Friday, 19 June 2015

The Mill Hill Music Festival - Rog T's Festival Diary - Day 7 - 100 years of Jazz in 99 minutes

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The Jazz Repartory Company perform 100 years of Jazz in 99 Minutes at the Hartley Hall
Day 7 - The Jazz Repertory company performing 100 years of Jazz in 99. As ever my day started with writing my daily diary and a bacon sandwich. Having got that out of the way I had some family and work business to attend to. I arrived at the studio at 12.30pm and had scheduled to spend until 3pm recording guitars on my bands new album. I got the boys at the studio to load up the Galaxy with the PA system for the event whilst this was going on. Recording out of the way, I drove around to the Hartley Hall with PA in tow. I took Tom from the studio with me to help set up and rig the PA.

Having had a full on week, I was very tired yesterday. Tiredness can be a problem and setting up the PA was not as straightforward for me as it should have been. I seemed to have a bit of a problem working out where to plug various cables in. Strange really since I've done this a thousand times. Anyway, once I'd got over my brain melt down (with a bit of help from Tom), everything fell into place. The band turned up as we finished rigging. Jazz musicians are a strange lot compared to Rock and Roll musicians. I often get the feeling that many would rather be living in the 1930's before PA systems were invented. Wheras Rock musicians want as much stage monitoring as possible and will work with a sound crew to ensure every instrument is mic'd and can be heard all around the hall, to Jazzers this is a heresy. They want the minimum in monitoring and the minimum in mic'ing of instruments. The view is very much that they want to "keep things authentic". So we simply mic'd up the piano, flute and the vocals. From a sound perspective, this tends to mean that the people at the back of the show get a very different show to the ones at the front, but that is how the artists like it. Having done the sound for Jazzers for many years, you do get used to it and it means you can put much less PA on the van.

Having established the requirements, we did a quick sound check. The main concern of the band was that I was putting too much reverb on everything. I explained that there was none at all and it was the acoustics of the hall. I invited the band to have a look and they seemed to believe me then. I explained that I'd done the sound for plenty of jazzers and know that they don't like reverb. In truth in a Hall like Hartley Hall, unless you have Duane Eddy on guitar, there isn't much need for echo and reverb. I was actually very pleased with the sound. The piano player was none too happy with the in house piano at Hartley Hall, describing it as "an Aldi" job. It certainly isn't a Steinway! I suspect that for the early years of Jazz, it was actually pretty authentic though! Many early Jazz bands would have played many a fine set on the worlds worst piano's (but that isn't really the point). I suspect that if we are mad enough to do another festival, we may hire in a piano if required. Having sorted the sound, I gave Gerry a hand with the lights. I suspect that like me, Gerry is tired and was having a similar brain melt down.  He was having issues with the light mixing desk. It seemed insurmountable. I suggested a reboot of the mixing desk. Lighting is a dark art to me (no pun intended). Anyway, Gerry figured out a workaround. We then worked to establish the spotlights were in the right place. Gerry retreated to the light mixing room and I did some final checks and tidy ups. Gerry then came down, beaming and said "sorted". Like me, he'd recovered from his brain meltdown.

The audience were about to enter and all of a sudden, Gerry looked anguisged. We'd forgotten to put the festival banners up at the side of the stage. So as people entered, Gerry was up the ladder, hanging banners. The show was the brainchild of Brian Peerless, who books our headline jazz gigs. Back in September, when we were discussing options, Brian proposed the show and it is fair to say not all of the committee initially bought into the idea. I tend to trust Brian in matters Jazz, but there was some discussion whether a headliner act may be better (ie an artist with a higher profile). As the event was the first to sell out, I think we can say Brians judgement was vindicated. In the planning stage, we have lively discussions. If you are running a festival, there will be disagreements along the way. The secret is to settle the arguments, then get behind the plan. This is something our committee is brilliant at. No matter how many toys fly out of the pram, they all get put back and the baby gets to the nursery safe and sound. For anyone reading this considering running a festival, please do not underestimate the strains and tensions of the journey. I am sure that there are times when we all felt like strangling each other. Since our first meeting last July, there's been plenty of heated arguments. I am sure I am the most difficult of all for my fellow committee members to deal with, but we all recognise that we have a common purpose and we are working for the good of the festival.

You may wonder why I mention this now? Well because by the time the gig had finished, we were in a state of high elation. The band were absolutely brilliant. They brought the house down and got a spontanious standing ovation. The journey of Jazz from it's start in 1897 to the present day was awesome. I must say that The Jazz Repartory Company are not only brilliant players, they put on a proper show. They entered via the back of the hall playing as a marching band and exiting the same way, in triumph. As a musician, there was no way I could not be blown away by their skill, imagination and performance. I've been attending the MHMF snce it's inception and been on the committee since 2001 (the fifth festival). I can honestly say that as far as I am concerned, this was the jazz gig I've most enjoyed. I suspect that for buffs who love a certain period or style, the mix would be too eclectic. A show with Armstrong, Ellington as well as Weather Report may be a bridge too far for the purist. but as someone who loves a great show, I was blown away.

In short, nights like last night make all of the stress thoroughly worthwhile. The gig was packed, it was the first festival event to sell out. We even had the Mayor of Barnet, Mr Mark Shooter in attendance. I know Mark from my other life as a blogger writing about Barnet. He's a nice bloke and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. The festival is not political, it is about bringing our community  together. I hope Mark goes back to his friends in the council and tells them that music is a key feature of our Borough. I also hope that it helps make the case that we need to preserve our music venues. Since I joined the committee, Mill Hill has lost six venues that the festival has held gigs at. That we could have such a great festival is amazing. However, the down side is that we've no venue in Mill Hill East. Both the Mill Pub and the Railway Engineer have been demolished. Both hosted brilliant nights. As a community we need places to join together.

Anyway, as soon as the gig finished, it was back to the breakdown of the PA. Mics off, cables coiled, speakers off stands, Mic stands folded up. DJ station stowed, Multicore packed away. All of this then had to be lugged to the van and dropped back into the studio store. Then back to Hartley Hall, to get the piano off the stage. I grabbed Tom from the studio to assist, in return for a lift home!

That done, I headed off for a kebab and a quiet beer at home. To chill out after events, I've been watching the Sky box set of Series 1 of True Detective before bed. Sadly last night, I'd run out of episodes. Lord only knows what I'll do tonight.

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