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A NIGHT IN SARDINIA
Travels in Italy with William Blake
The Mike Westbrook Brass Band
Phil Minton vocals and trumpet Kate Westbrook vocals/tenor horn/bamboo flute/piccolo
Chris Biscoe saxophones Alan Wakeman saxophones
Mike Westbrook piano/tuba Chris Laurence bass
Dave Barry drums
Phil Clarke tour manager
In July 1988 The Brass Band played two concerts in Italy, one in the South, in Sardinia, one in Clusone in the North. It was a memorable trip, and not just for the music. To co-incide with the screening of a film of the Sardinian concert we re-print this account of the tour, originally published in the Smith’s Academy Informer.
DAY I Late afternoon flight from Gatwick to Milan where we were met by Enrico and enormous heat. By mini-bus to a hotel in Bergamo (we never found out why Bergamo, but in Italy it is usually because the hotel belongs to someone's brother-in-law). The mini-bus left us there and went on to Clusone carrying Mamadi, the percussionist from the Andy Shepherd Band. We had a meal and were joined at the restaurant by bass player Steve Cook who had come on a different flight. Bed at 1 a.m.
DAY II Up at 4.15 a.m. Mini-bus came and drove us an hour's journey back to Milan airport. Flight to Cagliari in the south of Sardinia. Mini-bus up into the hills to a small town called Giba and our modest hotel. We couldn't get into our rooms because the Courtney Pine Band, who had played in the Festival the previous night, were still fast asleep; it was, after all, only 10 a.m. Had a second breakfast and looked out into the hot dusty street and the two palms in the garden opposite which were colonised by vast flocks of sparrows, several perched in each gap left by the stem-base of the large leaves. Slept a while, when we eventually got into our rooms, leaving the Courtney Pine Band sitting looking out into the dusty street ... In the early evening we went up into the village of Sant' Anna Aressi and to the small arena by a little church where the Festival is held. We started our sound check. Frantic ringing from the small church bell at quarter hour intervals.
Suddenly across the distant sea a great black cloud appeared and within seconds there was a deluge. 12 mm of rain fell in that one storm, the average figure for the whole of July is 1 mm, and in fact this year it hadn't rained at all for 3 months. As forked and sheet lightning and thunder terrorised us all, the stage crew looked desperately for sheets of polythene to cover sound equipment, drum kit and the small Steinway grand piano. Abrupt end to soundcheck. Back to the hotel where there was a power cut. Clearly no hope of doing the concert that evening, BUT, asked the promoters, would we please stay and do the concert on Friday? How would the public know that we were playing then? They'd take care of all that and it didn't matter that Michael Brecker was playing in Cagliari the same night, our audience would still come. Only one problem - Steve Cook had to be back in London next day. Could Chris Laurence be got hold of and flown out for Friday?
DAY III Steve back to London having played a few notes at the soundcheck and eaten some good meals and travelled large and inexplicable distances. The rest of us by mini-bus ("just a short distance") for 1½ hours across to the island of San Antioco, the latter part of the drive along a hairpin dirt track above the sea. Our destination a holiday village of scattered houses and apartments set in a remote corner of the island with small pines, scrub of thyme, rocky hills behind and the glorious clear sea only 100 yards away. Here we were made prisoners and left, helpless without any transport and no map anyway. We swam in the sea off a rocky bay and then walked to the restaurant where we ate outside and waited for the minibus, because we had been promised that we would be collected and taken to Sant' Anna Aressi for the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band who were playing that night. No minibus. By this time the staff of the restaurant were in white togas, with laurel wreaths on their heads and whole animals were being roasted for the Roman orgy that was to amuse the (mostly Italian) tourists who had come from the houses round about. Somehow we all lost sight of the fact that we were meant to go to the Dizzy gig and, in the small hours, walked back through the very dark night and under the multitude of stars to our places.
DAY IV Swam in the pool by the isolated restaurant and had lunch there in baking sun. Tour manager, Phil Clarke pursued Chris Laurence and his double bass by remote control using the phone in the restaurant. Chris missed his plane. Chris got the next flight to Milan. Chris missed his connection to Cagliari. Chris got on the next one to Cagliari by telling the airline how important it was that he make the gig, and, being Sardinian, they agreed with him, took him onto the fully booked plane, called some hapless man's name and, when he identified himself, they threw him off and put Chris in his seat. Chris's bass remained in Milan with the hapless man. Mean¬while, we all took the long road back to Sant' Anna Aressi ("so sorry we didn't come for you last night. Many problems ...") and did the soundcheck, of course without Chris. Ate a marvellous meal at the little restaurant of the director of the Festival. We were scheduled to play at 10 p.m. but because the first band delayed going on, naturally everything was 2 hours late. Still no Chris.
Roberto Balatella set up his bass on stage and we waited. Finally, Chris came. He swigged down a beer in the entry to the church (where the TV video crew were set up and in some danger from the overflow from the toilets in the vestry) and using Roberto Balatella' s bass joined us for the performance. Great concert in spite of the fact that the small Steinway was a ruin - the rain had crept in under the polythene two nights previously, the next day's sun and temperatures in the 80s meant the black surface was patterned with white marks like ice floes on a dark sea, and the strings and keys had all gone their own ways. The piano tuner had done his best to get it back to western chromatic tonality. (All the while he was tuning and repairing the piano, the recording made from Dizzy's concert was blasting out across the site.) Back to our base and Chris the proud possessor of an entire house for the four hours' sleep we were allowed.
DAY V The minibus came at 7 a.m. (Sandro had said that the drive to Olbia, diagonally across the whole of Sardinia, wouldn't take long and he'd come at 9 a.m. This time had crept earlier as discussions progressed and last thing the previous evening the time quoted had been 8 a.m.) He was suspiciously early. We had a leisurely coffee stop which puzzled us all. Apparently, Sandro had made a rendezvous there but the other person never turned up. The lady behind the bar finally twigged and handed over the cash for fuel which had been left there some hours earlier. Now the pressure was really on. Check-in time mid-day. We drove on fairly substantial roads through rugged and dramatically beautiful country and got to the airport at 12.55. We pushed to the front of the long queue and uttered the magic ( to the Italians) words 'musicians ... concert tonight' and we were hurried on to the waiting plane in spite of much grumbling from tired tourists. Flew to Milan.
Enrico and Chris went to find Chris's bass. The man in 'Lost and Found' was a fan of the Band, of course, so long delay for enthusiastic conversation. To Clusone and up into the relative cool of the mountains. The Hotel was full of people playing in and attending the jazz festival, and a very large number of permanent residents, all over 65 and bemused by their temporary fellow guests. Sound check in the beautiful medieval square with the great clock. The entire square blocked off at either end and packed with chairs. The dressing room full of friends, musicians - many hearty greetings. John Cumming and Ginnie; Andy Shepherd, Hann Benninck, and - the guiding force behind much of the creative jazz that goes on in Italy - Filippo Bianchi, the director of the Clusone Festival Livio Testa, Roger Spence (formerly of Platform in Edinburgh), Tommy Bodmer and Tatiana Hauptmann, Lucienne Droz (translator of one of the London Bridge texts) and Peter Fritz. Marvellous reception and then the pleasure of sitting down to listen to Andy Shepherd playing with musicians from all over Europe in a 'workshop' set which was steaming.
DAY VI To the airport in Milan in a big air-conditioned (so it claimed) coach. As we approached Milan, Mike realised that his passport and Kate's were back in the reception of the geriatric hotel. The coach was stopped. Kate phoned the office - an answerphone because it was lunchtime. Kate phoned Livio Testa and spoke to his wife Christina. Then we went on to the airport. At 5 minutes before departure time Livia tore into the airport holding the passports (that very day Italy had imposed a 60 mph speed limit on all roads so Livia had broken the law to get to us) to find that there was a 5 hour delay on our flight. The Times was available at the airport bookshop and Richard Williams had done a piece on London Bridge and there was a nice big photo. Back to London, finalmente.
Kate Westbrook, Chris Laurence, Phil Minton, Chris Biscoe, Dave Barry, Alan Wakeman
Kate Westbrook & Phil Minton
Kate Westbrook, Chris Laurence, Phil Minton
Mike Westbrook Brass Band
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10 July 2020
Programme Note: A diary of A Night in Sardinia
the film can be viewed here
The WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show has moved here