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So what instrument do you play David?
I play the clarinet and the alto sax and I do vocals as well.
Are you from Essex?
Yes, I grew up in Southend and then after Royal Air Force Service I went to live in London for practically all the 1960’s.
Oh did you, you are 74 you said aren’t you?
So I started in Jazz bands in London.
So what got you interested in that in the first place and take up an instrument?
Well, I suppose there were two reasons really, my elder brother who was 12 years old than me was a very good, successful, Jazz piano player and he played in a band called the Crane River Jazz Band who were very successful in the 1950’s, and he tried to introduce me to Jazz at an early age and gave me Bunk Johnson record, which was very rough around the edges, and it was too soon for me and I didn’t think I would like this but then in the 1960’s someone gave me a record of the Sid Phillips Band, which was rather like a watered down Traditional Jazz sound for dancing.
Alan Wickham was in that.
Alan Wickham, what a fabulous chap. Well Sid Phillips blew me away, what a fantastic clarinet player, and so although I was sort of being on the fringes of hearing New Orleans Jazz it was this version that he came up with, so I actually, on the strength of that, went out to a shop in Leigh Road and brought this cheap clarinet and try to learn it, but it wasn’t very successful. I was in the Air Force, sharing a barrack room with 20 other blokes who didn’t want to hear someone learning the clarinet.
Especially the clarinet with that very high pitch.
So I had a boot thrown at me. So it wasn’t until I came out that I had this little room on my own in London I could actually listen to records, play and go out and do Jazz and stuff, so that is when I started in the early 60’s and the first bands I was in were in London. Then we came back to live here in 1971 so I then started to re-acquaint myself with the local people who were playing Jazz, and that is when I got involved in the band previous to the Ponjo's and subsequently my own band.
Which band was the band, previous to the Ponjo’s?
That was called the Ray Elliott Jazz Men; Ray Elliott was a local trombone player.
What from round here?
Yes, we started to play at the Traveller’s Joy, Rayleigh; that was the original venue for us and that was when Peter 'Ponjo' Morris joined us on the bass.
Was that weekly was it?
Yes, I cannot remember which day of the week but it was a regular thing.
Who else was in that band?
Well one interesting situation, you have heard of Hugh Rainey, Hugh Rainey was then regarded as the finest banjo player not just in England but in Europe. He built his reputation up as a banjo player, he was an awfully nice bloke but then he must have thought, “I have done everything I can possibly do on the banjo, I think I would like to play the trumpet”. So he started to play the trumpet and of course he had two lives then, when he played banjo he was playing with the top strata of British musicians and when he played trumpet it was with the likes of us! He was only starting out see, so he became our trumpet player and that was all very well, and then he was, his profession was a teacher, so he had 6 weeks holiday every summer and he used to pack his bags and pack his family in the car and go off camping in Europe for the whole 6 weeks, so Peter had to get guest trumpet players to cover all those dates he couldn’t make, and that is when this formula began of using guest trumpet players. That was establishing myself in Southend on Sea.
Who else was in that band was from Southend? Ray’s band.
There was Hugh Rainey on the trumpet, Ray on the trombone and me on the clarinet, I cannot remember who was on the banjo now, I’m talking about 1971-1972, and whoever started off on the bass must have found something else to do because that is when we brought Peter in. I cannot even remember who was on the drums. It wasn’t a long lasting band because although Ray Elliott enjoyed playing the trombone he didn’t particularly enjoy being a band leader after he had given it a try because you have got to constantly phone somebody up and somebody thought they cannot make Wednesday and you want to get a dep and you know, there is an awful lot more work involved than running the band than just being a member of it.
So what happened from there?
Well on the local scene, the other band which I was with, with my brother by then, The Albany Jazz Men. We played in London and Kent, but not Essex, and with Ponjo in Southend on Sea.
So when did Ponjo’s start?
It was 1973. The band was probably a Ray Elliott band for a couple of years and then became known as Ponjo’s when Ray dropped out of the running of it.
So it was the same band.
Yes, pretty much the same nucleus of people, but it was just that Ray dropped his name and Peter took over and then this nickname 'Ponjo' came in and that was the kind of link with that, so it was the same people that carried through. Then we had some personnel changes with Ponjos, one of the original drummers – Donny Bishop, he was a terrific drummer and had a great personality, a great fun person but he smoked too much and drank too much and as you know of all people, the drums is a very physically demanding instrument, and his doctor said, “Look, you’ve got a dicky ticker Donny, You're drinking too much, smoking too much and playing the drums, really you ought to pack up doing all three” and he kind of thought “Well if I pack up doing all three I have not got a life worth living. There are things I want to be doing”. So he carried on doing it and died at the age of 52, which was tragic really, but he was the original drummer back then. Then he was replaced by a chap called Henry Logan, who is a very good drummer, and then in later years we had another real character called Alfie Skarrett who lived just round the back of the Wood Cutters pub there. He is a fun guy. So in those years there were personnel changes but we used to do the carnival procession on the back of a truck, all that sort of thing.
You were at the Cliffs for a few years and the Maritime Room.
Oh yes, absolutely. Now that was a major Jazz scene there in the Cliffs but it is incredible that a thriving scene like that can be brought to an end for such silly reasons. A guy was brought in as the bar’s manager and he decided he wanted to have Sunday nights as Bingo nights and we said, “Well look, there are a whole lot of places along the Southend sea front doing bingo 52 weeks of the year. We've got a unique scene here which is a Traditional Jazz night. People come from Basildon and Grays and all over the place to hear this band” but you know, he wouldn’t listen to that argument and we were eased or elbowed out and he put bingo in which lasted 2-3 months and then fizzled out, because it wasn’t going to be a success in the first place was it.
A Council venue is never going to apologise and say, “I’m sorry we were wrong. Would you come back?” A Council would never do that.
Now that was a shame, but Peter and the rest of the band had a bounce back ability and Peter came and found we could move into the Palace Theatre Foyer which was by no means an adequate sized room, you know; this was before they had even built the extension. So we had gone from the whole of the Maritime Room, squeezed into there with our loyal following continuing to come and hear us, and then something else went wrong there to do with the Palace Theatre Trust and we moved, I think, for a while to the Rugby Club, out on the trading estate near Warner’s Bridge near Rochford. It was a nice enough building but you couldn’t get there by bus you know. You could drive there but a lot of our people, because at the Palace Theatre buses are passing the door all the time, so a lot of the people just couldn’t get out there so we went to a number of different venues but nothing ever measured up to the Maritime Room.
What about The Esplanade?
Well The Esplanade, yes that was ok. We were there for a while on Sundays and there was also Jazz there on a Thursday night, which was quite a thriving Jazz pub there.
Was Ponjo’s Stompers just strictly New Orleans or do did you cover all? Because I know Traditional Jazz itself is a bit of a catch all term really.
Yes, normally we describe it as New Orleans/Dixieland because if people are influenced by people like Bix Beiderbecke and the Chicago Player's like Wild Bill Davison that is really not an awful lot to do with New Orleans, it has a different sort of a feel about it, but Ponjo’s or the Jerry Atric Band never went out at as a 'dyed in the wool' New Orleans Band. We were playing happy New Orleans Dixieland music. In actual fact, one of the interesting guests we had with Ponjos was Wild Bill Davison himself, and he in his heyday was known as the 'white Louis Armstrong'. He was an incredibly talented player, very flamboyant fellow but by the time he played with us he was quite an elderly man who I believe enjoyed a drink.
So you could call him Mild Bill Davison?
Ha ha I like that. The funniest thing I remember we were sitting there playing, I think he had his wife with him as a control to stop him drinking too much, and this fellow went to the bar and got some drinks and he was innocently carrying this tray of drinks back to his table and Bill looked and he said, “Gee, that a scotch on there?” and he reached over to the tray and took the scotch off the tray. The chap was a bit flabbergasted. So yes he was quite a character, but you think how on earth did a guy of that calibre end up playing with a bunch of guys in Westcliff. But what had happened, was he had come to England and some impresario and set up a number of gigs for him and for some reason, one after the other, they had fallen down and blown out you know. So somehow or another Peter got to hear about this and said “While Bill is in England and not doing anything much he might as well be here but because he got this reputation as a bit of a drinker and he might be a bit unreliable”. Peter had got a belt and braces strategy so he got Mike Cotton there as well in case we announced it was going to be Wild Bill and he never turned up or he turned up unable to play or something. We just didn’t know what to expect based on this grapevine of rumour, so anyway, we got Mike Cotton there standing in the wings and Bill is playing and of course after a while we said “We cannot expect Mike Cotton to come all the way down from London and just sit there and listen, he has to have a blow”, so then Bill is a bit flabbergasted that we have this brilliant trumpet player there and thought we were going to blow him off the stand or something, but anyway, the whole evening worked out ok and it was nice for us to be able to say we had played with someone of that kind of calibre. I haven’t really played with any other top line American players.
You have got to admire Ponjo as well, the way that he is a very organised man and, you know, there was a good discipline to him.
Well I have got a great respect for Peter and what he has achieved because at that time I wasn’t a band leader anyway, but I wouldn’t have had the bottle to pick up a phone and ring Alan Elsdon and the guys who were playing in the top bands and say, “Look, would you jump on a train or get in your car and come down and play with this bunch of guys in Southend?” I would expect them to say, “No thanks, I am quite busy where I am” you know but Peter had the front to do it and everybody said yes. We had practically everybody in the country who would come down and play with us.
I don’t want to break the myth, but you pay them the money, they will come, ha ha.
Well, yes I suppose that is true. If a professional musician has got a spare night and he enjoys playing the trumpet and somebody is going to cover his expenses and give him a margin of profit then yes, you are probably right, but if they didn’t enjoy it I don’t suppose they would have done so.
They will only do it once, that right. You've had all kinds of incredible people over the years guesting with the band.
Yes, we had Humphrey Lyttelton three times for sure, I remember that.
And he isn’t going to mess about is he.
No he is a band leader anyway so yep, I am very grateful to Peter that I got that opportunity to play with these sorts of people, because I would never have had the front to pick up and ring them.
So where did you go from Ponjo’s Stompers? When did you leave him?
Well, I think this was 1989. I started my own band, the Jerry Atrick Jazz Band.
That was your first band was it the Jerry Atrick Jazz Band?
Yes it was the first band, apart from the band I was in with my brother. I wasn’t really the band leader. The Jerry Atricks was the first band I was really running myself as my own band, by which time Ponjo’s were not doing quite so much.
Because Ponjo was quite ill wasn’t he?
Yes he was ill for quite a while.
So was that when you formed your band then?
It pretty much was I think, yes. Peter’s band was not doing so much, we hadn’t got any regular venues, we did a few gigs here and there and my focus then was on my own band and Peter and I went different directions. He actually switched from playing the bass to doing a lot of things of keyboard.
Oh did he? That’s right, yes.
It was with a bloke called Geoff Wilkins, he was a trumpet player Peter got very friendly with. So Peter went off doing other things and I went off with my Jerry Atrick band so we still remained friends and so on but we haven’t really being playing in bands together for a very long time.
When you formed Jerry Atrick, was it called The Jerry Atricks or Jerry Atricks?
It was called The Jerry Atrick Jazz Band.
What venues were around in Essex at that point that you remember playing? I saw you at the British Legion in Rayleigh so I know that one.
Well, oh yes, we did the British Legion, Rayleigh. The regular places where I actually had Jazz clubs. I actually formed the Jazz club, The Freight House, Rochford, primarily for my band but I thought well, I don’t think I could get this place up and running just putting my band in every week so I used to use the Tom Collins Band from Colchester, who were a phenomenally good band, and another band I was in called the New Savoy Jazz Men. They came in.
Where were they from, they Essex as well?
Mainly around the Wickford/Basildon way.
Oh right, I haven’t heard of them.
Well the New Savoy were kind of made up of members of other bands you know: Bill Jenkins was on Cornet and Barry Stanford, on Trombone. So at the Freight House I was featuring my own band plus other guest bands. That was working well. The Crystal Room didn’t last long enough for me to even get to that stage so I played a couple of months with my band.
Where is the Crystal Room?
That was at the Palace Hotel, which had been in decline for a long time, and I knew they had this Crystal Ballroom there and I thought it is ridiculous that nothing is going on there. It is a lovely central location in the town, so that didn’t really last for long. Club Riga went well for quite a long time.
That’s The Cricketers Function Room in Westcliff isn’t it?
Yes that’s right. They were having Rock nights where the place was packed to the doors and my Jazz night on a Wednesday was sort of not packed to the doors but just a regular clientele who liked our music, and in the end they said “Look Dave, we hate to have to say this, but we could really do with another night of the week for the Rock bands and your band is attracting less people than the other bands so I think we are going to have to say this is the end of the line” which we had heard had happened in other venues, so that was it. So that was when Club Riga dropped out and there wasn’t an immediate link from Club Rega to Bar Lambs, there must have been a barren period where I didn’t have a regular venue. We had private gigs you know, weddings, funerals and barmitzvas as they say, but then the last lap was at Bar Lambs. That was 2006-2007.
In this great long line of residencies, can you put rough years. The Freight House in Rochford, when would you have started that, how long would that have lasted for?
Well that would have been the early 90’s. The band started in 1989 so that would probably have been the first few years of the 1990’s. The Club Riga would have been 1995/1996 to tail end of the 90’s perhaps and the Bar Lambs was much more recently 2006-2007.
Why did that stop?
What the Bar Lambs? Well it was the lady who started it all, Sue Lamb, she got the whole thing up and running. She had spent £60,000 having that Bar Lambs celler bar all fitted out, and music every night of the week was the general plan. It must have been successful because this fellow came out of somewhere and said, “I am really impressed with your place and if you ever think of selling up I would be very interested in buying it” and so she said “Ok, see if we can talk and do a deal”. Perhaps she was ready to sort of get out of the licensed pub business anyway, but she and her gentleman went up to live at Hunstanton in Norfolk. This new guy took over. I don’t think he had any experience of running a licensed establishment or certainly a venue with music and he said to me at the beginning, “I don’t want to change anything. Everything seems to be going well Dave. You carry on with the Wednesday Jazz, and we will review it at the end of year”. I thought ok, yes that’s fine, but he didn’t wait until review at the end of the year. Within about two months he decided he was going to change everything, and that is when the Wednesday Jazz night finished. He had an idea he wanted to do something different and move us to the Monday, because at that time they were having a Modern Jazz band playing on a Monday, whose name I forget now, a tenor sax player was playing down there. But anyway it wasn’t appropriate to switch my band to a Monday because it clashed with the Southend Jazz Club which was a Traditional Jazz venue.
Yes, The Ekco. We would have been fighting for the same audience which would have been pointless for me and for Gary at the Southend Jazz Club, so that didn’t make sense. I thought I had spent an awful lot of time running Jazz venues and I thought I would call it a day and let younger people come in now and they can do it. But I really don’t know what has happened to Bar Lambs since, I haven’t been there since and I haven’t heard from anybody else that there is anything particularly going on down there, have you heard anything? It was an odd venue really, the stage was ok but the seats were sort of in a circular shape so nobody was actually sitting facing the stage and the bar was in the other room. People were sitting to look at the band and their heads facing a difficult way. It was really more suited as a disco where you got one guy on the stage with records and people getting up and dancing. The set-up of the place would be better for that than for live music but we cannot pick and choose. Jazzers cannot pick and choose the ideal venue, we have to go with what’s available.
Yes that’s right. So what has happened to the band since Bar Lamb’s finished?
This is the final sort of story as far as The Roaring 20’s band is concerned. My original trumpet player had been with the band for 15 years, Alan Beechen. He was a very, still is, a very fine trumpet player but he suddenly said, “Dave I am going to move up to Cumbria. My two sons have both gone up to live in Cumbria, so we have more reason for living in Cumbria that Southend”. So they moved up there, and after that it was very difficult to fill his shoes because Jazz trumpet players are not a dime a dozen and in the last few years I have had to get trumpet players from Kent. One of the trumpet players I get from Dovercourt – well that is alright if I have a reasonably paid gig you know but I cannot expect someone to drive from Harwich, Dovercourt area for £15 or something. It is not economically viable, so that has been the problem now to put my band out, I can only put them out when there is a reasonable amount of money to pay for it. I cannot expect them to do a rehearsal for nothing or to play for £10 or £15 so we are doing less and less. So in a roundabout way Mark, that kind of suits me because whilst I am happy to pick up my clarinet and sax and go out and do a gig, if I have to get the whole PA and microphone stands and everything else and take it and set it all up and do the gig and pack it all away again and bring it home, it has got to the point it has got too much. Unless there is a reasonable wedge at the end of it I cannot really be bothered to be doing all that.
No, of course you can’t – or you could play at venues where there is already a PA there.
Yes, you were talking earlier about guys still playing when they are 80 or even 90, which is wonderful, but it is physically demanding, even at 70, to start humping speakers and amplifiers and all that you know. So now if the phone rings and someone says “I would be very interested in booking your band” I am prepared to listen and talk about it but it has to be worth my while really.
Why did you change the name from Jerry Atricks to The Roaring 20’s?
Well I though the name had served its purpose really Mark. It was a play on words to get us noticed. We were only in our 50's back then, we weren’t really limping about all over the place with walking sticks, so when we became twenty years older I thought this isn’t really a joke anymore because most of us had bus passes you see, so it was then I renamed the band The Roaring 20’s Jazz Band to re-launch us, because I think Alan was still with us then. That was fine but what was really the end of the road for the band being really active was when Alan moved away and I have never really recovered from that.
Didn’t you say that was the name of a band you had in the 60’s, was that a London Band?
Well yes, the band I was with, when I lured my brother back from retirement into playing the piano with the Albany Jazz Men, was a London band which also played in Kent, because my brother played in Orpington, so we managed to get gigs in pubs around there, The Red Lion, The Royal Oak, Green Street Green, which is near Orpington, and another place out there. The Albany went out there ok and then when the Albany wound up we formed a new band with the nucleus of some of the Albany members and called it The Roaring 20’s Jazz Band. Which we thought really identified the period of music we were playing. Nobody could mistake us for a Modern Jazz band if we called ourselves this. Because as you must have found people say. “Would you like to come out when we have a Jazz band playing?”And people say “I’m not really sure if I like Jazz” because they might only have heard a Bop band, you know, and this is New Orleans happy sing along danceable music and again you have to explain that the overall turn “Jazz” inncluded an awful lot of different styles.
As an alto saxophonist, did you ever go in to Modern Jazz at all?
Never. Never really wanted to, I enjoy listening to it. I like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
Well you would do being an Alto player.
But, um, not music I have ever wanted to play, because to me, a lot of that music just doesn’t swing, you know. I am very old fashioned but I like a good old solid banjo strumming out '4 in the bar' chords you know. I don’t even like playing with guitar players all that much because so often, they might be very accomplished players, but sometimes it is like throwing a blanket over the band and it muffles the whole rhythm section and it doesn’t really go. That is just my opinion and that is the reason why I have always preferred playing with a banjo player in all the bands.
I suppose the French Hot Gypsy Jazz style would probably work in there somewhere?
Yes, obviously Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli have really got a fantastic scene going there, but there really wouldn’t be anywhere in there for a clarinet and alto and trumpet/trombone to fit in would it. That is a rather unique little unit they have got there. Actually I have seen Stephane play live in Southend. There was one venue, which again didn’t last very long, and it was called the Lindisfarne.........
The Musicians Union night.
Yes that’s right. I had forgotten that they ended up there, good point. Well we did some events there and one night the special guest was Stephane Grappelli.
They did a Jazz weekend there, that’s when he played there.
That’s right they did, yes. Of course Ponjo’s did one there and there was a bloke called Derek Roy heading the bill, and he was a radio comedian. Derek Roy a real sort of character from the past. Perhaps his career was so flagging that he did this gig in Westcliff.
Amazing, he did appear down here, Stephane Grappelli. I don’t know if it was the once.
I have a vague feeling I saw him a second time but I can’t be sure about that.
So is the Ekco Jazz Club still going? Because Gary Gleed died didn’t he?
Gary Gleed died and a whole bunch of us went down there and we gave a little New Orlean’s march in front of the funeral cortege up to the crematorium, and then there was other musicians inside the crematorium playing some Jazz for him, and then we all went back to the Ekco Club and some other Jazz. Digby was there and got up on stage and played, so Gary’s funeral was a very Jazz event. We were all sorry to see him go. He made a major contribution to Jazz in the town. My band used to play at his club when they were at The Ship in Leigh, but by the time we moved in to the Ekco it was after Alan had moved up to Cumbria. Actually another person you might know who moved up to Cumbria was Micky Jupp. I loved his band and I love what he does on piano and guitar and his vocals. He is a terrific player but he lives as a virtual recluse in Cumbria in this little cottage up there, and although I believe he is still writing songs it seems to be a great shame he is not out there being seen and heard by the public. One of the guys who plays with Micky Jupp, Mo Whitham, he also plays with Alan Beechen. Alan plays both piano and trumpet so he doubles his chances of a gig for a start and so Alan moves in the Jazz scene on trumpet and in the Rhythm and Blues scene, if you like, on the piano. There are a lot of good musicians up there.
Bit like Tim Huskisson in that sense.
Oh, Tim, well he is always busy because he plays trumpet and clarinet, but then of course he needs to be busy because he relies on it for a living.
Yes because he is known in the Modern Jazz world for his piano playing and known in the Trad Jazz for clarinet playing. He loves it all, very opened minded, loves all permutations of Jazz. I don’t think he is a jack of all trades because he knows the essence of what to put in and what to take out for different styles. Very interesting. So what is happening with you right now then?
Well since I am doing less now with my own band, The Roaring 20’s, I was invited to join a band called the Sayers Storyville Jazz Men and they plan in the Blue Boar, Maldon on the 2nd Thursday of the month, so we regularly play there.
There is a very good Trad scene in East Essex all around the counties B roads along there.
Well if you can find out where it is happening.
George Tidiman runs them.
Oh George is involved. He has always been very active.
The other at Wickham Bishops with Derek Watson, is packed.
The Sayers Band - we did a wedding in a little village called Tillingham, Saturday before last so we do occasional weddings and other events. We did a garden party a couple of weeks before that, which we do every year, so I wouldn’t say the band is terribly busy but we are quite active. We do quite a bit, so really that is the only band I am playing in Essex, and the other band I have been running for 23 years with my brother is over in Kent in Orpington, and when he died I was asked to continue, which I did. So that has been going for 23 years – called The Orpington Jazz Bandits based in the Liberal Club in Orpington. We have had some fine trumpet and trombone players with that band. I’ve been very lucky with the calibre of people I have been able to play with over the years. I consider myself very fortunate. I am not in the top strata of players any means. I managed to bluff my way through with clarinet, alto and singing.
Has there been anyone who has had a major influence on you, on your playing at all?
Yes, apart from my early beginnings listening to the Sid Phillips band and his clarinet playing, I suppose my next major influence was Acker Bilk and I have really never changed my allegiance to Acker. I think he is a phenomenally good player and incredibly creative clarinet player and a thoroughly nice fellow. That’s the sort of British players, but from the original people, people like Johnny Dodds and George Lewis, the original New Orleans black clarinet players, have been influencial on record, so that is really where is comes from, the black players on record and the British players which I have actually been able to go out and hear live in the last 50 years.
Just out of interest, what is the difference between the black players in the States at the time and the white players? Did they not come from the same background or is it different background?
Not really. The New Orleans players, their whole cultural heritage was different being treated as second class citizens and being told to go in the back door and not the front door and all this kind of business, so their cultural heritage was so different to an anglo saxon white Englishman you know, who might have been brought up in a wealthy family but he wasn’t being treated like dirt so you know, our cultural background as an English musician is….
I don’t mean English I meant American white, because they were still doing Jazz.
Well the white Americans wouldn ’t really have had, Benny Goodman for instance, alright he came from a humble Jewish family in Chicago but his cultural background was totally different from people like George Lewis and Johnny Dodds who came out of New Orleans. There is a different feel. To be perfectly honest, Benny Goodman, I appreciate what an incredibly technically brilliant clarinet player he was but he doesn’t do it for me here! He never has. He is good but a black clarinet player like George Lewis, when breathing into his clarinet playing, a very simple phrasing because it gets to me, it is the route to the Blues, you know, there is sort of a pain that comes from all the really good Blues players, playing from the heart not the head. That's it really, although I have never specifically gone out to copy anybody, in fact the only time I ever did that was when I was really learning in the early 60’s. I copied a solo from a record until I was note for note perfect, Buster Bailey it was. After I had done it, I didn’t want to play it anymore, I thought “This isn’t really what Jazz is all about, copying something note for note”. I would rather play something original to me. It may not be a work of brilliance, in fact it isn’t going to be a work of brilliance, but it is mine, all mine you know. That is the kind of approach I have had.