I fell in love with the Saxophone when I was 16.
There was something about the sound that made me feel inspired. I heard “I Want You” by Gato Barbieri, an Argentinian Saxophonist and from that day on I was hooked.
My love of soul music was now being overtaken by a new sound “Modern Jazz” and in the mid-seventies this music was being played in most of the top clubs in London.
Grover Washington Jnr, Gato Barbieri, Ronnie Laws, Pharaoh Saunders and Stanley Turrentine were my heroes of the late seventies.
I decided I had to get myself a Saxophone and learn to play. It would be a Tenor Sax of course as all of my heroes played Tenor. In 1979 when I was 21, I bought the Exchange and Mart and looked through the section “Musical Instruments” for sale.
There it was, Tenor Sax for sale only £250, the Advert read “Retired Musician selling Tenor Sax, Selmer Mk V1 only £250” There was a telephone number, I rang it and a man with an extremely gravelly voice told me that he was in Wembley, I said I could be there within the hour. I couldn’t believe my luck, it was a Selmer! Not just any Selmer but the daddy of them all, the Mk V1. This was the Sax that all the greats played, possibly the best Sax ever made!
I went straight to the Bank and withdrew the £250, a lot of money in 1979, and set about the journey from East London to Wembley. An hour and fifteen minutes later I was knocking on the door of a large North London house.
A man in his seventies opened the door, he looked perfect, exactly as I would have expected a retired Saxophone player to look, mass of grey hair, uncombed and shoulder length, deep blue eyes, he was smoking a cigarette, not just any cigarette but a Capstan Full Strength, the most lethal of them all. That explained the deep gravelly voice!
He showed me into his “Music” room, there was a Grand Piano in the corner, various Guitars on stands, a couple of violins and three Saxophones in cases. He walked over and picked one up out of its case.
“Here she is, the best money can buy, I shall miss her but I really need the money, here have a go”
He passed it over to me. I took it rather clumsily.
Now you have to remember that until that moment I had never held a Saxophone in my life, I had no idea how to hold it, I had no idea how to play it either, I decided to bluff my way through it!
“She’s a beauty; the Mark Six really is the Queen of all Saxophones”
“Have a go, she sounds terrific, been playing long?”
I decided to lie.
“Yeh, a few years now but never had a Selmer before, can’t wait to give her a going over, but got to get back to East London quickly so I’ll just give you the cash and I’ll be off”
“Oh OK then, it’s as the advert said £250”
I handed him the cash.
“Thanks, it comes with the case, strap, and about twelve reeds”
Reeds, reeds, what reeds?
“Oh yeh great, glad it’s got some reeds”
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Case and strap made perfect sense but what were these reeds all about?
I put it into the boot of the car, said goodbye and drove off.
It was one of the happiest days of my life; I was now the proud owner of a Sax, not just any Sax, a SELMER MK V1. Fantastic.
I got back to East London in about an hour. There was just one small problem now, how was I going to tell my new wife that I had just spent £250 on a Saxophone. We had only been married six months, we had a mortgage to pay, rates, electric, gas and various other household bills and I had just spent nearly three weeks wages on a Saxophone, she would go ape shit!
Reality started to kick in, maybe I shouldn’t tell her yet, maybe I should wait till I could play it then surprise her one day by playing something beautiful for her, she couldn’t go mad then could she, she’d love it, eventually. I decided to keep it in the boot of the car for a while.
It stayed there for about a week, then one Saturday morning she said she was going shopping with her Mum for a few hours. As soon as she was out of the door I went to the car and got the Selmer out of the boot and took it indoors.
Just holding the case in my hands was a thrill. I lovingly opened the case and looked at the most beautiful creation in the world. It was gleaming at me, golden brass body and neck, ivory buttons and some kind of green jewel near the Fleur de lis engraving on the bow. I almost had an orgasm!
It looked straightforward; I assembled the mouthpiece onto the main body, hooked on the strap and started to blow. Nothing happened. I blew again, this time really hard, still nothing happened. What’s wrong with the bloody thing? I’ve seen my heroes on stage, they just get hold of it and blow and the most beautiful sounds come out, why was it not working?
Then I looked in the case and saw the reeds! Ahh that’s what the old boy was talking about, reeds. Maybe I have to put one of these things into the Sax to make it work?
I managed to get to grips with where the reed went, there was a small booklet in the case and it showed where and how to attach the reed, you attached it to the mouthpiece, yep that made sense. Now time to make sweet music. I blew, nothing happened, I blew again still nothing happened. Now I was getting annoyed.
Then I remembered a tune on one my Sax albums called “Biting the Reed”. Maybe I had to bite the reed at the same time as blowing. I tried it. A noise was heard, I did it again, yep a noise was heard. It sounded like someone was trying to strangle next doors cat!
I put the Sax back in the box and returned it to the boot of my car. This might be harder than I first thought!