specialising in sinuous strands of silver sound, gerry ezard is someone for whom the word urbane could easily have been crafted. considering he has spent much of his life working amongst the polished surfaces of the furniture business this is hardly surprising. lets be fair, with prolonged exposure to all that veneer it would be more of a shock if some of the gloss hadn't rubbed off.
in gerry's case the sheen is particularly noticeable in his music. as in conversation, he doesn't do loud. when he plays its more about statement than nailing a melody home. but that's not to say it's light-weight. far from it. its just that you'ld never hear him being called a rough diamond. with gerry the finish goes all the way through, but theres no denying what you get on the surface can only be described as ..... polish.
in my experience different performers have different radii of musical impact. it may be just a fancy but i find some don't reach me at all until i'm really close to them. whereas others can touch me across a crowded room.
i don't think its about amplification. it may be about personality projection or the difference between playing to yourself and playing to the back of the hall. i don't know. but i do know that i once gigged with an adept banjo man whose music sounded to me as dry as dust. until i stood next to him. then i understood the guy's delicately crafted poetry which was a very timid and sensitive animal indeed. a complete contrast to the harsh persona he offered to the world. weird stuff, huh?
i first met gerry during my quest for instruction in the arcane art of the muffigan. his name had been suggested as one of the few chromatic harmonica teachers in south wales. so i gave him a call. he invited me round for an hour. i left after two. with a sheaf of charts and a vague idea how to tongue block. 'see you in a month,' i said. and never went back.
well when i say never, actually i did go back after about a year during which i had sporadically taught myself the tongue technique. it was just after christmas and i didn't have much to do so i overcame the embarrassment of the broken word and called again. his welcome was just as enthusiastic.
this time however i decided to commit to a regular session. establishing the pattern for the next nine months, before the first lesson finished we had agreed time and place for the second. gerry gave me plenty to work on and i gave myself the time to do it. up until the national harmonica league's weekend festival at the end of october.
we studied around a pristine table top, protected by a thick mat against accidental engraving by sharp metal edges, in gerry's dining room. surrounded by elegant furniture we worked hard. we worked on reading. mine was rubbish. we worked on a duet. which we actually performed in the october event. and came second. (out of three. but then they do say that two out of three ain't bad. who am i to argue?) i worked on several simple solo pieces. which were beautiful. i thoroughly enjoyed myself. talked when i should have been listening, usually stayed over time, had to be encouraged to bugger off, and struggled to get to grips with this new pocket-sized groove tool.
i learnt a lot but probably what will stay in my mind for longest was gerry's demonstration of his sound. 'you've got to bare down on it, patrick,' he said just before he got the resonance rolling. 'like this.' i recognised the shining notes. beautiful as usual. 'wonder what he's on about,' i thought. 'bare down on it? maybe the old boy's losing it?'
and then, as if i had made an indiscreet remark about zinadine zidane's sister, i felt like i had been butted in the chest. i had to catch my breath. i even took a step back. it was gerry's tone. still as polished and non aggressive as ever. but now with an unfamiliar emotional intensity. and a kick like a rhino.
for someone like me who has always gone for the more directly stated attack, what during the seventies we used to call raunchy (yes we did), that was a big lesson. like a mortar round coming out of a water pistol. no mean feat and a very neat technique.
now i think about it he hasn't shown me how to do it yet. i'll have to get on his case. urbane or not. i need to know.
more to come.