It was a humid summer’s day. Beyond the duck pond, the Rear Admiral’s mower muttered to itself and occasionally spat stones at his prizewinning parade of pink floribunda. Next to the Tickled Trout, a canopy of elder flowers floated in the warm breeze, while hover flies patrolled the cow parsley below, pretending to be bees. In the harp surgery kitchen, the Good Doctor was preparing cordials and halving strawberries for afternoon tea. He flourished sugar across the fruit from a shallow silver spoon. ‘How many songbirds fly to and fro, in an English country ga-ar… what the?’ A manilla envelope boomeranged through the window, clipped his ear and skidded to a halt on the kitchen table. The sugar spoon fell to the floor.
The Doc was preparing dinner after a knotty day re-tuning knackered harps, when there was a knock on the Surgery’s back window. Wiping sun-dried tomato oil from his fingers, he unlatched the top half of the kitchen door.
It was Stomping Stu from the local allotment. ‘Aaaaah, hello Doc!’ Stu spluttered, cycling hat askew and cheeks flushed, ‘I was just passing and thought you might like these’. He waved a bunch of purple-sprouting broccoli. ‘Excellent timing dear boy,’ the Doc replied, ‘come on in. Fancy some pasta?’.
‘Sounds v-very nice, thank you,’ Stu stammered. ‘I’ve b-been reading your old post about Paul Jones and the B-Blues B-Band’s Flat Foot Sam track’, said Stu, initiating the evening’s topic of conversation. ‘Ah yes,’ Doc replied, ‘a very nice man and a great band. Was that the post about Knebworth 1980?’. ‘Yup! I think you said Lindisfarne were on the same bill. I wonder what ever happened to Ray Jackson? He was a handy harp player’.
‘Jacka? I believe he left the band a few years later when they recorded a rap version of Fog On The Tyne with Gazza. Felt they were selling out. He’s since opened his own art shop. Some of the band met at Art College; I think he designed their album covers. Does his own paintings of vintage busses now; pretty canny like.’ The Doc attempted a poor Geordie accent. ‘They were from Newcastle Doc, not Uttar Pradesh’, Stu chuckled. The Doc disappeared for a few moments.
He returned with a copy of Nicely Out Of Tune, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Sorry if that was a bit rude of me’, Stu apologised. ‘No offence taken old boy, my Geordie accent’s a bit ropy. I’ve just been on the blower and I may have tracked Jacka down’. He hurried into the study, slipped the LP from its sleeve and placed it on the turn table. As the pink Charisma label revolved, the captivating strains of Lady Eleanor rolled from the stereo system, complete with Ray’s resonant mandolin.
The Harp Surgery was nearly ready for Christmas. Our Monica was vacuuming loose pine needles from under the Christmas Tree, while Shag-pile Jim clung to the step ladder, trying to unhitch himself from the top branches. ‘Looks like you’ve caught your ding-dong merrily on high Jimbo‘, the Doc chuckled. ‘Another comment like that Doc, and you’ll be replacing the Christmas Fairy,‘ Jim muttered.
‘Now, now Jim, ’tis the season to be jolly,‘ the Doc reminded him, ‘let me top up your Glühwein old boy…it’ll bring some colour to your cheeks.‘ The Doc nudged Monica and pointed at Jim’s builder’s cleavage. ‘Well how do you expect me to get the bloody Fairy up there?’ Jim moaned. ‘Have you tried bending?’ the Doc asked. ‘How’s that gonna help?’ Jim wailed. ‘Not you old boy, the tree.‘ The Doc was biting his lip.
Talking of bending, the Doc added, ‘I’ve just been chatting with Carlos del Junco. That man must eat soda crystals every time he plays harmonica.’ ‘What are you taking about?’ quizzed Monica. ‘Well he gets clean round every bend,‘ the Doc replied. His gag shot over Monica’s head like the Red Arrows at Farnborough Airshow.
Ain’t that a pity, I declare it’s a cryin’ shame
It was Guy Fawkes’ night down at the Surgery. Beside the wood burner, Greasy Rob and Shagpile Jim were playing light sabres with their indoor sparklers. From the galley, the Doc was dispensing glögg and spiced ale. As Otis queued up Homework on the Sonos system, from the foggiest fathoms of his sub-conscience, he quietly muttered, ‘Poor old pigeons.’ The Doc set down his mulling poker and turned from the ARGA. ‘Since when did pigeons and The J. Geils Band have anything in common?’ he asked. Otis resurfaced. ‘I was thinking of the fireworks; it’s coming down in stair-rods outside. The Rear Admiral said there’ll be a few damp squibs this year.’
Well you know it’s nine below zero
‘That’d be wet squab mate.’ Greasy Rob was chairman of the surgery’s pub quiz team and an authority on trivia. ‘Young pigeons are squab. A squib’s a small stick of dynamite; an out-sized banger to you and me. And we’re not talking Cumberland. And don’t you get me started on squid either, sick or otherwise. They’ve set up a marquee by the pond – they’ll be fine.’ Otis was back in the building. ‘Alright! Alright!’ he growled, ‘no need for the third degree.’
Otis the postman dropped by this morning to deliver a letter from brother Neil Callaghan, who writes, ‘As a complete novice harmonica player I am trying to find out the harmonica key that Steve Weston is using whilst playing on the song I Keep It To Myself, which also has Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey performing. I hope you can help’.
Well, before you ask, yes that’s Roger ‘M-my g-g-g-generation’ Daltrey of The Who. And for anyone not in the know, I Keep It To Myself is on Wilko Johnson’s new album Going Back Home, which features Roger Daltrey (vox), Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Dylan Howe (drums), Mick Talbot (keyboard) and Steve Weston (harmonica). The occasion has also been marked by a bespoke resurrection of the iconic Chess record label.
Now, in response to the original email, I could slide into a friendly discourse about how to identify song keys and pick the right harp for yourself, but I’ll save that pleasure for a rainy day. In any case, divulging the secret could quite possibly make me redundant. So instead, let’s cut to the chase and call West Weston for the answer. You can listen to our chat and find the answer to Neil’s question on SoundCloud the end of this post. In the meantime, here’s some background.. (more…)
If you’re a regular at the Surgery, you will recall the Good Doctor’s first meeting with Aki Kumar in 2007 during a Jason Ricci gig in San Francisco’s Biscuit & Blues Club. It was world renowned harp pedagogue, author and music impresario Dave Barrett who had kindly put Aki and the Doc in touch.
Since then Aki has become very good friends with everyone down by the duck pond. So much so that Aki, his good lady and his esteemed guitar partner Little Jonny Lawton came to visit the Surgery in 2013. Everyone had a blast, not least because Dave Ferguson was also staying over. Aki, Jonny and Dave shared a whopping Saturday night gig; on the bill too were Gordon Russell (of Dr.Feelgood fame) and Brighton’s Blues Deluxe.
Well folks he’s back and it’s official. Having mixed it with John Mayall and Kim Wilson in California this month, on Saturday 8.Feb 2014, Aki Kumar will be leading a Little Walter workshop and gracing the stage again with Blues Deluxe at this year’s Harpin’ By The Sea harmonica festival in Brighton & Hove. You’d be crazy to miss it! For those who don’t know Aki already, let us introduce you. It was a summer’s day down at the Surgery…