Monday, 19 July 2010

Once More (WriteClub submission)

Once More

“Great stuff guys, great stuff! Now, once more: this time with feeling!”

Murat shuddered as he recalled the words of the band leader. He lit a gitane. He hated the fatuous irony of the young. Everything was tongue in cheek, nothing was ever really meant. And when did guys become an acceptable term? Probably the eighties. Murat attributed everything that was wrong with everything to the eighties. But then the eighties weren’t a good time for jazz... muzak and soul-fusion and Miles Davies trying his hand at hip-hop... It was a sentiment he’d thought most people shared. 1980-1989: terrible clothes, terrible music, terrible politics. Memories are short, thought Murat. At some point in the recent past the terrible clothes, terrible music and terrible politics had made a comeback.

Murat considered the notion that everything was cyclical, steadying himself against his car as the world span around him. He hated repetition, especially in music. This talk of getting into the groove... the record going round and around and around... it did nothing for him. What was a groove if not a rut? He exhaled. He had been in a rut for a very long time. A sudden slam of the car boot jolted him from his self pity.

“Okay?” Jorge had managed to squeeze Murat’s bass in to the back of the car by dropping the rear seats. Murat smiled at the rigid face of the Brazilian drummer. Jorge did not smile back; he always carried the same determined, slightly stupid expression. Murat thanked him and Jorge ambled toward his own vehicle; Murat drove home through the sticky summer evening alone.
Jorge and Murat played together in a competent but unexceptional gypsy jazz band alongside a pedestrian violinist and an interminably smug guitarist. It was the guitarist’s project: it was the guitarist who had exclaimed: “Once more- with feeling!” at the rehearsal. For Murat it should have been another low-rent outfit in which he could somnambulate through rehearsals and collect ready cash at weekly gigs. Should have been… but Jorge made that outfit different. The drummer could play. Murat knew that. He had been around long enough to recognise that Jorge was blessed with unparalleled technical ability. He had already accrued years of experience playing with respected musicians all over the world, despite his youth. But Jorge disturbed Murat: that blank, passionless countenance was not the face of an artist; it was the face of a plebeian. Jorge thought but Jorge did not feel.

Murat left the upright in his car and slowly ascended the steps to his front door. The geraniums smelt very strong. It was the heat. London was getting warmer, he thought, as it seems to every summer. Some of the flowers would need to be dead-headed.

From the moment Murat placed his key in the lock he could hear the cat mewing. Calmly he made his way to the kitchen, retrieving his secateurs from the drawer beneath the draining board. The cat had followed him from the hallway to the kitchen and back again, mewing the whole time. Murat was oblivious to the cat’s demands, instead concentrating on removing the spent heads of his fragrant pelargoniums. His work was complete, he placed the secateurs into the breast pocket of his jacket, walked slowly to his living room and collapsed into his armchair. The cat padded in shortly after, still mewing incessantly. Murat struck it with a sharp kick of his left foot, and it scurried into the kitchen. It would have to wait. He pushed the living room door shut. He sat in silence, his mind dwelling on nothing, until he fell asleep.

The following evening Murat drove to the venue, a large private house in North London. Jorge helped him with the bass. After a brief sound-check they launched into their usual repertoire of Hot Club de Paris gypsy jazz, the room slowly filling with hedge fund managers and equine women in expensive ball gowns.

The band were struggling to compete with the increasingly loud murmurs of the crowd. Murat, angered, looked to Jorge for support. But Jorge’s expression was unchanged, rigid. Murat turned away in disappointment, but for a moment thought he caught sight of the slightest of snarls forming at the corner of Jorge’s mouth. Jorge began to hit his drums with a much greater ferocity.

The band leader shot a sharp glance back towards his rhythm section. Murat met his eyes briefly before turning to face Jorge. The tempo increased. Murat began playing with a renewed aggression. The violinist glanced at him nervously, the pace was not what he was used to, and he was out of his comfort zone. But he played: harder and faster than he had at any previous practice.

Murat’s pulse quickened: they were approaching the drum solo. Turning to Jorge he found the drummer staring hard at him: he was seeking his permission. Murat did not hesitate.


Jorge launched into a fierce drum solo. The clockwork perfection of his previous performances was forgotten, usurped by a primal force that ripped into the kit. It was powerful and angry but beneath the raw energy lurked spastic control, a terrifying autism that could bring the noise to a sudden stop, then a start, and then another sudden STOP. Building layer upon layer of complex rhythms, fluctuating in a miasmic blur of sight and sound he became a whirlwind of flailing limbs and machine gun bursts of percussion.

Jorge swept through the room like a hurricane. When his solo came to its cataclysmic conclusion all the air had been sucked out of it. Murat exhaled through his long nose, as quietly as he could manage. He had no desire to break the silence. It was time for his solo. From his pocket he produced the secateurs with which he had dead headed the pelargoniums.

One by one he cut the four thick strings of his upright before releasing the neck. It crashed to the floor.

“There it is!” he said, making his way across the room of astonished hedge fund managers, “there’s your fucking feeling.”

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