The Air Guitarist

The Air Guitarist

By Tony King 2017


Marie Le Blanc was a diminutive young French woman, who also happened to be the National Air Guitar Champion of her country. Spittingly proud of all things French and arguably cut from the same cloth as Joan of Arc. When she wasn’t glassing English tourists in bars, she lived to wield an air guitar and was as imposing as her formidable role model.

Tonight the world championship final was being held in Paris, which she hoped would give her a slight home town advantage with the parochial crowd. She was pitted against her nemesis, Gunter Faber,
a three times world champion and in the form of his life.

Marie had been praying daily at the tomb of Joan of Arc for a week before practicing her new routine, but now she was waiting in the green room to be led on stage for her moment of truth.

The door was ajar, and in poked the unmistakable head of the most feared, respected and spat at Air Guitar judge in the history of the art form, Monsieur Laurent Lévesque. He was the high priest. He knew everything. If you swapped models of guitar during your performance, he would know. If you traded amps he would sniff it out immediately and mark you harshly. He had fatally stabbed someone in a car park with his gold plated Stratocaster tremolo arm for bringing Fenders into disrepute during a heat. He did time for it and said he would do it again. He was not to be fucked with and brought a nervous lump to the throat of the most hardened champions. Marie had the misfortune to have drawn him today, but then, so did Gunter who was heading on first.

Marie listened through the green room Tannoys to the sound of Gunter’s routine and from the crowd going “merde de la singe” which directly translates to “shit of the monkey!!” She could tell he’d nailed it! The French hate the Germans, so it was even worse heading to the stage area and having to endure the smugness of Gunter as he swanned past flicking a Jack Black pick of destiny down at her for good measure.

Monsieur Laurent Lévesque had modeled himself on Hercule Poirot, due to his forensic attention to detail and powers of deduction, but he was unable to grow a moustache. Someone had told him he would sneeze one day and a moustache would “pop out”, so he took up snorting snuff. It failed to work so he had been forced to draw on a moustache daily and was a perpetually angry man.

Marie took the stage and opened the tweed case of her Air Guitar, taking care to get the dimensions correct for a Fender Stratocaster L series 1963 model. Giving it a breath of hot air she polished the body and tuned the guitar quickly and expertly. Lévesque made notes, no doubt registering the exact model of Fender from the placement of the tuners. Marie then took the risk of her life by launching into a heavy metal version of “Flight of the bumble bee”, requiring a capo which she hoped like hell she had put on the second fret, rather than the third, or it would have been in the wrong key and Lévesque would be waiting for her in the car park.

The audience was warming to her unorthodox repertoire when she ramped it up by doing some equestrian dressage moves on one leg across the stage as she segued into Zeppelin’s “Immigrant song”

Her jeans then got caught on the springs of her wammy bar and tore a huge gaping hole in her jeans revealing a tattoo of the famous Led Zeppelin “ZOSO” symbol on her upper thigh. It was a rehearsed move and brought the house down.

Marie then put one leg up on the “air floor monitor” and once more, Lévesque made a note, no doubt that it was the exact height and width of a JBL monitor. She then flipped backwards using her hands but it appeared as though she had used the neck of the guitar as a pole vault and landed behind her Marshall amplifier lighting a cigarette off the valves. She placed the burning cigarette between the E and B strings just past the nut as she summersaulted to centre stage.

Monsieur Lévesque wasn’t giving anything away but the audience was going “merde de la petit singe”, but she needed a lot more to clinch this.

Marie bent her body into shape of the Eiffel Tower base, using the guitar as the tower with the glow of the cigarette completing the aircraft warning light on top as she cranked out ACDC’s “it’s a long way to the top!”

Then jumping to her feet she beckoned the crowd for a Bic lighter as she opened up a huge E minor power chord. She missed the first Bic but caught the second one and then, creating a Joan of Arc pyre she strapped herself to the iconic piece of Fender wood, holding the Bic lighter aloft like the French Flame of Liberty. With her left hand she played the Marseillaise in the style of Hendrix at Woodstock and lit the Fender pyre under her to the howl of patriotic French feedback that looped back 600 years. Then there was nothing but smoke.
When it cleared, Marie was gone and the face of Monsieur Lévesque was revealed with the faintest trace of a smile.
In front of him was the score sheet indicating Gunter Faber with a 94 next to it. Lévesque was off in his own world, still with the trace of a smile as he hovered over the score for Marie Le Blanc.
He had written the 9 and after a large pause, added a 5 to it to make Marie the winner by one point.

The crowd went “merde de la singe grande!!!”

A journalist asked him if he awarded the win to Marie Le Blanc because of the Joan of Arc Hendrix finalé? He paused, still lost in his own world, and flashing his gap toothed smile for the first time ever, he said with a quiet reverence and thick French accent,
“How did she know my favourite L series Fender Stratocaster is the salmon pink model?”



little seat 600Monsignor Quixote’s Miracle
(In loving memory of Graham Greene)
By Tony King 2017

Monsignor Quixote had passed away on the floor of the Osera monastery in the bosom of the Galician hills but his spirit had not passed on.

He was hovering above the altar where he had delivered his final mass.
Below him were Father Leopoldo and Professor Pilbeam the Trappist monks , and his Campańero Sancho, the communist ex mayor of El Toboso
who completed the unlikely trinity.
They had been the witnesses to his death and Sancho was still hunched over what remained of him and seemed preoccupied with the task of trying to reverse the process of his passing.

Monisgnor Quixote, or as he preferred to be called, Father Quixote, had never asked anything for himself from his maker, except perhaps a “happy death” for his beloved car Rocinante, an ancient Little Seat 600 which stubbornly pressed on despite any tangible means other than faith.

He now felt an uneasy tide of regret rising in him for not adding one more request to his humble list of prayers, which was, a slightly longer life for himself.
He had just started to enjoy himself for the first time in his existence and it seemed slightly unfair that the currency you need in order to extract that joy had been taken away from him prematurely.

The word miracle had popped into his head and then popped out again. To be more accurate he had pushed it out, slammed the door shut to the room in his mind that was reserved for disturbed thoughts and locked it. The ridiculous spectacle then ensued whereby he tried to keep from the Lord, who hears, knows and sees everything, his secret desire for a miracle. The muffled sound of the thought was still trying to gain entrance through the locked door in his mind, while the Lord watched on from both sides of the door.

He then heard, or at least imagined that he had heard a voice, which was more of a stage whisper, saying “You want a miracle ? I will give you a miracle”

He gazed down at his inert body and waited. His rising guilt was approaching a new high water mark. Surely this was some sort of test? Failing this would lead to a life of purgatory at the very least. If only he had with him his Jone book of moral theology to help him thread the eye of this tiny needle. You don’t get much time to pack your things when you die suddenly.

He decided to distract himself by hovering over to the organ loft and discovered to his astonishment he could get a note out of it just by gazing at the keys. This was inexplicable, as he had never played an instrument of any sort in his mortal years.

The trinity spun around from their vigil to see who was playing the low B on the Organ? There wasn’t a soul to be seen.

Perhaps it was just a co-incidence, so Father Quixote tested it by thinking of a section of a Bach fugue he remembered hearing from his days at the Madrid Seminary, and sure enough, the notes came wheezing emphysemically out of the old pipes.

The Trappists looked even more alarmed than the mayor, which struck Father Quixote as odd, given the history of miracles and strange events that glue the bible together.

Who’s there? Croaked Father Leopoldo, as Prelude and Fugue in Aminor came out in it’s entirety, performed by what appeared to be The Holy Spirit.

Father Quixote was desperate to know if this was the full extent of the miracle, or perhaps merely a theatrical overture to life being breathed back into his mortal body?

Had the Lord misheard him? Teresa the housekeeper was always telling him he mumbled? Had he mumbled in his one and only prayer to be answered by the Lord? And what kind of fatuous representative would the Lord take him for if this was the loftiest prayer he could muster?
Maybe the Lord had heard his simple request for a slightly longer life and chosen to ignore it?
How did that prayer get converted into wanting to play the organ? Something he had never wanted to do, though it was quite a lot of fun now he could do it, but
nowhere near as much fun as coming back to life.

He had always found belief was like trying to tune into the faint crackle of a remote radio station on an old valve radio, sometimes there, then… nothing…
He had always kept this thought to himself and locked it in the deepest recesses of his guilt. But then there is no lock that the Lord can’t pick, and was he now being mocked for his intermittent doubt?
He hovered over his Campańero Sancho who was still cradling his expired body. He felt a strong wave of friendship envelop him as he remembered the adventures they had shared, the copious bottles of Manchegan that lubricated their attempts to convert each other to Christianity or Communism.
Both bonded by unspoken doubt.

He was enjoying the hovering and decided to hover home to El Toboso and check in on Teresa. There she was, preparing a horse steak that normally would have been his and now belonged to Father Herrera. He was literally dying to show off his newly acquired organ skills, but alas there was no instrument available.

He hovered back to the Osera monastery and saw for the first time what remained of his Little Seat 600 Rocinante that had crashed into the monastery wall the previous night, the impact bringing on, in his opinion, a premature death for both of them. The tyres of his beloved car had been shot out and the windscreen was smashed in. The boot was detached and Sancho was sitting on it with the last remaining bottle of Manchegan held aloft in one hand like a world weary auctioneer.

Father Quixote got a third of the way through crossing himself but finished the gesture off with a hammer & sickle. What followed was the unmistakable melody of the Communist anthem The Internationale coming triumphantly out of the pipes from within the church as Father Quixote hovered over his dear friend Campańero Sancho who was now dancing on one leg and waving deliriously to the sky with his handkerchief. Father Quixote felt himself moving further away, the landscape turning from sepia to grey, towards a radio station signal that was tuning itself in with the clarity of a diamond.



The Organ Grinder’s Monkey
By Tony King © 2017

Bony Sykes was an organ grinder from the East End of London, Barking, to be specific. His life had been swept under a rug since they had banned organ grinders from plying their grift, especially with a monkey.

His kind were seen as minor extortionists who were paid to keep silent. His father and his father before him had both been in the racket, and he had pressed on furtively in their desperate footsteps. He performed discreet shows on the QT & had escaped privation by sneaking off regularly to Denmark where it was still considered lucky for a couple to have a barrel organ playing outside on the morning of their 25th wedding anniversary.

His monkey was a surly curmudgeon Chimpanzee by the name of Clint. So named as he was “good” when he woke up, “Bad” by lunchtime, and downright “ugly” in disposition by teatime.

One day Clint was sitting in his wicket keeper’s position under the mail slit of the front door waiting for bills to catch, which he had been trained to chew. He loved the taste of envelope glue & would have done it anyway, making the training redundant. This pleased Clint.

On this day however, a letter with a Royal seal had arrived and Clint was testing the wax gingerly with his tongue when the letter from Buckingham Palace was plucked from his hairy mitt.

Bony & Clint had been “summoned by the old baked bean ‘erself!!”

He had borrowed Smiley’s Wolseley because he could smoke in Smiley’s car and Clint enjoyed hanging out the window giving the bird to passing cyclists.

Car travel was a fraught undertaking with Clint. He had first travelled in a box, then progressed to a cat carrier, baby seat & finally a seat belt in the front. It was like the ascent of man with Clint evolving at an alarming speed. Bony loved Classical music & had cassettes he’d play, but Clint had figured out how to switch over to the radio & would tune it until he found Hip Hop. Bony hated Hip Hop but Clint would pee on the dashboard unless he got his way. So Tupac it was.

The Wolseley was valet parked at the gates of Buckingham Palace & they were whisked inside with a crash lesson on how to behave when meeting the Queen, which Clint totally ignored.

It turned out the Queen had a huge thing for Organ Grinders, especially the ones with monkeys. Since it was illegal, their absolute discretion was required, with the threat of the Tower invoked by an officious looking “geezer” wearing what Bony considered “a bleedin’ shambolic titfer” which on closer inspection turned out to be his actual hair.

They were then instructed to perform.

With no warning whatsoever, Clint leapt up the stairs, onto the bannister & hurled himself onto the gawd knows how old/expensive chandelier and then swung over Her Maj like Tarzan after a big night on the town.

Bony didn’t know he could swing! Clint looked as though HE didn’t know he could swing!! Then the cacophony of chattering started. Her Maj just stared up over her glasses at Clint and kept stirring her tea.

“How do you turn it orf?” She inquired very calmly. Her face slowly took on the look of a frozen sneeze, which she had only ever used once before at Brezhnev’s funeral.

“I’m so sorry your ‘ighness, I don’t even know how to turn it on, let alone ORF” he said, awkwardly snatching a plumb from her accent that didn’t fit in his own mouth.

Her Maj disappeared somewhere & came back with a huge banana. She walked to the old Italian barrel organ & after studying it for a while, cranked out “Yes we have no bananas” singing all the words with gusto and looking a lot like Louis Prima in drag from where Bony was perched.

Clint was mesmerized. Suddenly he swung down the same way he’d gone up, jumping on Her Maj’s lap, gently grooming her magenta coloured hat whilst checking the provenance of her pearls with his teeth as she sang.

“Everything has an orf button….now it’s your turn to perform for me”

They played for two hours or as Her Maj measured time, four cups of tea.

“I’d rather like to take your monkey…on a Royal tour….take Phillip’s place as it were…..the tours jolly well bore the buttons off him. He’d much rather be home skyping his nieces, who have all miraculously moved to Russia and changed their names. T’would please me very much if monkey tagged along. Do you think he’d countenance such a proposition? Better still, I wish to procure… no…purchase your monkey…. I can give you 5 ton up front if you wish, I’m not sure what a monkey is worth on the open market but you don’t get much change from a Cock and Hen for a pint of Pig’s ear in this Battle Cruiser ” said Her Maj out of the blue in a bizarre flurry of cockney with no hint of irony.

Turning suddenly like an evil genius from a Bond movie she said
“Do we have a deal Mr Sykes?”

“I …think so… your Excellent Marmship” Bony mangled as he was feverishly trying to convert Cocks, Hens, Pig’s Ears & pints into a currency he could work with.

“Jeez, there’s no need for money, you can have the bleedin’ thing!!”

“Very well, but I insist on giving you a pony in cash & a small butler for your trouble”

“Thank you your ‘ighness”

“There is one more matter of a rather sensitive nature Mr Sykes…..
I’m not sure how to put this delicately so I’ll just come out with it…your Wolseley is running rich….I can smell it….and the tappets are noisy…

“Jesus!!!!” Bony thought to himself, “She must have the hearing of a fruit bat and the nose of a Tapir!!!”

“Mr Sykes…you really should take better care of your Wolseley.

I can adjust the carby and change the oil and filter if you like…

I‘ll get my tools”

Bony was speechless. A word nearly popped out and then scurried back into it’s hole. It did this five times before he finally settled on a thought. “Wait…just wait…’til I tell Smiley Her Maj has fixed the smoke blowin’ out the arse of ‘is mota!!”

Next thing he knew, like it never even happened, Bony was back home. He spent the week watching all five series of “the Wire” with Henry the small butler, who was growing on him, and chased away every strange pang of nostalgia for Clint with a pint whenever hip hopped onto the soundtrack.

Henry cleared his throat at the conclusion of the five series and said simply “Well, at least it wasn’t the butler this time”

Bony nearly laughed, but there was a gap in his life no joke could fill.

One morning as Bony was looking at the spot where Clint used to do his wicket keeping, the sound of posh wheels was heard patronizing the gravel outside.

Bony stepped out just in time to see the door of the Bentley open, hip hop pounded noisily out, Clint was deposited into the street, then Eminem disappeared entirely as the door clicked quietly shut and the car sped off with genteel alacrity.

Clint looked different. He smelt the same but the ascent of man had climbed a few branches higher & he put his hand tenderly into Bony’s arthritic safe cracking little hand.

Bony was completely taken aback.

It had been 43 years since someone had held his hand.

“Welcome ‘ome you little scamp…

They’re not gettin’ the small butler back!!…Or the pony!!”
Continue Reading »



Ironbark Bob and the Lagerphone

© Tony King 2017

“Who….Let…the….BLOODY….…CHOOKS …OUT!!!!!”
Ironbark Bob knew the answer to the question, as he was the only person within 5 miles of his bush shack at Jakickabilly.
It didn’t stop him hoping however for someone to come out of hiding and own up to it.
He gave his huge knotted red beard a bit of a scratch and something crawled out and sought asylum in his egg stained overalls.

He had approximately 4 hours to find and fix his lagerphone, a family heirloom and percussion instrument, which had been damaged dancing a tango with the blue heeler named Ladder. So named as it was “always up to somethin’”

He had got on the Bundy a few nights ago and broken the family Lagerphone in a dramatic finalé to the tango, which involved trying to swan dive off the water tank into a bunch of hay bales that weren’t there anymore. Apparently Mick had taken them on Thursday and forgotten to mention it.

The Lagerphone consisted of his great grandmother’s grass tree broom handle covered with the bottle tops of every beer his grandfather had drunk over the summer of 1946.

Ladder had survived the swan dive by bailing out at the last second and sneaking back down the plank leading from the top of the tank, which was the only way up or down since the steps had rusted out. Ladder saw the lagerphone as a stick to be fetched and had hidden it in the barn while Ironbark Bob laid spread-eagled on the ground ‘til the concussion and Bundy had worn off.

“Where….the….HELL’S….THE….LAGERPHONE!!!!!!” echoed up the gully.
Ironbark always left huge holes between words that perfectly mirrored the huge gaps between his teeth. Ladder would sometimes bark in between the words to fill in the spaces, which drove Ironbark berserk. He eventually found the Lagerphone by following a trail of bottle tops that had been loosened in the fall and had come off on route to the barn. The top was cracked and had to be shortened by a foot. A dozen bottle tops needed to be re-attached. All this happened to the soundtrack of Ladder gnawing on a flea between his back legs.
“Stop….. gnawing……YER ……BALLS!!!!”

Ladder understood English perfectly and chose where and when to use the gift.
Today was not one of those days.

Ironbark Bob had played traditional Australian folk music since he was a kid and was the founding member of an outfit called “When Bush Comes To Shove”

They were playing today at the cemetery, then onto the Jakickabilly Mechanics Institute Hall for the wake. He would have to get there on the tractor as the ute wasn’t going. He’d have to get a wriggle on to get there on time. The problem was compounded when the tractor wouldn’t start either and he was forced to get to the gig on the ride on mower. The blade was rusted in the down position and he was going to get in 50 shades of shit with his neighbors mowing a strip on his way to town through their properties to save time.
He’d have to deal with that later.

Ironbark was fond of saying “Lagerphones…..are….a….piece…of…PISS….TO…PLAY!!! I…mean…LITERALLY!!!!!”
Then he would lead the laughter, actually it was the only laughter and Ladder looked forlornly on with a rising impulse of dis-ownership.
The technique of playing one was to shake it in time to the music, but what had worked out better was for the other band members to follow him. The resulting rhythm resembled a drunk winding an old 78 by hand.
When played by Ironbark Bob, the Lagerphone sounded like a peg legged pirate chasing a billy goat ‘round a tin roof.

Despite the ordeal of his transport arrangements, Ironbark was excited to be playing a new song for the first time entitled “Geez it’s itchy down there” They were the only words. He’d tried adding a few more but it stuffed the song up, so he went back to the original.

He had perfected the “one part harmony”
That was what the band called it, as he had an emphysemic drone going on that chased the melody around, exactly a fifth above it.

They mostly did funerals as Ironbark reckoned people’s standards were about 6 feet lower than normal on the day.
They were doing a funeral today if he got there on time.
He was looking forward to cranking out the new song as they lowered the coffin down. “Geez it’s itchy down there!!!” He prided himself on picking the right song for the moment, and even though the song was written about another awkward event in his life, it seemed to fit like a sock.

He had backed off the throttle going through Chainsaw Jack’s place, as he didn’t want to explain the reverse “Mohawk” he was putting through Jack’s wheat field, not tonight anyway. Actually he was hoping to never see Jack again, but as that was unlikely, he was already cobbling together a story involving aliens and had singed Ladders fur with his Bic lighter, which he would later say was done by the afterburners of the alien space ship.

No shotguns so far, this was good.

Only the gauntlet of two more farms and he’d be at the cemetery.

He was just starting to relax a bit when the John Deere spluttered to a halt, out of fuel, and a mile from the cemetery, right in the middle of the Kelly’s prize winning Rose garden. Well what was left of it anyhow.

He ran with his lagerphone and a barking dog the rest of the way, whilst practicing the lyrics to the new song out loud as people scuttled out of his road. He rounded the bend and ripped the arse out of his overalls as he vaulted the stonewall of the church, just as people started arriving for Sunday mass.

And there stood Fickle Fingers O’Connor the bass player, staring at him like he was the last beer in the fridge.

“WELL, WELL!!!!! Ironbark Bob at MASS! !!!!! Now I’ve seen EVERYTHING!!!”

All Ironbark could muster was “Where’s…the…BLOOODY…FUNERAL!!!!!!”

“ Next week Bob!!!! It’s NEXT week!!!!!”

Ironbark scoured the sky very carefully for aliens, pointed at something that wasn’t there…..then slowly limped into Mass.





Beautifully Mad’s song Billy’s Dream, written by Tony King, has just been awarded

 1st prize for Best Lyrics at the International Songwriting Awards!!

(Judges included Tom Waits, Bernie Taupin and Shirley Manson from Garbage)

Billy’s Dream is one of the tracks from our most recent album SPIN, which can be downloaded here…


There is also a very moving music video for Billy’s Dream, beautifully directed and filmed by Matt Mahurin.


Matt Mahurin talks about making the video at this link…




When the preacher said “Wade do you take Wilma to be your old lady”, Jake was already 6 years old wondering why all the relatives were sittin’ on one side of the Crickle Creek church in Arkansas.
Jake loved Church, not because of any affinity with the Lord, but because he loved music, and was crabbier than a bear with a sore ass if he didn’t get to sit behind the organist on a Sunday.
Music didn’t exactly run in the family and the idea of music to Wade’s ears was his pick up truck, which he said ”you could hear a long time ‘fore you saw it”
There wasn’t a hell of a lot to do once you turned off the paved road in Crickle creek other than puddychuckin’ and fiddlefartin’ and since music made young Jake hornier than a two peckered billy goat, his folks figured they should get him an instrument to keep his hands occupied in a more dignified manner.
An organ was out of the question on account of its size, which Jake was tore up about and finally his parents had eliminated all other instruments on account of their budget.
Jake was devastated and for two weeks he hauled himself around like a snakes ass in a wagon rut.
It was finally Uncle Cletus came up with the idea of giving Jake his jaw harp.
Since he was no longer in Jail and had no further need of it, the jaw harp became the property of Jake who was happier than a nine headed cat in a fish market.
Uncle Cletus never learned to play it officially and he passed the time in jail pretending the jaw harp was his sweetheart Tabitha.
Suffice to say the lessons he gave Jake on how to play it were just plain disturbing.
The upside of Crickle Creek was that in between whitlin’ and fixin to die there was a huge hunk of time left in between to practice, which Jake did.
He applied himself with the tenacity of chewing gum to a boot and soon mastered the tongue action. After a few years he could finally do it without going cross eyed and dribbling too much. He could play the words to the Lord’s Prayer so folks could hear it clearer than when Reverend Wesley was talkin’ it!
As Jake got older though his playing hit a hurdle. His teeth defied gravity until finally he could eat corn through a picket fence. This meant he kept hitting the tongue of the harp with his teeth. As his heart was set on being a bonafide player he hatched a plan to remedy it. He went up to the tavern and got so drunk he couldn’t hit his own ass with a two gallon scoop shovel. He then emptied the family repertoire of cuss words in the direction of Bathtub Billy Baisden who obliged by punching out all the offending teeth with one swing. Jake was lucky to pull it off though as Bathtub Billy was a man noted not just for his short fuse but also for his short attention span. The tricky part was “getting’ him angry ‘fore he forgot why”
Jake was now good enough to win the Ozark Mountain Championships Best Rising Hilly Billy Award despite the nerves getting to him.
When he received the award he said ”My tongue twisted around my eye teeth and I couldn’t see what I was playin’”
From then on Jake was busier than a flea in a ‘coon hat factory, playing festivals and giving master classes from the Appalachians to Alabama.
When asked where people like the jaw harp, Jake used to say “anywhere where folks will shoot each other over a picnic table”
The master classes consisted of him saying “Can y’all see what I’m doin’ inside my mouth? …..well neither can I…? “ Followed by his famous laugh “he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck” He modeled his laugh on “tryin’ to start the tractor on a cold morning”
His left eye would wander ‘round the room in time to the music whilst his right eye stared straight ahead. Asked why, he would say “guess I’m checkin’ for exits ‘case things don’t pan out”
His technique consisted of “hit the tongue of the harp with your gun finger and try stuff that doesn’t make folks wanna leave. If they start leavin’, change what you’re doin’ til folks starts a comin’ back”
Jake played on 500 albums and was famous for “gettin’ on albums without ‘em knowin”. He did this usually with the co-operation of the sound engineers or mixers. He ‘s in the background of some very famous albums if you have the ear.
To name just a few, he played on Miles Davis “kind of Blue”, Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog, “Frank Sinatra’s – Fly me to the moon” and even the Chicago Symphony doing Beethoven’s Fifth, where he hid behind the timpani going “he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck” in time to the music, and didn’t even get to play his Jaw Harp.,
He was in the remake of Deliverance, entitled Fedex, in which he played “Dueling jaw harps” by himself with two jaw harps, about which he said “he was busier than a one legged man at a butt kickin’ contest”
He won a Grammy for his album “Sister, where art thou?…In the kitchen you dang fool”
He released a box set of his albums, simply titled “Y’all”
He lived to a ripe old age and put the secret down to “He ain’t done whitlin’ yet”
His wife of 70 years Martha Mae said he was “too dang busy playin’ the jaw harp to drink hisself to death”
His headstone in the Crickle Creek Cemetery simply says
“He-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck”

I decided to explore this question by traveling to the UK and interviewing a barking mad leading exponent of the musical Avant Garde, but more of that later.

Avant Garde music is generally perceived to be music which is thought to be ahead of its time, and I’m not talking about the drummer’s enthusiasm to beat the band to the end of the piece.

The Avant Garde sprang up after WW2 which was ironic, as they had declared their own war on the traditional music sensibility.

You may have heard of Arnold Schoenberg who was one of the first to explore this area. They called it Serial or 12 Tone music.

Out with traditional harmony and in with the new 12 tone chromatic structure.

Others included Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky.

Many Jazz composers such as Bill Evans also dabbled.

They were the Serial Killers of Harmony and Structure and took no prisoners.

Lets face it if you were German or Russian and had been listening to hundreds of years of Classical Harmony that held you inexorably prisoner to the Playlist and Rules, you too would have become a Serial Killer.

Music is about context. The times create the music and also the reaction to it.

The Zeitgeist was ripe for change in 1945.

These days however, it is getting harder for the Avant Garde to rebel because the internet has provided an unfiltered means to express yourself, while the traditional arbiters of taste, ie the literati, radio stations and record companies etc, no longer control what people listen to.

Dilemma….if the purpose of your music is to shock people and rail against a perceived foe, and there isn’t one anymore…what do you do?

Is this their conundrum? Is it driving them into some barkingly mad places to get a reaction? Is there a place for it? Maybe there is. Maybe they’re not after a reaction and it’s just about the ART.

I have my suspicions but am keeping an open mind until I meet Fuse Fothering- Gay at the Slug and Lettuce Pub in Cornwall, England.
He will help me make up my mind.

He is a vibrant hyphenated fugitive from old money, in his early 30’s dressed in an argument between Tweed and Rap artist.

I ask him what he’s working on and he spits out the story (along with some crisps over an improbable distance) from the Chesterfield lounge that is slowly devouring him.

“I have 12 English Spitfire WW2 aircraft lined up at Farnborough Airport along with 12 German Messerschmitts. I have tuned the engines.
The Spitfires will play Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, the Messerschmitts will play Wagner’s Ride of the Valkeryies.”
I lean forward in my chair. He clearly has my attention.
You simply can’t see an act like that at my local any more.

“I will record the tracks panned hard in Stereo, Spitfires to the Left, Messerschmitts to the right. Over 6 minutes I will slowly pan the music towards the centre where they meet and phase cancel the pain of WW2”

My eyebrows are running out of room in the little pub built for 5 foot Smugglers.

Are you putting it out for commercial release? I stupidly ask, trying to buy time to think of a better question.

He surprises me by saying yes.

“The CD will start with a track of 39 minutes silence. Then the music begins and continues until 45 minutes, where it stops, followed by silence til the end of the CD.”

I think I see…..the War went from 39 to 45? But why the silence?

“I want people to meditate for 39 minutes about what led to it and meditate afterwards on what we learnt. The pain has been symbolically removed by the planes and music icons meeting and phase cancelling, not literally of course.”

I must say that tickles my fancy. Do you consider yourself part of the Avant Garde music movement?

“I’m in the explosives industry!” he says liberating more crisps, which whistle past me this time causing a breast feeding mother to move further away.

“I blow traditions up and my music is the sound of the shrapnel landing”
Is it important to you that your ideas connect with people?

“No, I like the idea of my projects finding their own trajectory even if that means they whizz by under everyone’s radar. Once you start thinking about an audience, you are not expressing yourself, only a thinly veiled need to please them.”

What else are you working on?
“I have just recorded 200 Hedgehogs marching in small jackboots custom made for them.”

This time I was the one liberating quite a large mouthful of Cider out my nose clearing up what had been an intractable sinus problem and simultaneously ensuring we now had the bar to ourselves.

I pressed on past the look on Fuse’s face, which suggested he had explained everything.

What was the thought process behind it?

“I have recorded the Hedgehogs marching in the direction of different countries. Ireland, Germany, France, Spain etc to see how they sound moving in the direction of a place with cultural baggage and expectations.”
What did you find?

“It was fascinating! The Hedgehogs had a cheeky lilt moving towards Ireland,
an insouciant je ne sais qua towards France, a humourless sense of purpose heading off for Berlin and a palpable Who Gives a Fuck mañana loping off towards Madrid”

You could really hear it?
“Don’t take my word, here’s a copy to listen to later”
I will.

Don’t you find joy in any so called mainstream music?
“Only by accident. I never listen to the radio or TV and find mainstream music is like a child desperate for approval…compounded by an obsession with making art pay!!
Isn’t that a bit harsh?
Is there nothing you like?

“I once saw an orchestra play The Flight of the Bumble Bee in a park. Their instruments had been sent to another location and they had to play it with combs and tissue paper. They were joined in performance by a million real bees. You see nature knows the difference. They would never have shown up with the real instruments., but they know the smell of adrenaline when something real is cooking!”

Later that night I lay in bed and listened to the Hedgehogs and to my utter amazement, you could hear the “Who Gives a Fuck mañana loping off towards Madrid” Fuse was banging on about.

I then tried it on shuffle play, seeing if I could still pick them. Sneaking a look at the titles afterwards I found I was wrong!

So it seems the idea behind the piece was as important as the piece, if not more so.

I found myself loving the idea behind it so much that I listened to it all night entering a surreal world that I could never have previously imagined.
It forced the listener to be involved, to be a participant in a strange intellectual process.

I reflected on the idea of the Avant Garde having a foe to rail against in the past.

Perhaps the foe has never gone away, but it is not what I thought it was.
It is not an outside influence stopping us or influencing us.

It is the self-editing, the music made for a perceived audience, the self-conscious art. The “will people buy it” devil on the shoulder. This is the real foe, and it applies to any artform.

In Fuse, I experienced a liberating reminder of where we should reach for Art.
It doesn’t have to sound like spitfires but if we throw out all the baggage when we compose, like the Avant garde are committed to doing, then we have a fighting chance of doing something refreshingly unencumbered.

Yes, there is a place for the Avant Garde in music….200 Hedgehogs can’t possibly be wrong.