Jazz Blog - Nils Solberg Interview
I met Nils Solberg, the virtuosic jazz guitarist, at an Oxford May Ball in June 1988. Yes, the May Balls are in June. It’s one of those weird English things like… Tacolneston in Norfolk being pronounced Tackleston, and rough, bough and trough being pronounced ruff, b-ow and troff. We make no apology.
Nils and I were both depping for Vile Bodies, a ridiculously-named vintage dance band, formed by the lovely and long-dead Humphrey Carpenter. I say “ridiculously-named” because who knows the Evelyn Waugh book? Only Oxonians, I fear. And maybe Cambians... and people who have any sort of education, come to think of it.
However, those not familiar with the 1920s Waugh book might have been forgiven for thinking it was a punk band, which it wasn’t.
This band spawned two now-famous people: Stacey Kent - the celebrated jazz singer - and Pooky Quesnel - the well-established television actress. In fact, I took over from Pooky and Stacey took over from me. Why aren’t I famous then? Hmm. Makes you wonder, dunnit?
So anyway, Nils and I, as I was telling my daughter only yesterday, relate to each other at the mental level of four year olds. I don’t know why this is. I might be responding to the four year old in him, and/or he might be responding to the four-year old in me. Either way, it’s a fairly happy coupling, unless we try and speak to each other.
When my son was little, he christened Nils ‘The Pie Man’, an epithet that needed no explanation, which is good because none was ever forthcoming.
As I said, we met on stage. In the break, Nils said “Shall we go up in a balloon?” to which I replied, “Of course!”
But after we’d queued for the hot air balloon for ten minutes, we realised that the bandleader, Colin Good, might not be too pleased to call the band back to the stage and see us sailing off into the night sky, so we switched over to the bouncy castle. In terms of intellectual content, the relationship has been bouncing downhill ever since.
I will now interview Nils for this blog.
So, tell me about Jazz.
Don’t you know anything about it?
Seriously. Tell me about Jazz.
What would you like to know? I’m a fount of all knowledge.
What does it mean to you?
It means a way of life. It means a way of playing. It means – oh I don’t know – it means a way of playing as much as a musical style, inasmuch as it can be applied to any style of music.
What? Do you mean, jazzing stuff up?
I mean slipping it in so nobody notices.
That’s disgusting. This is a family blog.
Short loo break. Yes, Nils has a short loo. Oh, no, it’s a bidet. I’ll never forget my first encounter with a douche. I wondered why the hand-basin was on the floor, and tried to wash my hands in it. It’s a wonder my eye wasn’t put out. Oh, he’s back.
Hey! Don’t look over my shoulder, it will put you off. Okay. As you were saying…oh, you weren’t saying. Let’s try again. When did you realise that you were very funny?
Funny odd, or funny haha?
I’m talking about funny haha. I’ve stolen your best lines and use them regularly on stage. Like:
“Have that man washed and brought to my room.”
And “Of all the audiences I’ve played to, you’ve been one of them.”
And “that wasn’t the best performance I’ve ever heard, but it was certainly the worst.”
What about “You aren’t the best singer I’ve ever heard, but you’re certainly the worst.”
That’s very unpleasant, but comes as no surprise.
You’ve heard the last of this.
Stop it! Why do you play jazz?
I’m not good enough to play serious music.
That’s just silly, but it’s a common misconception amongst jazz musicians. Tell me, do you like girl singers?
Yes, because they make me play in funny keys and it’s challenging.
Wow, that’s the most sensible and intelligent thing I’ve heard you say in all the years I've known you. We obviously need to communicate like this more often!
I’ll have to go and lie down in a darkened room now. I’m underwhelmed with shock.
And I’m overcome with emulsion. I need to lie down too.
Get off me, you perv.