Last night Andy Kirkham and I played at Dunston Hall's brasserie. Dunston Hall is a large hotel, conference centre and golf course just south of Norwich. We used to play there once a month on rotation with some other outfits before the credit crunch. "Jazz every Friday" became "jazz on the last Friday of the month" so now we play there two or three times a year.
Our primary function is to look good against the pot plants and décor so DJs and bow ties are mandatory. The volume must be such that conversation flows easily over the music but any gaps are not awkward.
The diners in the vast room are hidden from us by screens. We face the entrance so see them as they arrive and when they leave. A few we see as they wander past to get their food. Some are old and shuffling, others are young and preening but none seem immune from attempting a dance step or shimmy as they pass in front of the musicians. (Our smiles were warm and indulgent.) Beyond that our presence is rarely acknowledged.
Last night, for the first time ever, we were asked to play 'Happy Birthday'. This is a harder tune than you may think as the melody begins on the dominant and it's easy to end up with a sharpened fourth if one is careless. I have seen otherwise able players come unstuck. But we had practised this. The trouble was, we couldn't remember in what key.
Andy was all for doing it in E but that meant six sharps for me on the clarinet. I insisted on Bb - after all, he only had to bash out three chords, albeit without a strap. In the even the party began singing (in Eb) as soon as they saw us approaching so we had to join in. We then played it for them in C - much too low - and have agreed F as a key for the future. I'll learn it in E too as we're sure to have forgotten by next time.
Other diners obviously took note and later we blessed an engaged couple and another table's special occasion although I never learned the cause for celebration. No doubt things will return to normal when we go back in October.
Now, having seen the photograph, you may wonder what on earth possessed three tables to invite us to play to them close up. But then you're probably sober.