Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Guest Dandy: Ray Frensham's Fine And Dandy Year

Our friend Ray Frensham kindly provides his annual thoughts on all things dandy in 2013.

 (photo of Ray by Khalil Musa.)

The Dandy Doctor’s surgery is open.

Apologies for this being an exclusively UK perspective – indeed, London point of view – but that is all I have to offer. 2013 has been a year of two halves for me: BTB (Before The Book) and ATB (After The Book).

For the first nine months of this year I was happily plodding my way through life, trying to retire and do less and less each day, drifting into a blissful anonymity and occasionally sojourning at my summer residence in St. Augustine, Florida.

And then “that book” was published in September. I’m talking, of course, about I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, that extraordinary effort from Rose Callahan (photographer) and Nathaniel “Natty” Adams (words).

Who could have imagined that something which started as a niche-targeted project has actually spread internationally to the point that the term ‘Dandy’ is the current trending-word for the times we are living in.

So, September came along and the book was published (with some very successful launch parties in London, Paris and New York) and – for me – suddenly I was wrenched from my rehearsals for retirement and things went ballistic..... “can we interview you?...can we profile you?... come along and film you?”... and (my favourite) “can we make you Poster Boy for our Dandy website?”. I’ve even been approached to consider doing some modelling for a specialist Jermyn Street menswear retailer! I kid you not.

(London book launch at Gieves And Hawkes.)

Not that I am complaining: we all like to be noticed and acknowledged for our efforts; and it is all jolly fun. I’ve started to feel like one of those old American blues artists who’s suddenly been rediscovered by a new, younger audience.

An unexpected and lovely bonus for me was that some of us featured in the book have started to forge new friendships with those we’ve never met before – in our countries and abroad. By the end of this December I would have shown around town at least eight overseas visitors to London. It’s exhausting being gregarious! But a terrific pleasure.

Rose said that it took them almost two years to finally get the book taken up (was it really that long ago Zack and I were photographed?) but I mentioned to her that the two-year hiatus actually seems to have worked in the book’s favour. The authors have caught a social wave here.... let the other Johnny-come-latelys try their best, Rose and Natty were here first.

As an author myself , I knew I would strike a chord with Natty when I mentioned at the London launch, it really is like giving birth: “you write it and pull it all together, you put it out there, it has it’s own life now”. But you never can tell if a project is going to be successful or not. But I Am Dandy has taken off in a big way. And those of us who are featured in the book are thrilled and feel lucky to have been part of the project.

Certainly, within three months of publication it is already in its second print-run, so I hope that publishers Gestalten are suitably impressed enough to consider a Volume 2 (we all know there are enough people out there to easily fill the pages).

I even suggested they do a follow-up book in, say, twenty five year’s time: “I Was Dandy” and see what happened to us all. Me? Well, if I haven’t expired from syphilis, I shall probably be destitute and on the streets, with an alligator on a string, and holding a sign that says “Will Dance for Food”.

And for Rose and Natty I think this is the launch of two very successful careers in their own crafts. And it’ll be nice to one day reminisce about “I knew those two way back when...”. So a huge Thank You to you both.

But enough of me! Looking around at some of my friends, 2013 has been a pretty good year for them too:

Alex Mendham & His Orchestra (mentioned in an earlier end-of-year blog) had their first CD released (Dancing In The Dark) on Rivermont Records; they’ve established themselves as favourites on the music circuit and have ended the year signing a year-long contract with London’s Savoy Hotel for a monthly residency throughout 2014 + the hotel’s New Year’s Ball. So that gives them a solid springboard for their future exploits. Moreover, I think we can expect a second CD from Rivermont in the year (I’ve suggested “Live at the Savoy”, but whether anybody listens to me....).

(photo by Hanson Leatherby.)

My dear friend in Berlin, Henry de Winter, continues to sing and delight audiences across Europe (hopefully in the UK next year?).... however he suffered a terrible blow a couple of months ago – a burglary while he was out performing. They may have taken small items – jewellery mostly – but they were antiques and family heirlooms. I know they’ve probably already been fenced in Eastern Europe somewhere, but please do visit Henry’s facebook page and see the photographs in his “Stolen Things...” folder. I was burgled many years ago, I know how it hurts, so things can only get better for him in 2014. At least Bobby is still in the peak of fitness.

(Photo by Alex Adler.)

A couple of 2014 predictions, on the UK retro music scene: Two acts to watch are Albert Ball’s Flying Aces a nifty little brassy sextet (expandable) playing British Ragtime and led by Nicholas D. Ball (drummer with Alex Mendham’s Orchestra), they will have a CD out soon. Worth investing in. And see if you can see Nich’s smiling face in an episode of the recent season of Downton Abbey.

The second name is Brandyn Shaw - he has a lovely Al Bowlly-based act and this year saw him link up with a regular accompanist (Jon Butterfield, also pianist in Albert Ball’s Flying Aces). Listening to those tentative demos he gave me in January and seeing / hearing him now, he’s advanced in leaps and ended the year on British TV showing Dancing With The Stars judge Len Goodman how to croon.

And last, but not least, my dear chums Enrique Crame III and Matt Fox of Fine And Dandy. They not only appeared together in the book I Am Dandy, they had a bumper year in their business – reaching their first anniversary of their brick and mortar shop last month.... but also – finally (thanks to legislative changes) – they happened to get married! All I said was “about bloody time”.... it was just the road to getting there that seemed a might frustrating. Congratulations you two!

Finally, if you visit London, the must-visit eating discovery of 2013 has to be Brasserie Zedel. Tucked anonymously behind Piccadilly Circus – walk past it and you’d miss it – go inside and to the back, then down two flights underground and you enter a restored art deco palace: a performance bar, a piano bar and a dining hall for 250 people. Very nice French cuisine .... and the price! (a three course Prix-Fixe meal + glass of wine + bottle of water + gratuity = $35 – I kid you not). It’s still at that word-of-mouth recommendation stage but, this time next year, you’ll have to book months ahead.

That’s it from me for this year. Thank you Matt & Enrique for the opportunity to express my fabulous self in this guest blog. Happy New Year to everyone. 2014 actually looks like it’s gonna be a good ‘un. The Dandy Doctor’s surgery is closed for another year.

Ray Frensham

Author’s Note: The term “Dandy Doctor” is copyrighted (Ray Frensham & David Lochner).

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