained for a career. found myself knee deep in local government clones. got married. worst fortnight of my life. went to college. got a couple of degrees. so now i'm educated, drank and drank and drank. met the purple bunnies. but i'm better now. lived in various parts of blighty. learned to play guitar, and to a lesser extent, mandolin.
i've won and lost more than a bevy of girlfriends. performed in loadsa crummy bars with loadsa bands. some crummy, some not. i've played rock and roll, country (& western), blues, rhythm and blues, and folk. i've been part of seven-piece bands, six- five- and four-piece bands, trios and duos. i've written songs. i've worked solo. in which capacity i have been known to out-number the audience.
i've played in uk and several other parts of europe. i've done tv, live radio, worked as a session man, played clubs, pubs and festivals. i've busked on street corners. and now, four decades down the line in the world beyond 1984 and 2001, the wheel seems to have turned full circle. so .... back in abertawe with my eyes on the heavens .... lets hear it one more time.
more to come.
© patrick ellis june 2006