Lambeth resident since the '70s, musician and journalist David Gelly confesses you'd have little trouble to identify, in what was then the London suburbs, a stream of venues where you could access live jazz. We learn setting up gigs and venues operated on more relaxed terms previously. Also, David describes those times were often without the stability to keep bands together, not benefitting from the bigger audiences the inner city was more able to generate.
Nigerian born saxophonist Camilla George ‘got to love jazz’ initially through the vivid exposure her parents provided. A good breadth of jazz via their vinyl collection and regular trips to Ealing Jazz Festival which intrigued and bewildered the youngster were key. Developing a career as a jazz musician thereafter, Camilla remains enthused and takes an active role in what she views as the resurgent roots of a vibrant dance aspect of jazz.
|Interview date||16th February 2017|
|Interview source||National Jazz Archive|
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David: Here in Brixton there’s a thing called the Black Cultural Archive and I was down here… it was about thirty odd years ago – in the Town Hall they had the most fantastic thing where they’ve got the whole mob of Caribbean musicians that came over in the early days – they were all still there! And they all had something to say and it was really great, [but now that they all?] turned up and talked them all under the table but it was fantastic and it was all recorded, so somewhere or other there’s a whacking great long tape of about 2 ½ hours of all these guys – I mean all of them you know.
Interviewer: Just for the benefit of this tape I’ve got with me Dave Gelly, who was a trustee with us at the National Jazz archive until a handful of years ago, a musician himself and a journalist of jazz, who fortuitously happens to live very, very close to where we are at Brixton at the moment, who has lived in this areas for about forty-two years so, I guess Dave the first thing to do is to begin at the beginning - were you born around here or were you born somewhere else?
David: I was born and apart from the war time, I lived – all the time I was at school n’ that in Plumstead in Shooters Hill which is over by the river, but from 1969 onwards I’ve lived in this sort of area, first of all at Crystal Place and then for the last 40 odd years at Hearn Hill which is very close to here, so I’m a sort of ‘walking – enquire within’ about all the places that used to be jazz venues that aren’t anymore, and I drive around the area and I think ‘that used to be so and so, I heard so and so playing in there’, and they’re all Tesco stores or they’ve been turned in to blocks of flats it seems to me.
Interviewer: Did you visit the area from a jazz point of view before you moved? So you’ve had history that goes back to –
David: Yes, I’d have to stop and think about the all the names of where the places are but what the names of the actual venues were and so on… but I mean if you were to take a little wander from around Dulwichand West Norwood and so forth you would go past several places and if you took in Peckham as well you’d have endless places, where if you looked in the Melody Maker club columns back in the 1950s and 60s you would have seen places where there would have been jazz on. A lot of them almost all to them would have been large pubs with a biggish room which was called the function room or the club room or something like that which people used to hire and this is how jazz used to be organised at a grass roots level throughout the country as far as I know. Certainly, it was the case in London and I think in most cities. So that a promoter, somebody, a jazz fan who had a bit of ‘go’ in him wanted to put something would just put down the money to rent a room for an evening and get somebody to sit at the door with a roll of raffle tickets and charge the admission and would put an advertisement in the Melody Maker, and that was it really and book the people. If it was traditional or mainstream jazz then it was usually bands and very often it was run by a band anyway – it was their own club. If it was modern jazz there’d very often be... have a rhythm section and they’d have guest soloists – because these were all professionals and they wanted to be paid – you couldn’t get whole bands of them, you’d never afford it. And a lot of my modern jazz listening was done at a pub in Dartford – it was a bit of a riot on a trolley bus but it was a very nice place – it was the Railway Hotel, it was right by the station at Dartford, and every Friday night I think it was, they had a different soloist and all the – Don Rendell and Vic Ash – all of them – Jimmy Deuchar they all came down and played as soloists with a very good rhythm section and the rhythm section were the guys who worked in the local Palais [typical venue] normally. And that was the sort of set up and it worked very well. And it would probably still work quite well today if there were the venues but of course we all know what’s happened to licensed premises in towns – people don’t go to pubs. Social life is different now; people don’t conduct their social life in public so the whole edifice has sort of crumbled. When you do have a place like that – there are a few little places like that. People have started…there’s one near me underneath Hearne Hill station in the– what do they call it? In the under workings – you know sort of like a cavern underneath which used to be a timber yard and that is a nice little place. I mean you hear the trains rumbling across the top but they are not deafening and it’s just a nice shambolic little place where… but everybody, I mean everybody wants to play there, so it’s not as relaxed as it would have been in the old days.
Interviewer: I mean going back to the Railway Hotel, the soloist[s] coming were working professionally as musicians, was that the same with the house band or were they semi-pro?
David: I think the house band… they were only a rhythm section and the rhythm [section] seemed to change a bit but usually they were the same guys. If they had a gig… there were about three on everything except the drummer; I think he ran the music there you know. And I think they just took whatever was left. I don’t think they [were] really bothered [about it] that much ‘cause these guys were working a lot you know. Semi-pro musicians weren’t all that different from pro musicians in a place like London, in the London suburbs where there was a lot of activity, a lot of social activity… just far less social activity you see - this is the point, and so there’s not that same sort of core of people to call on. But that’s what it would be and the guys would come down – there was generally agreed… it wasn’t a lot of money and there was a night off they had when they weren’t working with Oscar Rabin or somebody - they would turn up.
Interviewer: Because the situation now is a lot of musicians are doing teaching or various other things, very few people can actually make a living out of it - a consequence I guess of the reduction of the number of clubs?
David: Yeah but of course the thing about it is, in the days when it was supposed to be the great days of modern jazz, it was almost impossible to keep a band together which was playing modern jazz. It was hardly… Don Rendell could tell you the tale about The Don Rendell Sextet which was one of the most lovely little bands and it was constantly on the edge of bankruptcy and what finally did it was they got a big bill for the coach, they used to hire a coach to travel for the six of them, sort of minibus thing, and the cost of that finally did it for him, and they had to disband the band, and Don had to go and take a job with Ted Heath and he paid off his debts in three weeks - that shows you the difference.
But there was never… The Johnny Dankworth Seven was constantly on the edge of collapsing simply because there was no… if you got all the audience together it was quite big, but apart from the centre of London it was scattered right across the country in little’ tu’penny/ ha’penny bits’ [small old money denominations] and consequently there weren’t enough in one place to do it. It was different with traditional jazz cause most of those guys were at the most semi-pro in those days and they gradually, gradually… some of them became professional. But a band like Mike Daniels Delta Jazz band, which was a very, very good classic jazz-style band - it wasn’t a New Orleans style band [a sort of Jelly Roll Morton-sort of band?]. That was a very, very good band and I don’t think… certainly Mike I don’t think was ever a professional musician and maybe one or two of the guys in the band were, because they had some private income or something like [Mike?] but a lot of them had a job, and even Lyttelton’s [Humphrey Lyttelton] band, not at the very top of its career but as it was coming up in the mid-fifties not at the top of the fifties, had at least one member who had a full time job – Freddy Legon – he worked as a sales manager for a firm of catering equipment firm. He was the sales manager and he was managing to keep up… he said it was bit of a hard go at sometimes but he was working with Humph’s band and travelling around the country. How he did it, God only knows. [11’01”]
Interviewer: I mean the story is often told about the great divide between the modernists and the traditionalists. Amongst the musicians themselves was that there too or was it amongst the audiences only?
David: No, well it would depend when it was. There’s a sort of a time line in this. My book ‘An Unholy Row’ is more or less about this actually, it’s about how jazz developed… jazz in Britain, I should say rather than British jazz, from the end of World War II until the 60s, and it developed and changed very quickly…
So at the very beginning the two sides, the two strands of jazz if you like were totally different. They were different socially, culturally and all the rest of it, and all their attitudes were completely different except for one thing, and that was they were both convinced - quite rightly - that jazz wasn’t a paying concern and wasn’t a thing you could make a living out of you know but their attitudes were all completely different. But gradually this actually changed over the course of time but it never really healed. What finally did it was the death of trad [Traditional Jazz] because traditional jazz got so popular that turned into trad which turned into a sort of [abhorrent] ‘Abba’ and form of Pop music and then it got dropped like a hot brick by everybody which was very bad because it means to say you’ve got very little… you’ve just go the beginnings now in 2017 of a new sort of jazz revivalism coming up with certain music students suddenly taking an interest in old jazz and started doing it again but it finished it off really… there was still plenty of people following it today – there are still Trad bands playing about the place – all knocking on a bit now. But that’s what finished it off as any sort of reputable thing, I think. Some people…Ken Coyler and that kept that sort of thing, which was New Orleans jazz.
Interviewer: More purist - yeah sure.
David: But all those other… there was a wonderful variety of bands playing in different sorts of… Eddie Condon-type bands and there were classic Armstrong-type bands you know, the wash boards bands - there were all sorts, and they were all doing it about that time pretty well. But there weren’t more people coming in to do it, so it tends to be a generational thing and now there's very little of it. I had the melancholy task of writing Mike Daniels’s obituary for the Daily Telegraph and I suddenly thought ‘there won’t be any - I don’t think there is anyone else like him left’ apart from Chris Barber is a different kettle of fish altogether. But those dedicated guys who just did it because they… and everybody admired them because they did it well and they had good bands and so forth. But there’s no bands like that going about nowadays, in fact there’s very little in the way of bands. You get projects. They’ll put something together and they’ll sort out a tour and do they’ll do a tour and that’ll be their project and then it will all stop and then they’ll do another one. But the idea of having ‘A’ band that sticks together through thick ‘n’ thin, I think we’ve seen the last of those.
Interviewer: I mean do you think the Skiffle leading in to the Pop bands, you know a factor in this – that semi-pro musicians have a different outlet rather than the traditional jazz route?
David: Oh I see what you mean, oh yes the electrified Skiffle groups.
Interviewer: If you like – I suppose that’s what Pop is. [15’51”]
David: Yeah well you could hear it in the old days so easily in the old days because the thing I point out in ‘An Unholy Row’ is that if you listen to Elvis Presley’s first record called ‘That’s alright Mama’ it was on Sun records, and you listen to Lonny Donegan’s ‘Rock Island line’, they were recorded in the same month, those two records, and you listen to them and they sound very similar. The only thing that is different of them is the whole rhythmic feel of it – the guitar sound is almost exactly the same. The only difference is the Lonny Donegan’s one got a wash board and Elvis’s got a drum kit. They do sound staggeringly similar and that far apart – a matter of days apart they were recorded, so.
Interviewer: I suppose in a sense that’s an enormous tribute to Lonny Donegan isn’t it? And the Skiffle movement that it was actually that close to what was actually happening
David: Well yes I suppose so but then Elvis Presley was only trying to… imitating the Black singers. He was imitating Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and some years later I did a tour in Britain with Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and his attitude to this was a bit, let’s say somewhat dubious; he hadn’t got the… he couldn’t remember Elvis Presley’s name for a start - he thought he was called Alvin Preston – he couldn’t see why he’d done it, and he didn’t know why he hadn’t got any money for it. Anyway, that’s beside the point.
Interviewer: Was there a sense of resentment presumably on a professional level or did it?
David: What with the Rock ‘n Roll thing?
David: Yes, well the Rock ‘n Roll thing happened and all of a sudden it was competing with traditional jazz as a live dance music. ‘Cause live dance music was traditional jazz, right? Because that’s what young people liked as live dance music – you go back to 1955/56 and that’s what they all had – even the young conservatives had [a] trad band and [would] hire a boat and go float up and down the Thames. And so, in those mid 50s once Rock ‘n Roll came along, it set up an alternative attraction if you know what I mean. Some people went for one thing and some people went for another but you know there was a lot of money in the Rock ‘n Roll thing… money put into it. And so it was the modern jazz players that, rather against their will, they began to get involved in the Rock ‘n Roll [business?]. You know that if you watch the Tommy Steel story which came out in about… films in 57 something like that, you’ll see in the backing group… you’ll see the Tenor player, it’s Ronnie Scott. In fact he’s the guy that’s on the record… one of those… I forget – ‘Rock with the Caveman’ or one of those. But they considered it not only beneath them but they considered it was demeaning work and it got to the point when Tony Crombie formed the ‘Tony Crombie’s Rockets’, which was the first sort of Rock ‘n Roll band - all jazz musicians, all the out of work jazz musicians - they got so fed up, it was boredom [and] self-disgust – caused them to be… behaviour to become less than might have been desired. Yeah, so that’s what happened then.
Interviewer: Well I think Dave they are trying to line up some more people, so it’s been great talking to you - thanks very much for that.
Interviewer: So, I’ve got with me Camila George who performed for us here at the event at Brixton. And unlike the vast majority of people that I’ve interviewed on this… a slightly younger generation let’s put it that way than many of the folk – let’s put it that way. Let’s begin at the beginning - when were you born? Where were you born?
Camilla: I was born in 1988 in Nigeria, in a small town called Eket
Interviewer: When did you come to the UK?
Camilla: When I was one and a half or two I think, so I’ve been here most of my life – yeah.
Interviewer: So no great musical influence that you would remember at least - from that period - your musical influence was from all here yeah?
Camilla: Well, I grew up listening to my parent’s vinyl and they had a lot of ‘Fela’ [Fela Kuti]. They’ve seen Fela – I think it was in the 70’s, which is pretty cool, so I definitely was listening to a lot of High Life and Afro Beats.
Interviewer: And you started to gravitate towards jazz?
Camilla: Yeah that was my Dad because he had a huge vinyl collection and that’s where I started to learn about who was who in jazz. He loved Sidney Bechet, Stanley Turrentine, Sonny Stitt and I kind of got to love jazz through him I think.
Interviewer: So, you’ve almost covered the gamut there from Bechet to more sort of modern players or…?
Camilla: Yeah, yeah I mean he didn’t go as far as Coltrane he thought he played too many notes but I love Coltrane but yeah, I took it further. I definitely had a good basis for the jazz genre.
Interviewer: And I know you mentioned earlier in the session about how you gravitated towards your instrument but it would be useful to talk some more about that so how did you get involved with the saxophone?
Camilla: Well I’d seen it - I saw it a neighbour’s or a friend’s house and yeah manged to get a sound out of a tenor which no one else could do so I thought ‘this is amazing’. And I did really like the Simpsons, [I’m] not gonna lie, so the Lisa character was a thing and I think we went to something – cause I’ve always lived in West London, and the Ealing Jazz festival – my Mum has been taking me to that since I was tiny and I’d seen some saxophone masterclass and didn’t understand what was going on but I really liked it and I was really young and that was it – the love started then. Unfortunately, I had to wait until I was 11 to actually get my hands on a saxophone but from then that was no looking back.
Interviewer: Were you able play it at school or did you have to take private lessons or…?
Camilla: I was lucky cause I won the music competition at school that’s how I got the lessons, and a saxophone to rent at first. So, I had a lesson with another boy which I think really helped me because we were really competitive. We wanted to be the best in the lesson, and so it pushed me I think in those early stages where… cause I teach a bit of sax as well and you find with a lot of kids they’re like ‘I wanna play sax’ and then realise it’s difficult and the ones that are determined break though the barriers and the other ones will fall by the wayside and I think because we had this rivalry going it really pushed me forward. He dropped off actually – he was in to football – and then I got a special place at a music service, a Saturday school and from then onwards was having lessons every Saturday with a member of the Jazz Warriors actually, he was a baritone player in the Jazz Warriors – Glen Williams, a great player – does a lot of shows now, and I did orchestras, everything, choir, so it was really great.
Interviewer: OK, did you do any informal stuff – start forming bands or jamming outside?
Camilla: Yeah I think… I didn’t enjoy school that much so… as soon as I did start learning the saxophone, I did use quite a lot of break times to practice and I had a little friend and I remember we were obsessed with the tune from Minder; we’d see it on UK Gold so we used to practice that every break time, and at school actually they had smaller bands. We had a jazz band, a soul and funk band as well as an orchestra which I did as well as doing the Saturday school. I think that’s as far as I went in terms of the informal stuff until I got a bit older.
Interviewer: And this was the way that you got into Jazz - was this kind of through the Jamey Abersold type books or chord charts, what sort of tuition were you getting in terms of improvising?
Camilla: Well I didn’t do the improvising thing until a bit later because I had Glen as my teacher we started doing jazz studies so you’d be learning Bebop tunes from the... what’s it called? Omni book. And then I met Gary Crosby because I went to see Jazz Jamaica when I was about 12, I think – I saw them playing and I thought they were amazing – Dennis Baptiste and I think it was Jason Yarde on alto and they were like ‘Oh you must keep playing, you must keep playing’ and through them I heard of Chante songe [?] and I went to the Guildhall summer school and that’s really when I first started getting into jazz because I had John as a saxophone teacher there and I continued having lessons with him so he was- yeah, a really hard task master – he is not a big fan of - well actually we didn’t do lots of Abersold stuff he has his own way of teaching of how to improvise - you know – it’s quite heavy emphasis on transcription and making sure what you do transcribe is very accurate with transcriptions. You could ask him to play’ Giant Steps’ on alternate ‘Take two’, and he’s got it – he’s go so many solos in his head.
Interviewer: Yeah so in that sense it’s not so much theoretically bound with chord structures and leading tones presumably, the way that you were taught as this kind of learning from the greats, as it were.
Camilla: No, he did – he has his own way of – method of doing it, it’s just that we didn’t do it with Aebersold. We did work on chord tones, we work on guide tones – you really have to know what you are doing – it’s a different way – when I went to college I had lessons with three sax players – Jean , Julian Siegel and Martin Speake. Julian and Jean were quite similar but Martin Speake’s approach was vastly different to Jean’s but still covering the same thing - it’s just it’s slightly different. Jean – as well as learning the harmony and the theory, I also trained my ears – they were a lot stronger I think – with Jean he really, really makes it so that you know how to play; you understand what you’re playing and you can hear it. Which I think is for me - the key in able to kind of break free from that kind of restriction.
Interviewer: So at what point did you start working with bands and forming bands?
Camilla: Well I was lucky cause I was doing the ‘Warriors’ and I think it was in 2010, I got asked – they called me up twice, they called me once - ‘We think we’ve got a Jazz Jamaica gig for you’ I was like ’No’ and they thought they found someone else and actually he couldn’t do it and the person that couldn’t do it was Nat Facey – an amazing alto player and I was lucky enough to get in to the band and started playing with them regularly. Since then I haven’t really looked back. I formed my band in 2014, but I think it was the Jazz Jamaica experience that got me on the road of actually working with a regular band. [09’14”]
Interviewer: Did you find the sort of rapport between musicians developed as a consequence of that or is it still very much you do your own thing – Is there a lot of interplay?
Camilla: Yeah I think I consider the Jazz Jamaica people to be like family to me. I love all my band members. Obviously I think as musicians you all have your own projects and stuff. I think if you actively don’t get on with someone – I mean you could still make great music but it’s not attractive in terms of forming a band I guess, so there has to be some rapport because when you tour, it’s going to be quite difficult if you don’t get on.
Interviewer: You appear to be doing something that a lot of Jazz musicians can’t do at the moment and that’s making a living. How tough is it?
Camilla: Yeah well people say that but I actually think there is quite a - I’m not gonna say you’re gonna be rich but there are a lot of avenues to make money from Jazz. I mean nowadays what I really like about the scene and the reason why - I think there is a resurgence of gigs and people making money, is that there’s a real kind of thing of Jazz going back to – in my humble view is what it started out as which is a dance music – it was a popular music, and I think it’s something which is Jazz goes on many different tangents, and may have been lost in say in certain strands of Jazz. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with going to a concert hall and listening – I love going to the Barbican and Festival hall but what I really like is there are loads of venues where people are coming to hear Jazz, and they’re dancing and it’s engaging people of all different ages – you’re getting people coming that are 20’s; 19, you know 18 and it’s amazing. ‘Jazz Refreshed’ is one of the big ones in Ladbroke Grove at Mau Mau bar and this is giving all these young players – all these great groups that are playing the sound of now an opportunity to play and get paid. There’s a lot of money; there’s a lot of crossover – people doing stuff with Giles Peterson, there’s a lot more avenues to make money I think.
Interviewer: It kind of heartens me to hear that folks are returning to dancing to Jazz because this is one of my pet things too being someone who researches early Jazz because it did tend to lose its social function the more people wanted it to be a rarefied art music - the less people danced to it. I wonder sometimes if we look at things as Jazz history as a sequence of events is quite wrong it’s more kind of a layering and you’ve still got that undercurrent if you like – that dance thing that keeps coming back - I mean it came back the sort of Blue Note thing in the early 60’s.
Camilla: Yeah I think so. I think you can’t say it’s just about dancing, it’s not that, I just think it’s more that it’s coming back as a popular music with bands like Yusef Lateef[?], gosh there’s so many - Snarky Puppy – these are bands, and I’ve got friends who are not musicians, and they would pay; they’ve got the album - they’ve got the vinyl you know, and that’s the thing that I think is exciting.
Interviewer: You’re making the point I think, that you’re going on tour to promote your album – is that right? Which of course is pretty much the way that people used to do in the pop sense up until about 20 years ago but then of course they flipped it on its head, and they would make an album to promote a tour, because that’s where all the money was.
Camilla: Yeah not in Jazz certainly.
Interviewer: But now if of course people are starting to dance to Jazz more maybe this whole thing that people have had – perhaps as much of they can of music and the internet and the rest of it, and it’s the live music again that starts to be where the action is at.
Camilla: Yeah I think so I think there are a lot of people who are up for going to gigs and think that’s important I think that’s why touring is important.
Interviewer: So tell us about the tour.
Camilla: Well the tour, we’re starting on 22nd February were going to Leeds, Manchester, the Lake District. Kenilworth, North Wales, Cardiff - I can’t remember all the venues. We finish at The Vortex on 2nd March – we like playing there, and yeah it’s our first UK tour and hopefully won’t be our last.
Interviewer: Well thanks Camilla. I see there are folks queuing at the door, really great to talk to you, thank you very much, cheers.
Interviewer: Get things going. So I guess just to introduce ourselves. I guess you may have heard early on – Vic Hobson, and you are?
Interviewer: Catherine and?
Interviewer: and Arthur.
Interviewer: Who came along today for our session here at Age UK in Brixton. Do you live locally?
Interviewer: So fairly locally, yeah. Regulars here at the Age UK?
Catherine: We have been here for various like old films and things like that. That’s about it really.
Interviewer: With a particular interest in Jazz I understand, from the folks that have…
Catherine: My son teaches it. Well he’s a Jazz enthusiast. He really is. Way, way back. I do quite like it but he really is the enthusiast.
Arthur: When you was talking earlier on, I thought I could interrupt but I won’t… Coleman Hawkins.
Catherine: Coleman Hawkins – I’ve just bought a DVD of his.
Arthur: Charlie Parker - I saw him playing in England, in London, years and years ago. I thought ‘keep quiet’.
Interviewer: What - you saw Coleman Hawkins when he was here?
Arthur: When he playing, he was banned from playing. And it was at the Coliseum, yeah and his Saxophone was on the stage and I think, it was Dankworth, I’m not quite sure announced ‘Any member of the audience is welcome to come and play on the stage, it’s a free night, anyone is welcome to come on the stage.’ Of course Coleman Hawkins is sitting in the audience, got on the stage and started playing didn’t he?
Catherine: What do you mean, why was he banned on the…?
Arthur: The Musicians Union banned him from playing.
Catherine: Oh I see. So that was a way around it.
Interviewer: I’m sure I’ve heard this before actually, from… It was Coleman Hawkins. I had a feeling it was…
Arthur: It was either Coleman Hawkins or Parker, one of the two. I am sure it was Coleman Hawkins.
Interviewer: – I think,
Catherine: His memory is a bit - If you can think of the name maybe you’ll think.
Interviewer: I had a feeling it was Sidney Bechet that that happened with,
Catherine: I’ve never heard you mention him.
Interviewer: But I may very well be wrong on that.
Arthur: I did see him play somewhere. Sidney Bechet, a long long time ago.
Interviewer: But certainly there was this problem; it’s the same with the Union.
Arthur: Coleman Hawkins, he was in The Melody Maker – he was in there but he’d been banned. The Musician’s Union banned him from playing in England. But there was still a concert on that night, you were all welcome to come, I think it was free actually one night, so a crowd of us went and [it was announced] ‘any member of the audience is allowed to come and play on the stage’, of course he walked up and started playing and the big band behind him.
Interviewer: So this would have been after the war presumably?
Arthur: Yeah, ’57 I think then.
Catherine: In my dining room I’ve got a huge photograph – I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘A Great Day in Harlem’?
Interviewer: Oh yeah, the picture of them all sitting on the…
Catherine: Ah it’s absolutely wonderful, and I’ve got that on an old, old video, talking about them all, it’s really wonderful. Yeah I love that picture.
Interviewer: Yeah some lovely photos aren’t there?
Catherine: We’ve done New York, 17 years one after the other and we used to go on a Jazz trail from Flushing in Queens to Corona where they all lived and we’ve been in Satchmo’s [Louis Armstrong] house.
Interviewer: Oh the museum house.
Catherine: And he was in his study and at the bottom of his garden, his garden ran that way, and there was another house that ran that way, and that was Dizzy Gillespie’s and they used to call out to one another when they were going.
Interviewer: Do you know I didn’t know that.
Catherine: And Satchmo had no children and when the ice cream van used to come round, he used to go out and call all the kids and he’d buy them all ice creams every day. [laughs] So we’ve seen all those you know.
Arthur: We saw different musicians, I cannot remember their names now
Catherine: Oh no it was only one – Milt, Milton, Milt Miltoner or whatever his name is.
Interviewer: Milt Hinton, I think you… [laughs].
Catherine: We met his wife and his daughter. But other than that I don’t know how we can know [laughs]
Arthur: His wife came out and talked to us.
Interviewer: Well the sort of things we are looking at I suppose is this intergenerational thing. I mean when you were first getting into Jazz you were presumably quite young.
Catherine: Oh I was more Motown, I was twisting.
Interviewer: I see so you came to it a little bit later.
Catherine: Yeah I think because me son – he’s a Bass guitarist and he does Jazz/Fusion, well he teaches that. That’s how I sort of started to appreciate a bit of Jazz but I’m more Nina Simone and all that sort of thing you know.
Interviewer: I mean I don’t know if this is sort of generally true or whether or not it was true for you, I mean I get the impression that perhaps your parents would have been less tolerant of your musical tastes than – No? Your parents were very tolerant were they?
Catherine: No they weren’t [laughs].
Interviewer: Right OK.
Catherine: ‘Turn that rubbish off’.
Arthur: ‘Turn that rubbish off, love’… me dad bought a radio.
Catherine: They just didn’t appreciate it. I think the working man didn’t years ago, they maybe liked a little bit of Dance music or something like that but Jazz was over their heads and of course when Chubby Checker etc. and all that came out, well that was just noise to them I think. They didn’t appreciate it at all. I don’t even think they grew to appreciate it. I don’t know what you think about that?
Arthur: My mum or dad never did, I used to go to the Palladium every other Sunday when Ted Heath had a concert because Jack Parnell is the nephew of Val Parnell isn’t he and they played Palladium Sunday evening. So he appears and the Ted Heath big band there and various guest stars used to come and play, Lita Roza used to come and sing and Dankworth used to play, Cleo Lane. All them used to come and sing and dance and [sighs] I can never remember – Bonar Colleano the actor. I remember me and my mate Ron were walking down the stairs, we got lost going down some stairs and Bonar Colleano and a young lady on the stairs, doing things we didn’t know about in them days [laughs]
Catherine: You shouldn’t say things like that.
Arthur: Yeah we didn’t know, we were only 16/17 do you know what I mean? – didn’t know what they were doing like - Bonar Colleano was an actor wasn’t he?
Catherine: So this is about all we know. Not a lot of help really is it?
Interviewer: No it is because, it seems to me this was a period where you’ve got a lot of venues, a lot of places for people to go, a lot of famous people who you can just get a few feet away from.
Arthur: Eric Delaney, he used to be a drummer and he had a big band, he had two bass drums ‘bom, bom, bom’ Eric Delaney, a big band.
Catherine: I don’t suppose we appreciated it that much that they were gonna be famous did we?
Interviewer: No, I was talking to Dave Gelly earlier on who is local and is a Jazz journalist and a Jazz musician and he was sort of saying around this area, there were just clubs everywhere for all different sorts of Jazz, different types of, and as you say I mean a lot of these people went on to become quite famous, or were already quite famous when you saw them in the 50’s but now of course it’s so different, the clubs are not there, everybody’s…
Arthur: We used to go to the Swan Stockwell, they a big room above the bars, [there were] a lot of Jazz musicians in there
Catherine: Yeah do you think it was something to do with them not making records or whatever, not doing vinyl so much in those days, people had to go out to clubs more to hear it all. Or not being able to afford much too vinyl maybe the clubs were more affordable? Because I couldn’t afford many records when I was living, when I was young. I didn’t have the money.
Arthur: Dankworth always played with his back to the audience.
Catherine: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Did he?
Arthur: Always, always, I seen him playing in two or three different places, he was always….
Interviewer: I think it’s interesting with records, I think perhaps people had to be more selective, certainly.
Catherine: Money wise are you talking?
Interviewer: Well money, and as a consequence of course tastes I think as well, you know. For example you said you were in to Motown. When the finances dictate of course, what happens is you tend to stick with that.
Catherine: I’ve got more money now than I did then.
Interviewer: Well, and of course far more access today, when you can just download on to your phone - half a million tracks.
Catherine: Or throw your credit card in a machine, I mean we couldn’t do that, could we?
Arthur: I was always skint, about 6 shillings a week I was earning but you know, I have to go to my Jazz clubs.
Interviewer: Did you have a particular sort of Jazz that you went for was it or just any kind of Jazz that was going on?
Arthur: I did like Ted Heath, the big band.
Interviewer: It was the big band thing with you was it?
Catherine: Was that termed as Jazz, Big Band?
Arthur: Yeah, Big Band Jazz, Dickie Valentine used to sing with them when he first started.
Catherine: Yeah but was that t termed as Jazz?
Arthur: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Catherine: Would you say so?
Interviewer: Yeah I would. What gets included or excluded from Jazz has sort of changed again over the years you know. Jazz started out as popular dance music.
Catherine: As you say the Yanks brought it didn’t they?
Interviewer: Yeah they did for sure.
Catherine: Yeah because we didn’t have that before, we started to appreciate it more and I think because the Yanks brought it. Because everybody appreciated the Yanks didn’t they?
Arthur: When we used to go and see the big bands, they had about 15/16 people in the band, and then half way through 4 or 5 come and played, they used to have a little session themselves.
Catherine: Was Glen Miller, was that Jazz would you call that Jazz?
Arthur: Yeah Glen Miller was Jazz. Ray Ellington and Frantic Five, have you heard of him?
Arthur: Ray Ellington’s Frantic Five.
Interviewer: I didn’t, no.
Arthur: Big fat man, what was his singer’s name? I can’t think, big man but he had a Jazz club in Kentish Town somewhere. We all paid money to go and see him and he didn’t bloody play anything [laughs] He got called a few names.
Catherine: Well this young man, he’ll be out of whatever [laughs] we’ve taken up a lot of your time haven’t we?
Interviewer: It’s been very interesting, this is exactly the sort of stuff, this is exactly the kind of stuff that we’re interested in you know, peoples actual experiences.
Arthur: Going back, on the underground. I remember one night I got off at Oxford Circus, got off the underground train, walking down the platform – ‘It’s him!’ all the girls come running up to me, they thought I was someone, I don’t know who – ‘It’s him!’ ‘Looks like’ [they were] screaming ‘No it’s not!’ and then they run away, I remember that.
Interviewer: That’s another thing, under what circumstances would you today, expect to find a pop or a rock star on the London underground? It just wouldn’t happen would it?
Arthur: After the concert, the Ted Heath concert, we used to go down the underground station, Oxford Street, and all the musicians used to go on the tube train going home.
Catherine: Yeah but that was then, that’s what we’re saying, you wouldn’t find that now.
Arthur: Little Jackie Armstrong the trombone player,
Catherine: You wouldn’t find that now.
Arthur: ‘What’s happened to your lips Jackie?’ and things like that. Then you got to the Northern line and a lot of them lived down [that way], cause one of my mates moved to Claygate and he said ‘The man next door is a musician, his name is Dankworth, have you ever heard of him?’ He moved next door to him, Johnny Dankworth, in Claygate, yeah, many years ago that was.
Catherine: Right we’d better go and let somebody else come in.
Interviewer: Good to talk to you both and I’ll see you.
Catherine: We’re sorry we couldn’t come up with anything.