orchestral manoeuvres in the …

(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – April 2022.)

I know on this 70s blog I’ve gone on and on about my musical ‘prowess’. How I was a legend in my own lunch time gigging around the west of Scotland in my late teens. I feel I must now fill you in on the early years.

My first roar of the paint, smell of the crowd moment was at an end of  term concert at Castlehill Primary School. There I was in front of the pupils and parents, first descant recorder in the Primary 7 ensemble belting out the theme tune to Dr Finlay’s Casebook. It’s a delicate little ditty ideally played at a steady pace and moderate volume. I call it the Flower of Scotland effect, in it’s original form a lilting ballad.

But when you start to feel the vibe of the audience the hair stands up on the back of your neck and things inevitably go up a notch. Before you know it there’s foot stomping and fists punching the air. I’m sure I even heard a and it’s hi ho silver lining. And these were the parents !

Bitten by the performing bug, I was soon brought down to earth when I went to orchestral practice at the Secondary school. By now I had moved on to flute, an instrument easily concealed in a duffel bag alongside your football kit so that you didn’t look like a real wally. Unfortunately in the rehearsal room you were fully exposed as it jutted out into the playing fields and had windows on all 3 sides. You were at the merciless gaze of the sporty knuckle draggers as they pressed their broken noses against the glass.

Undeterred, conductor Mrs. McIntosh and the orchestra carried on. I say orchestra but at best it was a dozen or more students of varying musical abilities.

The leader was a very accomplished young lass who was also a bit of a looker which in itself probably boosted numbers. She also attracted the attention of the Chemistry teacher who was dating her at the time. There’s a smutty pun in their somewhere with fiddles, elements, G strings or periodic but it’s not coming to me. Innuendos on a postcard to  ……………

There were a few more violins, a cello or two and a viola player who I brought to tears with my what’s the difference between a trampoline and a viola ? – It’s more fun to jump up and down on a viola ! joke.

I think the woodwind outnumbered the strings. I was one of 3 flutes one of whom was much better than me and one that was not. Spotty Di believed that integral to the flautist’s armoury was a constant supply of confectionery. She had squares of chocolate lined up on her music stand and would devour one or two at a bars rest. She once had to borrow the tutor’s instrument and stripped it bare of it’s silver plate with the ooze bubbling out of her pores. Takes Willy Wonka’s toot sweet to a whole new level (or was that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ?).

Clarinets seem to outnumber every one with their dry reed squeaks. The musical equivalent to nails on the blackboard.

The oboist did very good water bird impressions. I’m sure I spotted a few duck hunters and their spaniels hiding in the bushes.

The brass had 2 trumpets (or maybe one was the klaxon coming from the athletics field) and a kid who could barely stand up because of the weight of his trombone. He formed a triangle.

The most annoying individual was the percussionist. I called him ‘Tool’ partly because he was but mainly as he was always Too Loud and Too Late.

His miscued cymbal crashes were like an inebriated ironmongers’ stocktake and his timpani rolls were like Morse code and certainly less thrilling than Johnson’s at Firhill (Partick Thistle in-joke there !)

Come to think of it, I don’t ever remember the orchestra playing at a public concert. Maybe I was too mortified to turn up.

I do remember being in a flute trio and being pimped out by Mrs. Mac to various churches. The acoustics were always quite good as your final notes were still ringing out when you had packed up and were half way to the bus stop.

I was also in a flute quintet. That’s flute plus a string quartet not 5 flutes. That’s the Orange Walk !

I think I made sporadic appearances at orchestral rehearsals so I could get two weeks off, twice a year, to attend the County Schools Orchestra music courses at Pirniehall in the wilds of Croftamie. Now that band could really baroque !

And of course be with the lovely first violin leader away from Mr Bunsen Burner !

She was quite a specimen who hit all the high notes.

Got one !!

2 thoughts on “orchestral manoeuvres in the …”

  1. they made us (try to) learn recorder in school too. Well, as to the video April Wine said ‘Rock & Roll is a vicious game’ but classical looks downright dangerous, LOL

    Liked by 2 people

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