John Petters
Tony Poole

BBC Essex jazz show presenter in the early 80s and promoter of a jazz club at The Square, Harlow.


Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.

Jenny Potts

Tony Poole

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So, Tony before you got involved with the Square Club in Harlow what were you up to there, because I'm sure when I met you you were doing hospital radio weren’t you?


That’s right Mark, it all started for me really as a DJ back in the late 70’s but I quickly got into black music and more and more into Jazz, and by the early 80’s I was getting very interested in radio and I joined the Harlow Hospital Radio station at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in about…hmm must have been about ’83. I used to present a weekly Sunday morning show called Now You Has Jazz after the old Bing Crosby thing from High Society, and that was going along fine for a couple of years. Later from there the Square One Club – unfortunate name, I used to be the square back in those days, an unfortunate name for a Jazz club, but it was being run just round the corner from the hospital and a guy called John Petters, a drummer called John Petters, a very famous celebrity back in them days around Harlow and Essex, was running a Sunday Jazz club and I had the inkling to introduce some Modern Jazz down there, so that’s basically how it got started.


So you deejayed at the Square Club originally then?


Not particularly on the nights when we put the Modern Jazz on. John used to run his on the Sunday and I think we introduced some Modern Jazz on a Wednesday night if memory serves me right. I didn’t DJ at all then, although we did do a couple of one-offs on a Saturday night when I did DJ and we had some more Jazz/Jazz Dance events going on. Guys like Gilles Petersen would come down and guest as well along with having live bands there, so it wasn’t so much an outlet for my deejaying down there at the Square, it was more to bring another audience to the Square other than what John was doing. I mean John was a fine promoter doing what he did, which was more Traditional Jazz, but I wanted to see more modern stuff in Harlow and it was more about the live Jazz that night.


So you didn’t take over from John Petters then?


No, in fact we did try and work together quite a bit so that we didn’t clash at all, and John really was quite happy for me to get on because it wasn’t his thing at all, and John was very much a traditionalist and he was quite happy, because there was really two different sets of audiences. To give you an idea, John would be having people like Humph down, and if I remember, at the time we had people like Wild Bill Davidson, Slim Gaillard, some Americans came over, this is who John would put on his night, Al Casey, Hank Lawson, people like that. And what I did on the Wednesday night was have people more like Tommy Chase, who was coming up at the time, Annie Whitehead, Harry Beckett came down, let me see, and your mentor Robin Jones with Jazz Turbo, Don Rendall. people like that, so it was quite a different take on Jazz from what they was getting from what John was doing. We ran that for about 2-3 years with varying success. I suppose we managed to get audiences in the region of 60-80 mid week, wasn't too bad, yeah.


What did you call your night?


I think we just went under the same, it was the Square One. It had just changed from the Square to the Square One. It was an Essex County Council, or Harlow County Council run venue so we didn’t have to pay any booking fees for the hall or anything like that. All the people there, the managers, were all paid by Essex County Council so it wasn’t like a private club or anything like that, so the money that was made – not very much – would go back into the kitty and it was almost like a non-profit type thing whereas any money we did make would go back into try and get some bigger acts and stuff.


So were you based in Harlow at the time?


Yeah I would have been living in Harlow or... yes, that’s right I was. I have moved around that part of the world a bit, around Sawbridgeworth and Bishop Stortford, but I was based in Harlow. Another guy who used to come along and sell his records on the night was Tony Williams of Spotlight Records, people will know the guy who pulled out all the famous Dial recordings of Charlie Parker and stuff. Tony was a big supporter of the club and we’d sell some records and stuff for him. Yeah but I was certainly based in the area having originally come from Enfield and moved out to Harlow when I got married.


Oh I see yes. Was there much else going on to do with Jazz in the Harlow area when you were there?


Well there was…I'm thinking of John’s musicians…in the band…the band was set up with some guys called Julian Stringle and Pete Neighbour a clarinettist and I do remember John Bumfries the piano player I would bump into doing Sunday sessions elsewhere doing pubs and clubs and that around, as well as a very good vibes player called Derek Windsor, and you’d come across these guys in other bands doing other stuff, a bit more modern than they were allowed to do with John. It was a good period and Eddie Blackwell from Essex Radio gave the club a lot of support and I think had something to do with John helping record his first album called Stealing Apples so there was a lot going on. It’s also come to mind now that John used to organise these 'riverboat shuffles' as well going down the Thames where he’d get a couple of coaches organised and herd them down to somewhere on the Thames and we'd go down the Thames on a boat for the day with the old New Orleans Jazz playing. That was quite fun.


Yeah that’s right; I think that was with the Frog Island Jazz Band.


It would have been John, John’s band, but there could have been other bands as well yeah. We’d end up at the 100 Club afterwards, playing again. I think John – who’s got his own website now – I notice John’s now moved to Lincolnshire somewhere, but John's got his own website and in fact had a small contribution to this BBC programme just recently put on air about Traditional Jazz in the UK.


Did you have any interest in Trad Jazz at that time?


I didn’t mind it. It was good to see some of these American musicians that John managed to get over like Al Casey and I was fascinated by Humphrey Lyttelton when he attended. I mean as a DJ, or as anyone who’s a fan of music, if it’s good you've got to respect it, I mean it might not be your thing or it might not be the sort of thing I’ll go out and buy but seeing it live, you know, it is good.


I did forget to ask you at the beginning of the interview because you did say that you started deejaying in the late 70’s. What got you into Jazz in the first place?


Well, an unusual route I suppose, it was really from…well I started deejaying because I got made redundant from a job – electricians job – and with the redundancy money I bought some disco decks and started deejaying. I knew nothing about Black music at all when I started but slowly got into it and through Soul music. I really got more interested in the Jazz side of things, and Jazz Funk of course, probably like yourself: you go out and buy a Herbie Hancock record which is a big Disco record at the time and then you start looking at the guys who are guesting on the albums and you start reading names like, I don't know who plays with Herbie Hancock, everybody’s played with him, but then you start digging out his old Blue Note material and then from then I just got interested, especially in 60’s Blue Note and Miles of course, and everything else that goes with it.


Yes that’s right, and then you got a chance to express yourself through the hospital radio as well.


Yes, because obviously from then, I don’t know if I…from then on after the hospital radio I did that for about 4 years and then from there I went over to the BBC. I think I just wrote to who was then presenting Jazz First, this would be about 1985 I think. Yes, ’88 actually. I joined BBC Essex and I basically started off just doing a Jazz chart for them, just coming along, and we had a Jazz chart sponsored by City Sounds, the specialist import shop in Holborn; so went out of Essex to get that, but it’s just because I happened to work up that neck of the woods at the time. And then a couple of years down the line after presenting the chart for them, Liz joined – Liz McMullen who was the presenter then – joined the station, BBC Essex, full time and left. The void of the show I then went on to present for about 5 years until about 1993 when BBC Essex axed all the specialist programmes, although I understand there may be some Jazz back on BBC Essex now. You’ll have to excuse me because I'm not in the UK any more, I'm in Spain and so I'm a little bit out of touch and I've been here for 12 years. I don’t know what is going on in Essex at the minute.


Yes that was weird that BBC Essex shed the specialist programmes wasn’t it? There seems to be – I haven’t listened to it in while but there seems to be a BBC Jazz show now that goes out across Essex and Norfolk/Suffolk blah blah blah, and I think it’s just…at this point I don’t know who the presenter is, I don’t know if he’s from Essex or which county he’s from, but it seems to be one that goes out across all of them.


Well one of the things we used to do on the programme, we used to have a gig guide and Steve Mullen, who was Liz’s husband at the time, he would do the gig guide. He ran the Colchester Jazz Club at that stage and all the Jazz gigs got a mention and people would write in with all their listings. Jazz is very limited on the airwaves. As you know back then I probably only remember for that area, there was Eddie, he would be doing his programme on Essex radio one night a week, there would be Brian Priestly on BBC Radio London probably on a Saturday morning, that’s right, just before Robbie Vincent and then there was myself. So obviously those programmes were probably where everybody used to send their listings to, everybody I suppose got to know about the gigs in that area.


Yes, you had a very long run at the BBC Essex didn’t you?


Not bad really when I think back, 5 years. One thing I did enjoy doing most of course, I took full advantage of having the BBC behind me and got out as often as I could and used it as a lever to interview my heroes like Roy Ayers of course. I would go along and interview him, Mark Murphy actually came to the studio once and he said “If I was a Beatle you’d be coming to my house”! Yeah he made the journey from London I suppose when he was doing one of his early Dingwalls things or maybe with Gilles. We had a great day with Mark. He came down to the studio and we took him in to one of the wine bars afterwards, Peelers, if that’s still there. Other guys I would interview would be Lou Rawls and Big John Patton when he would come over and do things with the Brighton promoter Russ Dewbury.


Wow, I did that tour…


…so I would use my – I wouldn't say 'celebrity' status, but use my lever as being with the BBC to get my foot in the door and to get some interviews. Airto and Flora Purim at Ronnie’s, I interviewed Johnny Lytle. Art Blakey I tried to interview but he was deaf, a little fact that they forgot to tell me when I arranged the interview. I think the drums had made him deaf.


It’s funny I did that Johnny Lytle and the John Patton tour playing percussion with them. That was quite an experience.


Well in them days I used to see you quite a lot as well, especially at the Jazz Bops in Brighton and stuff. The one big thing I do remember me doing, producing as well, and it did go out nationally and I definitely had to be there for 1989 for this, because it was the 50th anniversary of Blue Note Records. And I went over to New York and interviewed the then CEO who would have been Michael Cuscuna at the time. And I also had a big introduction to Latin Jazz then when I went to the New York Salsa Festival and saw Tito Puente live with Celia Cruz. That was amazing. So I was definitely there in 1989 and I remember the station getting behind the hour long special that I did about the 50th anniversary of the label and it went out nationally on the radio as well at some stage.


Are you not tempted to broadcast any more?


I have done a bit in Spain yeah. I've done a bit for some of the local radio stations. I'm also involved this year with the local – quite well established local Jazz festival in San Javier helping them with their press and stuff to get the word over to the English about what happens in San Javier during…it’s a month long festival in the summer and they have some big stars, big big stars, people who are doing the European circuit yeah. San Javier, for a small town it puts on a big, big festival.


That’s quite incredible. I seem to remember you also, I might be wrong, but I'm sure I remember you trying to do some promotion in the Southend area as well?


Oh that would be your manor! Would I trip on all your guys down there and Phil, I wouldn’t trip on Phil Levene! I don’t think I would have tried that, I used to come down though occasionally, I would come down and see you at some of the clubs that you used to do but no I don’t remember trying to promote anything down there. I used to love coming down to Southend. I think it even had a better scene, well certainly for what I was into, which was in those early days – spurred on by DJs like Paul Murphy and the like and yourself, you had a bit of a very good scene in Southend. A bit envious I was of the scene down there. We did try and do a similar thing in Harlow on a Sunday night in a nightclub. That wasn’t live music, that was purely with guest DJ's. I was racking my brain as to why we didn’t get you to guest there actually, I don’t know. We had everybody else, including people like, well Gilles of course, Bob Jones would come down. Bob would normally stay round my pad afterwards and Tom Holland, Baz for Jazz, Sylvester, all these guys, Martin Collins even, they all come down. 


Yes, certainly there was a great Jazz Dance scene in Southend. 


It all came to an end for me in about 1993 where I had…we’d been given the elbow by BBC Essex and I was then heavily into collecting records at that time and actually used my record collections to start a business in buying and selling up old rare vinyl, so from then on I used to go over to America a lot, find old records and bring them back and sell them all over the world, I possibly sold you a lot along the way!


You certainly did, Virgo Vibes you were called weren't you?


Virgo Vibes yes, the record company, and we kept that going until about 2001 after which we moved to Spain.