I was managing a versatile quartet: two girls, two guys playing mainly cello, violin, guitar and keyboards but also a slew of other instruments. All members had formal classical training. They were not virtuosos but they were young and they played accurately, on time, with feeling. I knew that after a few years on the road, meeting the right people, they could be up there with the stars.
I booked them a casual gig for a single malt scotch whisky tasting club. The clients would be real gentlemen and ladies having dinner at a naval officer’s mess hall after their annual fall golf tournament. Eighty people in their 30s and 40s, all professionals, doctors, lawyers, reporters, well educated and refined yet not stuck up: the ideal audience willing to pay more than the usual union rates.
As a plus, the venue was fantastic: high ceilings, oak-lined walls and pillars, just enough reverberation. The acoustics were perfect; it was a sound technician’s and a musician’s dream.
As I was helping my musicians set up in the afternoon I observed that the caterers were wearing the usual white uniforms but that the waiter and waitresses were wearing kilts, waist-high tunics, and knee-high socks.
One of the cooks told me that the evening was to have a Scottish theme and that they were serving Scotland’s traditional dish, haggis, for dinner.
Haggis is the minced heart, liver and lungs of a sheep mixed with onions, oatmeal, spices and fat, simmered in an inside-out sheep’s stomach. I know, it sounds disgusting but it’s not. It’s quite tasty, just think of it as Scottish sausage.
I am always amazed to see successful people not satisfied with their professional accomplishments to the point that they have to live a fantasy and pretend to be Scots.
At least they were not acting out being gangsters or bikers.
Tables, all dressed in thick white linen and fine dinnerware, were set up in a “U” shape around the room, the middle section would be used for people to mingle while having cocktails before the meal. The band was in a corner on a low stage.
When one of the caterer’s employees returned from a cigarette break saying: “The guests are arriving,” the band began playing Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”.
The golfers entered, some wearing golf trousers with argyle socks, others were sporting kilts and everybody seemed to be in a good mood. All the ladies were wearing plaid of some kind and most of them wore dresses.
“These people sure take their Scotland seriously,” I thought as the band ended the German baroque number. I went to Jason, the band leader, and suggested they move to music more appropriate for the occasion, so they started to play the theme song of the movie Braveheart.
I like smart literate musicians who can adapt quickly to a situation.
As the guests were having cocktails reminiscing about their day on the golf links, the club’s president recalled: “I was so proud, on the front nine I only lost three balls! But on the back nine, I lost 22!” which made everybody laugh.
Men were talking golf equipment and business, sipping their whisky while women were busy chatting and drinking mostly gin tonics and Bloody Marys.
I noticed a striking redhead in a kilt and silk blouse who, because of an ill-adjusted pin on her kilt, was showing quite a bit of leg when she moved. She was talking and laughing with a handsome man who seemed to be in real estate. A bit further away, another man – who looked like a doctor – was glancing at her worriedly.
From my years working in less commendable establishments I have learned how to read a crowd. If trouble was to happen tonight, it would be from these three.
In the meantime, waiters and waitresses were walking amongst the guests holding large platters of amuse-bouche which are nothing but fancy and politically correct amuse-gueule. It is a delicacy any aspiring bourgeois or nouveau riche can look forward to.
Some of the guests were admiring photographs on the wall of prize-winning sheep and Shetland ponys. Apparently quite a few military officers who usually attended the mess hall had Scottish roots and enjoyed displaying the pride of their ancestors’ homeland.
However, today’s guests were not as classy as the gentlemen and ladies who normally frequented the hall and were making lewd comments about the attractiveness of the sheep and ponys, one going so far as to parody the Rolling Stones’ Get off of my cloud by singing: “Hey McLoud! Get off of my ewe!” as everybody laughed.
It takes many generations for the coarseness of peasantry to leave the genes of would-be aristocrats.
Stereotypes are oversimplified conceptions or opinions that bear no factual relation to reality. However it is easy to make them and use them and that is why we love Monty Python so much. Nonetheless, when an artist decides to draw a picture of a grown Scotsman wearing a skirt and holding a pet pony, it is very hard not to think of stereotypes.
The band was now playing a version of Matty Groves, a most unfortunate choice as I watched the real estate salesman making obvious moves towards the delighted stunning redhead while her frankly annoyed doctor husband was looking at them.
Soon dinner was about to be served and the guests were taking their assigned places around the tables. It was quite a sight to see the waiters and waitresses in Scottish livery bringing the first haggis for the whisky tasting club’s president to cut as he started to recite solemnly Robert Burns’ Address to a haggis.
A proud Scotsman gives a perfect rendition of Robert Burns’ poem.
After the poetic performance, waiters and waitresses started rolling in more haggis on stainless steel carts to serve guests. At that moment, I noticed that the redhead’s husband had gotten up and was now having an animated discussion with the real estate salesman while his wife looked on with increasing uneasiness.
The real estate salesman tried to get up, the doctor pushed him back down on his chair, grabbed a steaming haggis nearby and smashed it on his face.
All hell broke loose. People got up trying to stop the two men who were now wrestling on the floor, pulling a tablecloth in the process, sending cutlery, china, mashed potatoes and turnip flying. The redhead was crying, the waiters and waitresses were looking at the caterer for advice while the band played on, which I thought was very professional of them.
There was much yelling and shouting but no need to call the police; after all these sophisticated people were used to settling their issues through their lawyers. When the belligerents left the building, the caterers started to clean up the mess hoping to be able to resume their service but the magic was gone. One by one guests silently left while the scotch whisky tasting club’s president sat alone at a table, sipping at a glass of Talisker with a bitter look on his face.