At the age of not quite 50, why would anyone start playing the musical saw?
If that person was developing programmes for a double bass and piano duo entitled Slap (that bass) and Tickle (those ivories), then it might seem a possible route to go.
Attempts to create crossover programming within Classical music recital circuits brought pianist Maurice Horhut and myself to devise different ways of offering what we hoped was high level musical expertise combined with less formal ways of presentation. Implicit within that, a more relaxed approach allowing touches of humour to reduce formality in what are traditionally rather earnest events.
Early on, faced with challenging stage entrances (the bass is an extraordinarily difficult instrument to transport elegantly) and inspired by Morcambe and Wise’s classic ‘The Stripper’ breakfast routine, I hit upon the idea of undressing the bass on stage whilst Maurice belted out that instantly recognisable refrain. I utilised all the suggestive gestures and innuendos I could muster and it became an instant hit.
In those early over-enthusiastic days, instead of sticking firmly to a tried and tested programme, honing and perfecting it over hundreds of performances, we were altogether too keen to develop new ideas.
Thus we found ourselves considering alternative opening numbers to replace The Strip. We discussed a mock conjuring item where I would pull a dead chicken out instead of a bow, or a long string of silk scarves. Then Maurice said, with a laugh, ‘Then you can saw the bass in half’. In the same breath, he continued ‘Can you play the saw?’
In those days, long before the cornucopia of knowledge that is the internet had come to pass, all I knew about the musical saw was what my mother told me of a girl in her class at school who played one. I knew you held the handle between your knees and played it with a bow. Maurice’s idea intrigued me as I fancied playing very high notes as well as the chocolate tones of the bass.
Finding a musical saw was a challenge. I phoned every music shop I could think of. One of which, in Liverpool, told me there had been one in the window, but it had disappeared. In the end, frustrated, I decided to see what I could do with an ordinary saw. Visiting my daughter in South London, I sallied forth to B&Q armed with a cello bow. Fortunately, there were few people about. I found a box to sit on where I tried each one of the saws on display, to the amused interest of odd passing customers. Luckily best results came from the cheapest, most bendy one costing £2.99.
Maurice arranged a medley of Strauss Waltzes which we tried out in Skegness. It went down a storm. However, that small saw could only manage one octave, too few notes to develop repertoire. The makers, PMS of Doncaster agreed to make me a one off pair of saws twice as long and the one with the plastic handle has been my staunch partner ever since.
Can you believe what you saw….?