Vera's relationship with music was initiated by her father's assumption that she ‘would be better for a career as a musician’. Despite completing Royal College exams it wasn't until she picked up an accordion and started a band however, that her own connection and real interest was sparked. Vera reflects she did very well to have made this work as a day job until after the war, amidst a time of few jobs for girls and wives: “It was a different world. But it worked out very well for me.”
|Interview date||26th October 2016|
|Interview source||National Jazz Archive|
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Vera: As a child there weren’t many careers for young women, so my dad made up his mind that I was going to be a music teacher. He had somebody come every Sunday and play the piano to get me to like music. I did all my examinations up in London at the Royal College. But then I got an accordion, and then I started earning some money - got a little band together. And of course, all I was interested in then was earning the money because I was earning more on the weekend than I was going up to London every day to work. So that’s how I got interested in-
Interviewer: -So this was going up to London to work as a music teacher? Or as a-
Vera: -No, not a music teacher-
Interviewer: -Just a day job, as it were-
Vera: Yeah, just a job really, because you had to have a job. I was still studying the music but of course, as soon as I got this little band together which my dad organised you know, the transport and everything - I got more interested…
Interviewer: So what sort of music were you playing?
Vera: Dance. All dance. I’ve still… I’ve only just, in the last year, given up dancing and I’m ninety-two now! So, I’ve only just… and of course, I had a female partner because there’s not many men at the dance halls. So right up to six months ago, I was going dancing twice a week with this friend but now, I’m afraid I’ve got to be more careful, you know, can’t keep on my feet so long. [00:02:21]
Interviewer: So, going back to where you’re sort of playing this dance music, what did you do? Go out and buy the sheet music?
Interviewer: Could you get arrangements for the whole band or just the piano parts?
Vera: Well, there was only four of us, you see: two piano-accordionists, saxophone and... Then we used to play sometimes in drill halls or clubs or wherever. My dad was in charge, he wrote to the various places and we got the jobs. So, I carried on for several… quite a few years. But then I moved to Brighton… and then I got in a band there.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Vera: I was dancing with somebody one day and talking while we were dancing and I was saying I liked the music and that. Then we got talking and he had a little band and he said ‘oh, would you come along to the hotel and perhaps we could fit you in.’ So he did, and so I carried on there in Brighton until the war ended. [00:03:47]
Interviewer: Right, I was just trying to do the mental arithmetic to work out what sort of period this would have been. So, this was just before the war and just through the war?
Vera: When the war broke out I was fifteen, and shortly after that we started with this little band because everybody wanted somewhere Saturday night, the drill halls, the clubs and my dad got the idea ‘oh, we could earn a little bit of money’ because I didn’t earn much going up to London to work. And so that’s how it started and I carried on, more or less, when I went to Brighton. And then I was twenty-two, and we all had to do a war job and I didn’t want to go in the forces so when I got to Brighton, I took on a job as a bus conductress. Then, when the war ended, I thought ‘right, now I’ve got to get a job’, so I wrote to the Foreign Office and I got an interview and I got a job and I went to Berlin. And that was the end of my music career. I finished up… I wrote to the Accordion Society and asked them if they’d like my old accordion for their collection. They said ‘no, they didn’t,’ but they sent me a ticket to an accordion band musical evening and my accordion finished on the dump.
Interviewer: Oh dear!
Vera: And that was the end. So that’s the story! So, I’m still interested in music, I’ve always been interested in music and I only had the last examination for my degree ‘cause I’ve been going to London school since I was about six or seven. Yes, I started very early with music. So, I was interested. [00:06:21]
Interviewer: Did you get to play at all for the troops or anything like that? Or was it just folks who sort of…
Vera: Well, on the clubs sometimes there was like troops all having a drink or something like that. Yes, I did play for some troops. There was something called ENSA [Entertainments National Service Association] and I wanted to go on that but my parents wouldn’t let me.
Interviewer: Was that because of the travel?
Vera: Because of my age. No, they wouldn’t let me – I was an only child, they wouldn’t let me. You know, I could go to work every day in London at fourteen but see I couldn’t make my own mind up because of my age. But [it] all worked out very well.
Interviewer: So more recently it’s just been the dance, rather than playing?
Vera: Yeah, I’ve lived here for quite a long time now and I’ve been going dancing most of the time. When I was working, I never had so much time, but as soon as I retired when I was sixty, then I started dancing. Been dancing ever since - until a year ago - which is very good at my age. I really gave up dancing, well, because I ought to have done; I wasn’t doing so much with my friend. But I moved into the town here, sheltered accommodation… It’s very nice where I live, Balkerne Gardens, it’s a charity place.
Interviewer: Okay. I don’t know the town at all.
Vera: It’s not like a charity; lovely rooms, lovely accommodation, a big garden. You can do everything there but I come out. You don’t have to stay there. You can stay there all day if you wish, but I come out. I’ve only been there a year and two months. [00:08:56]
Interviewer: Do you listen to music for pleasure? Obviously, you listen to dance music to dance to but is that the sort of thing you listen to for pleasure or not really?
Vera: No, but funnily enough, there’s two ladies there that have actually got a piano in their rooms.
Interviewer: Really? Okay.
Vera: And sometimes, one of the ladies – we have like a lounge and then you look on your programme – if the lounge is free, anyone that wants to can come down and have a chat together and twice she’s come down when I’ve been there and played the piano. And I’ve said to her ‘can you play that piano in you room?’ And she’s said ‘oh yes, nobody’s complained!’
Interviewer: Perhaps that’s something that has changed over the years. My mother, for example is quite a good piano player… people did play more instruments than I think is possibly the case now.
Vera: Yes, because we didn’t have anything else to do, there were so many things... Last week I went to a school, my granddaughter’s a teacher and they’re learning about World War Two next term. Myself and a gentleman… we went there to tell ‘em about World War Two. And when you say that there was no telephones, there were street lights and the milk cart come ‘round – when you say all that, they’re quite interested. It was a different world when I was a young girl. A young girl didn’t get a job much, there weren’t many jobs for girls and if you got into anything like the civil service, you had to retire. You couldn’t work if you was married - it was a different world. But it worked out very well for me. [00:11:25]
Interviewer: And maybe the other thing…was it kind of frowned upon, women working as musicians? Because you certainly had that with sort of actresses to some extent.
Vera: I never came across it.
Vera: No, I never came across that at all. No.
Interviewer: I suppose the other way ‘round it was quite common, particularly for middle class women to play piano – it was considered one of the refined things to do. Vera: Yes. That was mapped out for me because when I was fourteen, just before that, I could have gone on to West Ham for further education and my dad said ‘well, you can’t do both, but I think it would be better for a career as a musician,’ knowing what we did then. So, at fourteen, that was when I went to work. Because of that, that’s why I went to work at fourteen, because for the music.
Interviewer: Excellent. Well, it’s been nice talking to you. I didn’t ask your name right at the beginning of this because we just got going. I’m Vic anyway, and you are?
Interviewer: Vera. Very nice to talk to you.
Vera: And I’m a member here, it’s quite a nice club. I come here for bridge twice a week, you know, to get out because I don’t want to be with – well, I know I shouldn’t say this at ninety-two – but I don’t want to be with all the old people all the time! So, I come here, you see. They say ‘well, why don’t you have your hair done? There’s a place there’ or ‘why don’t you have your meals delivered?’ and I say ‘no, no; as long as I can, I’m going to come out.’ You feel better, I feel better. Well, very nice talking to you.