Chapter 30

Dearly Beloved

Tell me that it's true,

Tell me you agree,

I was meant for you,

You were meant for me.


Dearly beloved, how clearly I see,

Somewhere in Heaven you were fashioned for me,

Angel eyes knew you,

Angel voices led me to you;

Nothing could save me,

Fate gave me a sign;

I know that I'll be yours come shower or shine;

So I say merely, Dearly beloved be mine.

Repeat Refrain

Lyrics by: Johnny Mercer Music by: Jerome Kern

from the film "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942)


Listen to "Dearly Beloved"

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 and weaknesses.

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.......



Listen to a handful more tunes from the 'Up Down' album here:

The Allegroes | Marabel | Free Snake Davis | Blue Material | Eric's Window

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