Previous Contents Next

The assignment was to write about donating to or supporting a cause.

All the events narrated here did actually take place, but even though the piece is narrated in the first person, they didn't happen to me. The double bass player for The Campus City Jazzmen was a friend of mine. Originally I wrote the piece in the third person, but I felt that it lacked immediacy. There was a distancing effect that I didn't like. So I re-wrote it in the first person, and lo and behold, it came back to life!

Rag Week

Have you ever noticed that after three pints of Guinness everything sounds like a good idea?

We were sitting in the pub trying to decide what we could do for rag week. Rag week, of course, is just an excuse for university students to dress up and do silly things in order to persuade people to donate money to charity. What could be more fun than that?

The third pint of Guinness inspired me to say, "Why don't we pretend to be a Dixieland jazz band? I've got a double bass, Nick plays clarinet, and Paul almost plays the trumpet. I'm sure we can get a few other people as well."

After dropping a few gentle hints to our friends, we soon attracted a drummer, a trombonist and a piano player. And that's how The Campus City Jazzmen were born.

The next day dawned bright and sunny, which was fortunate because we'd decided to do some outdoor busking. At 9.00am, we took our instruments down to the Old Market Square, the huge open space in the centre of Nottingham which the locals always referred to as Slab Square. We set ourselves up well away from the tinkling fountains. We were planning on being there for quite some time and we didn't want to get wet if the wind changed direction...

"Ladies and Gentlemen," I announced to the largely indifferent crowds who were passing through the square on their way to work, "we are The Campus City Jazzmen and we will be playing non-stop music for you for the next twenty four hours." I turned to the band. "Are you ready, lads?" They nodded, and we surged into our opening number:

Ain't she sweet

See her walking down the street...

We finished the piece at almost the same time as each other. There was a small smattering of applause and one or two people put coins in our collecting tins. After a brief pause we played our next tune:

Ain't she sweet

See her walking down the street...

This time we were a little tighter, though only the trained ear of an expert would have realised it. We were definitely on a roll, and so we went straight into our third number without any pauses at all:

Ain't she sweet

See her walking down the street...

A man who had been standing there listening to us right from our very first note yelled out, "Is that the only tune you know?" Clearly he was our biggest fan.

"Yes, it is," I told him. "We only put the band together last night and so we've only rehearsed one tune, and that's the one we're going to play for the next..." I looked at my watch. "...twenty three and a half hours."

"Cool," said our fan, and he put fifty pence in the tin. "Can I make a request?"

"Of course you can," I said.

"OK," he said. "Will you play Ain't She Sweet for me?"

"Certainly," I said, and that's exactly what we did.

You can't really play music non-stop for twenty four hours. You can't even play whatever it was we were playing non-stop for twenty four hours without taking a break. So at staggered intervals throughout the day, one of us would sneak off for refreshment and a pee. When it was my turn, I went over to The Bell, a pub just off the square. Because it was a lovely warm day, I took my pint outside and stood on the pavement sipping my beer and enjoying listening to the rest of the band playing  Ain't She Sweet. A few other people followed my example and soon a small crowd of us were standing there nodding our heads to the by now over-familiar rhythm.

The landlady of The Bell came bustling out to us. "What do you think you are doing?" she asked angrily. "I haven't got a licence for outside drinking. Get back inside, the lot of you. Now!"

Meekly, we all took ourselves and our drinks back inside the pub. I've been thrown out of a lot of pubs over the years, but that remains the one and only time that I've been thrown into a pub...

About three o'clock in the afternoon, the university mountaineering club turned up to break the monotony. The members all roped themselves together and solemnly mountaineered horizontally from one side of Slab Square to the other. One of their Sherpas came over to us. "Can you stop playing while they climb across the square?" he asked. "It's very distracting and they might fall off and injure themselves."

We ignored the request and deliberately played them a medley of our melody instead. Every one of them reached the other side safely and nobody was injured, so clearly we weren't dangerously distracting.

Time crawled slowly as we played our tune again and again. Our audience waxed and waned. By four o'clock in the morning my fingers were bleeding from the pressure of the strings on my double bass. All of us were exhausted. Even our fan had deserted us, and Slab Square was completely empty. Nevertheless we carried on playing because we were far too close to the end to stop now. Early morning commuters started to appear about 6.00am. Most of them took pity on us and put money in our collecting tins before running away with their fingers in their ears.

At 9.00am we finally stopped playing. We packed our instruments away with a great sense of relief that our twenty-four hour marathon session of one-tune jazz had finally come to an end. We'd played Ain't She Sweet 683 times, and we'd raised almost £300 for charity, which made us feel very good. As a bonus, we'd enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to make The Campus City Jazzmen a permanent fixture in our lives. Over the next few years, we played a lot of gigs and a lot of different tunes. We even made an album called Jazz on a Boot Lace. But not once in all the time we played together did we ever play Ain't She Sweet again. Somehow the tune had quite lost its charm for us. Funny that...

Previous Contents Next