Whenever The Works returned
home from their overseas jaunts, the punters in Leeds invariably
noticed a marked change in their playing. They became ever tighter
and sharper, performing several new and exciting tunes and generally
displaying a deeper understanding of each others' quirks, strengths
After the last couple
of euro-jaunts we had returned to Yorkshire with pockets full of
deutschmarks, francs and guilders. We had headed back to the mainland
this time eagerly anticipating exponentially growing successes.
This homecoming was different. It still remained to be seen
whether Xero would make a full recovery. His near-death experience
had caused all of us to address those internal, existential questions
that most of the time go unasked.
Showing little interest
in things existential, the bank manager at the local NatWest, while
sympathising with Xero's health issues, refused to allow either
Xero or I any further credit. My overdraft, which had been a dead-cert
to have been paid off with the income from the tour, was now a major
millstone around my neck. I had to forget about future fortunes
and focus instead on getting a job. A "real" job. I applied to work
in the peanut butter factory at a local workers' co-op wholefood
warehouse and to my immense surprise, I was accepted - as a TC,
or Temporary Casual. That title suited me just fine as I had no
idea what the future held.
Holding an infinite number
of jars under infinite splotches of peanut butter from the machine
and screwing an infinite number of lids in place was never going
to be fun. But it provided some welcome routine, mindless times
when I could reflect on life on the road with The Works. I also
pondered on my earlier travels to places further afield, particularly
the too few months I had spent in Brisbane with Rani. I daydreamt
of the times we had enjoyed together appreciating the richness of
the colours at sunrise and sunset, the whiter than white sand beaches,
the wierd and wonderful flora and fauna, and I remembered the two
of us sitting, chatting and holding each other beneath the waterfall
and tree ferns in the sub-tropical rainforest.
The seemingly endless
flow of peanut butter also provided a wage so that I could begin
to pay off my debts and start to think about somehow circumnavigating
the planet which now separated the two of us. After the collapse
of the tour, I retreated to an attic room in Leeds and found solace
in the thrice weekly letters which Rani and I were sending to one
another. We exchanged hopes, beliefs, jokes, poems, stories, fears
and dreams and found they pretty well matched up. Even though we
had not set eyes on each other in the flesh for four years we both
knew that there had always been a very special spark that we shared,
a pilot light in our friendship. I think it was kept alight by a
common sense of irony, a way of looking at the world slightly askance.
Louis and Gene were obviously
shaken by fate's roll of the dice but their innately optimistic
natures helped them to be uniformly encouraging for Xero. They were
his rhythm section in life as in their ensemble. When it dawned,
the realisation that we are all-too mortal affected each of us in
different ways, and while Xero became more internalised, their youthful
enthusiasm for life shone through. If they were disappointed at
having to cancel the tour they certainly never showed it. They appeared
to be just fine.
They were able to play
in other ensembles - after all, that is what jazz musicians
do - and they were able to do studio session work and busking as
well. Xero relaxed back into a life of domesticity while he recuperated.
The Wedding was a grand celebration. The pair of them looked radiant
as they made their vows. Xero gave a classic speech at the reception,
erudite as ever.
I am, She is, We are. Thank you very much!"
At the hospital in Dortmund,
Xero had learnt that his tumour hovered somewhere between benign
and malignant. It was going to be a matter of time before he knew
whether the operation and the subsequent radiotherapy had rid his
body of every last bit of the cancerous cells. Back in Leeds, he
had to have indelible crosses and lines marked on his cranium to
help the radiologists find the right spots when he went for his
daily Zaps. He asked one of them what was there in his brain now
that the lump had been removed. They informed him that brain fluid
had gathered were once his brain tissue had been.
Xero spent the rest of
the day plastering and painting walls in the attic and occasionally
shaking his head from side to side to feel and listen for the sloshing
of the fluid. In regular breaks from the DIY he would manically
attack the antique upright piano that was up there in the attic.
The piano's front had been ripped off and its innards bared. He
was writing a new opus for dozens of instruments. It only took three
weeks before he was ready to try his hand at blowing his saxophone
on stage. He did a show with The Works at the Cardigan Arms and
although he was a tad restrained - as was to be expected - the night
went off without any problems, which was a relief for everyone:
Sally, Eric, musicians, administrator and adulatory audience alike.
After the gig, in a dark
corner at a crap Headingley student party, the three of them informed
me that it was with "great regret" that they were "letting me go".
The Works later returned to the Mainland to do the re-booked tour.
They succeeded this time, with audiences in Germany, Austria and
Switzerland able to appreciate their talents. While they were in
Koln, they recorded a second album of their tunes, this time in
Schnaffel's Heartbeat Studio. If it was hard to capture the essence
of The Works with a recording of a live gig, it was infinitely harder
to record a studio album which does so - although if anyone could
do it, Schnaffel could. He knows how to create just the right ambience
for the musicians.
"Up Down" is a remarkable
beast, not least for the sublime rendering of "Eric's Window". The
whole album retains the sense of adventure and the humorous charm
of the first intensely live album. "Up Down" is most certainly
Not a Serious Jazz Recording, and yet....years later it still sounds
as fresh as ever, and is undeniably deserving of serious attention
from the world of Jazz. Inevitably, the wildness and rawness (not
to mention the tripped-out-ness) of "Shove It" has been lost but
definitive versions of such Slingsby Classics as the title track,
"The Allegroes", "Marabel", "Up Yours", "Blue Material", "Free Snake
Davis" and "Unicycling" were finally committed to Vinyl. It could
be seen Slingsby's last will and testament. He is definitely having
the time of his life. You can hear in his phrasing that he is revelling
in having this time in the studio with Heinz. Through the course
of the album you run a whole gamut of feelings with the trio. The
final track, "The End", never fails to conjure up visions of him
strolling off, his plaintive saxophone trailing away into the night.......
to a handful more tunes from the 'Up Down' album here: