The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment, as related by session ace Mitch Dalton. This month: Nightmare on Queensgate.
Now. Would the entire history of Psychology have taken a different course had Freud played guitar? Would his 1899 opus The Interpretation Of Dreams have included a chapter on the fear of fretting? How much does Harry Kane earn per minute for almost heading a football into the net from two yards? So many questions. And not for an authoritative specialist journal. Or here.
However, imagine this. You’re on a long-haul schlep to Australia, shoehorned into the sybaritic delight that is your World Traveller seat. And there you sit. In a bizarre twist to airline protocol, at four-hourly intervals you are invited to leave your Econoseat along with your fellow sardines to purchase and consume in-flight food and beverages. More pertinently, at random moments the pilot announces that the big silver bird is about to fly into the side of a mountain (an unusual event given the expanse of ocean beneath) and I (specifically) will be killed instantly. I adopt the brace position, discover religion and become aware that my will is not up to date. But we don’t crash. We continue on our surreal journey. This happens maybe half a dozen terrifying times during the interminable hours on board.
An attempt is made to relieve the tedium by showing a Hollywood blockbuster. There is no choice. Disappointingly, I have seen it before, and the cabin crew then see fit to show it twice. Six and a half hours of blood, gore and wholesale evisceration. By the time we touch down at Sydney-next-the-sea I am exhausted by the combination of fear, boredom and the sheer concentration of trying to survive this nightmare. On the plus side, I have memorised the entire screenplay of a 100-million dollar, Oscar nominated Toga Fest and will thus be quids-in should Mastermind and its specialist round ever return to our screens.
At which point we are informed that we must return to London after a generous six hours of rest and relaxation. I awake from rapid eye movement torture, salivating like a rabid bat. I babble incoherent phrases, many of them ending with the word “off”. A nice uniformed lady wraps a blanket around me, administers a cup of tea, makes me sign my name on a couple of forms and leads me to the ambulance.
And that is an authentic account of two days of Gladiator, recreated in every detail. Who needs metaphor, analogy or parable? That is a simple, unvarnished description of what it was like. Bitter experience tells me that my cynical readership is both demanding and disbelieving in equal measure. So in order to placate you I will now toss a few inconsequential details your way.
We performed the soundtrack, especially re-orchestrated for symphony orchestra, to a sell-out audience at The Royal Albert Hall. Twice. In one day. After seven hours of rehearsal the day before and a sound check and further run- through at 09.30 the following day.
Lisa Gerrard, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a choir and a small group of specialist ethnic instrumentalists sat beneath a giant screen while a number of Romans, Barbarians and Nubian slaves were abused for the delectation of the crowd. To say nothing of Russell Crowe. Or the guitar player. The first difficulty presented itself after minute one of the rehearsal. My part is written for acoustic and Spanish guitar. But many of the main parts can only be realised by detuning the acoustic to D. I need a third instrument. And then there’s the minor detail of the second chair being written for baritone guitar, Spanish and bass guitar. We need another guitarist. There are only four cues for him to play mind, but he is duly booked and will be with us tomorrow. Meanwhile, I got more issues of my own. For example, at various points I must play a nine-note figure in 32nd notes on my newly acquired D string. It’s only playable by hammering on and pulling off the
Eb- notes D- F-G-A (open fifth) and back. It’s pretty much solo and recurs many times. And it’s horrid to play. In different time signatures. At different points in any group of bars. What joy. I focus on the conductor’s right hand for the tempo. His left is cuing the various solo entries. Stuff like, “Is this for me or the cymbalom player behind me?” becomes an ongoing concern. Meanwhile I count endless bars with varying time signatures and tempo markings. At one point the orchestra gives way to a flamboyant solo flamenco style interjection that comes out of nowhere, tempo-wise. The challenge is then to hit the three huge chords that follow on cue. In two. Then three. Then two. Then a triplet crotchet phrase to bring the band back in. By now the nature of this mission should be apparent to you. I will spare you the other “moments” along the way to the entirely appropriate point at which “Those who are about to die we salute you” is intoned by Russell C. Never a truer word, matey!
But I survived it. Fear is an effective if draining method to get you through life, I have often found. In fact there were a number of minutes during the 36 hours when I almost enjoyed it. And I was gratified to be told by the chief orchestrator-editor-programmer boffin that my despairing attempt was the best the guitar had ever sounded in concert. He also confirmed that the guitars were all overdubbed, tracked, recorded separately and inserted painstakingly on the original soundtrack. He also kindly mentioned that in Rome last month at a no-pressure performance at The Coliseum (!) the music came off the rails completely at the flamenco guitar entry. And I say that with absolutely no attempt to denigrate the poor plucker concerned.
It so could have been me...
AT RANDOM MOMENTS THE PILOT ANNOUNCES THAT THE BIG SILVER BIRD IS ABOUT TO FLY INTO A MOUNTAIN
For more on Mitch and his musical exploits with the Studio Kings, go to: www.mitchdalton.co.uk
Mitch survives his surreal airline trip and a nightmare Gladiator score