Archives for the month of: September, 2012

KDANGG is the sound of the garage door connecting with my forehead, in no uncertain terms. The sharp blow forces out a loud and vile oath, and I sink to the forecourt, moaning. Gill, sensitively, keeps well clear and silent, though in retrospect I think I would have preferred being smothered in sudden and huge sympathy.

The plan was to cycle along the seafront, though this could be postponed now, due to my life-threatening concussion. I sit on the concrete, staring. But it’s a golden warm autumnal day; it would be a shame to waste it in A&E, queuing for hours with railing-trapped children and drunks with axes in their heads.

So to Lewes Station and a train to Newhaven (this is not an endurance test). We take the cycle path that goes through the nature reserve and turn off at Tidemills, an old ruined mill and village, once home to 100 workers. The last residents were forcibly removed in 1939. From the beach you see the long black arm of Newhaven Harbour, lighthouse at the end silhouetted against a blue sky and glittering sea. Tiny figures climb the steps onto the harbour wall, only to be repulsed by barbed wire.

We cycle along the promenade towards Seaford Head, and stop at a little kiosk; it serves good espresso and has a blackboard, saying: ‘Frankies Forecast. Dry, Bright, Sunny, Clear & Warm. Light Gentle Breeze From the SW Gently Lapping Waves Carressing The Shoreline With A Welcoming Embrace…’

A little further we pass a bench with the inscription ‘Glad and Ron Wellden, now dancing together always in the hearts of those who love you.’

Simon D’souza: black suit, black trilby, shades. Soprano sax, tenor, alto, baritone, trumpet. He plays the sweetest soprano with us, just one of his bands. He also plays with the great big band, Straight No Chaser. He teaches jazz at Chichester College, and composes achingly beautiful music, in particular for his excellent band, Spirit. Once a year, regular as clockwork, he dominates the sax section in our Ska-Kestra, with his blistering storming tenor solos. God knows why he plays with us; well, he says it’s fun. He gives the lie to the taciturn po-faced jazz stereotype: this man is passionate, positive, funky, and… fun.

He recently had a brain tumour removed – he was airlifted from his French holiday to Hurstwood Park Neurosurgical Centre in Haywards Heath for the operation. His fellow musicians organise a benefit – a tribute to him, and a fund-raiser for the Friends of the hospital. The gig is called Spirit of Love (‘I was on pharmaceutical drugs when I came up with the name’). The Brunswick is packed with friends and jazz fans: no-one can enter unless someone goes out – it’s at capacity; a huge cheer goes up when he and Susan enter: Simon affects surprise (but it’s actually delight) at seeing so many people.

Saxshop, Simon’s 19-piece band (16 of them are horns) makes a massive sound in the small venue. They play arrangements of The Pink Panther, One Step Beyond, Night Train (that’s one of ours struck off the set-list, then!) and more. Simon’s nodding and smiling his approval. After them come Spirit – trumpet, tenor, trombone, piano bass and drums. Lush, moving compositions, heartfelt solos over exquisite rhythm section playing, can bring tears to your eyes. Follow that!

Ska Toons have been asked to wrap up the evening, and we’re expecting an exodus of jazz fans: except they stay. Simon doesn’t though (with apologies) and he has – let’s face it – heard and played our stuff many times. It still takes him ages to get to the door, as he’s stopped and hugged by friends and well-wishers. We blast through our 50 minutes at full-pelt, and though he’s not on stage with us, Simon’s spirit fires our playing.

‘So ‘carpe diem’, no more pissing around with computer games for me!  I am going to live whatever life is left me to the full.  Expect to see me out playing gigs in the near future!’

Consummate musician, composer, arranger, teacher, and a thoroughly nice man. An inspiration.

In my studio there’s a ‘wet’ corner, and a ‘dry’ corner. The dry corner is where I’m sitting now, typing onto this computer. I have a large monitor-screen, linked to a Macbook, and a big drawing tablet and stylus (I’m no good with a mouse). Surrounding me are lots of notes, receipts, junk and not-so-junk mail, CDs and other stuff that I could throw away (or file) in an hour. Which I don’t. The dry corner exerts a ‘default pull’ (the computer).

My wet corner is currently dry. It’s the art bit: a big drawing board with jars of brushes, bottles of watercolour, ink, pencils… I’ve been painting: flat and flattened still-lifes on thick rough-edged Khadi paper. I like domestic ingredients, pushed towards abstraction (but not quite there). I start with a big brush laden with Indian ink: make a shape. Look at it, decide what shape next, where, what colour, build the still-life as I go along. But it’s a nerve-racking process: it should be spontaneous, but it can go very wrong. There’s no correcting or over-painting with watercolours and ink – you just have to tear it up, start again.

I was watching a short film, courtesy of Creative Review, about how hand-painted signs in india are being replaced by digitally-printed ones, and how those highly-skilled (even visionary) artists are losing their livelihoods. Now, it seems, anyone with a copy of Corel Paint can take their design to a printer to produce a cheap banner or shop frontage, and make a big (often horrible) impact. I’m listening to internet radio on a computer, and Manu Dibango’s ‘Big Blow’ is generating extraordinary coloured patterns on the screen: unimaginably complex moving shapes, whirling and changing to each beat.

In the end, I ask myself: given the huge advances in technology – Photoshop (yes OK, I use it all the time), digital printing, CGI, 3-D movies, web sites, computer games – this huge bombardment of increasingly sensational visual stuff – are we getting desensitised to simple imagery? In the future, will anyone respond to marks made by a human hand?



(I declare an interest: some of my paintings will be shown in the Hearth Pizzeria, opening later in September, Lewes. Seen here is Still life: studio, with memento mori).