REMEMBERING THE MAKING OF THE FIVE BRIDGES SUITE 40 YEARS ON
July 1969 - Cork Airport, Southern Ireland
A bunch of reprobates boarded an Air Lingus Viscount flight back to London. If some of them represented the form of a band called 'Yes' 'The Nice' or even 'The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band' they may have been forgiven the amount of unwarranted attention they received.
The night before we had all tried to play a festival next to The Cork Pork Abattoir, which had failed not only because of the smell but more so the lack of electricity and were now happier than a pig in shit to be going home. I secured a window seat next to one of the Rolls Royce Turbo Prop Engines and rested my head on the window. A spark of an idea grew from the drone of the engines before the engines caused a spark and we’d all droon after hitting the Irish Sea. I had no manuscript paper so I got an airsick bag, drew bar lines across it and wrote some ideas that became the basis for a Newcastle Arts Festival commissioned work- something Lee Jackson (Bass-Vocals) was closer to than myself. Lee suggested a title to apply to whatever I wrote. "The Five Bridges Suite" Probably because he was, and still is a Geordie and, proud of it. While more planets have been discovered and some dismissed since Gustav Holst wrote his "Planet Suite" there are now a few more bridges in Newcastle.
Sketches for The Five Bridges Suite written on an Air Lingus airsick bag July 1969
Back in London I hurriedly went out and bought Walter Piston’s Guide To Orchestration, situated myself at a beaten old upright piano that should have been set afire but instead set about making sense of what I’d written on the airsick bag while working about my other ideas with Lee Jackson and Brian Davison. We’d already got Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” in the bag having played it quite successfully as a trio and the idea of getting any reputable orchestra to play along with us was as crazy as anyone thinking that men could land on the moon. OK, actually some guys had only just done that…so I could do it too with my little scrap of manuscript paper written on the back of an airsick bag except I wasn't going to leave it on the moon. I had to transcribe it for us earthlings and a bureaucracy that was then known as - The English Orchestra to play...and an audience that cared.
The former difficult, the latter always careful and hopefully caring. The thing is that if you are a member of the former you accept the gig and to an extent go along with the consequences. As a member of the latter you can walk out unreprimanded and either lose your money or claim it back. I get none of these privileges and regard myself as lucky for not asking for any of them. That's why I went ahead and wrote all the charts myself for The Sinfonia of London, an orchestra made up from the best of London Symphony Orchestra’s. They probably made up their own name in the hope that it provided some sort of disguise playing with a Rock Band and they wouldn't be kicked out of The Musicians Union. I chose a lot of jazz vehicles in my writing mainly because Newcastle was and still is a wonderfully exciting multi-cultural city. During this time I went to Denmark, wrote a Fugue, built a model Spitfire from an Airfix Kit while at the same time being careful not to get glue on the keys.
At this point I should bring in the conductor of the concert -
October 17th, 1969
Keith Emerson & Joseph Eger, 1969
Joseph Eger: A wiry man of great intellect and understanding. An exceptional French Horn Player. As a conductor he befriended the orchestra before intimidating them whereas other conductors had chosen the reverse - that being to install fear first and then to beat the orchestra into submission. Two hours to go before the concert at Fairfield Hall, Croydon, England. No Jazz section. Oh, they’re in the room down the end of the corridor. I fought my way through the smoke/skunk. They had their charts and reckoned all was- "…cool man you jus go out an’ do ya thing."
I figured that all theses key jazz players that I grew up admiring were definitely league material but at that point I didn't even want to attach to any of them - the same as the orchestra, most of whom had cotton wool in their ears. Their attitude disappointed me. I'd worked so hard and now I hurt so much.
Just before the audience came in I stood somewhere quiet feeling dejected. Lee Jackson found me and gave me a hug. If he had tears in his eyes I would not have looked.
"Hey, Bonny Lad" he said, "what you've written there is real beautiful."
That meant more to me than anything else. SHOWTIME! Brian Davison (Drums) chose to show his emotion on stage in the way he did so well. I've played with a lot of drummers. Brian was special.
The after show celebration is another story!!!!!!!!
Brian Davison (1942 - 2008 R.I.P.)
Thanks Bazz Ward for all you did for The Nice and continue to do so to this day.
And thanks to Jonathan Howard for the reminder of the anniversary. He was in the audience on that occasion.