SES­SION shenani­gans

The stu­dio gui­tarist’s guide to hap­pi­ness and per­sonal ful­fil­ment, as re­lated by ses­sion ace Mitch Dal­ton. This month: Night­mare on Queens­gate.

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO -

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...


For more on Mitch and his mu­si­cal ex­ploits with the Stu­dio Kings, go to: www.mitch­dal­

Mitch survives his sur­real air­line trip and a night­mare Gla­di­a­tor score

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