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I had been playing solo piano gigs in various bistros, wine bars, posh restaurants and the exclusive West End clubs, courtesy of Harry Dawson, a piano player himself who had, as had many other London musicians, taken the gap and become a "fixer" - i.e. an agent who had secured the venues, playing in them when he chose to, and booking others (whom he had to trust) to secure continued access to the venues.

 

Harry called one day and asked if I would like to do a gig with Eartha Kitt.  Sure, I said, to which he replied that I should be at the Empire, Leicester Square for a rehearsal which would be followed by a live TV appearance that night on the Russell Harty show.  So I arrived on time, and met the others in the band which consisted of guitar, piano, bass, drums and percussion.  The other musicians, all extremely competent, had been playing at The Talk of the Town which had just closed, and we were to do a tour of Britain, playing many venues from the south east to the north west, and another TV appearance on the BBC Pebble Mill at One slot.

Eartha arrived late, and promptly handed me a suitcase full of music - scored for a big band, and therefore with a piano/conductor score for each number.  I took one look at this lot and immediately took fright; try to simultaneously sight-read unseen multi-page parts and conduct the band at the same time, whilst taking all the visual cues from the singer!  There was no-one to turn the pages, and the top of my Fender Rhodes piano looked like a recycled forest!

 

We got through the rehearsal, then made our way to the TV studios, and before I knew what had hit me we were in the studio and the count down was in progress.  I don't know how I did it, but I managed to avoid instantaneous career-death-by-embarrassment - it all went reasonably smoothly (well, as far as I was concerned, anyway).

 

We followed this with a series of concerts in some of the most interesting venues (including some pretty ancient theatres with amazing acoustics) and I had the pleasure of playing some beautiful grand pianos - er ... except for one, which was in a seaside resort near Liverpool, where, on arrival we found a rusted old grand, with strings missing, and generally in a terrible state of repair.  When asked why this had not been sorted out before our arrival we were told that "we didn't know you would need a piano!".  We found a piano tuner, and the concert went off okay.

 

Four of us traveled together by car from town to town (with a case of Dom Perignon always in the boot) - myself, Eartha, the comic / master of ceremonies, and a mind-reader / conjurer who was also on the bill.  I had plenty of time to get to know Eartha (more often than not joining her in a dry sherry before we went onstage) and she shared some details of her early life with me, and how it was purely by chance that she become such a superstar (which she really is, in every way) - as a young woman she had gone for an audition to appear as a dancer, only to be told she had to sing a song.  So she sang I'm Just An Old Fashioned Girl and struck the right chord with the producers.  From that day her life changed forever, but it never went to her head:  she was humble and down-to-earth, and working with her was one of the highlights of my musical career.