Là-Haut

what light?

But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

When Crotchety Man was a student studying biochemistry in the early seventies the class turned up for a series of laboratory practicals to be told that we were getting a new supervisor. For the next few weeks, instead of the fully qualified doctor of philosophy we had expected, they had appointed a ‘demonstrator’ who was expected to be awarded her DPhil¹ later that year.

No reason for the switch was given but we were assured that the more junior member of staff was fully up to the job and no objections were raised. It probably helped that she was a pretty, soft-spoken young woman who seemed almost as nervous about running a few practicals as we were about doing them to the required standard. The young Crotchety Man certainly regarded her appointment as a bonus.

Our supervisor was introduced as Liz Press. That’s an unusual surname and it prompted one or two remarks. One of the other undergraduate students had come across Miss Press before and he was able to tell us a little more. Liz, of course, is short for Elizabeth and her middle initial was ‘M’; so our supervisor that term was E. M. Press.

There was some speculation about her parents’ motive for what we assumed was a deliberate choice of initials. Did they really hope she would one day rule an empire? Or did they, perhaps, think that saddling her with a funny name would, like the boy named Sue, help to build a strong character? In the end we concluded that they simply thought it amusing and it couldn’t do any harm.

I was reminded of the lovely Miss Press when I came across this tune from a band called L’Impératrice, which is French for ’empress’. The track is called Là-Haut, which I think means ‘yonder’, but it really doesn’t matter because this is a slowish dance/groove instrumental that gets the hips swaying and the mind carelessly wandering wherever it will go.

Là-Haut is one of those tracks that comes from a foreign country but strays far enough beyond the borders of the artist’s usual material that it infiltrates the Crotchety Kingdom. On the whole there’s too much disco over yonder in the realm of L’Impératrice to appeal this side of the Channel. But I very much like Là-Haut. And I do like that Parisian hat.

Dark Blue Note

  1. Oxford University uses the abbreviation DPhil instead of the more usual PhD for Doctor of Philosophy and it awarded Crotchety Man a Batchelor of Arts degree even though biochemistry is very much a science subject. It’s a peculiar institution.

Tea Time

mint tea

There are some funny names out there. In my Release Radar playlist this week there was a single called Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 11.46.22 by a band called Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 10.41.48. I did listen to it and it’s OK but not up to Crotchety blogging standard. (For the incurably curious it’s on Spotify here.)

Curiosity then seized the helm of the mental ship and took me on a quest for a translation of those names or some snippet of information about the track or the band. But the mission foundered. I haven’t even been able to identify the script. It resembles the cursive writings from the Indian subcontinent (the electronic oracle suggests Tamil) but some of those symbols look suspiciously like glyphs that only electronic brains would recognise. And it’s not Tamil – I checked.

Fearing that mistress Curiosity was taking us to the sea of Shameless Publicity Stunt I wrested the wheel from her and set a course back to our home port. I could see we had ventured far into strange waters and the long voyage had made many of the crew weary. Then, just a few nautical miles homeward, another place to delight the flighty fancy of Miss Curiosity showed up on the radar screen. A thin band of land the inhabitants called FORQ and a sheltered bay named Thrēq offered the prospect of rest, recuperation and fresh supplies.

I remembered that another crew had encountered the natives of FORQ on an earlier expedition and by all accounts they were a friendly people. As we dropped the anchor in the calm water of the bay the late afternoon sun warmed our backs and as we lowered the dinghies to go ashore we could see about a dozen natives moving leisurely to and fro along the beach.

When we pulled the boats onto the sand the FORQers greeted us with warm smiles and beckoned us to join them. “Come”, said the chief, “It’s Tea Time and we have enough scones, jam, cream and delicious China tea for everyone”. “Of course, if you prefer Indian tea”, said the native girl coyly smoothing her pretty white waitress’s apron, “we have that, too”.

As we chatted over our tea and scones Big Chief Boiling Water told me that the country they ruled had allowed its name to be used by a four-piece band from New York City. The band was formed by Henry Hey (keyboards) and Michael League (bass guitar), subsequently adding Chris McQueen (guitars) and Jason “JT” Thomas (drums). All four have played with some fairly big names in the past: Hey with David Bowie, League and McQueen with Snarky Puppy and JT with D’Angelo. That’s an unlikely mix of influences resulting in one of those fuzzy, hard-to-define areas in the patchwork quilt of musical styles somewhere to the east of jazz fusion but not that far from soul and R&B. FORQ themselves describe their music as jazz/groove.

Our waitress turned out to be the chief’s eldest daughter, Sweet Sugar Lump, and she informed us that FORQ‘s latest album takes its title from the bay where the ship’s crew were enjoying the hospitality provided by the local inhabitants. One of the tracks on that album even celebrates the traditional pastime of taking afternoon tea under the shade of the beach umbrellas. It’s a relaxing holiday groove that brings to mind the genteel gatherings in nineteenth century English country gardens when polite conversation rarely strayed beyond the topics of the weather, the roses or the antics of Mrs. Slocum’s pussycat. It was a time of tranquility and innocence, when an unintended double entendre might be erased with a hasty, “More tea, vicar?”.

Sitting there in the glow of the sun a cup of Jasmine tea had the invigorating effect of an exotic cocktail. Or perhaps it was the musical accompaniment that soothed the brow and restored our vigour. Or was there something in the water? Whatever it was the ship’s crew slept soundly on the soft sand that night.

the band

FORQ – June 2015

In the morning the beach was deserted. The tables and chairs, the umbrellas and all the paraphernalia of the previous day’s tea party were gone. There was not so much as a footprint in the sand to show that yesterday’s festivities had been more than mere illusion. But real it must have been. Because everything we had of value had also vanished. Our plundering hosts had even taken our boats. No wonder that accursed tribe are called the FORQers.

Footnotes

  1. FORQ‘s third album, Thrēq, was released on 4th August 2017.
  2. The band has just finished a tour of North America. A European tour is scheduled to start in the autumn; the only confirmed date so far is Dublin, 17th October 2017.