Kenny Baxter
Pete Corrigan

Bass player to the jazz greats and leader of Pete Corrigan and the Band of Hope.


Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.

Bunny Courtenay

Pete Corrigan

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I’m from Plymouth, both Naval towns. Yes I first started on stage with my Dad actually when I was about 12 years old. But when I went for my first job, which was at Clarks’ Shoe factory, I met one or two musicians and people that loved Jazz and they said “Look, you’ve gotta go to this place called the Plymouth Arts Centre” which I did, and I met up with John Surman and Mike Westbrook, so they were the first guys I played with.


So you couldn’t get more Contemporary Jazz than that then


No that’s right


What year was this?


I’d have been 16/17 years old that time, probably 1960 – such a long time ago but we had some wonderful times there as well. Then both those guys came up to London to seek fame & fortune – did very well & travelled the world and I took over the running of the Jazz club that they set up. Well, when I say took over running it – no one else wanted to collect the money on the door, so really that’s how it started. It was always on Thursday evenings and one Thursday the bass player couldn’t turn up because he was working. His bass was there and they said “Look they’ve had permission for anyone who comes in to use the bass”, so I said “Please Sir can I have go?” as I’d been learning a bit of classical guitar and things like that, and I just picked up the bass and thought “This is for me”. So I ended up doing all the gigs around town.




I had to borrow basses from different people.


Do you play electric as well as acoustic? 


Yes, we call it a cricket bat ( laughs). It’s great to have a change. I’ve tried all different instruments over the years. In fact I think the first main instrument I played at that Jazz club was drums. I always wanted to be a drummer but I couldn’t get all the bits of my body moving independently ( laughs) so I’ve specialised in the double bass, and it went from there. So I thought “You’re a big fish in a little pond (Plymouth), so it’s time to branch out & follow the rest of the guys up to town” as we say. So I came to London and the first thing I had to do was get a job as I had no money. This took me into the IT world. I had to have a job and I’m still involved in IT but that’s another story. We’re talking about Jazz now. Through going to places like the 100 Club in Oxford Street, down to Ronnie Scott’s where I met back up with Mike Westbrook & John Surman, because they were playing in the old place and I used to go down there and have a sit in with them down there.


So that was in the 50’s then?


Yeah the late 50’s. So it moved on from there. It took a good 18 months to 2 years to, if you like, get connections and things . Then going to the 100 Club was the place because all the big bands and the stars were there, including Kenny Ball, Alex Welsh, Alan Elsdon, Monty Sunshine, Chris Barber and so on. The list is endless.


Were you particularly interested in New Orleans at that point or all forms of Jazz?


I was doing all sorts. I’d been playing in a Big Band in Plymouth as well, and reading all the different music. I taught myself, I’ve never been to music college or anything like that. I just learnt by mixing with the good guys, and my reading is not brilliant but it gets me by. When I came here I found that I enjoyed Dixieland so much and also it's entertainment as well – people like to be entertained, they like to dance and that was what did it for me. Obviously I then had to listen to a lot of the American, New Orleans and then it goes back to the Blues and so on, to gain a wider knowledge of the different types of Jazz that there was around. Probably like the same you play as well, and as you said earlier, you’re more on the contemporary side.


I’m a Latin percussionist


Now I know why you do that. I like that stuff. Anyway, once I’d started playing at places like The Iron Bridge Tavern in Canning Town, I started to meet a few guys there.


Was that a regular night at The Iron Bridge Tavern? Was it every week?


It was run by Queenie Watts (laughs). It was her Pub, and they had Jazz every night.


Queenie Watts – of course they did.


I went in there and started to meet musicians that lived in Essex. I was living in West Hampstead at the time then I eventually I moved down to Surrey. Prior to that I started mixing with the guys like Alan Elsdon and Hugh Rainey, who is still my banjo player – right from the first day. He’s still with me. He’s the only member of the band that has been with me since day one.


What a lovely man as well.


Fabulous guy – we’ve had some great times together and of course he was with Bob Wallace And The Storyville Jazzmen and I ended up in Bob Wallace’s band after meeting him. And through Hugh, then, I met another fabulous trumpet player called Dennis Field - played a lot of cornet actually but did play trumpet as well. He played the flugel horn as well.


Was he from Essex?


Oh yes, he was from Hornchurch. So what actually happened was I started working more in this area and I was also working just through the Blackwall Tunnel at The Mitre – just through the tunnel there on the left. I started doing a regular scene there on a Sunday evening and I bumped into a gentleman called John Hole and his wife Ginny but he actually turned out to be the Administrator of this theatre (the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch). I got chatting them to the at the bar as they used to go and listen to Jazz on a Sunday night which was run by a guy called Wally Butcher, who was a singer and also he worked on the ferry going across the river there. 


What year would you say that was?


It's just over 38 years ago when I first met John because he’d just opened this theatre and he said “Oh Pete, could you put a band in my theatre?” I said “Well where is it? “ and he said it was in Hornchurch. “Now that’s interesting because I know quite a few guys who live in the Essex area. So when would you like this to happen?” He said “Next Sunday” ( Laughs) “It’s not going to give me much time”,“Oh you’ll manage it”. So that was one Sunday night the Mitre, and on the Monday I made a few quick telephone calls and I got my mates from around the corner here – Huey, Dennis, Terry Pitts, who was also a member of the Cy Laurie Band which I joined as well. So I was in Cy’s band when he came back from his studies with the Maharishi when the Beatles were out there. 


Oh did he? He moved to Essex didn’t he, Cy Laurie?


Yes, a nice little farm up there. I used to visit on many occasions. He became a very, very dear friend and we made lots of records together and that was with Hugh, Terry Pitts, who became my trombone player, and I had various clarinet players around that time. The first one, we started a 5 piece band and then because we got a raise, we got a bit of extra money and I said to the chaps in the band “Look we’re 5 piece. You can either have an extra quid each (or whatever it was) or we can employ the 6th member and be the full 6 piece band?” And they said “Oh yeah, we’ll have another guy in the band”. So that’s when I then employed the trombone player and that was Terry who I’ve been working with, with the Cy Laurie band and who played occasionally with Bob Wallace as well.


Had Cy Laurie moved to Essex by that point?


Oh yes, he was here. His family were in North London. That’s how it started. The following Sunday I had the band and John Hole started advertising even before I got here, so on the Wednesday I said “I’ve got to come and see the theatre because this all sounded a bit too good to be true”. He said “Meet up with me on Wednesday at Greenwich” and he brought me out here to the Theatre and he drew up outside and I went “Wow”. We came to see the opening night of a play called 'Boing Boing'. That was the first time I walked into the theatre – through these doors of the Queens Theatre.


So that would have been 1965?


Something like that, yes, I’m not very good on dates. It was from that first meeting by chance with John Hole that this whole thing started and he gave me something like 3 months to bring in enough people that would buy enough beer over the bar to keep the thing going for the next season and we did that in 2 to 3 weeks. There were so many people they had to sit on the floor, and of course you see with the box offices now? There was no box office there. They forgot to build one. Did you know that ?


No ( laughs)


That actually was a balcony where the box office is and what they had over by the door there as you come in and turn left, they had a portable box office which they put in, and eventually, of course, as the theatre became more well known and all the big acts came in and security of course – you had to be careful. There was a lot of money coming in through that door. This is one of the most successful theatres in the country, it really is, and the people that work here are just amazing. They have been here all the way through, they have been right from the time I first walked through the door. The people that work here are passionate about this place – every single one of them. Nobody works here just for the sake of the job, even though everyone has to earn money, everyone has more to offer than just what they do in their daily work. All of it just got bigger and bigger, and then John Hole said to me “Oh by the way Pete we haven’t got a bass player for the second running of Joseph & The Technicolor Dreamcoat. Would you like to do the job?” and I did the show on the stage.


So you were playing Jazz, working on the stage – I’m surprised you weren’t working in the Box Office as well. (laughs)


Oh no, I wasn’t doing that. I got close to that once - I was also doing the Saturday morning kiddies show with John occasionally where he had this little rabbit called Sainsburys and then we also did some Saturday lunchtimes trio & quartets which became very successful down there. Then I also did some Modern Jazz evenings on a Friday night.


Did you have guests?


Yes, we just used to bring in different people, and then he said to me he felt it was time to do our first big concert in the auditorium. So I got various guests for that and that was the start of many ,many concerts with all types of guest from all round the world. Even people like Sam Woodyard the drummer, he’s played here, which was quite interesting to actually get a call from Paris I think it was. I was shaking when he phoned and he said “Hey Man is that Pete Corrigan?”. I said “I only know one Sam Woodyard and that’s the great Sam Woodyard from the Ellington Band” “ Yeah man that’s me” he said. He asked if I had any gigs as he was coming to London. I told him I had 4 he might like to do, so that’s how he got here too.


Has it always been every Sunday? All that time?


When we first started the theatre would always have a summer break to do their maintenance etc so there would be a 4 -5 week break when we first started and to give everyone a break as well. They would have 2 seasons. Then we got to a point when they didn’t want to close the theatre at all ,because when the theatre is dark you’re not bringing in cash. They wanted to go right through the year, so we had an agreement where I played a minimum of 46 weeks in the year, which I was happy with. They bought some special PA and said that as long as I didn’t take any extra money – within 2 years the PA would be mine, so we saved money that way. We were responsible for the PA. Again, the theatre club which had been absolutely amazing here in raising funds for the theatre by putting on the Garden Parties – did you ever go to those? Well I became involved in those as well. I used to go over there and play and get the band to do that for nothing of course and help raise some more money. Eventually the theatre club members were responsible for paying for things like new furniture, lighting, new carpets and you can see here our fantastic PA system which they brought in. So they’ve done an awful lot of work as well. And all the way through the years we’ve been just so well supported - the Jazz and all the shows here at the theatre basically had terrific support from the Council I have to say. I don’t think it would be here if they hadn’t supported it.


You hear such horror stories about councils in other areas, it’s great to hear that you got the support here.


You can’t please all of them of course – different councillors and MP’s, but in the main we’ve been very fortunate. Doesn’t matter which side they’re on left or right or in the middle, they’ve still found time to support this theatre because, let’s face it, Hornchurch wouldn’t be the same without this theatre and neither will Havering. And of course we reach out much more than the Havering area – people come from mile and mile around – and we are known especially with a lot of the Jazz that been here over the years we’re known all around the world. People ring me up from different countries that I’ve been to playing and they’ll say “Are you still at the Theatre?” “Yes” I’ll say. If they’ve come over from Europe or America they’ll always make a beeline for the Queens on a Sunday morning.


Amazing isn’t it – what an institution. What kind of guests have you had over the years?


(Pauses) My Goodness me – I’m trying to think of them


It’s like a 'Who’s Who' I expect.


Yes, there isn’t anyone that you could mention, Acker Bilk for instance, who became a good friend of mine as well. I worked with his band and of course going back to Kenny Ball – once I moved out here to Essex , Kenny and I would go for a pint occasionally and sit in with other bands and I’d invite people down here to play as well and ….


Did he used to sit in with you quite regularly did he?


He did yes, when he was back home from tour and so on. In fact when I did one of my special All Day events, Acker Bilk actually flew back from Germany to do this gig with me. He brought the whole band back to do this because he said it gave him the opportunity to do another show the following day (a recording) then they flew back to Germany to continue their tour. So that was fantastic. Yes I’ve had people like Don Lusher, Kenny Baker with the band – oh just so many. Oh my mind has gone blank because there have been so many.


Snowblind with so many names


And it would be a shame to leave anybody out, but what I am going to do later this year which is quite nice is that I will be putting up a big display of my guests over the years for people to see and I’m also going to ask for people who have taken photographs over the years, if they want to bring them along. I’ll find a spot to pin them up and bring back a few memories of people, because after 38 years, there were little kids that would sit on the floor here with their Mums and Dads and that was a Sunday out – to be with the family.


Well Keith would have been one of them wouldn’t he – Keith Ball, Kenny Ball's son? (Keith was present while the interview was happening)


Oh, just so many people that used to sit on the floor here. They come in now with their children and visit.


So this is your anchor, this residency. You’ve had that all these years, you’re telling me all these people that you’ve played with Cy Laurie etc


Oh yeah – they’ve all been here – Bob etc


So because of your commitment here, have you had much chance to get out of the area to play?


Well you see I’ve always put this Sunday Lunchtime thing first. The beauty of having a residency like this its meant that people have been able to come and hear us then book us to do other gigs especially people that are raising funds for charity – we’ve done loads of things like that – they’ve been great fun to do. The Hospice, you know, we’ve been up there are few times on request, so yes its helped to get the name known. A lot of people ask what the band is called – well its Corrigan’s Band of Hope but when we first started advertising, well I didn’t but John Hole wanted to know what to call the band , he wanted to call it the Queens Jazz Band and I said “I don’t think so” (laughs) Monty Sunshine said to me “Pete, if you’re going to run the band, make sure you put your name in as part of the band’s name, then it is yours, nobody can use the name then”. On one of our trips to the theatre, John Hole said “What do you want to call it? “ Jokingly I said you could call it Corrigan’s Brand of Soap, Corrigan’s Band on the Road or Corrigan’s Canned & Broke plus others that I can’t mention. What he started to do was to advertise in the local newspaper as just that – Corrigan’s Canned & Broke (laughs) People would come to me with the Newspaper clippings saying “They’ve got it wrong again”. Eventually we stopped putting in the wrong names and it became Corrigan’s Band of Hope. Basically it was a bit of a spin on the fact there is a religious group that do not drink so I though it couldn’t be further than the truth for most of these guys – enjoy their odd pint or two, so it stuck. Don’t blame me, I’m still here, I can’t help it, because it just happened. I don’t know where all the years have gone but I have actually had some very interesting things happen: I ended up in Angola just a few years ago doing some IT stuff – communications – and was having a nice cool beer and there was some Jazz on - this is great – a bit of Louis Armstrong and so on, and then at that point the next record was a Monty Sunshine record and it was one that I was on. I thought “Here I am for the first time in Africa and they’ve put a record on that I was on” How cool is that? So yes its funny. I also went out to America because a friend of mine, we’ve been friends for years, a guy called Terry English and he makes suits of armour for films and things like that, and I became friendly and he showed me how to do all that stuff - banging the metal and so on, and I was already ok at leather work, and eventually I started helping him and became an assistant to Terry and we did a lot of films together. I eventually ended up in Los Angeles with him because we were invited over there to meet a few people and I’d already met up with saxophone player, a clarinet player called Bob Wilbur. Now you mentioned Alex Mendham didn’t you – yes and Alex was also taught by Bob Wilbur and Bob had already been here as one of my special guests.


Was the one that was taught by Sidney Bechet wasn’t he?


That’s the link. We’d been out in LA for a couple of weeks and on the day before leaving I found out that LA Jazz festival was on so I rang up the organisers and introduced myself and told them that “Some colleagues of mine were playing at your Jazz festival and was there any chance of getting an invite to the special party prior to the Festival itself?”. I said I would like to bring along a couple of producers and directors from the film business and so on and they said they would reserve a table for us. I didn’t tell them where I was taking them as we’d been wined and dined and so on, so I took them along in a big car that picked us all up and I’d already told the driver I wanted to go to the big hotel. We arrived there and it turned out they loved Jazz and it meant that they had a nice time. There was champagne on the table and I got invited on stage to play. Again I see this is why I think it’s important here at the theatre to make sure that these youngsters have the chance to get up and have a sit in – get them on the first rung of the ladder as early as we can to I always give them these stories and tell them “One day it will be you”. It can start here and I sat in, played one number and as I walked off and back through the crowd towards my table, there was Bob Wilbur standing there and he said “ Ah hello Pete. What are you doing here? Great bit of bass playing there”. He’s already been here with me (playing at the Queens) so it’s just amazing…


It’s a small world isn’t it?


Yes, just bumping into people you know. Of course Bob Wilbur did a lot of the music and was involved in the Cotton Club (the film) and that’s a fabulous movie – I loved that. The baddie was a guy named James Remon in that one – I think he played Al Capone in that movie but he was also going to be in a film called Aliens, which I worked with Terry English on, but something happened and someone else took over that part. So its all gone full circle and here I am – still at the Queens Theatre.


Has there been much else going on around this area to do with Jazz regularly in all those years?


Yes there’s been lots. We were working with Eggy Ley of course. He was running a regular Jazz evening at the Esplanade in Southend and many other clubs as well. Around here, just down the road, which has been going for many years is the Conservative Club – they’ve been running their Jazz and I like to promote all of them. There’s been a Jazz club that people ran as well – we all have to help each other, we’ve got to keep this music alive – it’s not about competition for us – it’s just making sure there are enough venues that are still operation for people to go to.


It makes a community doesn’t it? How long has the one at the Conservative Club running for?


(Hesitates) I’m not too sure – Its Sunday evenings. Helen Keaton runs a Monday Jazz evening very successfully but before she did that she came here and would sit in and sing with the band, then I’d book her. What I like to do, if I get a special guest in here, especially if it’s a vocalist that I can’t book every week - what I like to do is to get them in here as Special Guest and then say “Right , now you need your own evening show”. I put them in touch with Katie and say “Listen to this band/person. It's someone you could use on one of your evening concerts in the Foyer”, so that’s how this has been developed over the years as a second entertainment area if you like when the theatre is actually having concerts, but it means that they can put on smaller events in the Foyer when the theatre itself isn’t available.


Yes, that’s right . It was before your time here really but were you ever aware of Claude Sporran who had Jazz in Hornchurch for many years, going back to the fifties?


Would that have been in the White Hart which is in the middle of the road?


I don’t know the venue. I was hoping that you might know. Claude was promoting Jazz in Hornchurch from the fifties and he had a …oh it was at the Elm Park Hotel.


Oh the Elm Park Hotel. Well of course, yeah. Well we did have one right in Hornchurch as well. George Tidiman did a lot at the Elm Park, oh yes. He was very much part of that scene and that was before I came in to Hornchurch itself. I didn’t know those people but was it very well known. There was another one in Green Lanes – big pub there – can’t remember the name but I used to occasionally play there when I was in the Monty Sunshine band. I also did one concert at the old theatre with Monty – that was before this place was built but I didn’t know the area very well at that time. But then over the years I’ve played all over Essex in different pubs and clubs. Chelmsford for instance, done quite a few gigs there for various promoters, Wickham Bishops – great area.




Oh you know Derek as well? Smashing chap. Derek has run lots of very successful clubs and Jazz sessions – in fact he's booked everybody. Bob Wallace, one of the first times I met Bob Wallace was at one of his Jazz events in Dunmow and I sat in with the Bob Wallace band – again you see, all these guys, they were quite happy for people that they didn’t know to have a sit in and that’s how I eventually ended up playing in Bob Wallace’s band. And of course I met Hughie there.


What about Colchester Jazz Club?


Colchester Jazz Club - my goodness me , that’s been going longer than me! I’ve played there many times, got a lot of happy memories there. It’s been at about 3 different venues over the years. I know there was the Football Club and there was the club that was also more for indoor sports and that was very big. A lot of people there – I played there many times, not just with Bob, I played with various Jazz bands at the time – it’ll come to me in a moment – There was one band in particular that was great to be with. I also met with the Bob Wallace Jazz band - the drummer called Laurie Chescoe. Now Laurie runs his own band – great character - still going strong - still touring a lot. He lives in South London but he’s done over this way and as I say again one of those musicians ...well they all come to Essex because they like Essex. There was the Brentwood Jazz club as well of course. I never actually played there.


There was Monkey’s wasn’t there? The Hermit. Mike’s place.


The Hermit, that’s the one I was thinking of. Again they were more towards the Modern Jazz side but it’s great.


Well Spike’s Place was more mainstream wasn’t it.


It was mainstream, yes.


There was something going on in Brentwood before wasn’t there, run by Ron and Nanda Lesley and they were running something in Brentwood before Monkeys but I don’t know much detail about that. They did Brentwood, Ipswich & somewhere in Manor House. There was a lot going on – this was in the fifties. 


They did a lot of Jazz festivals. There also of course was the one at Corringham – that’s still going I believe. In fact a lot of people keep calling me Corringham! I tell them, “No that’s a place - its Corrigan”. I played there a lot. A guy called John started that one off at the Rainbow pub and I think they moved to another site after that - in a park down in…


How long ago was that?


That would have been about 15 – 20 years ago. John also ran a lot of different events in the Essex area and Pakefield. He used to run the weekend there - had some wonderful times. My son would have been about 5 years old then and he’s 24 now so that goes back 19 years. John was doing a lot at that time.


Not John Petters is it? He’s running weekenders.


No no. He is now yeah because the other John......well he’s not with us anymore. The Corringham John – I’ll think of his name. Great friend of Maxine Daniels. I got Maxine here because of a clarinet player – a guy called Dave Ely lovely clarinettist, and he rang me up and said he’d like to bring this lady down to sing. I said it would be OK, and ended up making a lot of records with her as well for Humphrey Lyttleton. So yes, she’s worked here and is a beautiful lady.


I knew Maxine, with her rough old sense of humour and choice language.


Yes, I won’t go into that (laughs) – and her pink slippers. She’s walk around with pink slippers before she went on stage to save her feet. Beryl Brydon, she worked here a lot with me. Again, we made quite a few albums together – one of them was at Johnnie Dankworth’s place that we recorded for BBC. That was recorded for a BBC programme then she got permission to bring it out as a CD, which is still being sold today. Great album there. Keith Nichols was on piano, we had Cy Laurie on clarinet, Dennis Field and that band was called Beryl Bryden and her Jazzoholics. Again if I was playing anywhere at all in Essex and they wanted a singer and Beryl was available, we’d work together with that.


She did play a mean washboard didn’t she?


Ooh she certainly did.


With machine precision


Very much so yes. I think she had her favourite washboard lacquered or resurfaced many times. A great lady.