Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ashley Sterne Near the Bandstand

The following comic article by Ashley Sterne was published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland) on December 29th 1938.  The article is merely of middling interest.  Still, I enjoyed seeing Sterne revisit comic devices he first employed decades earlier: e.g., the comic use of the word "bloater" and a jibe at a German composer, in this case Richard Wagner and his celebrated work Tannhauser.

Near the Bandstand

If, when setting out upon your summer holiday from one of  the main stations, you are man enough to wrest yourself from the refreshment-room and stroll along the platform to the engine-end of your train, you are certain to see there two or three earnest-looking gentlemen of various ages examining the "Flying Slug" (or whatever other name the engine answers to), with a display of keenest interest.

Contrary, no doubt, to your supposition, they are not directors of the railway scrutinising the mechanism to assure themselves that no wheels are missing and that the cork hasn't popped out of the boiler.  They are merely men who find an extraordinary fascination in studying locomotive machinery.

This (to me) queer diversion does not necessarily imply that these fellows are expert practical engineers.  For all they know of mechanical forces, they may just as well be drysalters. bee-masters, lighthousekeepers, or ventriloquists.  Indeed, the most zealous engine-fan I ever knew was a professor o£ Esperanto, who would spend hours engine-gazing and then go home and meet his Waterloo trying to set the mouse-trap.

Such men are simply magnetised by engines, following even so humble a specimen of the species as a steam-roller about with all the pertinacity of a drag-hound pursuing the irresistibly fascinating aroma of a semi-decomposed bloater.

Now I, who am not engine-minded, get my bit of fun in quite another way.

The present moment finds me at that enchanting seaside resort, Bilgehaven, where I am quartered in the newest luxury-caravanserai — the Hotel Magnifique, Splendide et Somptueux (11s. 9 1/2d. per diem, all in).  Just before noon each day, I emerge from its imposing portals and wend my way along the sea-front to the lawns surrounding the bandstand — a gorgeous edifice reminiscent of one of the open-air lion-cages at the zoo with just a touch of the Taj Mahal about it.  Here I plank down my tuppence like a gentleman for a deck chair, or scramble like a pauper for a seat on one of the Corporation's free benches.  It all depends on what has happened at the dogs the previous evening.  Anyway, you might quite reasonably infer that I have come hither to hear what the Band of the 1st Blackguards can do about the equine excursions of the Valkyries.  But I haven't, any more than has the corpulent dame creaking in the canvas back next to mine, who, with a complete escalator of chinz, has buried her face in the lowest step of her staircase, and is already in a state of profoundest coma, snoring gently as though inspired in slumber to imitate the horns of Elfland faintly blowing.

Then what, you will possibly ask, have I come for?  And I hope you will ask, because I am simply bursting to tell you that the band is to me what the railway engine is to my professor of Esperanto.  I don't want to hear it; I want to watch it.  And I don't care a hoot what they play so long as they are all kept busy.  I willingly sit out such musical eccentricities as those picturesquely-named fantasias, which seem to be a peculiar feature of seaside bands ("Gala Night at a Lambeth Milk-Bar," "Christmas Eve on a Sewage-Farm," and so forth), so that I may study and admire, for example, the exquisite technique of the bass trombonist.

This musician's exacting duty is to keep on thrusting in and out of its sheath many yards of metal tubing, the extent of which is so long when fully pushed out that the sound of a note actually blown on the Palace Pier at Brighton eventually emerges from the tube somewhere in the neighbourhood of Black Rock.  His is a thrilling performance, and I sit entranced with his dexterity in avoiding dealing the knock-out to the musician seated immediately in front of him.

On one occasion I remember seeing a clumsy bass-trombonist smite an under-sized oboe player a terrific blow in the small of the back when executing a sudden fortissimo on a very low note.  If it hadn't been that the lifeboat was out practicing starts in the harbour that morning, there would certainly be a whip-around for a widow with six — four girls and two hautboys.

Then again, I gaze with feelings akin to awe at the gymnastic activities of the versatile instrumentalist who, when he is not thumping a drum, is whacking a xylophone; and when not whacking a xylophone, is battering a tambourine, is tintinnabulating on a triangle, is clashing the cymbals; and, when doing none of these things, is restoring his exhausted vitality and shattered nerves with copious draughts of sal-volatile.

No less am I fascinated by the gentleman who sits placidly cuddling a very large brass instrument, whose appearance suggests a compromise between an anatomical chart of your innards and the Loch Ness monster.  Next to him, in strange contrast, sits a bandsman playing upon what is apparently a lavishly silver mounted and somewhat fat fountain pen held sideways to the lips.  I have no idea what the instrument may be, as I am told that toffee-apples are not used in military bands.  But I do know that it has a lot of hard blowing to put up with in the "Police-raid" section of the "Lambeth Milk-bar" fantasia.  If I call it the "this'll make you whistle," that term will at all events give an adequate description of one of its functions.

The sight of the bandmaster, too, always enthralls me.  He offers me the illusion that I am looking at Mr. Jasper Maskelyne conjuring with his back to the audience.  Up flashes his magic wand into the air, while the band plays the opening strains of Dick Wagner's overture to "Tan Trousers," I sit in delicious expectancy of seeing a tea-rose or a goldfish suddenly appear at the wand's tip.

Then comes another exciting moment when I see both the conjurer's arms gently undulating in the air, and when the long roll on the side-drum begins, I know that Mr. Maskelyne has successfully levitated the hypnotised maiden from the floor, and that she now remains suspended 'twixt heaven and Bilgehaven without visible means of support.

And that is precisely why I take a chair by the bandstand.  Being a fair-minded man, however, I feel it is up to me one day to take a band by the chairstand, so to say, and really concentrate on hearing Corporal Bass-Trombone, V.C. (with two bars' rest) make the deep C breezes blow.

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