Sunday, January 24, 2010



A Winter Ineluctability

Last night was another of Cookham’s fabulous Shirtlifters evenings of Winter Ineluctability.

This is an incredible title for an incredible annual event. A dictionary will give you a definition like this “ineluctability - the quality of being impossible to avoid or evade”. Well, some of Cookhams population did evade and avoid, but well over 100 of us didn’t! (and that is possibly a conservative estimate, for legal reasons!).

It was an evening of traditional style jazz, performed by a bunch of friends (well they were when it started) who wanted to replicate the trad jazz boom of their youth. Over the years people have asked them to play for them, and then they pay them money.

And then every year at least 3 things happen at this time of year.

1.Those who attend ineluctably usually have a terrific evening of entertainment.

2. The money people have paid them to play is distributed to a number of local charities. This year about a dozen people representing those charities left with cheques all for over £100, many twice as much and more.

3. Guest musicians and singers line up to play with the fabulous, and last night was no exception.

Over the years, the band has improved. I would say that practice makes perfect. Lets just say that they have improved!

One musician playing with them last night was one who is regularly mentioned on my blog. Saxophonist Mike Wills brought with him (and played) the lighter end of his instrumental collection. A 1925 bent soprano saxophone and going right on up to a tenor saxophone, and passing on the way a clarinet. He also owns a piccolo saxophone, a baritone saxophone, a bass clarinet and a bass saxophone! In the nicest possible way he added dimension to the band’s sound. Excellent!

One of the regular band deserves special commendation. Malcolm Wilks (on trombone) has improved to the point that I don’t think he blew a wrong not last night at all. Excellent!

Most of the band also have, over the last few years, started to sing to us as well as play. This adds variety, and thimbles. I too, have a similar collection of thimbles, but no longer the washboard! Come on, no serious trad trumpeter of the 50’s went without one!

THE Singer for the band is, of course, John Brooks. The “George Melly”, once of Cookham, is a larger than life character, (no John, no reference to the physical, but your kitchen man is quite sublime and it must be difficult to stay slim) who tells outrageous jokes, and does his best, which is pretty good, to emulate Bessie Smith. Double Entendre in spades. Net result, hilarity.

OK, for someone of my vintage, I can remember visiting the Shepherds Bush Empire and seeing the acts (who’s number came up in lights at the side of the stage) in my childhood, but that is another experience and another story. But I did enjoy singing again, “My Old Man Said Follow the Van”, I hadn’t done that in years.

This year a special guest singer was added to the mix. Two years ago, Rolf Harris temporarily joined the shirtlifting fraternity. This year Marianne Stork (English National Opera I believe) really extended the ineluctable show into vaudeville with vocal range. Terrific.

One thing I haven’t mentioned, the actual jazz content. Yes, it was there. They played the tunes that I used to play, because back in another life, I played a trad trumpet. I actually thought that Ken Colyer was some kind of purist icon!! He wasn’t that good a trumpet player, but much better than me!! He had gone to the promised land and came back with the real thing, or so we thought. Last night I knew the words to many of the songs, which is a great comfort! So much better than modern pop music. (Do they have words?). Onions! No, I’m not being rude. I think it was a tune originally played by Sidney Bechet, but Humph recorded it being sung by the “choir” of The Conway Hall in the 1950's. After that, we all did it!

OK, for all of you who managed to evade and avoid, YOU can now experience that which is lost!! Last Years evening was recorded, and the CD, is now available. And guess what, profits from that sale will also go to charity.

Cookhams fabulous Shirtlifters are a phenomena. Whilst forever improving on the musical front (arrangements no less), they have cracked the entertainment front as well. Why pay taxes for the things we need like hospice care or childrens playgrounds, when all we need to do is run an evening of ineluctability once a week. So much less painful. Well done shirts.

PS the young man in the sepia is me, when I played!!

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