Farewell to Bod

Bod Bowles, Jazz trombonist, playing 1972 when The Grapes became The Louis Armstrong, Dover, EnglandIt was 1969 when I arrived in Dover and found The Grapes. There was a faded old Jaguar on the small, sloping forecourt. It looked right for the landlord, Bod. He was tall and a bit overweight with ginger hair, lacking on top and long at the back and sides. His glasses were old-fashioned, like Buddy Holly's. They enhanced the warmth of his grin. The bar was square-shaped and, on that first visit, early-evening empty but smokily airless. The walls were covered in old jazz posters, discoloured by years of cigarette smoke. There was jazz here - Mainstream on Wednesdays and on Sundays Bod led his traditional band on trombone. The place was always packed and there was a good collection when the hat was passed.

At other times, Bod sat behind the bar with a mug of coffee and the Daily Mirror Quizword, to a background of Radio 2. The chat was good with posties from the sorting office on their meal breaks and musicians from Canterbury and Folkestone and Ramsgate, who would happen to be passing and stop to chew the fat. Sometimes Bod played gems from his record collection, for the discussion.

In 1972, Bod changed the name of the pub to "The Louis Armstrong". Most of us couldn't get used to it, but the new playing area and décor were welcomed. Chris Barber came to unveil the new sign and join the jam. Musicians from Marine and Army bands came to jam with the regulars on Wednesdays. Jazzers passing through Dover would drop in. One night I counted 15 of them standing in a line stretching out of the door into the corridor, waiting to be called for their solo.

Other musical nights started – The Bill Barnacle Quartet on Thursdays, rock band Mirkwood on Fridays, folk from Hard Travellin' on Saturdays. I was privileged to play at these sessions and to release LPs of some on FLAMS, before going on a free transfer to Crawley’s New City Jazzmen. 28 years later, after Bod died, I recorded One for Bod (FLAMS FCD 004) - a tribute CD to Bod with The New City Jazzmen

Bod played on Sundays until his stroke a few years back. He continued to book trad jazz, his first love, on Sundays. And then came a note in a Christmas card. I ‘phoned and learned that Bod had been increasingly unwell in the past year, gone into hospital and died.

The family and the licensed victuallers waited on that forecourt for a hearse drawn by four plumed black horses. A jazz band marched slowly in front and the mourners fell in behind. The street was lined for the quarter-mile to St Paul's church. Pat Halcox was waiting at the church with a band to play Bod in. Inside, Bill Barnacle led a third band for the service. The congregation was moved to hear these New Orleans funeral tunes, familiar from smoky pubs, in their proper context. Later it was all back to The Louis where the music went on all day and evening to celebrate the life of this much-loved man - a real character who loved his jazz and who facilitated so much live music in Dover.

Bod Bowles 1930-2000

Copyright © John Scott Cree 2001

Chapter 8: "Doctor Jazz"

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