Monday, 17 January 2011
I can play the trombone. Don’t laugh – it’s true.
When I say “can play” I really mean “used to be able to play”. I can hear the question you are about to ask, dear reader:
“Why on Earth would a man who sings the praises of heavy metal play a trombone?”
It’s all the entire fault of my father.
When I arrived in my first year at the grammar school we were all told that we had to go and see the music teacher – individually. My name was called out and off I went.
I arrived at the door to the music room and knocked.
“Enter,” yelled a posh voice.
I walked in and stood facing a man who scared the shit out of me. The music room was just like any other classroom in the school apart from one or two things that gave its purpose away.
In the corner at the right hand side of the room, stood an open cupboard that was stacked full of vinyl records. At the back of the class behind the desks, there were a number of music stands. Other cupboards lined the room and they were closed. At the front of the room next to the teacher’s desk was a piano and behind that two blackboards; the first was a conventional blackboard but the second had several staves coloured in dark orange, where the teacher or pupils could actually write music. And in the corner at the front of the room was a top of the range music centre.
I was terrified and stood there gawping at the room like a raving rabbit caught in headlights.
“Name?” asked the madman in front of me, whom I shall refer to as Mr Ragbag (not his real name obviously but it does incorporate his nickname).
I told him, squeaking like a mouse held captive by a mad moggy.
“Right – I want you to sing for me. I want you to sing a scale.”
“A what?” I blurted.
“A musical scale you stupid boy. And call me SIR!!!”
He demonstrated what he wanted by singing himself and then looking at me expectantly.
A tiny dribble of urine escaped and my hand instinctively reached for my crotch.
“LAH LAH LAH LAH LAH LAH LAH LAH!” I sang. I was proud of myself, despite the fact that I had stumbled part way down the road towards pissing my pants. I thought I sounded fine. Mr Ragbag gave his damning verdict.
“You sound like a parrot being strangled, boy,” he said putting a big red cross in a book next to my name. “You won’t be singing in the choir.”
“Phew!” I thought.
“What musical instrument would you like to learn?” he added.
“Dunno!” I jabbered.
“I DON’T KNOW, SIR!!!” he shouted. “Think about it and come back tomorrow. Now get out.”
If I knew then what I know now, I would immediately have told Mr Ragbag that I wanted to be a rock guitarist.
“I want to be an axe-wielding psychotic metal God, deafening people with my insane riffs! I want to be like Jimi Hendrix and set fire to my guitar before smashing it all up. I want to be a rebel and write songs about death, destruction and girls.”
Sadly, I didn’t say that at all; if I had my life could have been so different.
Instead, I just walked out hoping that I really hadn't peed my trousers.
I never liked Mr Ragbag and he didn’t like me either. That first encounter paved the way for our future relationship; a very rocky one at best.
I went home and spoke to my dad about the encounter and asked for his advice.
Sadly, my dad didn’t envisage me as a mad guitarist and now he had the opportunity to mould me into something that he thought I should be.
“Play a trombone – like Glenn Miller,” he said, pride pouring out of his big smiling face.
“Okay,” I said, without thinking. I returned to Mr Ragbag the next day and told him that I wanted to play the trombone.
I was assigned an external music teacher who specialised in brass instruments. He visited the school every Friday and music lessons were arranged to coincide with real lessons but organised so that different lessons were missed every week.
I remember that first lesson well. There were several smaller music rooms, full of a variety of musical instruments, with just enough room for three people to sit down and make arses of themselves with musical instruments.
I actually liked my trombone teacher and he liked me. He always encouraged me, telling me that I was a good student. On the first day, he shook my hand – yes, a teacher who shook my hand - and called me Dave. I loved it. All of the other teachers called me by my surname or “BOY!!!”.
I shall call my trombone teacher Mr Miller (after Glenn Miller – again not his real name). Mr Miller was a fully trained trombonist who was almost a virtuoso. Outside of school, he played in a jazz group and was an absolute maestro.
“Sit down, Dave,” he said on that first day. “Have you seen a trombone before?”
“Only on telly,” I blurted. I didn’t even call him “Sir,” a crime punishable by detention.
“That’s okay, “ he said. “Let’s sort one out for you.”
He moved a few instruments aside and hauled out a box that was as big as I was. He opened it up and inside was a shiny new trombone, which he extracted and put together for me.
“That’s yours,” he said smiling.
Over the next five years or so, Mr Miller helped to turn me into someone who could read music and, more importantly, actually make a big brass instrument with a slide sound something like a musical instrument.
I actually became quite good, so good in fact that I played in the school brass group, the school orchestra and briefly in the jazz group.
Unfortunately the school orchestra was run by Mr Ragbag and he took great pleasure in bellowing at people who didn’t play in the style he wanted. When I first saw Mr Ragbag’s attempts at conducting, I almost wet my pants again – this time, laughing. He bellowed at me in front of the entire orchestra, much to the amusement of everybody else, and then carried on conducting like he had a ferret in his trousers, forcing me to make even more mistakes as I struggled to stifle my chuckles. I didn’t last long in the school orchestra.
The jazz group was run by Mr Miller but it was far too whacky for me. The music put in front of me made no sense and it was as if everybody in the entire group was playing a different tune. I have never liked jazz and I guess that is where my hatred of the genre began.
Despite my failings in the orchestra and the jazz group, I was a star in the brass group. We played decent tunes and it was relatively easy. Mr Ragbag wasn’t involved at all and again Mr Miller took control. The brass group gave me my first and possibly only shot at fame. We played in school concerts and also in Walsall Town Hall. On one occasion, had to stand up during a rendition of “The Floral Dance” and play a solo. I was terrified but somehow I muddled through.
Sadly, my relationship with the trombone hit rocky ground and by the time I was an arrogant fifteen year old, I had decided to give it up. I didn’t bother to tell Mr Ragbag; I just stopped going to lessons. After a month of skipping lessons, Mr Ragbag finally lost his temper with me and I recall the day vividly.
I was in an English lesson when the door burst open and in walked a very irate Mr Ragbag.
“Can I help you, Mr Ragbag?” asked the English teacher.
“Where’s Plastic Mancunian?” he bellowed, looking wildly around the room. Of course, the rest of the class was chuckling with excitement at the prospect of my public humiliation.
I shrank in my chair but it didn’t help. He spotted me.
In those days I had long bushy blond hair and looked like a member of the Hair Bear Bunch.
Mr Ragbag strode purposefully towards my desk, reached out and grabbed my hair, hauling me out of my seat and dragging me towards the door. He uttered a sentence that made my life hell for the next month. My so-called school friends were merciless.
Why? Because of what Mr Ragbag said to me.
“I’M GOING TO SCREW YOU!!” he yelled, dragging me out of the door. When we were outside the classroom, he let rip, telling me in no uncertain terms what he thought of me. I tried to intervene but was yelled down.
He was livid. He grabbed me by my arm and led me to Mr Miller who was waiting for me.
“I forgot,” I told Mr Miller. He clearly didn’t believe me and the look of disappointment on his face told me everything I needed to know. He didn’t yell at me; he just carried on with the lesson, leaving me feeling ashamed.
However, my heart wasn’t in it and I gave up a few weeks later, citing the pressure of O-levels as an excuse. It was a lie.
I didn’t tell Mr Ragbag; I chose instead to tell Mr Miller and I hoped that my apparent desire to progress academically made him feel better.
It didn’t. He told me that it was a shame and that I should continue.
“You are a good trombonist,” he said. “It’s a real shame you want to give up. If you change your mind, you know where I am on Fridays.”
I felt really bad that I had let him down and I handed over the trombone one final time.
I haven’t picked one up since.
Mind you, recently I have been tempted to have another go, for old times’ sake. I imagine that I would probably sound dreadful but it would be good for a laugh.
And just watch this clip below. My dad was a huge fan of Glenn Miller – I could possibly have played in this band.
My dad would have loved that.