The Great Laszlo Spatchcock Swindle

West Kensington, London, January 2008

The crowds are pouring into the Olympia Exhibition Centre for an Anime convention of some note. You will pardon me if I don't remember the name of the convention, which Olympia hall it was in, or the precise date, but these details are unimportant. It is the morning of the first day of the con and the smell of McMuffins and coffee permeates the exhibition floor as Mary Contrary (real name withheld) arranges t-shirts on a rack. Mary and fellow Nimrod Novelties employee Chris Christ (real name withheld) are finishing setting up the company's stand with the anime-themed shirts, hats, posters, mugs and other merch that is their speciality.

The Olympia Exhibition Centre, London, Hall 1.

Mary and Chris meet for the first time this morning while stocking the stand, as they are from different offices of the company. They immediately bond because Chris is wearing a Soft Machine t-shirt depicting the cover of the band's classic first album. Now, as the first customers start trickling in, their conversation about Amon Duul ll is cut short by the appearance of a rotund rolling object looking remarkably like a very large beach ball.

The ball is actually a gentleman in a suit which allows him to duck his head, arms and legs inside, roll around the exhibition floor and cause all sorts of mayhem with other attendees. This aspect is demonstrated to Mary and Chris as the ball rolls into the booth coming to a stop against Mary's leg. Suddenly a head pops out exclaiming a merry "What ho, Otakus?" It is none other than the voice of Rupert von Nutwood (real name withheld), who quickly follows this up with, "I think the second album is better," referring to the Soft Machine t-shirt. Accompanying the beach ball is another gentleman quite expertly costumed as Roronoa Zoro from One Piece, replete with three REAL swords. Brandishing a dashing smile he introduces first his rotund friend and then himself as Rosemary's Baby (real name withheld).

And that was how all four members of Laszlo Spatchcock first met. I will spare you the details of the extremely nerdy music discussions that ensued and continued throughout the day, only to mention that they were not out of place at the balls-to-the-wall geek-fest of an anime convention. I will also not provide extensive information on the Ratatat gig that they attended together that evening or of the seedy excursion that occurred afterwards. Suffice to say that a bond was formed at the convention and sealed first at Dingwalls, then at a questionable and unmentionable after-hours location.

Dingwalls, Camden Locks, today.

Cut to:

St Lucia Island, Lesser Antilles, July 2008 - The Nighthawks

Playing jazz standards aboard the cruise ship Antigua Voyager had its ups and downs. The pay was good. In fact, the pay was REALLY good, considering that a lounge gig in London might net the band £100 max. And hey, you got to see many beautiful places in the Caribbean. For free! Food, lodging, booze, everything free. The downside was occasional boredom which came from sometimes being required to stay aboard while most of the passengers and crew went ashore to sightsee and get into trouble. Unfortunately, it was part of the job they signed up for. This was the case now as they were anchored just off the coast of St Lucia watching the passengers frolic the waves on catamarans while they dutifully played stewards of the ship.

St Lucia
St Lucia and one of the Pitons.

It wasn't so bad though. On this trip, they made a new friend in the form of pop star Rihanna, who was currently burning up the charts all over the world. She was heading home to Barbados for a break having just finished a leg of the massive Good Girl Gone Bad Tour and had decided to go the slow way by ship to unwind. She and her two friends bonded with The Nighthawks over a few spliffs on deck early in the voyage. She introduced herself as Robyn, but everyone in the group recognised her right away. Despite this none of the passengers (age range: 50-80) had the slightest clue who she was. As the days progressed, the band even worked up lounge versions of a few Rihanna songs and integrated them into their sets, inviting Robyn to come up and sing. Still no sign of recognition from the passengers. One even insisted that they remembered "Umbrella" from the 60s. By the time they reached the Bahamas the sign outside the ballroom had been altered to read "The Nighthawks featuring Robyn". A jolly time was had by all.

Now, as they leaned over the ship railing the precocious Ms Fenty hatched a new plan to be executed tonight before she disembarked tomorrow in Barbados. Tonight The Nighthawks would don some of the island masks that decorated the dining room and ballroom and play their entire sets with the bizarre headgear. This was a risky move that would undoubtedly get the band sacked when the ship eventually returned to England, but by this time The Nighthawks had already decided that the cruise life was not for them. So when evening arrived, onstage they trotted masked to the hilt. To the band's great surprise, the audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive and they got ovations for almost every song. Robyn joined them for a few numbers as usual, using for her mask a lampshade, cleverly pilfered from the Captain's quarters, depicting a caricature of Margaret Thatcher's face. She crooned a triumphant rendition of "My Way" as the final song of the evening. It was the highlight of the cruise, by far. The audience was hammered, the band was loose and having fun. It was a pivotal moment.

Bridgetown, St Michael, Barbados

The next day the Antigua Voyager docked at Bridgetown where Robyn departed and was met by a large number of family and friends. She and the band were to go in very different directions, the paths of which would never lead them to meet again for many years.

But Robyn had left a legacy behind. The Entertainment Officer now insisted that the Nighthawks ALWAYS play with the masks on. The passengers loved it! So mask-up they did every night for the remainder of the cruise, to the delight of all. When the ship finally docked at Portsmouth back in England, the Nighthawks informed the Entertainment Officer that they would not be returning for the next cruise. His response to this was to offer them double the money to return. This was hard to turn down, and indeed, band members would take turns regretting this decision in the coming months, but at the end of the day, how much lounge music can one be expected to play? They declined and never took to the sea as a band again.

Cut to:

Lushwood Hills, Kent, late 2015 - Dusty Regolith

For the last six years the band, having adopted the name Dusty Regolith, had been touring small clubs and pubs all over the UK, playing jazz-influenced instrumental music to largely indifferent audiences. This lineup included the addition of Keith Strange, trumpet and Rebecca Flamenghi, trombone. Now the band had returned home to Lushwood Hills to reflect on its penniless status and was about to take the stage at local venue, Coco's. Unbeknownst to the crowd of Coco's regulars and genuine Dusty Regolith fans, the band had decided to once more throw caution to the wind as they had on the ship some years earlier. For the first time since, they donned masks and mounted the stage with wild abandon. And abandon is exactly what they did. All of the group's rehearsed material went out the window and they simply free-improvised for two entire sets. This was another pivotal moment. The audience, although confused, seemed to go along with it and the band was delighted.

The stage at Coco's, 2023.

Cut to:

Lushwood Hills, Kent, February 2017 - Laszlo Spatchcock

After playing a dozen more gigs as Dusty Regolith, with sets consisting of a few composed numbers and lots of improv, Keith and Rebecca left the band in search of more structured material. This triggered, wait for it, another name change and the shift to pure improvisation, as they once again abandoned all of their rehearsed material. The first gig as Laszlo Spatchcock took place at The Factory, Lushwoood Hills on 19 February, 2017. Some of the recordings that night were used on the first LS album, Nice Music for Morons. It was also at this gig that the band bonded with Todd Brunner, forming a friendship that would eventually spawn the first LS album a couple of years later.

The Factory
The Factory stage, 2023.

The further story of Laszlo Spatchcock can best be followed by the progress of its music right here on Sublamental Records. From the free-form improvisation of 2017 to the jazz-tinged catchy instrumentals of 2023, it's been a fun ride and I am pleased to have been around to see and hear it all.

Oh, and the mask thing kind of stuck.

– Carmen Zitski, musician and friend of the band