The sudden spring sunshine whisked us off to Newhaven today, for lunch at the Oyster bar, and now, here at home, replete with mussels stewed in cream and white wine, I give thanks, as I often do at these times for my lifetime devotion and delight in seafood, which you know I owe almost entirely to the efforts of Cecil James and Jim Brown, who in my early Royal Philharmonic days, and much against my inclinations to self endangerment and the call of the Philadelphia jazz clubs and bars, gently diverted me to Bookbinders restaurant and applied themselves to the development of my worldly education, and the refinement of my working class table manners, by introducing me to the gastronomic delights of Boston clam chowder and lobsters from Maine.
The atmosphere of Bookbinders was unique. It was a sort of ancient temple of devotion to the pleasures of seafood where the conversation took a different tone within the high oak panelled walls, the aroma of cigar smoke, and the subtle ritual of the priestly waiters in their long white aprons.
Glorious days !
Across the water, Fife stretches out in the afternoon sun while I am making some overdue plans for this year’s festival including some brass quintet music for Alba Brass and the lunchtime recital series at the Cathedral, and some post concert supper reservations for your visit, in anticipation of warm Edinburgh evenings and Irish laughter. Have you dared to venture back here since the 70s I wonder, when we gave that atrocious modern music concert at the Usher Hall?
I can still picture the waiter from the “Slow Boat”, standing on the platform at Waverley in his dinner jacket, with the missing dish from our takeaway, that we had left on the counter in his restaurant in our dash to catch the London sleeper.
I remember his solemn bow with the restitution of the butterfly prawns, amid the cacophony and festival mayhem of the station, while Cecil, wearing silk pyjamas and puffing a cigar, looked on quizzically through the window of the sleeper car, watching the guard whistling himself purple, trying to get the train away.
“Their ancient glittering eyes are gay”, you said, and not knowing you very well at that time I can remember my adolescent longing to appear literate and sophisticated, while trying to simulate some poetic erudition with some quasi – academic nodding, and a quick change of subject.
My early days were often punctuated with such feelings of personal discomfort and insecurity, and the squalid and indifferent approximation of the performance that evening, and the atmosphere on the platform of dissipation and frustration did nothing to help my condition.
It shattered my Idyllic boyhood dream of life in a symphony orchestra.
I had felt such horror and guilt at the sight of that auditorium, with row upon row of empty seats, behind the three generations of our Chinese friends whose patient service and delicious food had sustained our sanity during those three days of musical psychoneurosis, and who were occupying the front row of the dress circle with those free tickets we’d given away at the “Slow Boat” on the previous night.
I also remember feeling that to be forced to flutter tongue fortissimo in microtones and infernal rhythms without respite for all eternity might easily form the appropriate punishment in the seventh circle of hell, both for my unforgivable sin against the Chinese and for accepting numerous and considerable sums of money throughout my thereto fraudulent life as a jongleur, as payment merely for luxuriating in the reflected genius of the old masters of music, and pausing only for visits to the finest restaurants and hotels in Europe and America, without the interruption of real work, or other such mundane inconvenience.
But despite the disgraceful circumstances the Chinese had enjoyed their evening so far as one could tell and thereafter became our friends for life, so a visit to the “Slow Boat” is on our itinerary for this year’s festival. The butterfly prawns are as good as ever.
The city has changed a great deal since our Royal Philharmonic days and restaurants and bars are numerous and accessible now. Near where we live we enjoy the most wonderful fish and shellfish, though the mussels come from Orkney, the oysters from Ireland and the crabs from Cromer. This information comes from our fishmonger, who tells me that when he was a young man there were fifty-two trawlers here in Newhaven and the smoking sheds for haddock and herrings lined the harbour wall almost to Leith.
But the festival changes very little and is always exciting. I promise you only joy, polyphony and the grandeur of Delius in his 150th year.
How is business at the saleroom? I suppose that in this era of austerity it is perhaps working musicians who can least afford to buy fine instruments, but where better place can there be to be involved with music than Ireland in such times. She has riches that are not subject to fiscal or financial constraints. You will bring tons of it I know and with sparkling language.
I’m pleased to say that I do not now fear eternal damnation, perhaps because I’m no longer obliged to play music, contemporary or otherwise for money, and have been enabled by over twenty years of living here in Edinburgh, to make some amends to the Chinese. Nevertheless I am sure that we had inflicted the first and only performance of that cruel counterfeit on mercifully few people, and I have learned in the intervening years that such ‘music’ insinuates itself solely through its impropriety, and like any outrageous personal insult, it is seldom endured more than once in public.