A High in the Low
When we disembarked
from the car ferry at Hoek van Holland, Eric was there to meet us.
Eric from the Circo Do booking agency, that is. As Xero got to know
Dutch Eric and came to appreciate his generosity and his sense of
humour, he reckoned that we should stipulate in contracts that
all of our agents should be called Eric as, in his experience, people
of that name were invariably good eggs.
Dutch Eric had long unkempt, almost dreadlocked dark
brown hair and a highly infectious bellicose laugh. When we arrived
in Amsterdam he very kindly moved out of his apartment and stayed with his girlfriend
Karen so that we could use his place as a base. The three musicians
stayed there, while I stayed in the canal-side converted warehouse of an old Dutch friend I'd met years
before in a Nepalese Monastery.
Each day, the four of
us would meet up and go around the corner to Dam Square in the heart
of the city to busk. Gene had a child's drum set covered in super
hero stickers. Louis played the electric bass through an antique
home made amplifier powered by a car battery. He pushed the whole
ensemble along in a battered old pram. Xero played his saxophone
without amplification and I bottled for them. I wandered around
the sizable, appreciative audiences flashing my most genial smile
and collecting their dues, which were - more often than not - quite
Or they were
until they encountered the Shuffle Demons, a group of four streetniks
Together with a drummer, this quartet played alto, tenor and baritone
saxophones with great panache. A bit too well really. When
they met, both bands competed head on for the same prime busking
patch in the city, slap bang in Dam Square. The Works were
unused to such hot competition making a dent in their takings. A
stare-off ensued, to try and psych out the opposition. Xero, Louis
and Gene were at first a tad wary, but once they heard an "oot"
and an "aboot" they realised that the accents were not American
but Canadian. They relaxed their guard and formed a good humoured
alliance with these fellow guerrilla musicians.
The crowds that gathered
were always an interesting mix: locals and tourists, young and old,
all races, male and female. Everyone, it seemed, loved their show.
First thing every morning, the liberal laws of the Netherlands were
manna from heaven for foreign visitors such as the four of us. The
coffees and cakes at the cafes that we frequented could, quite legally,
be augmented with hashish or grass from Thailand, Morocco, Kashmir
or Lebanon. Consequently, like most English visitors, we spent most
of our time in Amsterdam completely off our faces. The locals who
inhabited the squat on Singel where I was staying, having been brought
up in such an open-minded climate, themselves refrained and looked
down their noses at the tourists' excesses, tut-tutting to each
In the evenings, Eric
had set up a wide variety of gigs. The Works were at their very
punkiest when they played a tiny squatters' bar called "de Muur".
They also performed their "funky set" for fashionable yuppies in
trendy night clubs. But, most exciting of all, Circo Do had booked
them to play at the "BIMHUIS". This was a hall run by the Bond of
Improvising Musicians and represented a career high point for all
three of them. All of their heroes had previously played there and
to be able to do so meant that they had achieved some measure of
in at the BIMHUIS in Amsterdam
But, as Sod's Law would
have it, the "plumbing" of Xero's Selmer saxophone played up
and ruined "Eric's Window", usually one of the pieces de resistance
of their set. At first, when the bass and drums kept aimlessly meandering
along with the intro and nothing was coming from Xero, I thought
he was having a panic-stricken crisis of confidence. I myself had
often had a recurring dream - more of a nightmare really - of being
a musician in the spotlight centre stage, the crowd paid-up and
waiting, and my having completely forgotten how to play and being
struck embarrassingly dumb.
I looked at the Jazz afficianadoes
around me in the auditorium and wondered what they would make of
this "exciting", "innovative" trio from the North of England if
all that emanated from our Main Man was bleeps and screeches and
flat, half played themes. Louis and Gene bravely persevered,
ever the ultimate professional Musicians. They went right on through
all of the many twists and turns and rising crescendoes of "Eric's
Window", but minus the saxophone's parts, so that they weren't really
crescendoes at all. Rather they were slow agonising build-ups to,
well, not very much really, hard as the two of them sweated.
All the while Xero skulked
around frowning, stage left, frantically fiddling with his instrument
and cursing that his usually faithful saxophone should let him down,
right here, right now, in the bloody BIMHUIS for fuck's sake.
During the enforced break to "check the plumbing", he can be heard
running through several quick scales and expressing amazement that
the "bloody thing is fine now. There's nowt wrong wi'it!"
When the three of them did return for the second set, they had an
energy and enthusiasm...dare I say a vengeance, that must have been
seen fairly rarely in the BIMHUIS. When the Shuffle Demons got up
and jammed with The Works for several extremely explosive encores,
what had threatened to turn into a disaster had instead become a
Although the sound quality is fairly crappy, we've managed to rescue
three belting tunes from the cassette deck attached to the
mixing desk. Due to the technical tribulations, the set went on
longer than the only C-90 cassette that was handy so the collaboration with the Shuffle
Demons went unrecorded, but it will live on forever in the minds
of those who were there.
Here are three great versions of tunes from when the band at
of the in door
The Shuffle Demons remember their meeting with Slingsby & Co thus:
I remember Xero Slingsby from a breezy summer day in Amsterdam. We had just blown into A'dam and were busking on the Dam Square, a perfect spot, we thought. Xero and his lads checked us out for a tune or two and then came up and showed us what 'Amsterdam Rules' were all about. 'You lot almost finished? ' he said, 'We got a set to do today too, you know..' The 'you lot' in question were 4 maurauding buskers from Toronto called the Shuffle Demons. Freshly attired in a colourful African wardrobe from Paris, we had 3 saxes and a kids drum kit for portability and were wailing away on Dam Square, trying to fend off the amplified folk singers, hordes of pigeons and begging junkies so that we could play a set. We begrudgingly did another tune, rotting that we'd only just got started, but these English lads looked like they meant business... and we'd heard about the soccer hooligans....Moments after our last note they were set up and began honking out 'Shove It' for the newly assembled crowd. We stood in awe of the power of Matthew, Louis and Gene, the most kick ass trio we'd ever heard on the street...or almost anywhere!
That chance encounter started a fast friendship that carried on through our short Dutch tenure that summer of 1985. Xero Slingsby and the Works were in town to do a gig at the Bimhuis, so we followed them there, and got more than we bargained for. The show was a sonic stew of tank commander throat mics, sirens, effects and some really great earthy, organic, #@*%!ed up sax playing, not to mention a great rhythm section, upside down bass player and all. We were blown away by the boys at Bimhuis and sat in for a couple of tunes with much enthusiasm.
We hung out a bit more in Amsterdam, doing a few street jams, and getting off on each others playing. We promised to send each other records and Matthew sent me his album which I religiously played on my college jazz program.
The Shuffle Demons:
Demon Rich Underhill
Demon Stich Wynston
Demon Dave Parker
Demon Mike Murley
The show at the BIMHUIS
was indeed a revelation: lots of wild solos, telepathic jamming and an
affectionate response from the comfortably seated and - it has to
be said - polo-neck-jumpered, goatee-bearded audience.
That night, after the
usual argument as to who got the sofa, who got Eric's bed and who
ended up on the floor, and after Xero's nightly call to Sally, they
all drifted off to sleep very pleased with life indeed.
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