Colchester Jazz Club
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BG Brian Grundy
BM Brian Munson
TH Tony Howard
This is an interview about Colchester Jazz Club and what’s happening in this part of Essex. I've got Brian Grundy.
BG - I'm the membership secretary and have been for a few years, plus general dogsbody.
We also have Brian Munson.
BM - I'm the band secretary now. Like everything else I book most of the bands and also help on a Sunday evening to get the place up to what we need.
And Tony Howard.
TH - I am the longest standing member I think now, permanently. I've been a member for 56 years. I was made life patron when George Allen died and I just go up every week, and nowadays I go and help set up and take down the hall because we have to do a lot more work than we used to in the old place. I was on the committee for 34 years, I booked the bands in all that time until Brian Avery took over from me and I retired from the committee in the year 2000, I've been secretary for 26 years and president for 8.
That's in 2013. What was happening in this area to do with Jazz before the Colchester Jazz Club was formed?
All - Very little.
TH - Don Nevard, who was the Tom Collins original pianist, he used to play over some pub somewhere but that was very much just a few friends together as I understand. I wasn't about in those day obviously. It was probably late 40’s, early 50’s, and it developed from there. The actual Jazz club started basically because a lot of the lads had nothing to do on a Sunday evening and they thought they’d form a Jazz club. It all took off on a very amateur basis, people turning up in the cellar of a pub and it went from there.
What was the pub?
TH - Well The Plough was one of the first ones, there was Jazz in the Cross Keys, but that was really Colchester Jazz Club. It started in The Plough, had to leave after a little while and went to The Fountain and it was at The Fountain where the Jazz club officially formed after the police very politely informed the committee that it wasn't legal unless they formed a club. So they formed a club with a committee as it had to be in those days and membership and the rest of it, and it took off from there.
What year was that?
TH - 1956.
I notice in this history book that you’ve just shown me there was the Colchester Young Jazz Group.
TH - I know nothing about that at all, nothing at all, not unless it was under a different name.
BG - Might have been from one of the colleges, probably.
TH - It could be one of the college bands, yes, I don't know if it specifically says so in there, I've not read it.
Yes, Colchester Young Jazz Band.
TH – See, what we used to do, we used to have a band like Tom Collins and then we’d let the local youngsters have a blow during the interval for half an hour. And in fact one of them, who started Colchester Jazz Club, was Martin Litton who ended up playing for Kenny Ball. He was the pianist, a very good pianist.
Was it New Orleans Jazz from the word go?
TH - Yes. I mean some bands do come down and play sort of mainstream-inclined tunes but basically it's New Orleans and Dixieland. Mainly Dixieland really in Colchester. There aren't many true New Orleans-styled bands left. It's one of those contentious points you know, when does Dixieland finish and where does New Orleans start? And the other way round. They do mingle. We had a band on Sunday that was more or less a New Orleans band, Red Beans and Rice, they played New Orleans Jazz, which if you listen to some of the old say 20's recordings they’re as near to it as you can get.
Probably to the untrained ear maybe you can't tell the difference between New Orleans and Dixieland perhaps?
TH – No, but if you hear the difference between Ken Colyer and Chris Barber you’ve got the New Orleans and the Dixieland. That’s how I'd see it.
Is Dixieland more from Chicago is it?
TH - Yes because it started with the white bands didn't it. I mean it wasn’t called Dixieland before that and you had the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917, they were in New Orleans, but they were all white musicians led by Nick LaRocca, so it was a white band and a lot of people tend to classify New Orleans as a black bands, and Dixieland as the white. It's not really fair but it's sort of an easy way to divide them up.
It seemed like one of the long running groups at the Colchester Jazz Club was Tom Collins. What instrument did Tom play?
BM - Cornet and trumpet and flugelhorn. Lovely deep sound.
Was Tom in from the word go?
BM - Well no, because when I started at the Cups you had three bands, you had the Castle Jazz Band, which was local Colchester boys – didn't include Tom – the Oyster Band, another Colchester band, and the Ipswich Jazz Band, which were by far the best band. And they used to come alternate weeks. But I think, if I remember rightly, Tom started at the club about 1958 when he came out of the forces. I think he’d learned to play, like Ade Parker had learned to play, the reeds in the forces.
TH - Plus the fact, when we both lived in Layer de la Haye he used to do the last post at the memorial services. When he was 15 he used to play the bugle horn there, yes. So I think when he went in the forces he went in that side, the musician side, and it took off from there.
And what was the original line up of Tom’s band?
TH - Relying a bit on memory here! Well it was obviously Tom on trumpet, Terry Lewis on trombone, the clarinet player was Bernard Watson, he was an artist. Mick Cooper on drums, there was Pete Atkinson was the earliest banjo player I can remember and the bass player I'm totally baffled because there were about 3 or 4 over that period and I can’t remember which came first. We're going back here 55/56 years, trying to remember back that much…it’s like trying to remember who played for Colchester United in the 50’s!
Did Tom make a mark in the area quite quickly?
TH - I suppose he did because he was such a good musician and it was such a good band that they tended to play around the area quite a bit. I mean he used to be asked now and again to do the interval band at the Bards Hall when they had the big names down like Bilk or Barber. The old Bards Hall, it's a huge place, it was a swimming baths, had a big wooden floor over the top and the used to get about 800 in there.
BG - Also got on to the band going abroad, he went to Canada, Europe.
BM - Vancouver, he went to Vancouver, didn’t they play somewhere in Iran once?
TH - That’s right, if you speak to Mac Cox the banjo player he’ll tell you because he was there all that time, all the tours they did. He’d be a real good…information from Mac you’ll get. His real name is Melvyn, Melvyn Anthony Cox so his initials were MAC so that’s what everyone knows him as Mac.
So obviously Colchester Jazz Club was the focal point, was there much more going on in the area once the club got established?
TH – Yes, because there was Jazz everywhere, as I said. You could go 7 nights a week.
We’re still talking about the 50's of course.
TH - Yes, there was another one in Colchester actually called the Club Orleans, that was in the George Hotel. I suppose that lasted about 6 months or so and then there was a punch up when some squaddies got in and they had a huge bloke on the door as a bouncer and when the squaddies started fighting he hid in the toilet!
Well you would. That was the sensible thing to do!
TH - Haha and that was the end of that. I don’t think there was a lot else. I can’t remember there was a lot else in Colchester, can you? Not in the town itself.
BG - No, when we’re talking about, the rock and roll started to…
BM - The Teddy Boy era, that situation came in…
BG - The rock and roll did hit the Jazz, the kids who used to…we used to have a lot of youngsters, the girls used to come to the Jazz club in pairs or on their own because they knew they could come and enjoy themselves without getting, you know, turned over by the blokes. It was never allowed in the Jazz, it wasn't done.
BM - Well Pam was the oldest lady and she used to live in Rowhedge and she used to push the bike up from Rowhedge up to the toilets in Colchester, change and then…
TH - Yes we've always had this name for people behaving. I've been going a long time and there's only been once there's been trouble in the Jazz club and that was at The Albert and that was a load of drunks turned up and tried to force their way in and George sorted them out, but the landlord didn't want trouble so he closed the place anyway. I think that was New Year’s Eve. And he closed it, there weren't no need really but he didn't like the idea of trouble and that was it.
BG - I can remember also at Stanway, a guy from Tiptree, they came off the bus and they’d had quite a bit of ale in them, they came in and of course they got to the bar and they were f’ing and blinding and I went up and had a word with them and he turned around and went “Who are you?”, this sort of thing, and George came on the scene, got hold of them by the scruff of the neck and hauled him straight out and said “You’re barred. Don’t come in here any more” and I haven't seen any…
BM - And that’s very minor when you think what troubles you can have with bottles and the rest of it. He always used to nip it in the bud, if there was anybody there who’d had too much…because a lot of people, when they've had too much to drink, tend to have a laugh don't they, but you get the odd one who gets a bit nasty.
BG - He’d got like a sergeant major’s voice hadn't he, like on your square, very loud, and what he said was meant!
TH - Well we had George on the door and with him was John Bullock who was a 16 stone Irishman and a martial arts expert, so we haven’t had a lot of trouble.
BM - Well you could say George was the first bouncer in the UK!
BG - His attitude was 'don’t let it get in, stop it coming in'. My wife used to work on the door, this was when we were at the Townhouse in Stockwell Street, and she says you should see some of the people that tried to get in there. They just didn't come in, most of the crowd weren't even aware that there were people outside who would have been unpleasant, he just stopped them coming in.
When there were the other bits and pieces going on in Colchester at the same time was it all the same bands that were playing at the…were they playing in rotation?
TH - No, you had a variety of bands, at the Club Orleans you had a huge number of bands, you had a lot of London bands like the Mike Daniels Delta Jazz Band, Terry Lightfoot’s Jazz Band, Charlie Galbraith and people like this. But one thing you’ve got to know is that when we moved to the Townhouse in ’71 we opened up with over 700 people in on the first night. We had Tom’s band with a guest clarinet player, and at the same time that we were doing between 400-700 people Wood’s Social Club were doing 1200 for pop music. And they shut for lack of support and our crowd went down to about 50, so where did 1600 people go? We can never fathom that. I mean Woods was booming – 1200 people, that was a big hall they had. But you know, all of a sudden it shut from lack of support, it was a heck of a lot of people to suddenly lose support wasn’t it, so we never did follow that and Jazz went into a bit of a decline. I mean the worst crowd we ever had was about 34 I think at the Townhouse, and we’d started there with 700, so you know…
BG - We had it once at Stanway because we, as a committee, decided to go down the road as once a fortnight or once a month and of course George had his say and he weren't going to have that so we bowled on…we know we got the 30's and 40's and then it picked up again.
How long were you at the original premises for?
BG - The Plough was only a few months, the Fountain was a few months…
From when to when?
BG - I can’t tell you that, I wasn’t at The Fountain. If you look at that chart, they've got the dates on there and I can read them into the mic if you want? The one I gave you, the print out that showed the history of the club. That gives you the dates which I worked out from diaries. We were at the Cups Hotel when I first moved, Trusthouse Forte it was, and they thought that it didn't actually blend in with their requirements as a Trusthouse so we were asked to leave and we went to the Sergeant Warrant Officer’s Club, it was called to Wo’s and Jo’s as you probably know. When we got there the first night one half had burnt down. We arrived with fire engine hoses everywhere and that was the half that they were going to use and we were going to have the other half, and of course having burnt their half down they wanted the bit we were going to use so we only had about three months there. And the problem was the only place available instantly was the Corn Exchange, which is like an aircraft hangar with no bar so the crowd went from 250 to 50 in four weeks. This is where George made his first big move to keep the thing going. He went round town until he got hold of Mr Cameron at The Albert. He was a bit of an old tyrant but for some reason he thought that would be a good idea. We moved into their room on the side of the pub, which was a big function room really, and that's where the club really took off. What was the date, the 6th April 1958 we moved into there, we were there for 5 years because eventually…no actually it was 8 years…eventually, Mr Cameron left and Ian Lye took over and he was a great landlord. It was a wonderful pub, The Albert. He eventually wanted to turn that function room into a cocktail lounge, so he gave us 6 months notice and from then we were going to move to the Langenhoe Lion, do you know the pub? It's out on the Mersea Road. It’s about four miles out of Colchester on the road to West Mersea. Now the problem was the pub wasn't ready. They had to build a special room out the back, it was like two pre-fabricated buildings joined together but it wasn't ready so we had to have about 6 weeks in the Embassy Suite, which is a rather upmarket type of club in the middle of Colchester. It cost a lot but at least we had premises and we kept going.
Which is a Chinese restaurant now.
BG - I don’t know what it is now. We moved there in January ’66 and in March ’66 we moved out to Langenhoe Lion. The club had really built up at The Albert but the Langenhoe Lion was the making of the club because they had a wonderful landlord, very pro-Jazz. Just as an aside, one weekend we were there when we had three sessions, a Sunday, a Monday lunch and a Monday evening, he sold 365 gallons of bitter! That was Mr Jones and he was Welsh!
BG - He was, Ken Jones. That was just bitter, let alone the other stuff! You know, 1200 people in.
BM - We had our own policeman too.
BG - Yes Mr Fred Dow. Best policeman you’ll ever come across. If you put this he’ll probably get his pension stopped! He was great.
BM - He could drink an’ all!
BG - He used to come in the club, give his helmet and his radio to my wife on the door and go and have a dance. His call sign come through she used to go and get him quick! He was a lovely bloke, a proper village policeman, knew where all the villains were, he knew everything about the village, he was what a British policeman ought to be, he was always invisible, never any trouble when Fred was there. Friendly as he was he could be tough when he needed to be.
BM - That’s right, he clipped young boys round the ears and told them to get back to their own village, no problem.
BG - What happened was, at Langenhoe Lion was a lot of houses were built near the hall, and what with the number of people who came the car park became a problem. Although they had a huge car park there still wasn’t room for everybody so the people got fed up with cars parked outside their house and a lot of them complained about the noise. We even went to the extent of getting sound engineers in to measure it and that proved that was rubbish, one bloke said he had to have his television turned up because he couldn't hear it above the band noise, well we went and stood outside his house and you could hardly hear the band when you were in the road let alone in his house! That was an excuse. And we were lucky that we were approached by Colchester Youth House who – do you know Colchester Youth House down in…it's a big building between East and West Stockwell Street. It was for the town youth, it had a huge gymnasium and various little rooms for activities, and they weren't getting the support they needed and it was thought that if the Jazz club went in and became affiliated to them that would boost their membership up and justify their existence if you like. So they put a bar in, a proper bar, and we moved in there on 16th May ’71. Eventually it was renamed the Townhouse, because it had a lot of adult functions as well so Youth House didn’t really apply, and we used to have the big gymnasium as the club, that’s where we had that crowd of 700 when we moved in. That took a lot of work because to turn a gymnasium into a Jazz club was quite a feat, you had to lower the lights, drapes at the back to reduce the size of the room, we had to pull up a stage every time, 200 odd chairs and tables, there was a lot of work. Old George he used to get down there at 5 and he would seldom leave before 12. With Roger Stow helping him, there was a lot of work to be done there. We used to clear them up at the end but basically the setting up was down to George and Roger, and we were there for….we moved to Stanway…what year was it? 24th May ’87 so we were there virtually 26 years almost.
The amount of people that you were getting at the Colchester Jazz Club you must have had some very big names playing there.
BM - What bands? We had all the big names at one time, we had Chris Barber twice, Acker Bilk once, Kenny Ball once, Terry Lightfoot a couple of times, Alex Welsh, George Melly a couple of times.
BG - Yes I remember George Melly.
BM - George Melly, that was very funny. I booked him twice and he was coming down with the George Webb Dixielanders to sing and between the times I booked him…I booked him and he suddenly took off again. I don't know if you remember he suddenly become a big name again because I booked him for £40 as a solo vocalist but next time I wanted him it was £1500! So I said well thanks for the offer but no. We’ve had various New Orleans musicians, Butch Thompson, great clarinet and pianist, Chris Tyle we had recently, you booked Chris didn't you?
BG - Yeah we had an Australian band, where a lady was a trumpeter.
BM - Who was that, was that New Sydney?
BG - Yeah, New Sydney. There's been a variety of bands there but the big names have all played for us. The big names as they were in those days, Alan Elesden probably not known now but he was a big name in those days. A good trumpet player. Monty Sunshine, he played for us several times.
Looks like you have the Pasadena Roof Orchestra by the looks of it.
BM - Yes, this is a good story: they were our interval band once. They’d just formed. John Arthy had just formed it. He asked if he could have a gig so we talked about it and said yes, come down and do the interval. That was when Tom was playing I think. Tom Collins was the band, Pasadena played the interval. That was a heck of a thing to have in the interval.
BG - The usual interval thing was a half hour wasn’t it.
BM - We had various people do the intervals in those days, there was a young duet, violin and piano, they were very good. We had the band from the Colchester Institute which Mark Litton was in. That was a good chance for the youngsters to play to a live Jazz audience, that was the beauty of it.
BG - The only problem was they all had to come on with their music and stands, you know, by the time they got to start playing they had 20 minutes and had to come off again!
BM - Yeah, that was good, we liked to do that. We had a pianist for years called Bill Hayden-Joyce, do you remember Bill Joyce? He was a bit too modern for our taste but at least it was a sound in the interval, you know, rather than quietness.
People can’t say they didn't have value for money.
BG - Well the principle of the club always was, well when I was involved, you got the best Jazz at the most reasonable cost and give the band a fair deal. We never screwed the band. You work on the principle that the bands are the most important thing, because as I say, if you’ve got a really rotten crowd week after week, say 20 or 30 people, and you've got a bit of money in the bank you can keep going and hope it’ll pick up. You lose bands for two weeks you’re dead! No band, nobody turns up, that’s it you’re finished. So you’ve got to look after your bands. Plus they deserve it anyway.
Yes, it's always been that way, if a band puts bums on seats and they’re worth every penny aren't they.
BG - I mean most of them don't make a penny out of it really, they go home with perhaps £70-£80 do they, perhaps.
BM - When you're talking about in your time, £180 and they came from quite a distance, they weren’t earning a lot.
BG - If they had 2 or 3 cars that was most of the money gone in petrol. Then they had a few beers, some of them even had to have overnights, we had a hotel owner who was a member of the club and he'd give them a good deal. But I mean it weren’t a living in it, I don’t think any semi-pro band ever made more than beer money out of it. Well like today the situation is that if I book a band they’ll probably say that they’re coming from another part of the UK and they work it down. They set out on the Thursday, Friday, come to us on the Sunday and then probably go down on the Monday, you know. So they’re making the money and they all get paid cash at the end of the day…sorry!
BG - But some of them are lucky enough to get the organisers to put them up, won't they, sometimes.
BM - Yeah that helps if they've got a hotel or a Travelodge booked.
BG - Like Derek Watson, he does Wickham Bishops and he has them there, like New Orleans Heat, and that’s fine because from there they go out to a guy at the other side of West Bergholt and they come to us on a Sunday evening.
BM - I see all the bands you book Brian obviously but I still don't know where a lot of them are from, are a lot of them from London area still?
BG - Yeah there’s quite a number of them still.
BM - Because the London area ones especially North London that’s only ¾ of an hour up the A12, that’s not bad. They finish with us at 10.30, they pack up before 11.00 and be home before midnight!
BG - The thing is a lot of the bands, when you get half a dozen guys in a band, they don’t all come from the same town, they're spread all over the place.
TH - We’ve had like Johnny Maddox, his complete unit comes from Dorset and when they finish at ours at 10.30 now, by the time they pack up they probably don't get on the road until 11.30, well that’s a good 4-5 hour journey.
BM - I booked a band a lot of years ago called John Coward’s Lads of Dixieland and he turned up in a bit of a ratty old Ford Transit and they played a reasonable session, it was alright, but when they finished I had a chat with them and I said “Are you staying overnight” and he said “No I'm driving home now to Dumfries”! I said “What the hell time are you going to get home?”, he said “About 8am”. Plus when he got home he’d got to deliver the boys off to their various homes! I don’t know what's Dumfries, what about 500 miles?
BG - Yes it is because I pass it on the way to Stranraer. You look at Phil Mason, I mean he come from Bute but the rest of his band didn't come from Bute, they were dotted all over the country.
Mainly in Surrey.
Did you find that moving from venue to venue….because you were having to stop and start all over again weren’t you, I mean you never missed a week I understand that.
BM - We always had somewhere else to go when we finished at the previous place.
And did the crowd follow each time?
BM - Yes they do, I mean some followed out of curiosity.
BG - The first night we were at the new venue we had masses of people that had crawled out of the woodwork - you wouldn’t believe. Plus a load of visitors.
BM - Best crowd for ages wasn’t it?
BG - Yeah it was.
That’s the new venue you're in right now?
BG – Yes. I think it was 126 but there was a lot of visitors. Some of them have joined up since.
BM - Good, you need new blood. Because you see the Jazz crowd is old, there's no getting away from it, they’re all old. That’s us lot.
BG - If you look at the membership form it’s got, I've put on it ‘age groups’ and you tick it, and I've had sort of 60+, I've now put on the new one 70+ because I'm curious. And 95% are 60+.
So you moved venues in 1987 again?
BM – We went to Stanway Rovers in ’87. Funnily enough the building there was similar to what they'd done at Langenhoe. This was more or less a temporary building that was an old school I believe. They were brilliant really because they applied for a lottery grant to build their new premises but they didn't get it as I understand so they funded it themselves didn’t they. And it’s a lovely building, they did ever so well with that. Things move on, time for a chance. The crowds were getting a little bit iffy and it was decided that a move was in…well you tell them…
TH - Well that’s right when you look at it, the guys who’ve put all their houses…that’s the thing…into this brick building and they were ex-referees, footballers, this sort of thing, they actually financed it at the end of the day, but we had a younger chairman at Stanway Rovers, a lovely guy. I can go back to the time when we first met and said that he was only going to charge no hall fees, all the bar takings would be his and all the membership we had every 12 months, he would take that. And we went on that for ages upon ages, year upon year until we got this silly self-made millionaire road-repairer took over and he just got unbelievable at the end of the day and he just wanted money after money after money. It all started that he wanted paying £40 for the bar staff, well ok, we weren’t against that at all, but we weren’t against the membership being paid over, but there was a cut off point we knew that in January we would pay them that money, but any other members that signed on from there until October the club kept. So that was finance for us in any case.
BM - Better cut out the libellous bit!
TH - Also he just got greedy in the end.
BG - Well the membership, if you go back, 5-6 years was in the 240’s and it’s now currently at 180. You get a few new members every year but there’s a lot of – being the age group that a lot of them are, they either get too old to come or one of their partners dies and that type of thing so they stop coming and that’s how it is. We’ve now got a couple of younger people come but generally speaking the age group is all in the retirement era.
BM - We’ve got George Moody and Roy Thompson, they’re 80. George Moody if you see George Moody on the dance floor he’s quick-stepping, over 80! If he hasn't got a lady with him he just goes and gets the girls off the floor, but when you see him dance around at +80, so that’s what I can’t make. The only thing that annoys me is the kids today are too much probably down to what they see on television, they've got all the computers and this sort of thing.
BG - Football as well though Brian!
BM - Yeah, really, that’s where we’re struggling really.
BG - What we should do really for club members is we should invite the younger generations, like our families, and bring them in.
BM - It don’t happen on the continent, on the continent there’s…
TH - That’s right, if you go to Scandinavia and Holland for instance you get a lot of youngsters where as they don't tend to have them over here.
Yes, unfortunately it's got a bit of a fuddy-duddy kind of image, you know, why would kids be interested?
BM - Well you're right in a sense because as soon as they come in the door they see all the grey-headed people sitting around they think hello we’ll turn around and go back out again!
Yes, I mean what interest would it be to them? And it's a shame isn't it.
TH - When the boom was on we were all younger, we were all in our teens and 20’s. We've grown up with the bands, the bands are all older as well now. Most of the musicians are from the same age group as us.
BG - I mean going back, I mean I was living in the Midlands at the time back in the 50’s, when I used to go and see Max Collie in the top floor of this pub and he’d got massive….then I saw him at Amersham and he’d still got massive hair and all that and now look at him.
BM - Because he’s 82.
BG - He’s retired now, yes.
Makes you wonder what the future is really doesn't it. Because you know, and this is probably the same for most forms of Jazz as well, I don’t think Modern Jazz is more popular, it's probably less popular than the New Orleans Jazz I would have thought, but there does seem to be more younger people playing that.
TH - And that’s more expensive.
BM - Old George Allen put it once, and I remember him saying, it’ll never really take off again until the universities take it up. That's what happened last time, every university had a huge Jazz club, or Jazz membership and of course that in Essex was fantastic, at Wivenhoe, they had all the money, they even got someone like Bud Freeman over once, you know the old New Orleans saxophone player who played New Orleans Rhythm with Bix and everything, people like that – legends! And he was…
TH - They’re not interested in university any more and I’ll tell you what, if it ever did take off there you'd see another boom and you'd see a lot of young bands again, I mean they all learn that from the records, I'd say it started in what was it, 1946-47 with George Webb started up again and they did it from the 78’s they'd got. That’s why the Jazz numbers in those days were only three minutes long!
Oh he owned a pub did he?
TH - Yes and he ran festivals down in Yarmouth, and that part of the globe, and Lowestoft.
BG - I've just spent the last week converting Ron’s vinyls to CDs and a lot of those go back to Bix and you know…
BM - You know with today’s modern bands, I go to many Jazz festivals, the main festival I go to is on the Severn and there are one or two bands that he has up there but when you relate that to the Dutch in Holland they bring them up from the age of 10 or 12 so they form them in 6’s you see.
TH - Someone told me they teach Jazz in school!
BG - Yes they do that’s right, yeah. We’ve had George Tidiman and he's local but we've had him a couple of times in the last few weeks, one at the new venue where Savannah couldn't come down from Yorkshire because of the snow so he stepped in. He came two weeks later. But he got in touch with us saying he's found this new pianist, Jazz pianist, Cody Lee, and he was 15 years old and could he bring him to the club. We said yes, 15 years old! You look at Amy Roberts, the first time I saw her she was only a young student and now she's playing with Chris Barber.
BM - And she could sink a pint of Guinness!
BG - Yes I watched her at the Isle of Wight the other week.
BM - Lovely saxophone player.
BG - Yes, there are some youngsters about but not…
BM - Her Mum and Dad used to sit in the front of these Jazz festivals and that sort of thing when Amy was up there, and when they had the break she used to come down and she used to drink this Guinness.
Where’s she from, she’s not local is she, Amy?
BM - No, no, Amy comes down from Gloucestershire.
How did you fare with the club in the early 60’s, you know when the Beatles came out, there’s seems to have been a lot of damage to Jazz.
BM - Yeah they did generally, I think what happened was that a number of clubs closed.
It was booming still in the early 60’s wasn’t it.
TH - Well I think the style of dress changed didn't it, more than anything, everybody went into the Teddy Boys gear, that was the only change that we saw in Colchester.
BM - We didn't lose out from that because the Jazz audience we had was dedicated to traditional Jazz.
TH - The other thing, also, although we had a big regiment in Colchester, you know, soldiers.
BM - No it didn't hit us. It was general withering rather than a sudden change.
Yes, I know talking to some of the bands from around that period they said a lot of their work suddenly dried up.
BM - I think the venues reduced you see. There was still good crowds at the venues that remained. I think that's what happened.
TH - Over the years our crowd went up and down like this, you could never be sure.
BM - Also the big change, I think Tony, is that in the 50’s and 60’s the band, there was no individual player was there, they played as a complete band right through the whole song. Then it gradually came in, the solos came in, there was a big change in the Jazz thing.
TH - Yes that was the ensemble work, a few people like Colyer kept the total ensemble work and there might be a short break of a few bars but nothing…what you get now really, most bands you get the ensemble, string of solos, ensemble, more solos, ensemble, finish. So really most of the time you’re only listening to 4 musicians, rhythm section and the front line.
BM - Although you’ve got 6 or 7 on the stage.
TH - Whereas New Orleans bands very seldom did that.
BM - Well they all sat down all the time for a start, none of this lark of standing up! I mean everyone tends to forget that traditional Jazz was a dance music and was nothing else, there was no question of people sitting in rows watching and trying to work out what he meant when he played that phrase, a load of old rubbish. They played because they wanted to dance to it. And you ought to see it lift the crowd if you get a good dancing crowd.
BG – Actually, all the bands that come to Colchester Jazz Club like coming because they say there’s more dancing goes on there than any other club they go to. We’re famous for it. We went down to the Concord Club, down Eastleigh, a little while back and Gambit were on. We were sitting there having a meal and as Gambit walked it and went “Oh my God” you know and turned around as if they were going out again. Because we got up first to dance they kept going on about Colchester Jazz Club and the dancing, because we got up first to dance next thing you know half the other people started getting up and they said that was, you know…
TH - And the dance floor wasn’t any bigger than this!
BM - And of course there’s been a big change with regards to the dancing theme regarding…
TH - Stompers.
BM - Yes that was known as Stompers, the boys and girls used to ‘stomp’, they don't do that today. Very rarely. I'd said, Liz was probably the last stomper…
TH - Generally speaking it's the age thing that’s done it, more gentle sort of dancing. But the bands love it – have you heard of George Lewis? If you read his book he says they were playing some university or other and people were just sitting there at tables eating and that was a flat session. The book says that suddenly a couple got up and tentatively started to dance and one or two more and the whole thing went up like this, a tremendous session, because the band had something to feed off.
That’s right, as you say, the music’s meant for dancing too, yes.
BM - I know a couple of years ago when I asked this particular band leader what would he like to call his band and he got these musicians in and he said “I'd like to call it The Barry Polson X-Factor Band!” Well the questions I got asked, who is this X-Factor band? Well when they came on the stage they realised there were a lot of well-known names and I tell you what they were brilliant, they were fantastic.
BG - Every week I take the photos that go on the web page and I remember putting them on and there was a lot of reaction from people that had been on to the web and in fact there’s some guy that keeps emailing me now from Slovakia and keep saying can I send him more photos with signatures etc., so people are looking from all over the world! When I was in New Orleans last year I gave this guy my card, you know on the New Orleans paddle boat that goes down the Mississippi, gave him my card, by the time I got home Roy said “ You know how many people have been on from New Orleans…” and they’d all been looking at our webpage!
BM - I know when I went into New Orleans there was this black guy, trombonist, down in the French Quarter, down near where the market is, and I got talking to him and he said “Where are you staying?”, so I said “We’re staying in the Dauphine Hotel”, he said “How long are you down for?”, I told him 10 days. He said “Will you find out if I can come in one evening around the pool and play Jazz?” I came back the next day and told him he could. He said “I’ll bring six people down”, and they set this all up and they played the whole evening for us. They never got paid, they went round with the thing and people put money in, thoroughly enjoyed it.
TH - There’s not a lot of Jazz in New Orleans now though is there.
BG - There’s more than there was, especially down Bourbon Street, because it’s all strip joints and Cajun.
BM - There’s a few places, Fritzl’s was alright, Preservation Hall, it’s like an old cow shed isn't it.
So I saw a photo of you parading at the Colchester Jazz Club Parade, what was that all about?
TH - Well Colchester Carnival used to run every July and we used to put on a band based mainly around the Frog Island Jazz Band, they used to call it the Frog Island Augmented Street Marching Band. Augmented with a few extra musicians! So you’d get about two trumpets, a couple of trombones, three reeds, a couple of snare drums you might even have four brasses depending who he could get hold of. But we used to go around the town, starting at the barracks, right into the centre of town, past the Town Hall. I always played ‘The Red Flag’ outside the Town Hall. They call it Maryland now, The Red Flag. That was basically part of a carnival.
TH - Because George got fed up one year, we got left right behind, there must have been about quarter of a mile between us and the float in front so he had a word and the next year they put us in the front and he deliberately went slow, the bloody lorries were boiling over!
When did you start doing the carnival? How long did you do that for?
TH - Must have been about the late 70’s, about ‘78/’79 because one of the chaps who was on the committee of Jazz clubs for many years was a bloke called Ian McMeakin. Who is also a great local Rotarian and member of the council, all this and he does guided tours of Colchester and he had a lot of influence with various council people so he used to run the carnival, so he got us in with the band.
How many years did you do that for?
TH - I think probably about 7 or 8.
And did Frog Island do it every time?
TH - I can’t remember if they did it every time.
BG - We had a band from London.
TH - I can’t remember what they called themselves, we had the Liberty Hall once didn't we.
BM - Also the carnival was always Saturday evening and that was always attached to the tattoo down in the castle park.
TH - I know we were at the Townhouse because after the carnival procession was over we always used to go to the Townhouse and have a Jazz session down there and the band would turn up and play for the evening down in the Townhouse. I used to be involved on a very important mission, I used to have a pram full of beer! There would be groups of runners who would constantly come up, fishing out a bottle of Ruddles, flick the top off and giving it to the trumpet player while he was taking a break, he’d have a swig and hand it back!
That’s the most important job that!
TH - They got a bit ragged towards the end!
BG - It was very colourful, I will say that.
BM - And then of course Maggie Thatcher pulled the plug on the troops and that disappeared. It's just started up again. I have mentioned about us going into it again but I don't know what’s going to come out of it.
Has there been much other outside activity to do with the Colchester Jazz Club?
TH - Mainly trips out, to other clubs perhaps. Like the Leatherhead ones, and Norwich, a couple we went to Norwich. We also had three trips on the Norfolk Broads, a paddle steamer.
BG - Called the Southern Comfort. It was quite funny because the band, the bit on the paddle steamer going up the Broads, he had to play his trombone out the window because there wasn’t room.
TH - On the River Cam