So then, the gig was last Saturday. As I said I've spent the last 3 months or so learning the 30-song set list which is all standards from the 50s and 60s - Dock of the Bay, My Girl, Mustang Sally, Mr Pitiful, Soul Man, Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, I Feel Good, Rescue Me, Respect, you know the sort of thing, music you absolutely cannot sit still to.
Bev told me that she'd got all the sax music and notes written down from when she first learned all these songs 20 years ago but they were still with her things back in Cape Verde and she wouldn't be getting them until early May, so I had no choice but to work them out myself. The Fugitives have got a live CD of them performing a little while ago, and their website has some performance videos so at least, for those few songs, I had their versions but there were quite a few that I had to download the original versions and try and work them out from that. And, as I mentioned earlier, it turns out that The Fugitives play them in a different key. But three months of really quite hard work had given me the confidence that I'd got at least 25 or so of the songs down. Plus I had to get to know my sax again, and remember all its little foibles, and which notes it plays more in tune than others. That actually turned out to be a bit like riding a bike, I hadn't forgotten any of the fingering, but I had forgotten what hard work breath control was. As I was working out the songs, by the time I'd got through the first two lines of Little Richard's "slippin' and slidin'" the first time, I was practically on my knees with breathlessness. How I was going to be able to play through the entire song was, in mid-February, absolutely beyond me.
And my embouchure was rubbish. That's the technical term for the use of facial muscles and shaping of the lips and mouth to the mouthpiece of woodwind and brass instruments. You have to use the muscles to keep the reed tight and manipulate it to change notes, and you have to fold your bottom lip over the top of your bottom teeth to protect the reed. This all adds up to chapped, swollen lips and cramping in your facial muscles. Practice builds up the muscles - or at least gets them used to being used in this manner - and helps to keep your embouchure tight and the notes sweet.
So, anyway, as I said Bev managed to come over for a couple of hours rehearsal with me on Saturday afternoon - this was going to be the only 'proper' rehearsal I had, I didn't have one at all with the full band (after 20 years' playing, they don't need to rehearse!) - and we ran through the songs that I'd got and checked that I was in the right key, and that the harmonies I'd worked out actually sounded okay, and that was it.
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to stay calm and failing utterly. To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement. I could feel my heart rate was up and I was starting to get a low level headache. It was all I could do to shove a cheese sarnie down my throat at 3pm for lunch, even though I knew I ought to be eating more, and a bit later, because there wouldn't be time for a proper evening meal. But I could barely eat that as it was. I'll tell you what it felt like, the hours before going for an interview for a job you really REALLY want. Or an audition, where you're going to be judged by loads of people you don't know. Scary.
And as if having to learn the songs wasn't enough, I didn't have anything really suitable to wear! Yes, I've still got all my old stagewear in bags up in the loft, but they are 25 years old and about 3 sizes smaller than I am now. Plus The Fugitives wear all black on stage - I've not worn all black since about 1992. My wardrobe is as technicolour as a sweet shop these days. I did manage to find a pair of wide legged black silk trousers and a black t-shirt but even with my currently pink hair, I still managed to look decidedly 'mumsy'. Oh well, not much I could do about that now.
The venue was a hotel about 30 mins drive away, and we had to be there for 7pm. TLH very kindly agreed to come with me as both driver and to provide moral support, and we arrived to find some of the guests already there - it was a surprise 60th birthday party - and 2 of the band members propping up the bar. The band has its own PA system so they'd set it up in the ballroom, where the DJ was already spinning the decks. This, of course, meant there would be no soundcheck for the band but I trusted that they knew what they were doing - they ought to, after 20 years! Bev eventually arrived about 30 minutes later, after trusting her satnav and getting lost, then the guitarist arrived from Tunbridge Wells and the drummer from wherever drummers come from. I was reintroduced and we all sat down chatting while more and more guests turned up.
One of the hotel rooms had been set aside as a changing room for the band, so we trouped up there for a few minutes so that clothes could be changed and Bev and I could have a very quick run through of a couple of the songs that we were still unsure about. By now my nerves had calmed down somewhat but I was still feeling a bit hyper, you know?
9.15 rolled around and we were on. Stuart (the lead singer and manager) had decided that tonight we would do 90 minutes divided into three sets of 30 minutes each. I don't think I've ever played for more than about 40 minutes total in any band I've been in, and even then I wasn't playing or singing in every song. Tonight I would be playing for the entire set! Baptism of fire or what?!
We started with Mr Pitiful and off we went. Sadly I'm afraid there's no photos - I'd asked TLH to come along and tape the whole show on my iPhone so that I finally had a complete audio recording of the setlist as performed by the band, and also take pictures but he felt a bit uncomfortable taking photos at what was someone else's private party. And I'm not putting any of the audio files up on the blog because, frankly, the sound quality was appalling - good enough for me to work from, but definitely not good enough for anyone else to hear, sorry 'bout that!
People danced, people danced a lot. There was proper dad dancing going on, there were very leggy teenage lovelies who looked like they'd just walked out of a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, there were very drunk boys reeling about the place. It was a very happy occasion, which is always a bonus. Bev gave me some valuable advice earlier in the evening, she said "if a fight breaks out, remember to hold your sax behind you because you don't want someone slamming into you while you're playing, in case the sax gets rammed down your throat and knocks all your teeth out". Wise words indeed. But apart from a few people dancing a bit too close to the sticky out bits of the microphone stands and knocking them around, it was fine. We were on the same level as the audience (i.e., not on any kind of stage at all) and Bev said that if people did start dancing a bit too close, then Stuart just comes out in front and sort of dances everyone back a bit.
Stuart also dictates what songs are going to be played based on how the audience is. This is why I had to learn 30-odd songs when not all of them would be played. He would decide if the next song should be a fast one or a slow one depending on their reaction and how much dancing was going on. As I hadn't memorised the songs yet, I'd got my parts all written out in a musical manuscript book which meant that also had to have a music stand to put it on so I could read it while playing. I'd already asked Bev if the band would be okay with this, and she told me that when she first started playing with them, she used a music stand for at least 2 years so there wouldn't be a problem. Of course this does mean that I had to go searching through my book for the next song which sometimes they'd already started playing before I'd been able to find it! Which I found a bit embarrassing but I don't think anyone else noticed.
And then, by midnight, we were finished. We retired to the hotel/changing room where I very gratefully changed my heels for Birkenstocks, and nobody said I was rubbish so I think I might have joined the band! It was about 12.30 when TLH and I made moves to go and, as I left, Stuart said the next gig would be at the end of May and that he'd call me with more details later.
We got home at about 1am and I was absolutely shattered, starving hungry and running on adrenaline (I didn't manage to fall asleep until after 3am). I can't believe that I'd managed to get through it and IT WAS OKAY. Not great, but absolutely okay. I'm not entirely happy with my saxophone's tuning and, to be honest, I could probably do with a new one but that's a bit spendy just now. I also need to learn the songs better, and I also just need to become a better player myself. Bev is a fabulous tenor sax player and does plenty of wonderful solos that I couldn't possibly hope to emulate. I'm more than happy to play harmonies and parp and toot away in support of her, but I want to be able to show her and her playing in a good light, and not let her down by being the out-of-tune mumsy one honking away beside her. I've definitely got some work to do.
But at least it's started. I can't believe I might actually have got my groove back again!