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‘Thank you, kind lady.’ Edward smiled, observing the five pound note the woman placed in the otherwise empty pint glass. ‘Something special I can play for you?’
‘Dj’no Smoke gets in your eyes? Queried the hefty blonde female, laughing loudly as she recognized instantly the first cords. ‘’Oo teached you to play the piano like that?’
‘Anthony Burgess.’ He replied, raising his eyes to the ceiling.
‘Never ‘eard of ‘im luv.’ She exclaimed, showing interest. ‘Is he one of them compositors?
‘No ma’am, he was a writer’ Edward sighed as he continued playing.
‘’ow cum he taught the joanna then?’ She demanded.
‘He didn’t ma’am. He wrote a book about a piano player’s daughter and in it he teaches her how to play piano. Have you heard of the Clockwork Orange?’
‘Yeh. That’s the film with them kinky buggers init.’
‘Well that’s the chap who wrote the book of the film and the book which helped me learn to play the piano.’ Edward clarified, regretting he had gone too far.
‘Bloody ‘ell!’ She exclaimed retreating back to the bar to join her boisterous companions, the fabric of her one size too small, red mini skirt, struggling to contain the flab it was encasing, as she joined in…’So I smile and say, when a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes.’
Edwards fingers floated across the keys. Smoke gets in your eyes…My old mans a dustman… Moon River… When The Saints Go Marching In. He played. They listened or sang. He played mechanically, without hearing.
‘Thanks mate.’ He flashed a smile at the beery face as it deposited a few coins in the glass, perched on top of the worn out 1990s, Alexander Herrmann piano. He glanced at the stained pub clock behind the bar and reluctantly thought about Lyndon Barntree who, he had read earlier in the day, would be playing Schubert ‘s B flat concerto, to a full house in the Thompson Memorial Hall, five minutes distance from the Crown and Anchor.
He and Lyndo were the same age; forty-five, single and had been educated at the same grammar school and played the piano but there he acknowledged, the similarities ended. The Barntree’s had money. His own father too but whereas Lyndon’s parents lavished it on their one and only child, his father had lavished his on women, drink and nefarious deals. Lydon had had the benefit of elocution, ballet, violin and piano instruction. Edward had taken no pleasure in rugby or tennis or long waits outside pubs while dad chatted up some new barmaid.
‘Give us Waltzing Matilda.’ Bellowed a distinct Australian accent from the far side of the room, to the boos and fuck-offs from the regular patriots.’ He played on, envisaging the review in tomorrow’s newspaper. …Once again Lydon Barntree has conquered his audience with an extraordinary and intense performance. It was as though maestro’s concert was the personification for which all his performances had been searching…He had no wish to be like his nemesis; never had – but Lyndon’s success with the public, his handsome looks and the women; in fact everything about him somehow riled him. How different was his own drab apartment in the commercial Osborne Street to Lyndon’s penthouse in Regency Close Building, He had only seen it from the outside but could well imagine the stylishness of the contents, so necessary for entertaining the elegant waif -like beauties Lyndon liked to squire; the very same type of chic females he lusted after but who remained unreachable. It had always been like this. What he had told the mini-skirted blonde was partial truth, not that she would have known or even cared. He had long given up attempting to impress people.
It was only when Lyndon, or rather his dad’s money, had convinced a prominent classical pianist to tutor his son that he also began to take his music seriously. Asking his father, whose women, booze and disreputable activities were constantly in excess of his income for lessons was out of the question. ‘Stick to sport lad. Only ponces play the joanna,’ was his dad’s advice. Maybe he should have and at times he regretted he had not. It was while reading Burgess’s The Pianoplayers in the early nineties and noting the ease in which the pianist father in the book, teaches his daughter the notes, which initially set him off in his own musical career. His regret, in spite of the years of hard work, self financed studies and his inborn musical aptitude, he never became the classical pianist he dreamed of becoming.
‘Oi professor , where the fuck d’j think you are?’ The landlord bawled, when he involuntarily drifted into a Chopin prelude. ‘This is a pub…not a fuckin’ concert hall.’
It had not always been pubs he entertained in. He played jazz and he had played it well enough to have jammed with some of the big boys but regardless of his own success, he remained in envy of Lyndon. He recalled one of them telling him that audience acceptance, whether in a club, pub or concert hall was the true measure of one’s success. ‘If that’s the case,.’ He thought ruefully, not insensible to the lack of interest being shown by those present this evening. ‘this mob has abandoned me.’
Sitting in the off-stage dressing room, five minutes from the George and Crown, where Edward Hodges was attempting to please the customers, Lyndon Barntree was indifferent to having been recalled on stage three times by an enthusiastic audience. Neither was he looking forward to Lady Osborne’s after performance soiree, where she would no doubt be serving her usual champagne cocktails and salmon canapés and he would have to listen to the accolades which, admittedly, he would normally revel in. He felt reluctant to face the customary adulation as she would hustle him from group to group. ‘Oh, Lyndon darling, you played heavenly.’ ‘Well played dear boy.’ ‘Divine Lyndon – just divine.’ This evening his thoughts were elsewhere.
Certainly the poster, “Tonight One Night Only, Ed – Keyboard – Hodges”, he saw on the A board outside of the George and Crown public house when he was driven past earlier that evening could have something to do with his distraction? How he envied that man. He recalled their days at school together and the freedom Hodges had enjoyed. None of the compulsory extracurricular lessons, the daily, hours-long practicing and the twice, sometimes more, weekly coaching he had endured. Hodges had been free to go his own way and do as he wished without parental oppression. He played sport and had time for his friends and had been frequenting pubs and clubs since he was a teen.
He recalled Hodges’s dad, a great chap; sports cars, attractive women and always oodles of money to throw around. He had not pressured his son. Not like his own, motivated and driven father, to whom every penny counted, who had domineered him, compelling into being the success he now was. Of course he was grateful for his father’s endeavours behind the reputation he now enjoyed but how happier he would he have been someone like Hodges. Why had his Russian tutor,Valery Koloniski, forbidden him to play jazz, insisting over and over that classical musicians must master the parts they play by practicing the music which has been written or published beforehand.
Hodges, his damned nemesis, he recalled had been free to play what music he wished. Had he not later played with and been friends of some of the jazz idols prohibited to him; Barber, Littelton, Dankworth? And the women he had been linked to. They were real, a trifle common notwithstanding but human.
‘Of course, ‘He reminded himself, as he admired his appearance in front of the full-length mirror provided for him. ‘…that was before Hodge’s increasing weakness for alcohol.’
Goodnight maestro.’ Saluted the uniformed attendant, closing the heavy glass doors behind Lyndon Barntree as he headed down the aged, white stone steps of the Thompson Memorial Hall to be ushered by Lady Osborne’s chauffeur into the back seat of the waiting, dark green Bentley.
‘G’d night Ed… and bloody stay sober next time, if you want to play here.’ Uttered the landlord of the Crown and Anchor, as he steered the pianist out of the side door, into the damp night air. The streets were deserted and Edward Hodges halted at the cross roads debating which direction to take. He paid no attention to the dark green Bentley as it sped silently past him.
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