When you take up the double bass you do it literally. To learn how to cart it around – it’s quite an art. Some basses weigh over twenty five pounds and I’m sure the exercise helps the cardio-vascular system.
When I decided to free-lance after leaving the London Philharmonic in 1948, getting from one engagement to another became a daunting experience. You see, I had been used to putting the bass in its case and leaving it with the orchestral porters but now I was responsible for carting it around myself.
There was not a great deal of traffic on the roads in London in those days because there was petrol (gas) rationing. The London Underground allowed you to take the bass on the “tubes” but it was physically daunting to take it up and down the moving staircases. For a small sum you could leave it overnight in a railway parcels office after giving a liberal tip to the attendant. Nowadays it is easier to get around with a bass as somebody re-invented the wheel, I mean designing a wheel that fits on the bottom of the instrument.
As engagements became more frequent I realized that I really needed some form of motorized wheels, and I finally came across a new three wheeled van named “The Reliant” that had just come on the market. One of the advantages with this was that the license cost only five pounds, and, more important, it was classed as a trade vehicle, so I could be allowed unlimited petrol coupons. It was powered by an Austin Seven engine, but had one drawback that it was only capable of thirty miles an hour. Still, it made me mobile.
I wouldn’t like to be free-lancing in London nowadays. From my home in Mill Hill it was about ten miles and I could drive to the Royal Festival Hall in Central London in half-an-hour, but nowadays one has to allow three hours to arrive there in time. Then there is the nightmare of parking and the the tax to pay before entering the city.
I remember when I was playing at the Aldeburgh Festival I was driving down a country lane when I espied Benjamin Britten standing by his ancient Rolls Royce which had broken down. After stopping and seeing if I could help, Ben told me that a mechanic was on his way, so I just carried on sailing away in the Reliant, which always lived up to its name.