SES­SION shenani­gans

The stu­dio gui­tarist’s guide to hap­pi­ness and per­sonal ful­fil­ment, as re­lated to us by top ses­sioneer Mitch Dalton. Part 7, where Mitch finds him­self gyring and gim­bling in the wabe.

Guitar Techniques - - Intro - For more on Mitch and his mu­sic go to: www.mitch­dal­ton.co.uk

Ev­ery one loves a loser, right? Rest as­sured. Well, de­spite the fact that the events de­scribed are a quar­ter of a cen­tury old, the scars from this egre­gious episode re­main to this day, the mem­ory still buried deep in my brain fill site some­where south of the cere­bel­lum.

To think that it all started so promis­ingly. An in­vi­ta­tion to par­tic­i­pate in a lav­ish TV video pro­duc­tion of Alice In Won­der­land, to be recorded in cos­tume as an or­a­to­rio with an all-star cast in­clud­ing Claire Bloom, an im­pres­sive list of Luvvies and The Phil­har­mo­nia Orches­tra con­ducted by Oliver Knus­son. My good friend Andy Pask (five-string bass gui­tar, dou­ble bass, good reader, own trans­port) and I were booked for a lengthy day at a church in Dul­wich Vil­lage. Don’t ask me which one.

Our at­ten­dance was re­quired from 8am un­til 8pm, in re­turn for which hefty fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion was of­fered and ac­cepted with an un­seemly mix of feigned dig­nity and sup­pressed alacrity. To be quite frank, our mis­sion seemed like money for old min­ims. Our con­trac­tor, Burt Rhodes - a man who com­bined the seem­ingly in­com­pat­i­ble roles of fixer and gen­tle­man - had told us that our parts were writ­ten for all but one seg­ment of the work, a mu­si­cal set­ting of Lewis Car­roll’s non­sense poem, Jab­ber­wocky. At the point at which the ana­logue alarm bells ought to have burst into life, he con­cluded ca­su­ally that the mu­sic had been writ­ten by the ne­oro­man­tic, avant garde com­poser David Del Tredici. And he thought that he might send us the parts. Maybe I was a tad busy at the time but I for­got all about our date with des­tiny un­til an A4 sized en­ve­lope dropped through the let­ter­box about a week later.

I slid open the con­tents and within five sec­onds I knew that my low-end col­league and I were in low end trub. Not only was the gui­tar part un­playable - it was in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. At first sight it seemed as non­sen­si­cal as the epony­mous myth­i­cal crea­ture it­self. Weird time sig­na­tures, odd note clus­ters, crazy dis­placed fig­ures, non re­peat­ing atonal phrases. Ev­ery­thing you never want to see on a record­ing ses­sion. The in­tel­lect driv­ing this work was clearly a ge­nius or quite mad. Pos­si­bly both.

There was no al­ter­na­tive. Ev­ery avail­able prac­tice minute was to be har­nessed in an at­tempt at dis­as­ter avoid­ance. In the fort­night that fol­lowed, I shred­ded. I night­mared. And I vis­ited Andy’s home on sev­eral oc­ca­sions to play through the slythy toves. There was much gyring and gym­bling, stop­ping only at bryl­lig for a cuppa. And by the eve of the big day, I truly thought that we might achieve this thing, given a slice of luck and a fol­low­ing wind.

The next morn­ing I ar­rived at a ridicu­lous hour, bleary of eye and faint of heart. To be sent away with Burt’s in­struc­tion, “We’re al­ready mas­sively be­hind sched­ule. Come back af­ter lunch and I’ll up­date you.” A pleas­ant lun­cheon in Dul­wich Vil­lage en­sued. As did af­ter­noon tea. And din­ner. We checked back pe­ri­od­i­cally, to be dis­missed re­peat­edly by an ever glum­mer fixer. “I’m so sorry, boys. They are nowhere near ready for your item. Can you stay un­til nine o’clock? We’ll pay, ob­vi­ously.”

And so it came to pass that at pre­cisely 8.42pm Burt sprinted out of the gothic gloom and screamed, “Now! We’re record­ing you im­me­di­ately! Get in here!” At which point merry hell broke loose and stam­peded in our di­rec­tion. Chairs, mu­sic stands and back­line were all ma­noeu­vred into place at the front of the orches­tra in a des­per­ate at­tempt to beat the clock. Power ap­peared mirac­u­lously as we jumped into our po­si­tions, rem­i­nis­cent of those old Le Mans 24-hour mo­tor rac­ing starts.

Pre­sid­ing over this car­nage was the mae­stro him­self. “No time for a run through. We have pre­cisely six min­utes be­fore the cam­era crew and tech­ni­cians pack up for the night. Time for a sin­gle take.” The phrase “You avin’ a larf mate or wot?” might have been em­ployed at this point. But it had yet to be in­vented. From my van­tage point I could see Ms Bloom dressed as The Queen Of Hearts, as if con­fir­ma­tion were needed that I had landed at Won­der­land Cen­tral. Noth­ing for it. I fixed my fret­ted bay­o­net and went over the top, in­tent on watch­ing Mr Knus­son’s ba­ton like a hawk.

Sadly, no one had briefed us about one de­tail in the stag­ing. I counted the bars’ rest with the con­cen­tra­tion of a high-wire artist on stilts, ready­ing my­self for my grand elec­tric open­ing state­ment. And, at the ex­act mo­ment the con­duc­tor cued my en­trance, Mr Jab­ber­wocky him­self, all six foot five of him, dressed as a gi­ant golden bird with a wing­span to match, leaped in front of Andy and my­self. He then pro­ceeded to spread his feathers and ren­der a deaf­en­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Lewis C’s opus, all the while ob­scur­ing Oliver Knus­son’s con­duct­ing.

Andy and I gazed at each other in open-mouthed hor­ror. We were lost within sec­onds but con­tin­ued with an as­sort­ment of guessed at­tempts, im­pro­vised phrases and ut­ter drivel. Cue si­lence and star­ing at feet. “Sorry about that chaps. That’s all we have time for. Thanks for com­ing along.” And with that he was gone. Inau­then­ti­cally but un­der­stand­ably, no grin re­mained.

If I tell you that two weeks later I was booked to ap­pear at Wind­sor sta­tion on a cor­us­cat­ing win­ter’s evening, don the garb of a Vic­to­rian rail­way porter, climb atop the coal scut­tle of a steam en­gine and mime to the ut­ter non­sense I had played pre­vi­ously in Dul­wich, clutch­ing a Strat and any num­ber of straws, you might raise a quizzi­cal eye­brow.

But it hap­pened. I still have the video. And the night pan­ics.

we were lost within sec­onds but con­tin­ued with an as­sort­ment oF guessed at­tempts and drivel

The hor­rors when an al­most im­pos­si­ble-to-play piece be­comes ex­actly that!

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