In all the great films of the 1950s there seemed to be a late-night scene in a seedy night club, when the singer has gone home but the pianist is still idly tinkering with the keys on a slightly out-of-tune piano. Louis Vause’s collection of pieces on Pianophernalia seems to conjure up those scenes to perfection. The mixture of blues, slow boogie and a sprinkling of tracks worthy of Gershwin (one of the dedicatees, along with Fats Waller and others) was recorded in July 2001, his first solo album after a long and wildly varied career.
Friends with Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson (founders of The Fast Show) since university days, he became the ‘legendary’ stylophone player with the Higsons in 1980. In 1984 he and Jim Reilly formed the ‘cow punk’ duo Hackney Five-0. 1990 brought a call from Chris Foreman and Lee Thomson of Madness, and Vause joined their band The Nutty Boys.
In 1992 he wrote (and co-presented with Seamus Beaghen) a video called A Beginner’s Guide to Boogie and Blues, which Time Warner later called the most reviewed tuition video in history. As a result Vause was in demand as a teacher – not bad for someone totally self-taught, who once played a Hammersmith gig when only capable of playing in the keys of C and D, and then found middle C missing on the piano…
In the late 1990s family concerns forced Vause to give up teaching to care for his daughter and he was declared bankrupt shortly after Pianophernalia was recorded. Since then he’s been working with Bobby Valentino, James Hunter and Graham Coxon among others, having recorded on the latter’s fourth solo album.
Whether Pianophernalia will help to restore his fortunes is anyone’s guess but it’s certainly a singular album. It’s one that grows on repeated hearing, and there are some real delights.
The Girl with the Almond Eyes and Gatemouth feature trumpet from John Eascott as laid back as Vause’s piano; his old video collaborator Seamus Beaghen provides Hammond organ on the latter, and a second pair of hands for a couple of playful piano duets All Fingers and Thumbs and Henry’s Shuffling Hungarians.
It’s almost worth buying this album for the track titles alone. And you can certainly put in on, shut your eyes and wait for the vamp to show up.