Quaint ramblings and occasional reflections of a journeying Aussie musician...

16 April 2007

Hidden London: The Black Gardenia

....on the homeward journey from faraway teaching, Instead of alighting at the usual Kings Cross I decided to take the Vic line one stop further to Euston and walk back up. My new little acquisition, the iPod, had me in a total vibe with the Kurt Rosenwinkel album Heartcore, and as I floated up the gentle slope and back into the purple dusk of the Crescent, I really felt like I was heading All The Way to Rajistan....
....a little later, standing in the curry section of the local Sainsburys, deciding how lazy I really was going to be on an evening at home, listening to albums, writing some tunes, the mobile rings and it's Zimon, owner of the Black Gardeina, a little place I've been playing at recently. It's 8pm, and I should have picked what was about to happen...
"Mike, it's Zimon."
"Orright mate."
"Orright....er, listen, Mike are you gigging tonight?"
A chuckle - I couldn't help it...
"No, what's up?"
"How would you like to do a gig with Jake, with Jake's band?"
"Yeah sure! What is it?"
"Well, it's weirdo soundtrack blues he'll explain it when you get here. Listen, just forget everything you've ever learnt about music and, well, take it from there really."
"Sure, no worries. What time?"
"Well, when you get here I guess..."
"Er, sure....see you later then."
"Cheers Mike, see you later on."
Wikkid! I get to try out my new organ module. The Nord Electro is really changing my life....after two years of doing hotel gigs on real pianos, I'm getting less enamoured with the idea of playing a piano sound on a keyboard. I'd rather play a really good electromechanical instrument synthesis, which is where this little magical red box comes in. Plug it into the MIDI slot on your keyboard and you're away, virtual organ synthesis, and it sounded like a gig where you could do whatever the hell you liked!
So I took a bolognese home and inhaled it and then jumped a black cab with all the gear (including tux and hat) and zoomed into town.
The Black Gardenia, at 93 Dean Street Soho, is not your average club. Staff are all in vintage 40s swing rockabilly gear, and there's always some Fats Waller record on in the background. The cab pulls up out front and I greet one of the waitresses on the footpath, tending to some sort of Chinese garden-looking ornament.
Zimon and Ronnie are there at the top of the stairs - Zimon, the owner of the place, is like a tall lanky Chet Baker, smooth talker, tangental...Ronnie's in fine form - pork pie hat, pencil mo, gold chains, black and yellow hawaiian shirt (?), tattooed arms and chest - and some of the nicest guys you've ever met.
I limp in with the gear and meet Jake - gelled quiff, refrigerator size, immaculate yellow zoot suit jacket, keychain made of dice, didn't say much in the lead up. Near to where the band sets up is a mirror wall and a 9mm projector playing "Sweet Sweet Back's Bad Ass Tale" onto an old LP inner taped to the mirror. Here we go!
I'm unravelling the various cords and leads and Jake comes over and says, "I'll just call out the feels, like blues or tango, yeah?" And at once I realised that was the entire sum of musical direction I was to get for the evening. "Yeah sure, no worries!"
Denna, the barmaid, is looking gorgeous as ever I must admit....big black hair, beauty spot, cherry red lipstick and all those curves in all the right places. And I just can't muster up that flirtatious talk that I see the bodgy slick haired older drummer doing later on, with her posing in all the right ways in front of him....
Bass and trumpet arrive a while later, dressed entirely vintage, for the part, nice guys, equally mystified as to what we're to play.....more time passes....'Fever' strikes out from the desk and one of the more gorgeous women floating around earlier starts the strip show for the evening.....it just gets better!
So finally it's time to play and yes it's as random as hell. I suddenly become the musical director - one of those things where as long as bass and organ agree on a chord then it's stay on the groove while Jake vibes over the top.....this is one of those gigs where there are absolutely no musical concerns whatsoever, so it's performance time! And I'm on ripping organ and loving it, churning out all those slides and trills and blues licks that everyone loves and the place is packed and people are dancing....
This is it! These are the gigs I've been craving, after two years of playing stale pianos for fat city boys and their trophy wives talking about their chateau in St Moritz while drinking 15 quid champagne cocktails....it's down and dirty and people are in funny costumes and there are girls gyrating and this is the place I should be, that I want to be....."with those of my kind / Libations, sensations, that stagger the mind..."
Speaking of which, I managed to scam about a bottles worth of house red out of the bar across the course of the evening, but there's no qualms over that - I've done some other last minute work for these people recently and I think they might respect that.
So it comes pay time finally and Jake hands me the notes and they look a little short. I'm pretty sure I got shonked last weekend and so the money nerve is still feeling a little raw and without catching myself I say, "Oh, I thought it was 50, it's always been 50," and Jake is like, "Oh, I'm only getting 30," and shows me his bills....
Ah shit, I missed it! I wasn't actually being shonked here, I had a cash employer who was actually honest and open....damn. And then later on he comes up to me with another tenner! That's how nice these people are....
I spend the rest of the evening propping up the bar with Paul, a partner in crime from recent excursions down there and the talk goes to standards and old films and the musos we love. The place closes and we decide to stagger on to Gerrys, the private club two blocks down the road through which I kinda ended up doing these gigs.
More on Gerrys later....closer to Shaftsbury Avenue, it's an old thespian hangout.....been down there with B, a sax playing friend of mine, and say hello to all the regulars, but it's thinning out there as well....eventually realising how incredibly drunk I was, I take my leave and find the last place open in Chinatown. I think it was that Szechuan Beef with all that hangover preventative chilli that saved me the next day, as I staggered back to Tottenham Court Road and caught the 29, the 'free' bus, up the old main drag and back to the flat, wading through the brown of a braindead dawn....


Anonymous said...

It's your MUM.
Did you not want to publish my former comment?
Perhaps it was over the top, but SERIOUS!!

Anonymous said...

Michael... it is now May 4th....what is happening that your blog has stalled!! Is your life now not recordable? Blogable? As Pauline Hanson might say, "Please explain?" Mum