Air Lyndhurst studios in Hampstead was the last place I worked. That was back in September 2003. I finished with some film sessions. I had survived the summer when the heat, as ever, had wiped me out.
Gavin Wright had phoned offering me the sessions –two days that week. I explained the situation. Gavin said ‘ just smile and take the money’. The FILM was to take 5 days. I was to do day two and day four. Doing just the two days suited me fine, I needed the rest between the days.
The bass section was really helpful . Simon Benson collected my bass from my flat. Being still on two sticks and driving I made my own way to the studio. Someone unpacked my bass. I sat on my stool and was then handed my bass. All went well to start with. However as the day went on It became increasingly difficult for me to lift my bow on to the string in a natural easy manner. It was becoming difficult to even look as though I was playing the bass.
I was sharing a stand with Paul Morgan, the resident jazzer In the section. Sometime in the afternoon Steve Henderson, the percussionist, came and stood behind us. We were playing very long notes with very slow bows, something that is not easy but that I was still able to do. Steve joshed Paul who, though a top class jazzer, was not quite so comfortable As the rest of us when doing these long bows.
Running for the teas in the break was out of the question for me walking , as I was, with two sticks dragging my left foot. Fortunately being next to the door There were no mike cables for me to trip over. So come the break I handed my bass to Paul and made my way to the canteen which was just across the foyer.
It was clear to me that this was the end as far as bass playing was concerned. I had finished at the top. I never played again.
Air Lyndhurst studios had opened in the early nineties just when other studios were beginning to close. Sir George Martin, of Beatles fame, converted a church close to the royal free hospital. Being in Hampstead the studio was very convenient for me especially as there was parking for the heavy instruments Right outside the studio door.
I had been a big fan of Sir George Martin ever since the Peter Sellers records came out in the late fifties. It wasn’t just the content of these records it was their warm and clean sound. The studio had that warmth built into it.
The Tracks on those Peter Sellers records included ‘Balham –gateway to the south’ with its skilled craftsmen specializing in ‘toothbrush-holemanship’.
There was the ‘party political speech’ which included the phrase ‘I do not consider existing conditions likely. ‘ .
I have listened carefully ever since for such phrases from politicians of all hues.
Robin McGee Was part of the bass section on those last sessions. I had first met Robin when he had turned up in Bristol in 1967 to coach the bass section . Stuart Knussen had briefly taken over from Eugene cruft who had retired. Robin had been a pupil of Stuart and then become the number two in the LSO next to Stuart. Robin first deputised for Stuart and then became our regular coach visiting us once a month.
Both robin and Stuart played the bass using all four fingers in the left hand, something which was unusual at the time. Having just switched to the bass from the cello, I thought of four finger playing as a version of extended Fingering On the cello. Accordingly I placed my thumb opposite my third finger and extended backwards with the first two fingers. Stuart and robin placed their thumbs opposite their second finger and extended forwards. I persevered with this fingering until I joined the BBC concert orchestra in 1971. There I found myself playing Octaves and fifths a great deal which was awkward on the larger bass I had soon acquired. One day I just stopped using four fingers.
Robin was a highly influential bass player. As the principal and often solo bass player in the London Sinfonetta for over 20 years He played in the first performances of most of the late 20th century classics. It was Robin’s Sound that composers had in their heads when they wrote their music. Yet Robin was a reluctant bass player. His principal interest was playing the piano On which He was one of the finest Piano accompanists for the bass repertoire.
In Bristol Robin taught us what to think as we played. If we were Playing an ‘exposed’ passage We learnt to play differently from when we were playing an octave below the cello line. We learnt how to count out complex rhythms. We learnt how to make awkward passages ‘work’. We also learnt how to take the business of bass playing seriously while still laughing.
One of the themes of my autobiographical writings has been to show how individual bass players have been important influences on composers. Dragonetti is one such example having had a profound influence on Haydn and Beethoven. The bass solo in Beethoven’s ninth symphony was written for Dragonetti and performed by him in the first performance – apparently Dragonetti wished he had asked for a bigger fee.
In my life time Adrian Beers had a clear influence on Benjamin Britten. Robin McGee, I suggest, influenced many of the late 20th century composers not only on his own with the London Sinfonetta but also as part of the bass section on countless film sessions.
I make no claim that I was individually an influence on any composer. I was though a junior member of the bass section on around 300 films from around 1980 to 2003. It was our sound that composers wrote for – and returned again and again to the studios in London. Chris Lawrence, Mike Britten and Robin McGee were the key members that the rest of the section was built on for most of those years.