I have to persuade McK to get his theramin out and show the kids. It is time.
The Theremin, in our household is the catalyst behind a whole series of funny little gluey threads, binding our two worlds together, and into a bigger, beautiful picture, which to me, helps to explain just what it is that makes a geeky person what they are.
When I was 12, Blue Peter featured a chap called Musaire, an old man, dressed somewhat forlornly in a clown costume. He brought with him an amazing, strange and eery instrument called a Theremin. It was a huge box full of valves, painted on the outside in a classic 'big band orchestra' type of way, with white, swirls and probably stars. He proceeded to play, and for some reason, his performance stuck in my mind. Years later, it was one of my top Blue Peter memories and would come to mind in idle moments every now and then. It combined the pathos of a lost moment in British history - the variety end of the pier show, with something magical, spellbinding but somehow rendered slightly tatty by age. At the time, Musaire reckoned there were only a couple of people in the UK who could play the instrument. It, too, was a lost moment in time.
I am strongly of the belief that that triggered something. There are many people I know who can remember that TV appearance. That, and then years later, the brilliant documentary that managed, astonishingly, to find Leon Termin, released quietly from his exile. The rise in hobbyism that the internet so supports and these two rare media outings for this incredibly strange instrument seemed to hit a nerve amongst a certain type of person.
In 1995, McK was living with a friend, a stand up, who was driving up to Ed with some of McK's stuff, given that both of them were doing shows. I had met McK only tangentially, at a party in Balham, where I talked to him about tea for a couple of moments, then we ran out of things to say to each other and we both moved on to other party goers. I volunteered myself to share the journey to Ed with my newish friend, Stew, given that I wanted to get to know him better, and didn't have the money for a train. Stew was putting things together for the car, and lifted up a bin bag, in which seemed to be a huge box.
Stew has / had an amusing one-upmanship in his character, which tends to be with regard to esoteric / geeky lifestyley (music/books/comics) things. I remember when I was kipping on his sofa one night after some party or other, he showed me his record collection. "All in A-Z order, obviously", he said, somewhat triumphantly, not adding "So there, beat that, then" on the end of the sentence. He was a bit put out when I said "Well, obviously" (I mean what kind of *idiot* wouldn't meticulously order all of their records in A-Z order? Hello?). Another time, we were watching old videos and I grinned quietly to myself as I discovered, to my great amusement that he had written down all the music videos on a list, with the timings on the video tape where the video in question was. I had done exactly the same things with my vast collection of Tube and Snub TV videos - to the point of putting all the running times in a little ringbinder.
Anyway. Back to the box. he was holding a big box. He said "I'll bet you can't guess what's in this box. I'll give you a clue. It's a musical instrument". He stood, wry but smug, knowing I hadn't a chance in hell of getting the answer. I think, although I may be romanticising the memory, that I didn't hesitate, and I said "A Theremin". He nearly dropped it on the floor.
A year or two later, I went with McK to the house of one Tony Henk, master Theremin maker, to meet Lydia Kavina, universally acclaimed as the great Theremin player of the age and found her to be a lovely person. She was taught the instrument by Termin himself from the age of 3. It's a sadness to me that wev weren't able to stay in touch with her. She now teaches in Moscow, and has supported a new Russian built Theremin which is apparently the best model you can buy.
McK still has his Theremin. He used to play a big valved box one at the Science Museum but his personal Henk model is a lovely wooden, slim and modern version. It's been stuck in its case for too long.
Meanwhile, I discovered the other day that Mr Neil Armstrong personally recorded on to tape a vinyl recording he had, "Music out of the moon" to take with him on the Apollo 11 journey. It's a rather wonderful album of Theremin music, played and composed by Dr Samuel J Hoffman. evidence of this is shown as being one of the jigsaw puzzle pieces that explain why Armstrong is somehow weird, eccentric and strange in his privacy. He was always weird, see. He liked Theremin music.
No. it means he was as fascinated by this amazing instrument as I have been, as McK has been and now, as many thousands of internet inspired, interested people are, all over the place.
...it really is time McK took his Theremin out of its box.
Happy Apollo 11 anniversary, Neil. Happy Apollo 11 anniversary, Mackay.