On arrival we had to stand dripping wet while a heavily built Mr ‘Do you Know-who I Am? ‘argued with the greeting waitress about the table he’s been allocated. She points out that tables are actually allocated on a first come first served basis when booking online.
He then flounces off in a huff, allowing us then to be invited to sit at a seat that I’d happily exchange my eye teeth for.
The place is tiny and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Exactly what our predecessor, at the door, had to complain about is beyond me. On the stroke of nine o’clock, the band take the stage and play the first set as a quartet (guitar, sax/flute, bass & drums). Rockier than I was prepared for, I’m reminded, more than once, of Gary Boyle’s ‘Isotope’.
At the interval we’re invited by a disembodied Slavic voice on the house PA (think Andy Kaufman in Taxi) to purchase very reasonably priced CDs. The selection turns out to be quite poor, only two titles, and I decline the offer. However as I leave the bar, where they were on display, I realise I’m standing next to a small, in fact very small, mutton-chopped man wearing a scarf, waistcoat and coat that much resembles my very own.
Obviously a chap of considerable taste!!!!
It’s none other than Keith Tippett, the real reason why we’ve come along.
“I am SO looking forward to this!” I hear myself say, ‘So am I’ says he.
“We’ve travelled down from Glasgow for this, so no pressure, then!”
…and we then debate the best way to travel to London from Glasgow. He appears to be impressed by my sales pitch for Virgin Rail and their four and a half hours city centre to city centre.
Etheridge introduces the band (plus KT) back on to the stage and Tippett seems to be more than a catalyst, their playing assumes an urgency that wasn’t there before, they’re on fire.
All undertake lengthy dexterous solos which greatly impress (with the exception of Babbidge’s bass solo that sounds like a kid in a guitar shop, stomping on all the FX boxes that he can’t ever afford, weird noise triumphs over technique, I’m afraid).
Actually I feel a wee bit sorry for John Etheridge, he can’t have (m)any friends. Friends would surely, long ago, have told him to desist from the habit of poking his tongue out of the side of his mouth when he solos, resulting in a look that would win prizes in any gurning competition.
Familiar titles fly by and are despatched with a muscular aplomb. ‘Bundles’,Hugh Hopper’s ‘King & Queens’ and too many others I can’t remember
And then at five to eleven an odd thing happens.
Following the recent onstage demise of Mick Farren, it crossed my mind that, with the number of gigs I attend and the demographic of those performers, it was surprising that I hadn’t encountered a similar incident. The band leader announced they probably had ‘time to do one more, it’s just gone five to eleven’ and drummer John Marshall replied ‘Is it really?’ before dropping like a stone and collapsing through his kit, knocking it asunder. A brief silence ensues while everyone, band included, process just what’s happened. Then a friend/roadie shouts at the bar staff to call an ambulance. A women, I’m guessing his partner, with a foreign accent that I just can’t quite ‘place’, walks halfway towards the stage saying his name over and over. He’s slumped over one of his drums, but no one in attendance, myself included, considers putting him in ‘the recovery position’.
Bar staff steer us quickly to the door and we’re suddenly back in the Soho monsoon.
Post script: I’ve since established from one Andrew Greenaway that JM has thankfully survived (cardiac arythmia) and hopes to be back in action in about a month.