The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment, as related to us by Mitch Dalton. This month we find our hero pleading, art for art’s sake...
It has occurred to me that in recent articles I may have given the misleading impression that the self-employed professional guitarist’s life is composed mainly of a series of highly remunerated cameos in which little work but much indolent loafing is done. Before initiating the main thread of this month’s bulletin, I must dispel this (possibly self-perpetuating) illusion with the Trump-esque retort “Fake News!” Having just returned from a 10-day arena tour featuring the cinematic image of a deceased vocalist who intones the catch phrase “Uh-Huh” with considerably more insight than his current president’s Twitter feed, I can vouch for the brutal nature of that itinerary.
A kaleidoscopic daily sequence of dawn departures, trains, planes, hotel check-ins and outs, sound checks and three-hour concerts resulted in my returning home on the last night from the aesthetic delight that is The O2 Arena in a state of near collapse. Napoleon’s mishap during the away leg in Moscow may have been more challenging back in the day, but as far as I’m aware none of that bedraggled bunch of defeatists left their violin, their suitcase or their music behind through sheer fatigue during that frosty foul-up.
All of which is but a feeble attempt to offer some counterbalance to the tale that follows, possibly the most unusual episode in my varied career as a wandering minstrel. It started promisingly. A message from The Royal Opera House, inviting me to seven rehearsals and five performances of a newly commissioned ballet, The Wind, with music composed by Frank Moon and performed by The Opera House Orchestra, natch.
Now I do understand that elitism isn’t for everyone (come on, this is comedy gold; try to keep up) but there is something special about working within a building of stunning grandeur, in the knowledge that every individual with whom one comes into contact sits at the top of their profession and has worked their socks off to get there. Orchestra, conductor, dancers, choreographer, set designer, composer. Not forgetting the guy that designed and built the unique wind machine at the core of the production. All brilliant people. In short, it felt like a privilege to be a small part of so much talent working in tandem as I entered the enormous rehearsal room deep in the bowels of Covent Garden, on the first morning’s run through.
Which is when things started to become a tad, er… elliptical. Nigel Bates, the supremely efficient and reassuringly genial Music Administrator for The Royal Ballet was there to greet me and duly introduced me to Frank. It was immediately clear to me that Mr Moon was no mug. The composer of this magnum opus was busy setting up his gear in the midst of the full orchestra. A bunch of computers, screens and software programmes were all undergoing pre-flight checks prior to wind-off, as it were. As was his electric violin. And his electric Dobro. At this point I entered the outskirts of Unease, a small suburb near Queasy Feeling. Before I arrived at my final destination, Mad Panic, I needed to ascertain exactly what my role might involve in this high-end creative endeavour. A quiet word was required with the two main men. And pretty damn quick.
The session was scheduled for 10am and it was now 9.50. At which point the story began to unfold. And not in a good way. I had been booked to play bottleneck electric guitar as a soloist in a quasi Ry Cooder ‘Paris Texas’ style, albeit within the context of a complex modernist orchestral work. Due to a combination of factors, including the ongoing development of the ballet in a series of workshops, the uncertainty of whether or not Frank felt comfortable performing the part live with an orchestra, the cancellation of the first rehearsal a few weeks earlier due to the ballet remaining unfinished and a bunch of other stuff, the ROH had seen fit to book me as Frank’s deputy. Just in case. I explained that I didn’t play violin. They said that they’d tape the part if necessary. I explained that I didn’t play Dobro. They said bottleneck guitar was just fine. I explained that I wasn’t a MIDI computer operator. They said they’d take care of it. I offered to give up the fee. They wouldn’t hear of it. Nevertheless, Frank had decided that he would perform the part in any case. As far as all involved were concerned, I didn’t have a job unless the Moonster happened to fall between the wheels of a London Omnibus on his way to work. Which thankfully he didn’t.
And which is how I came to watch scenes of whirlwinds, rape and murder in Texas from a box at The Royal Opera House (six times), learn the score and pray for the continued good health of one F Moon esq. And then wait at home for a text message from Nigel every evening at 5pm to inform me that the star of the show was indeed in the building and that I was released for the evening (five times). Rather oddly, I felt a vague sense of camaraderie with the Battle Of Britain pilots of back in the day. Mind you. A Spitfire is nowhere near as dangerous as a bottleneck Strat. Obvs.
…but money for Gawd’s sake.” (If you care to revert to the top of the page).
For more on Mitch and his music go to: www.mitchdalton.co.uk
at this point i entered the outskirts of unease, a small suburb near queasy Feeling
It’s not all fivestar travel, caviar and champagne, says our Mitch