Piano: story


I spent most of last Thursday in a state of giddy bliss, playing a gorgeous Broadwood grand piano at the Angel Tech studios. The ‘studio’ is actually a soundproofed room in the basement of Doug’s house, a grotto of techy toys and blinking lights; the grand piano, meanwhile, is one he inherited from a Great Aunt. A condition of the inheritance is that a portrait of his esteemed ancestor should hang, at all times, overlooking the keyboard. And here she is:


Normally I’m a foul-mouthed, slouching and generally uncouth individual in recording situations. But as you can imagine – with Doug’s Materera Magna looming over my shoulder I tend more towards zipping my lip and sitting up straight.

The piano itself has led a life best described as ‘cinematic’. It was originally shipped to Jersey, installed in a home which was commandeered by the occupying German Army during WWII. Upon retreating from the Channel Islands the Nazis destroyed most of what they left behind as a matter of course; and sure enough, they kicked the crap out of Doug’s ancestors’ house, even going so far as to take a chainsaw to the staircase. However – they didn’t so much as scratch the piano.

Which then leads us to a few years ago, and Doug is examining the condition of the instrument before undertaking the complex task of shifting it from his Aunt’s home in Surrey, down the M4 to Bristol. He clambers beneath with a torch to check out the underside of the woodwork; it brings back feelings of nostalgia, because as a child he would use this sheltered space to play in. And what does he find in the torchlight, hiding beneath there for decades?

German soldiers.



(All photos above by Mr Douglas “Das” Bott.)

The aim of Thursday’s exercise was partly to find a magic configuration of microphones that would do the sonorous tones of the Broadwood justice. And it was partly to prepare for piano recordings we’ll be doing for the debut The Heath Robinson album. But more immediately, it was to commit to tape a song from yeeeeeeeaaaars back, a tune from a show that Angel Tech collaborated on with the performance group Bodies In Flight. It’s due to find new life as the soundtrack to an installation film.

From that same show back in the day, pictures by Ed Dimsdale of yours truly looking very serious and doing odd things with his hands:


And a little film by Sara Giddens of the same moment from the show, for added archival weirdness: