Wally’s Open Mic Night at the Wanted Inn

Posted: November 16, 2011 in Music

Many mysteries surround the performance activities of the Elderly Brothers. Perseverance in the face of no discernible talent is clearly one, but there are others: why did my drummer eschew his kit for an encore of “You Can’t Judge A Book” one Xmas and decide to just tap his sticks into my mic?; why did the addition of a saxophone player make our version of “Riding On The L&N” sound like a cross between an out take from “Trout Mask Replica” and a performance by Can at the University of Leeds in about 1974? Ok, in the latter case it may have something to do with the sax player never actually having picked up said instrument before but still, one does wonder – and this mighty blues tune will return to haunt this tale very shortly. Perhaps the biggest enigma is the man who stands to my right; the Duke of the Uke, the mighty Mark “Wally” Wallington. Here he is, in the centre of this picture:

The Duke of Uke

Wally’s a writer; he’s a good and very funny writer- one of his books kept me sane for an entire Edinburgh Festival. He’s a good musician; he knows lots of songs and how they work, and he knows that Buddy Holly never wrote a tune with a C#m chord in it. Something, however, happens to him in a band situation. He might decide to forget the words to a song we’ve sung for four years; he’ll puzzle about what’s missing at the sound check before realising that he’s left his guitar at home. He might even go all be-bop and decide that Chuck Berry’s rigidly 4/4 “Promised Land” would work better if he sang the vocal arrangement in 7/4 – try it, pop picker, it’s a skill.  In the mayhem of last night’s open mic night, it suddenly struck me that Mark was the parallel of another writer – he is the Redmond O’Hanlon of the music world. O’Hanlon was once sacked from teaching at Oxford for tutoring his students on writers of the wrong century.Later, after a particularly traumatic trip to Borneo with James Fenton, the latter assured him that he would never travel with him again. “Redmond”, said Fenton,” I would not come with you to High Wycombe”. It is, I think, the same gentle anarchy; the same sense of making the world just very slightly odder; after all, who wants to write a book where all the gigs happen on time and perfectly?

Thus it was we gathered in the Wanted Inn in Sparrowpit; yup, it rolls off the tongue in much the same way as Madison Square Gardens or Hammersmith Odeon. Luckily for for us, the FA had decided to arrange an England versus Sweden game and luckily for me it was a Robinson’s pub; the former meant that, given paint fails to dry in winter temperatures, a night at the Wanted looked quite promising, and the latter meant I didn’t drink too much as I don’t like it.

Faced with a film crew, a photographer and me on the sound desk, Wally kicked off with fine selection of uke tunes, many of which the audience recognised. My comrade, Dave, had his thunder rather stolen when another guitarist played the song Dave was going to play. Still, he took the opportunity to sample some of Stockport’s finest hop-based products, although his text this morning implies he may not be enjoying the DEFRA Water Stakeholder’s Conference quite as much as he might have done.

Various singers and guitarists played – some of them with their own material. Tate Boat played some of her own songs, one of them bravely a cappella. Louis Neves-Love warmed up for his grade six exam by tackling songs he normally plays as a duo on his own – good stuff. There were, as ever, excellent contributions from a number of other Hope Valley College alumni.  A memorable moment was glimpsed when Jessica Bagnall sacked Wally from her song for playing the wrong chords – an act that clearly aroused  Wally’s anarchistic view of an encore; what could be better than a rousing version of “Riding on the L&N” arranged for a non-working acoustic bass guitar and an, eventually, electrified ukulele? Well, actually, almost anything ….especially when the John Cage “random lyrics” approach is deployed. Still, no one bottled us and I got to tell a joke about Harold Pinter’s cat.

Most people seemed to enjoy themselves and most people seemed to get home. There were some great performances and Wally might even sell a few books from it – stay tuned for the Youtube excerpts. Respect to the Uke of Wallington for organising it. We must do it again…….

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