Recently I had a call from an old pal of mine. He’d just launched his own School of Rock, aimed at getting 7-11 year olds interested in making rock music. Oh the imagination of people who are determined to avoid getting a job! Please would I go along, give a talk and play a few numbers? Sounds like a marvelous project! Yes, let’s set a date.
'But are you sure you don’t want someone who’s in a rock band?' I’d asked. 'See, I’ve never played rock music.'
'No, it’s gonna be great. I’m convinced you’re the man for the job!'
So, on the drive over last Saturday I wondered what other ill-qualified people might have be on the scene. Perhaps Jimi Hendrix would drop in to fry up a couple of pancakes for lunch. Maybe Kate Bush would be out back, grouting the bathroom.
What were they thinking?
I set up at the piano and waited for an eager dribble of pupils to emerge and sit cross legged on the floor in front of me. Eventually nine kids – and their parents -walked in. No - you’re not in the wrong room!
'So what kind of music are you listening to at the moment?'
'I’m into the Beatles!' said specimen 8, who had fidgeting towards me. Either they were teaching him James Brown’s body language or he was trying hard not to pee himself. I suspect the latter.
'Ah! The Beatles! Yes! Anyone else?'
A hand went up at the rear. 'Yes'?
'I’m into Flowchart'.
'Flowchart. They’re awesome'.
'Right... Flowchart... I’ve never heard of them. Anyone else'?
A hand went up.
'Why are you dressed in old fashioned clothes?'
Bloody cheek! It was my brand new suit.
'I want to reclaim some of the glamour of the suit, tie and hat'. Nothing like quoting your own interviews.
'Do you sing songs about the War'?
'Um, yeah... there is a song on our new album about a Taxidermist who hangs around in an Anderson shelter and well… it’s not really an appropriate one to go into because...'
And here I dropped a clanger.
'... it’s a bit fucked up.'
For you records this was less than two minutes into the proceedings. Mark, the course instructor, abruptly changed the subject and invited me to play a song. Good idea – let’s break the ice!
When Bunny (our trumpet player) explained that, owing to several of my lyrics, our new album would have to carry a 'Parental Advisory' sticker I was over the moon! For the School of Rock I’d been careful to choose a song which didn’t have swearing in. I can spend months retuning a song and was confident that that “Limehouse Jelly Roll” wouldn’t cause offence. Until I announced it.
Take for example, take the seemingly innocent line 'You’d be my captive, copulating on Chinoiserie'.
Under the circumstances intuition told me the best thing to do was slur the words. No-one could possibly take offence if they couldn’t understand what I was singing. Suffice to say the impression I managed to create was not only was I singing halfheartedly about screwing Lillian Gish but that I was pissed out of my head. In stark reality this doesn’t hold much credence with the under 12s.
By the end of the song I hit the line about Opium. I did what any self respecting jazz musician would do under the circumstances – descended into scat. I wasn’t asked to play a second number.
The remainder of the session was spent trying on impress on a group of well meaning kids that if they practiced really, really hard they too could stand on a dwarf high stage and face questions like 'do you make loads of money?', 'do you live in a big mansion?' and 'have you ever met the Queen?'. Every response was, of course, recognition of my complete failure to do any of the above.
I tried my best and Mark has asked me back to give another talk, but I hope he can find someone who looks less like they sing songs about the war - someone who has heard of Flowchart. Fuck it, get Flowchart – there’s a 2.5% chance they’ll be free that morning. School of Rock is a great project and I wish it every success. I’m not sure you can teach Rock in school but I hope so. It must be more fun than guitar lessons and it’s certainly less expensive.
Having said that my own children won’t be going to no School of Rock, man. We have instruments lying around the house. They pick them up and play them whenever they like, which is often because there’s nothing else to do. My two year old is a mean harmonica player and can also get a couple of chords out of the 'uku-lady'. Even the baby has the hang of the drums and can pick a string.
The truth is that I’m a snob. When I enthused that 'we didn’t have things like School of Rock when I was growing up' I was attempting to praise the scheme and all the hard work Mark was putting into it - he’s a clear inspiration to the children who go there. But what I was really saying was the equivalent of my father saying to me 'when I were a lad all I got for Christmas was a second hand shovel. Now get out in the fucking garden and start digging'.
Such insights caused me immense harm and made me the musician I am today. One with no ambitions to meet the Queen.