Chapter 8: Doctor Jazz
1969 was a momentous year. At a farm in upstate New York, there was a festival which was to give its name to a generation. It featured some of the best-known rock acts of the day and many of the lesser ones (and none of the biggest ones). Reputations were to be secured by a successful appearance at the event. Together with hundreds of thousands of other young people, I went to see the film of Woodstock when it came out. It wasn't the same. It was less muddy and the cinema audience didn't respond to the music. It also seemed a very long time to be sitting down, albeit in a "comfortable" seat looking at days worth of music condensed into a couple of hours. I'd been told to look out particularly for Ten Years After. I did. I couldn't see what the fuss was about. Old rock 'n' roll standards with overlong guitar solos and Alvin Lee pulling a lot of silly faces - perhaps you had to be there, but then you wouldn't have seen the faces. Oh well, horses for courses. The previous year at the Odeon, High Street Kensington, I saw The Graduate when it opened. It was a much better evening (and probably a better film ) and the audience clapped and cheered.
I moved jobs to Dover. Almost immediately I was able to go to see Ben E King at Bridge Country Club near Canterbury. He and his very tight English backing group had already played in London that evening, but they still put on a great show with many soul favourites and some old Drifters stuff.
However, I quickly missed hearing the music in London. The purchase of my first two 'new' (as opposed to second hand) LPs helped soften the blow. The rock machine turns you on had many good tracks by Taj Mahal, Electric Flag and others. I was attracted by the cover of the second LP. It featured Traffic, Jethro Tull and a bunch of other British bands standing in a crowd in what looked like Hyde Park - multiple memories there. The album was an Island sampler called You can all join in. When I eventually bought a second hand Dansette Conquest to play them on, I played them to death - you know how, when you've heard an album enough times, you can sing the opening line of the next song, in the right key, before it starts?
Apart from the odd pub gig and folk club, music in London had been more of a listening experience. Listening was now less of an option. Dover was off the circuit and, in any event, the USA and the college circuit claimed the major acts (they were welcome to the uninteresting, so-called symphonic rock bands). The Leas Cliff Hall at Folkestone was visited by second division bands and occasional glam rock. I made some excursions and saw George Melly and later Chris Barberís band (who were really innovative and engaging) in Canterbury but, as with Muddy Waters at the Royal Festival Hall, I was again under-awed by the experience of sitting in a theatre to hear this music. One Sunday afternoon, I journeyed back to London, again to the Royal Festival Hall and met up with Dad to see the drummers Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and Kenny Clare. An enjoyable but, although the music lacked a little variety for a non-connoisseur like me and was more for the head ("great technique") than the stomach or the hairs on the back of the neck.
I began to play more again, first in a folk duo, Pipe & Twee, with Ray Cooke. I also auditioned successfully for a residency at the Railway Club, Crabble in a ballroom dance trio with a wonderful character, Frank Horton, on organ. He had dyed hair and a twinkle in the eye. The drummer was Duke Humphries. The front head of his bass drum bore the legend "The Duke". Duke and I didnít get on too well and finally fell out over what constituted a 'twist' rhythm (a catch-all expression for four-in-the-bar pop etc numbers). He was playing a shuffle (ok for a medium tempo Chicago blues) but was adamant that it was a twist. He said he'd been playing since before I was in nappies. There was some support for my view that it was impossible to sing the song properly to that rhythm. Duke and I were not to share a bandstand again. Sometimes I played with the 7-piece Martin Brown Band with Bill Barnacle completing a trumpet/sax front line. We played dance/jazz standards and some old rock 'n' roll.
Radio reception was diabolical in the Dover area. Our radio could pick up the sound of TV broadcasts, as we lived right next to the transmitters, but not Radio 1. Our listening pleasure was derived largely from the Dutch pirate station Radio Veronica and from the 'last' English pirate, Radio North Sea International, which we listened to for the duration of its last broadcast.
With my wife, I went to a folk festival in Lincoln in 1971. This had a great bill opened by Ralph McTell, who played superb ragtime guitar and had the whole crowd joining in his recently written Streets of London. He was followed by an acoustic Dion with Abraham, Martin and John, Ruby baby etc. I was very anxious to see Tim Hardin, whose songs I first heard through Bobby Darin and Scott Walker. He sang his well-known Lady came from Baltimore, Black sheep boy, and Reason to believe in a style which was too jazzy at times and failed to project to the audience as it should have. Steeleye Span were entertaining. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were a thrill to see after all those years of listening to their records. Their set was pretty well the one they recorded at The Troubadour with Lightnin' Hopkins, which I had bought on the Saga label, and included the wonderful Just rode in your town. Sandy Denny was billed to appear with Fotheringay but they'd since disbanded. Instead, she sang powerfully with Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg and Gerry Conway who, I'm told, called themselves The Happy Blunderers - I thought I recalled her saying they were The Bunch. Tom Paxton was so predictably superb, that we thought we'd leave, so good had been the feast. Still to come were The Byrds, Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and James Taylor. However, as we were making our preparations and farewells, The Byrds came on stage. They had been billed to play an acoustic set, but they stormed on with the electric Rock and roll star and played a classic set which included a cymbal knocking over version of Jesus is just all right and an acoustic second half which included Chestnut Mare. They were magnificent. I hadn't been a fan previously, but now I was converted. When they finished, that really was it for us. It couldn't get any better. By this time the audience at the back were chucking cans about and setting fire to the rudimentary toilets which straddled a long ditch.
From 1971 to the beginning of 1973, clarinettist Bruce Roberts and I joined trumpeter Bill Barnacle and his 14 year-old son Steve on bass, in the Bill Barnacle Quartet, playing every Thursday at Dover's music pub The Grapes. Bruce sometimes doubled on alto and tenor sax, and Bill played some electric piano. We improvised on anything except pop and had other musicians to sit in, including Mick Fox on harmonica, Jack Castle and Mick Morris from Mirkwood on guitars, trumpeter Ian Shawcross, and Steve's brother Gary on sax. Steve's younger brother, the talented 12-year-old Pete was too young to play drums in The Grapes, but was always around. The Barnacles' friend Nick Headon played drums with us on our first gig and Dick Lonergan and Chico played drums a couple of times, but apart from those 3 occasions we made a point of playing without a drummer, to make Steve and me work enjoyably harder. Some of these musicians went on to perform with The Clash, Tina Turner, Ian Gillan, Rick Wakeman, Queen and Basil Brush among others.
The Bill Barnacle Quartet played a memorable (for the wrong reason) mini jazz festival at Nero's night club in Ramsgate. We were badgered by an inebriated woman and her over-bearing escort to let her sing Hey ba ba ree bop with us. We refused because we weren't playing that kind of music, it wasn't that kind of evening and the woman didn't look up to it. However, we backed down eventually to avoid a scene. She was as bad as we had feared, crossing the beat and singing out of tune. We lost the audience within seconds. Ramsgate - a lot of people died there; I know how they felt.
The genial landlord of The Grapes, Bod Bowles hosted "live" music on several nights each week (click on the link you've just passed to see a tribute). I had sat in with his eponymous jazz band, which included Bruce and Bill and which played there every Sunday. Bod renamed the pub "The Louis Armstrong" in 1972.
My father had formed a record label, FLAMS, in 1968 to market his drum tuition LP. In Dover, with Ron Nunn recording and designing and printing sleeves, FLAMS released two albums by The Bod Bowles Jazz Band. On Volume 1, I played the guitar belonging to Bod's wife, Jackie, on 4 tracks when the banjo player (Pete Mercer) was unable to make the session. The sleeves had already been printed, so I didn't receive a mention. FLAMS also released LPs by the Saturday residents at The Louis Armstrong, Hard Travellin' (FLAMS FR 1065) and by the Friday residents at The Louis Armstrong, Mirkwood (FLAMS FR 1067). At the time of writing, these last two are quoted in reference works on collectors' records at £800 and £400 respectively - we pressed only 99 copies. Strangely, the Bod Bowles item on which I played, is not quoted.
Running the label was always a difficult operation. The easy part was recording. It was then a problem to find a pressing plant who were prepared to commit to producing such a short run. Even when they indicated willingness, it was always impossible to make them stick to schedule. At the drop of a hat, if a record suddenly took off in the charts, the major labels would commandeer all these smaller plants to press their record to meet consumer demand; this was true particularly in the second half of the year in the run up to Christmas. However, it was an interesting experience, even the drive to the Old Kent Road in my old Austin A50 to pick up the consignment. It was useful in pointing to the need for good personal relations with key personnel, to try to get the job done within a reasonable time scale. I also learned much about business reality from paying nearly all the profits to accountants, even in years of nil returns.
At about this time, the legendary guitarist Davy Graham came to live in Deal. I was privileged to have some guitar lessons with him, which didn't include Anji.
Copyright © John Scott Cree 2001
Click here for Chapter 9: "The Folker"
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