8 December 2015


Al, the wonderful video-maker codenamed digitalalexa, generously put on YouTube a 19-minute video of Tuba Skinny being 'interviewed'. He and his wife (with two cameras) must have gone to a lot of trouble to film the event and then do the editing.

Wow!  How precious that interview should be! How we would all love the chance to interview Tuba Skinny!

The programme the band was playing included the totally-forgotten song recorded in the 1920s by the unknown Mandy Lee - Somebody's Been Loving My Baby, the obscure number Mississippi River Blues, and such other rarities as I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water and Crow Jane. Most important of all, it introduced us to the band's own wonderful composition Owl Call Blues, brilliantly sung by Erika.

It would have been so interesting to find out about how and why they came to add these tunes to their repertoire. We would like to know about their researches into old music and also how they go about composing original songs.

You could ask what goes on in preparing for public performance. Do they get together to rehearse a lot? How do they arrive at the musical arrangements they all have to master?

Does Shaye devise musical arrangements (and charts) which the others have to learn? If so, how does she get so many musicians (including 'deps') to master them with such precision?

You could ask how they think they achieve their unique sound. You could ask why they like to be seated in the unusual trad jazz formation of a semi-circle.

You could ask more technical questions about choices of keys and key changes and you could ask whether the cornet, trombone and clarinet players think in terms of 'chords' when they are improvising.

Even at a simpler level, we could learn more about the backgrounds of the players. Which of them studied music at which higher education institutions?

How is the band managed? How do they decide which countries to visit and who arranges the air tickets and hotels?

NOTHING of this kind came up. Nineteen minutes were wasted on trivialities.

A lady introduced the proceedings. She filled up two of the precious minutes stating the obvious, and she used the words 'incredible' and 'incredibly' five times in less than twenty seconds. She was wrong. The band's achievements are great; but they are also obviously credible - or the musicians wouldn't be here. She quickly lost the attention of the audience, who started to talk amongst themselves - so she had to 'shooosh' them. She suggested there might be a question about the band's use of a washboard. (It turned out that there was no such question.)

A male interviewer ('moderator') took over. So we reached 2 minutes 20 seconds before the first question was even asked. What was the question? It was about how they liked sitting down to play as opposed to standing up!  No kidding. That's what it was.

In the course of the next few minutes, little more about the band members was revealed than their names and some detail on Erika's parents and their record collection.

Dumb questions included:

Who travelled the farthest distance to get here?

Where's the most interesting place that you've been able to play on the street?

Did you want to be a musician or was it simply?  [simply ..... what? Erika had to guess what on earth was meant]

...so...so...in what way does in what way did Tasmania affect anything or just, just? [Again, the musicians had to try to make some sense of this]

The dumbest of all was:

How do you get to Tasmania?

Erika politely replied 'You have to fly there'; but her tone suggested she would have preferred to say 'We swim across the Pacific with our instruments strapped to our backs.'

Indeed, Erika, who succeeded in speaking politely, patiently and good-humouredly throughout the ordeal, did most of the talking. Some of the other musicians understandably began to look unhappy.

In spite of all this, there are a few moments to enjoy. We get to hear Todd and Barnabus speak. That's rare. We hear Shaye saying ...It seemed like folk music. You just learned a very simple melody. You can figure out the fingerings...... . I wish she had been allowed more time to expand on those observations.

You can watch the 'interview'

Note the rambling 'question' at around 8 minutes 20 seconds which becomes so incoherent and convoluted that you begin to lose the will to live.

By the way, a shorter, simpler but much better interview (of Erika and Robin) may be enjoyed

I have received this email from a trombone player:

Your piece on the Tuba Skinny interview prompted me to reply.  You really have summed it up well, and it shows that interviewing is a skill that needs to be learnt and worked on.
I didn't watch the whole thing end to end. If you did, you deserve a medal.  It was interesting to see the band trying so hard to conceal their boredom.  Eventually smiles appeared and they seemed to treat it as a bad joke.  In years to come it will be one of those nightmare memories that comes up in conversation when unwinding after a gig: "Do you remember when..?"
Couldn't help thinking how someone like John Lennon would have reacted, which again goes to show what a great bunch TS are, staying so cool and professional.  The comment "You have to fly there..." was wonderful, and perhaps the only hint of the band's true feelings.