16 JANUARY 1988, Page 40

Low life

Facing the music

Jeffrey Bernard

Some contemporary composer or other should write a concerto for Norman. He is the only man in the world who can play a cadenza on a cash register. He is also the only man I can think of, apart from Beethoven, who can agonise in a major key. Business is looking up and this week he is buying an even bigger and better cash register. We have yet to see just how many octaves it can span.

I mention this because music has been more than usually uppermost in the valley of my restless mind. It's insomnia and quite dreadful. For the past three weeks I have been playing tapes from one a.m. until breakfast time and this week I have almost had an overdose of Sibelius, Mozart and Count Basie. Sibelius intrigues me. He is incredibly nationalistic and I think that it is probable that most of his music is about Finnish landscape. I like his brooding. He is not flippant.

Anyway, with all this in mind we got away from the usual fruitless conjecture, hypothetics and pointless fantasy the other night in the pub and, for a change, consi- dered what we couldn't bear to live with and listen to on a desert island. Our point wasn't to pick just lousy music but music that you couldn't bear to be stuck with. First on my list was Beethoven's symphony No. 6. LBC seem to play it nearly every night as they do Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The third spot goes to the Nutcracker Suite, which just beats the 1812 overture and his first piano concerto in a photo finish. Then we have Cesar Franck's Symphonic Varia- tions and also anything that Walt Disney considered suitable backing for his films.

A particular hate of mine and a piece of music I find incredibly depressing is Swan Lake. What you associate music with has a lingering and unconscious importance. Years ago I was the head flyman at the Winter Garden in Drury Lane when the Folies Bergere were there and I had an affair with one of the cygnets. She thought she was a swan. But when I watched her dancing to Swan Lake with two feathers stuck on to her tits with Copydex it made me feel ashamed of my lust. (For a treat all the girls in her dressing-room would let me stick the stars and feathers on to their nipples before curtain-up and I've had tits up to here.) As for slightly lighter music, My Fair Lady would make me ill. I worked on 96 shows of that at Drury Lane and it was a very low ebb. A tone poem by Richard Strauss curdles the vodka, and Gilbert and Sullivan I find embarrassing. D'Oyley Carte was surely some form of menu. The overture to William Tell has put me off the Grand National, much as I love Rossini. Perhaps it is over-exposure that makes and that's the bucket of Damocles.' things a bit sour. If you are allowed a 'favourite' colour or composer or writer then my man is Mozart but I wouldn't give a damn if I never heard the Symphony No. 40 ever again. It's fashion that does dread- ful things and I think we are beginning to get a surfeit of Satie. Being out of fashion is odd too. Whatever happened to Vaughan Williams, or Picasso, come to that?

But books you wouldn't want to be lumbered with on your desert island are trickier. The Bible brings me down, although Madam Home Life assures me that it's a good read and that the Old Testament is as good as Dallas — she recommends Judges — and I could do without that sacred cow Jane Austen. Ivanhoe would cure insomnia but I don't like hard work and my eyes are failing anyway. Anything helped along by the Arts Council would be agony as would any work of fiction awarded a prize by a panel of gay judges. The opposite of all that is that I don't find it horrific that Evelyn Waugh's man is forced to read Dickens every day to his captor. After all, Dickens, like Shakespeare and chamber music, is far too good for and lost on young people. I read something about him the other day which in a way is as enviable as his genius. Lionel Trilling said, 'The mere record of his conviviality is exhausting.'

And, I nearly forgot. A medley of Carmen would turn this non-swimmer into a butterfly stroke champion from the de- sert island. Man Friday would go bananas.