Amsterdam did have a flurry of snow overnight so I took the concierge’s advice and caught the tram to Museumplein for my art morning, Transport was easy to navigate, trains are informative so you know where you are. One thing I noticed with taxi driver, waiters, hotel staff and the tram employees was that they are Dutch. As one used only to being served or driven by east Europeans, this came as quite a shock and was continued throughout my stay. Are such jobs better paid here by comparison or as in Spain just treated with greater respect? Proper jobs perhaps?
I think it was probably more than 30 years ago that I was in the Rijksmuseum and rather like the BM and V&A they have built a great glass canopy over the courtyard which makes for a more pleasant and warmer experience. And what a delightful museum it is. Paintings displayed with space to view them. Only a few cases where you have to crick your neck to look at images high on their walls. Which incidentally I did in the concert last night – the stage in Concert Gebouw is very high and I thought I may have been better off with a seat in the balcony rather than the stalls.
I’ve seen reproductions of the Night Watch before but it does take your breath away with the staggering amount of narrative detail Rembrandt included. There’s a brilliant printed guide in the gallery that points out the most salient aspects – I would not have spotted them all without. There are several brilliant other Rembrandt’s and a series of gorgeous but surprisingly small Vermeers. The galleries are well supplied with benches from which to sit and contemplate and although it was getting busier as I left around two o’clock, it had been a very pleasurable visit. No eye-glazing and a handy highlights leaflet to save you looking at absolutely every Dutch landscape which – heresy – can start to look a little samey and as we’re in the Netherlands dare I say flat.
Just along from the museum is Amsterdam’s famous Vondelpark so I went for a stroll there with loads more skaters on the lakes including an impromptu ice hockey game, joggers on the pathways and cycles ridden it seemed by Michelin men and women – puffa jackets seem de rigeur. Leidseplein is the tourist epicentre for bars, restaurants and clubs so it was now time for a beer and a snack. I found a good traditional bar Reynders and after refuelling I walked back to the centre. On the way I had a very reassuring phone call from my neighbour John who had heard me coughing in the night earlier in the week, noticed that the window shutters were closed and called to check that I was alive and well. Aren’t neighbours just wonderful?
It was a great route crossing all the big central canals and finishing up in Dam Square. From there it was a further kilometre or so to Central Station and then along the Ij to reach Bimhuis a magnificent music venue built about ten years ago where I was due to meet my friend Alan Skidmore for the sound check before their concert that evening. It was quite fun arriving across a angled bridge over the canal up to the empty venue and being escorted from reception to the green room with the greeting “You must be Mike”, They knew I was coming, had they baked a cake? Well no but there was beer in the fridge and an unbelievably warm reception for a random Brit who just happens to be Skid’s mate and webmaster. Despite being an ace saxophonist, Skid’s a drummer manqué and got a chance to sit at the kit in the sound check.
While waiting for crew dinner, I bought my own by the way from an excellent menu in the Bimhuis café, we discovered an advertisement in a magazine for the Skidmore Jazz Institue so this deserves further investigation and maybe some royalty payments. I have to say that I’ve always found jazz musicians a friendly bunch and these were no exception. Jokes were told – which many had heard often before no doubt – but were well received. Then it was time to leave the backstage and get up to the venue again.
The gig was an absolutely stormer. A superb Dutch rhythm section who have played with all the jazz greats on tours in Europe really got things swinging and then the front line of Skid who doesn’t know the meaning of giving less than everything even though he’ll be knackered next day, Benjamin who is English but lives in Holland and is applying for a passport with some speed and plays a mean solo and the rose between the (t)horns Tineke Postma who was an absolute revelation to me. Where does all that power, lyricism and invention come from? There were two sets which were rapturously received by the full house. John Coltrane’s Impressions was the closing number and he would have been nodding his approval had he been here.
Then it’s back to the green room for more beer and wine and try to chill a bit while adrenaline levels are raging. I then help the guys down to the basement car park with their gear as they set off for a hotel near Utrecht ready for tomorrow’s gig. I then try to find my way out of the nearly deserted building into the very cold night air. Fortunately I was able to flag down a cab before too long. They didn’t play Round Midnight but that had long gone so walking back to the hotel was not really on tonight.