|This is not Barry.|
I spent a number of years playing in a jazz group with Barry. He was a professional bass player – very politically active for the rights of your artisan, blue-collar musical intellectual, and endlessly contemptuous of amateurs like me.
I quite liked the guy – sometimes his attitudes made him a hard person to warm to, but when he forgot himself he was affable and amusing company. There was a specific amount of alcohol required – after a couple of drinks he was relaxed and articulate, a few more and he was aggressive and paranoid.
“The big problem I have with blokes like you,” he would tell me, “is that you are just playing at it – you are taking work away from hardworking professionals, who earn their living at it, and who are mostly better than you.”
“You mean to tell me,” I would respond, “that if I were to pack in my day job – today – I would instantly become a better player and you would take me seriously?”
And Barry would mumble vague obscenities and shuffle off for a drink.
Barry was a Glaswegian – with matching chips on both shoulders. As a musician, I thought he was sort of OK – maybe I never saw him at his best, but I would not have taken much trouble to book him myself. When he was a young chap, he got busted by the police for possessing cocaine, and they made a deal with him. If he told them who supplied his stuff, they told him, he would not go to prison.
Classic double-cross. Barry told them everything they needed to know, and they put him in Barlinnie anyway, and when he came out there were people looking for him. So he worked on the P&O cruise boats, and he worked for a while in London, and then he went to live in Zurich. While he was there he played with a lesser-known elder statesman of the English Dixieland jazz scene – Bob Wallis, and his Storyville Jazzmen, no less. Wallis may have been in political exile too – I have no idea – but Barry had some wild tales of Zurich and of tours with Wallis’s elderly band of alcoholics. Bob Wallis had only one eye, and he used to carry a variety of glass eyes with him to suit the occasion; apart from having one which made a pair with his good eye, he also had a red one, a plain white one and a spectacularly patriotic Union-Jack one. He also used to feature the tune Please Don’t Talk about Me, One Eye’s Gone. Must have been quite a show – apparently the band were very popular in Russia.
Eventually Barry got married, and Wallis retired in ill health and broke up the band (he returned to England and died not long afterwards). Barry decided that things in Britain were probably calmer now, so returned to his homeland – which is when I met him.
Barry was always very nervous – he always owed money to the Union, or the taxman, or somebody or other, and – of course – there was still a faint echo of Glasgow from the old days.
One day someone phoned him from the Performing Rights Society. Sorry to bother him, but they had been trying to trace one Barry Shaw, the double-bass player – was this him? No, said Barry, instinctively, from years of practice – never heard of him. The man apologised for any inconvenience, and left a contact number, in case he somehow came across the right Barry Shaw.
After a couple of days of being encouraged by various drinking friends, Barry phoned the man at the PRS. He had just remembered that he was, after all, Barry Shaw the double-bass player.
The man was delighted – could he confirm, then, that he had played on the original Tubular Bells sessions with Mike Oldfield?
In fact, I knew something of this. Barry used to tell of a nightmare booking he had once received, where he was required to play double bass at a “pop” recording session full of “upper class hippies”, in “a ****ing castle in Oxford or somewhere”, which experience he still recalled with a shudder, though he understood the record had been quite successful.
Ultimately, Barry was delighted, too – Oldfield’s record had, of course, been a very considerable success, and at the time – in error! – Barry had signed for a share of royalties instead of a cash fee – something he would never normally have done (since he always needed cash). The PRS now had a cheque for him in respect of his back royalties accumulated since 1973. Barry had only been a makeweight on the session, but his share was still many thousands of pounds – far more than he would normally see in years. I don’t know how long it took him to drink his way through this windfall, but I know he gave it a serious go.
Eventually the years of bad living caught up with him – he had increasing problems with his joints (which we all thought was most apt), caused by excessive alcohol intake and many years of poor diet, and he suddenly died of pneumonia, one winter following a fairly insignificant illness. He was only in his early 50s, but old beyond his years.
That’s all a bit downbeat, I guess, so I’d like to end with a story of Barry which he used to tell about himself. Once he was established back in Edinburgh, he received a phone call one day from a well known firm specialising in double glazing and conservatories. They asked him to confirm that he was Mr L B Shaw of 56/3 King’s Road, and – guardedly, I imagine, he admitted that he was.
In that case, he was told, he was in luck, because the firm in question was looking for sales in his postcode area, and if he would be prepared to allow it to be used as a showhouse for a year, they had decided that his address would be ideal for their purposes, and they would build him a conservatory at only 50% of the normal cost.
|This may be what Barry imagined...|
Barry played along with this – he said he was really quite interested, but he wanted to know more about the type of conservatory – what would it be made of?
Well, they said, you can have one in Canadian Cedar, or Lacquered Pine, or just straightforward white UPVC – all weather-proofed and double glazed and insulated to the appropriate British Standard, naturally.
Sounds good, said Barry, but what about the legs?
Well, since they knew all about him and his postcode, and had selected his address specially, they would also know that he lived in a 2nd-floor flat, so he wanted to know what the conservatory would stand on.
The phone went dead. Barry said he was actually very disappointed. Cold callers, eh?