Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Ghosts

On my way to the Royal Festival Hall early this afternoon, I made a last minute decision to exit the tube at Embankment rather than Waterloo. I decided the walk across the Thames would be better for my brain than the misery of the underpasses south of the river.  My mind was very much in the world of Brass, and I was thinking about the lyric for a song where a group of soldiers, sitting in a trench, sing about how badly they miss music.

I emerged from the tube into a rather misty, drizzly, murky London, but as I walked up the steps to Hungerford bridge, I heard a lone trumpeter playing a gentle hymn in the old school style of a Salvation Army band.

There was something rather remarkable about the moment. Something timeless, something Great War-like; a hymn of hope drowned out by rattling trains and the occasional fog horn on the Thames below. A hymn of bravery. This somehow felt like the answer to the question I'd been asking in my lyric. What was the sound that my men in the trench were longing to hear? This.

If there is such a thing as synchronicity, I experienced it right there. I stopped for a few moments and listened, before emptying my pockets into the trumpeter's case. He finished the hymn, promptly stopped what he was doing, packed up and disappeared. It almost felt as though he'd been there purely for my benefit and I started to think how beautiful it would be to discover that there were ghostly buskers all over London who'd been sent back to us to resolve issues and answer questions... Or simply to bring hope and joy into our humdrum lives. That, my friends, is the power of music. Right there. In a nutshell.

I met Fiona the other side of the bridge and told her the story, almost starting to doubt that I'd seen the busker at all. Fortunately, she'd crossed the river seconds before me and had thought the busker so suitably unusual that she'd taken his photograph on her phone.

The Roy Harper gig was astonishing. Terrifying, deeply moving, exhausting, invigorating, stimulating, overwhelming, amusing and uplifting. We sound-checked and rehearsed all afternoon and then performed in the evening.

Sitting on the stage at the Royal Festival Hall in front of the musicians of the band, I was aware of another ghost, that of David Bedford, Roy Harper's collaborator for forty years, the man who, in every other major live gig but the one I conducted two years ago, would have been sitting in my chair. David very sadly died just before the last concert and his presence was felt thoroughly; in every one of the songs he orchestrated. Roy became deeply emotional just before singing Another Day, and had to start all over again. I felt rather honoured to be there.

I was nervy in the first half. I think Roy was as well. There was a lot of new material, and it was all rather complicated. There were a couple of gaffs which made me a little angry because I felt that I should have seen them coming even though no one seemed to particularly notice. Maybe they knew something wasn't quite right.

The second half was a different show. Gillon the violinist, Jonathan the guitarist and I all took our shoes and socks off and went on stage bare-footed which felt somehow liberating and rather folky-appropriate! We sailed through the music, barely a semiaquaver out of tune or time, and had a corker of a "Me and My Woman" which had the audience on its feet. Looking out into a standing ovation from a Royal Festival Hall audience is quite a remarkable experience, particularly when you've had your backs to them for the whole night!

I have come home and am buzzing a little, so have made myself a cup of decaf tea and am having two little pieces of the fridge cake which I made with 'cello Vicky's recipe yesterday. How rock and roll am I, eh?

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