After the thrill of the American tour, it was back down to earth with a bit of a bump this week. In fact, not just a bump, but a bit of a shock. When I heard that John Alley, the keyboard player in the LSO was retiring, I assumed that it was a mistimed April fool or a miscalculation on the birthday spreadsheet. How could he be retiring? John has been part of the LSO ‘family’ (as we have to call ourselves these days) for as long as I can remember. The unmistakeable white haired pianist is not just part of the fixtures and fittings of the orchestra, but of London musical life. There are very few musicians who have affected so many musicians of all ages and abilities as John. Yes, we all know about the internationally famous musicians, the heavily promoted conductors and soloists. We all know how important they are because their agents tell us. They win the awards, the OBEs, the Grammys and Gramophones. But, you mention the name John Alley to anybody who really works in music in London, anybody, and they will smile and have a tale to tell. I could fill the internet with personal recollections, be they his witty one liners which puncture over inflated conductors egos in rehearsal or a raise of an eyebrow during an audition which says more than any ensuing conversation, or the sight of the long white hair and the pencil behind the ear which reassured me during solo outings. John has just been there.
The man lies still on the street, his head ripped off beside his body. He doesn’t move in the heat of the afternoon. A mother and child check their step, and stare. Everybody else carries on, unmoved, in pursuit of the next big win at Blackjack. The child looks up at his mother for reassurance. She smiles, presses something into his hand and nudges him toward the man on the floor. Looking anxious as he passes the dismembered head, he summons up the courage to hand over the dollar bill clutched feverishly in his fist. The man on the floor opens his eyes, breathes out a rasp and takes a swig from a can of Red Bull. He raises himself to his feet, puts the dollar in his tip bag and picks up his head. The boy’s face turns to a smile as the man once more becomes Buzz Lightyear. Welcome to Las Vegas.
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