Peter Bocking… on the scales: The Bocking Memorial Blog #4

For a musician, teaching serves several functions: one is to hide the fact that there isn’t a living to be made out of playing; and two, to expiate the excesses of a self-indulgent life. It is the atonement, the mea culpa of a misspent youth. 

It is also a little fragment of immortality – some other poor wretch will carry a small part of your music into the future. 

But hell! They don’t want to play like you or your dead heroes. They want to play like Whammi Palmute, the Swedish metal ace, or Vince Spaghetti, a product of The Institute of Playing Really Fast and Loud With No Shirt On.  

“Look at this scale, Melvin,” you say as you proffer it like a bauble to a child. “You can use it in the blues, jazz, rock, metal, country – it’s a really useful scale.” 

“Widdly, widdly, widdly, widdly weeee!” says Melvin (or rather, that is the sound that emanates from his guitar). He has been sat there tapping the fingerboard, eyes glazed, mouth working like a cement mixer for the last twenty minutes. 

“Look, Melvin, it’s a nice scale, there’s a good Melvin, just try it. I’ve written out examples in all the major styles.” 

“No, don’t tread on the music, just stop tapping for a minute.” 

“Ernie, Ernie, Ernie, Ernie,” replies Melvin. 

“This scale is the key to all those solos,” you say, handing him a list that flutters unheeded to the floor. 

“Whee, whee, whee, beeeeeeyooong, plink!” says Melvin’s guitar as finally a couple of strings commit suicide in desperation and the whole instrument detunes. Melvin thrashes on obliviously. 

Finally you bellow, “Earth calling guitar hero! Please look at the scale. If you learn this you can work the solos out yourself and I can stop listening to this shit!” 


Peter Bocking… Slings His Hook: The Bocking Memorial Blog #3

Remember the little signs that identify you with other members of your tribe. Drummers always carry a pair of sticks with which they perform extraordinary callisthenics or rotate in an alarming fashion. In extreme display mode they also carry a cymbal under one arm. There is no mistaking drummers. 

The badge of office for a trumpet player (other than a small tapir-like projection on the upper lip) is a trumpet mouthpiece with which to imitate duck calls. All very jolly, if somewhat predictable. 

However, for saxophone players it is the sling, to be worn in all licensed premises and very probably in bed. This can lead to sling envy, because saxophonists are forever weighing up each other’s hooks. The bigger hook, the bigger the instrument. For example, the bass saxophone has to have a big hook and the alto saxophone’s is somewhat smaller. In Darwinian terms the bass sax should lead the herd, but in fact it is the alto who calls the tunes. 

Slings of course, are open to abuse. When such things mattered, civilians have been known to pose as saxophone players by wearing one. “Oooh, are you in the band?” came the desired response. “Lead alto, darlin’,” was the shameless reply. On the positive side, wearing a sling would get you into a late night watering hole. “Just finished the gig,” you say to the 800lb gorilla on the door, diffidently displaying your sling. “Sling your ‘ooh,” he would retort until money changed hands. However the advent of jumping-up-and-down music has washed away these icons of the past. Wear your sling with pride but don’t forget your tambourine. 

Peter Bocking on… Drummers: The Bocking Memorial Blog #2

Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends have been drummers, and they do hit things for a living, but the fact has got to be faced that drumming is the most atavistic of all the musical professions. It probably started off when, as an infant, the nascent drummer threw his rattle out of the pram, and a perspicacious mother noticed there was a certain rhythmic regularity to this. “He’s got rhythm, has our Dean.” And the die was cast – little Dean Beast was to become a drummer. 

Now there are two main types of drummer: drummers who can keep time and drummers who can’t. In the latter set fell an unfortunate young chap called Novelty Skins who had the largest drum kit then available and was constantly taking metronomes back to the shop because they wouldn’t keep time with him. There used to be a saying among musicians: “Don’t be a mug in a pub and never trust a drum break.” Wise counsel. 

There is also a subset of ‘solo’ drummers who have the percussion part from the ‘1812 Overture’ off pat. This they insert into all gaps. They are just waiting for the rest of the band to go for a drink so that the real meat of the performance can commence – The Drum Solo. This device is used: 
a) To cover the fact that the band is dying on its arse. 
b) To reduce the testosterone level in the drummer. 
c) When the band is gagging for a drink. 

Remember a drummer is someone who at the sound check goes tappety, tappety tap with a fairly light touch, then on the performance turns his sticks butt end round and unleashes millennia of primal passion. 

Arun Ghosh

 Band on The Wall, Manchester, October 8, 2013 

The night is essentially a confrontation between Indian spirituality and Madchester high spirits, with more of the former in the first set, devoted to new album A South Asian Suite, and more of the latter in the second set, where exuberance prevails over exhilaration, if the two can be separated (Arun Ghosh doesn’t make the distinction).   

Actually he makes an impact before the first note is played, as he and his musicians take the stage resplendent in Asian dress. Ghosh rejects the traditional jazz dress options of both the zoot-suited hipster and the scruffbag muso. More than a fashion statement, it’s a gesture that conveys singularity, smartness and pride, all qualities of the music.  

South Asian Suite presents a tapestry of original jazz tunes cast in traditional Indian folk styles. It’s pan-Asian, ranging from the tenderness of ‘River Song’ to the clamourous urgency of ‘Sufi Stomp’. 

The music is marked by the striking complementary teamwork of Ghosh’s skyrocketing clarinet and Chris Williams’ earthy alto saxophone. Each a compelling voice, they cast a mesmerising weave in unison. Zoe Rahman’s piano, so sensitive yet brimful with joy, is perfectly suited to the high altitudes of A South Asian Suite, as she scatters rippling arpeggios on ‘Mountain Song’ or rhapsodises rapturously on ‘River Song’.  

And then there is the pure visual appeal of a Ghosh performance, and it’s always rewarding to try and puzzle the twin roles of conductor and dancer in the leader’s body language. So, a graceful flap of the hand seems to mean “bring it on!”; a gentle wave of the left hand means “be gentle”; a downward motion of the right hand alerts to an imminent change of dynamic; a nod  to a colleague says “yes, come in now”. Whereas whirling hands amid back and forth swaying, or an outstretched arm pointing heavenward simply indicates that a trance is beginning to take hold. 

The second set presents the greatest hits, adapted to the organic style of the new ensemble. The energy of ‘Caliban’s Revenge’ and ‘Longsight Lagoon’ is terrific, interrupted only by the smoochy delicacy of ‘Come Closer’, but resumed in full for a tune described only as “the anthem” (in a nod to Ghosh’s Manchester roots, it turns out to be ‘Come Home’ by James). Zoe Rahman is a benign and distant presence now, endorsing the laddish high spirits with a deft touch here and there (it may be the sound mix at the front of the stage, of course), whilst the lads in the rhythm section are staggeringly forceful and tight. Dig the whooping, sliding chords when Liron Donin slaps on electric bass for ‘Longsight Lagoon’. Pat Illingworth swings the group with power and even aggression when called for, whereas Nilesh Gulhane on tabla supplies the non-Western colours and rhythms. 

It’s a measure of his mastery that Ghosh forges a true individuality out of the struggle for identity. I was going to write ‘maturity’, for there’s an ease and authority in the syncretism of A South Asia Suite, which affirms Ghosh’s steady artistic development. Of course, a concert in his hometown is always something of an event. From a conversation between two middle-aged guys overheard at the bar: “I saw Arun the last time he played Band on the Wall. Have you seen Arun before?” “Yes, I’m his father.” 
Pictures by Eva Navarro 

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