The Smithy Lane Stompers
Musical Epiphany very Personal Reflections on a Musical Journey @ The Meister Concert Hall
Where did it all start?
Plato concluded -
'music is a more potent instrument than any because rhythm & harmony find their way into the inner places of the soul
1940s - British Dance Bands & Steam Radio and the music that Ma & Pa loved as they danced?
1959 - Glasgow Rhythm Club & President of the University Jazz Club.
What was this blues swing thing? ... old curmudgeons remembered?
Music ain't nothin' but a bunch of notes, but it seemed to be how, which, where, when and who made the sounds that made the magic. We didn't bother to figure it out, it was just fun. We guessed the brain was the source for all behaviour & thinks, so just like every thing else going on in our heads, music was a trial & error discovery process which was only misunderstood in evolutionary terms by a few nerds ... nobody else bothered ... they just had fun.
Music maybe a spandrel ... an odd consequence of work elsewhere ... but it emerged from the survival necessity to 'make sense' of environmental sounds. Recognising and responding to patterns of sound was always vital for survival, after all discriminating between the sound of walking and the sound of running could be the difference between dinner & death.
All this musical malarkey became a bit clearer much later when we started to study music proper under the coaxing of the great Slim Read ... (and Richard Dawkins) ... the musical patterns we heard seemed to involve -
listening ... (sense perception)
remembering ... (cognitive recognition)
jigging ... (creative motor responses)
... the result was a sort of 'organised sound' (rhythmic, melodic, harmonic and timbral) ... patterns which meant something ... they made sense ... we always thought it was all a bit difficult for cricketers and beer drinkers but eventually we realised that even the very young soon got the hang of do-ra-me-fa-sol-la-te-do ...
The emotional appeal of music came directly from the excitement that built up when patterns of sound were established or anticipated and expectations of pleasure aroused ... but the climatic satisfaction was delayed or disguised by a series of intriguing diversions and unanticipated surprises. Music involved deliberately tantalising the listener with heightened expectations before a final resolution. Spine tingling, intense arousal came from anticipating the release from tension as dopamine kicked in ... we facetiously suggested that this maybe the chemistry of the orgasm?
The social thrill of participation in music really fascinated some youngsters who had been weaned on the crooners and the big swing bands that ma & pa used to dance to. These bands were mostly American but the Brits had dance bands that created good imitations ... and our Mum & Dad loved them in the 1930s ... and in the 1940s the radio was on continuously! We even remembered that Lew Stone seemed to be in the middle of everything that the British Dance Bands did; he arranged for Bert Ambrose, Jack Hylton, Jack Payne & Roy Fox and employed Nat Gonella & Al Bowlly ... and many more ... but it was Ted Heath who ended up at the pinnacle for many aficionados.
In the fifties as the kids grew up they tasted a new world of music as the old jazz from New Orleans enjoyed a revival. This sound was different and these new interpretations produced amazing physical & perceptive effects which bounced the music into prominence -
The Blues; hauntingly different novel melodies & scales with complex compelling rhythms & infectious syncopations
improvisation; spontaneous creative unwritten collective self expression, which posed an intriguing challenge for players and listeners alike as surprisingly coherent musical trajectories emerged from an apparently chaotic environment
swing; buoyant, detached, floating, melodic & rhythmic trajectories, away from the 'ground beat', resulting in a lilt, which was difficult to describe but unmistakable when heard and felt, the manifestation of the tension & release created by the interaction of juxtaposed rhythmic lines.
But forget the words ... we had to feel the haunt of the blues ... incredible spontaneity and unfathomable swing ... fearfully undisciplined but excitingly coherent ... special music for dancing ... and the girls too always loved to 'jive' to this exotica.
Music was all over the place, everywhere, but it wasn't easy to find the real old Dixieland style ... it was music from the past ... occasionally the sounds were heard ... steam radio ... a few scratchy 78s which were worn out on Garrard auto players ... and when enough pocket money could be saved there were some treasured purchases from the music shop in Northwich ... most notably Humphrey Lyttelton's The Fish Seller backed by 'The Glory of Love' ... and there was always 'The VOA Jazz Hour' where the deep articulate voice of Willis Conover ebbed & flowed through the hiss of the ether.
From Humph's Parlophones we graduated to the original real thing ... the Hot 5 & 7s and Potato Head Blues was our next prized purchase... we found kindred spirits at The King's School and even Mama loved Louis ... and then inevitably Black Bottom Stomp and Jelly Roll ... we became avid listeners and more ... the appeal of primordial rhythms and participation ... rhythm the most basic element of music originating in the co-ordination of body movement of both predator & prey ... the distinction between listening and playing was unnatural, modern and Western ... we were onto the real McCoy.
Jazz Journal every month and there was a ritual every Thursday; seeking out the weekly copy of ‘The Melody Maker’ and hoping to glean a little more about the mystery music they called ‘jazz’. The paper was affordable but funds never stretched to buying new fangled LP recordings ... but through seeking you could listen to excitement offered by the aficionados at The Glasgow Rhythm Club and whenever you were in London you could find the sounds at 'the shrine'; Doug Dobells in Chairing Cross Road ...
But we were always irked by the thought ... if this old music sounded so good to listen too ... what would it be like to actually play it?
This was the time the music of The Blues had a new lease of life in America as the black kids were dancing to Rhythm & Blues and then Rock 'n' Roll ... and then all hell broke loose with Bill Haley, Elvis, The Beatles and Eric Clapton ... and everything changed ... opportunities to play the good old jazz were zilch ... in any case there were always other priorities monopolising any spare time.
Most of the kids who played in those days had guitars and played Skiffle ... learned in a day ... but many others were bent on earning a living, they had to follow the money trail when the others went rockin' ... nobody was trying to make a living in playing this jazz stuff ... although it was rumored vast fortunes were being made from 'Rock'?
But Rock wasn't music easily understood for us ... the rhythms didn't seem right to the jazzers. The swing thing messed with the beat and messed with The Blues feeling. Rock sounded different? Was Rock was just another route back to The Blues, but straight no messing?.
In 1964 Beatles stormed America and led the '1st British Invasion' from Skiffle to Rock ... Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker took a jazz & blues route to Rock and follow into the land of The Blues.
But even in the 1950s 'Trad Jazz' appeared to be slowly, relentlessly shutting down as the rest of the music world seemed to be moving on ... on its way towards mp3s and itunes ... it was very lonely ... there was only Rock on the telly ... and nobody could ever play like Charlie Parker, that was impossible ... but Bebop was self imposed isolation, shutting out the rest of a world just because it was different ... perhaps the 'Country & Western' and the 'Grand Ole Opry' folk felt the same way ... did they also isolate their genre?
Impetus inevitably mellowed as jazz took a back seat ... most of the girls thought it was a bit infra dig ... and we started to absorb time and lucre on sustenance, education and brain training ... but we could afford to buy a few LPs and we remembered a statement of intent when luxurious Dynatron Hi Fi equipment, the superb Transpower SRX 24C, was delivered to 71 Latham Avenue, Helsby on September 17th 1968 ... JJ's birthday ... and the latest specification Stereo equipment followed us to Africa and beyond ...
From the 1950s to 1992 there was a sort of listening sequence when time was squeezed from the real work in putting crumbs on the table -
Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland - Harold Arlen, 'Wizard of Oz', 1939. Our first musical orgasm, beautiful girl, exquisite voice and a connoisseur creator of ubiquitous 32 bar theatre songs ... with those octave jumps and a terrific middle 8 … and this music issuing from 'the wireless' led to von Tilzer, Berlin, Hoagy, Fats, Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Rodgers, Loesser - 'It's Only a Paper Moon', 'Stormy Weather', 'Roll Along Prairie Moon', 'Easter Parade', 'Georgia', 'Blue Turning Grey over You', 'I got Rhythm', 'Smoke gets in Your Eyes', 'You'd be so Nice to Come Home To', 'You Took Advantage of Me', 'Slow Boat to China' ... and countless others ... this was The Great American Songbook ... and the inspiration for our own personal treasures ...
Singing The Blues - Guy Mitchell, 1956. Our first live concert which proved so exciting that we bought 'Jazz' by Rex Harris in a vain attempt to understand this American music. We discovered that this was not The Blues and not jazz but it was an entreé into a whole new world which existed beyond cricket and girls …
Fish Seller - Parlophones - Humph, Wally Fawkes, Bruce Turner, Johnny Pickard, 1955. Our first 78 rpm record purchased, to be worn out on our old Garrard turntable, and this old Bechet toon still sounded as fresh and creative 60 years later ... and Humph also played The Blues ...
Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley - a simple 12 bar blues, raw and primitive, like a physical assault, can you imagine the effect on anyone in love with Judy Garland …
Blue Suede Shoes - Elvis Presley - boogification of triplets and outrageous liberties - a dramatic new sound forcing foot tapping, body jerking participation as the boys as well as the girls reacted to those hips and sounds …
Rock Island Line - Lonnie Donegan - the penny dropped, music was about your individual participative contribution, inspirational, no one else performed like this, you didn't have to be 'good', it was time to pick up a guitar and do something with the 3 chord trick ...
Heebie Jeebies - Louis - back to where it all started, song and dance - messing about with rhythm, irreverence and the first recorded innovations which changed music ...
Potato Head Blues - Louis - Hot 7, 1927. Swing - what was it? What was happening to our body? Another uncontrollable urge? … the manifestation of the tension and release created by the juxtaposition of rhythmic lines? Buoyant, detached, floating, melodic 'trajectories', away from the 'ground beat', resulting in a lilt, which is difficult to describe but unmistakable when heard or felt. Improvisation, or unwritten spontaneous collective self expression, which poses a further intriguing challenge for players and listeners alike … wow !!
Black Bottom Stomp - Jelly Roll Morton - more sophisticated dynamics, making the music move the body - loud/soft, instrumental breaks, syncopation, harmonic contrast - everything packed into a 3 minute dance ...
The Continental - Nat Gonella - intoxicated dancing at Clems to Dennis Williams
Twist and Shout - The Beatles - local lads innovate, the Americans no longer had a monopoly of rhythm - perpetual dancing for a year in 1963 with beautiful Chester girls ...
Take the A Train - Duke Ellington - Willis Conover and the VOA 'Jazz Hour' - dancing at the Cotton Club, more sophisticated beauty ... and leading to Hodges, Carney, Bubber, Tricky Sam, Cootie, Gonsalves, Hamilton, Blanton … on & on …
The Moon got in My Eyes - Mildred Bailey with Buck Clayton, Ed Hall, Herschel Evans, James Sherman, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, 1937.
Rabbit's Blues - Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown, Al Sears, Nelson Williams, 1951 ... unassailable!
I Guess I'll have to Change My Plan - Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Vic Dickenson, 1956 ... cool!
Cool Blues - Charlie Parker, Errol Garner, 1947 ... unbelievable!
We reserved the right to add more songs to the list after more eager reflection … we'd no space for Bix, Billie and Basie … and the saxophonists ... Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins ... we needed more space … furthermore we had a right to adjust our total selection as we were deluged with irrepressible memories which were so compelling and invigorating as to make immediate commitment to 'a list' an act of folly … such was the power of music … a life time of listening to wonderful music ...
But we were always irked by the thought ... if this old music sounded so good to listen too ... what would it be like to actually play it?
The Smithy Lane Stompers
At our annual Christmas Party at The Meister after a pint or two at The Goshawk on Thursday December 17th 1992 ... during an interlude interposed between piping hot black coffee and the excellence of Hark the Herald Angels Swing emerging from our ancient Dynatron gramophone vintage 1968 ... a clarinet and a trumpet and a soprano saxophone were offered from the store cupboard for play. Enthusiasm overtook our decorum and we eventually organised our first band rehearsal a couple of months later on Good Friday April 9th 1993. In this way from Easter 1993 the Smithy Lane Stompers struggled at The Meister Concert Hall almost every Thursday prior to refreshments at The Goshawk at 9pm.
In retirement we voted with our feet and joined a couple of social clubs of our choice - Dixieland Jazz & Evolutionary Economics ... we met many new interweb friends ... we joined the Open University in January 1994 ... and Peter Lovric started the Dixieland Jazz Mailing List on March 13, 1995, we joined up later that year ... and we also tried to play the saxophone ... we didn't want to sprinkle the desert with a teaspoon ... we were determined.
So although the jazz spark ignited our passions in 1956 it was not until some restless years later that some of the old jazz kids became granddads and the mortgage had been paid off and there was a bit of time to have a go and try to play a bit of this blues swing stuff which was still in the blood. A motley collection of mates with battered instruments, acquired years ago on a whim of hope, were agog ... and doing something about it.
So in retirement we voted with our feet and joined a club of our choice.
We had toyed with simple system clarinets since school days when we discovered some aptitude for 'Maryland My Maryland'. Later when earning a bit of money at Shell Stanlow we purchased a second hand trumpet from a dusty shop in Manchester but damaged the bell when the prize fell off our scooter ... we discovered self teaching was a no no ... we never managed to get a proper note out of that belching horn. In disgust we reverted to clarinet and bought a more sophisticated Boehm stick in a fit of bravado but ... cricket, hockey, beer and girls always interrupted such pursuits. Then in 1976 when we hit the big time in Malawi and anticipated long nights with no TV we hatched a plan to learn the saxophone with a Leslie Evans correspondence course ... we purchased a glittering brand spanking new Mark VI Selmer Soprano (serial number 264948 manufactured 1973) for £500+ in the Tottenham Court Road ... now worth thousands! ... but the long nights never materialised due to an excess profusion of convivial pints ... however the sax did eventually come out of its case in 1992 ...
Perhaps saxophone playing was really an excuse for a social get together before going to the pub for a pint? We always said we played for our own meagre fun and the gross amusement of others.
We didn't go dottin', we weren't 'classically trained' as Designer had hoped ... we played The Blues even though we couldn't agree what they were.
Great fun but a lousy sound. In this way playing started ... some thought it was easy? ... but it was real difficult if you wanted to sound good ... when results were recorded there were embarrassing vows to improve ... there was a sort of compulsion to try and be better.
Some didn't want to practice, some thought didn't need to practice, some didn't have time to practice, some needed help to practice ... everybody was different.
But it wasn't just practice, practice, practice made perfect, it was soon discovered that practice also made perfect mistakes especially if you didn't listen ... and those that didn't listen just played louder ... but we did learn.
The Saxophone Player failed to find some motoring riffs which pumped up the ensembles without thieving space from the 'bone & clarinet ... but he did find an inspirational tutor who 'got it' -
'I know you only want a bit of fun, but it's no fun playing crap ... is it? You gotta put the hours in'.
The good news was everybody could do something ... if they tried ... it certainly weren't luck ... everybody was born with the potential ... but the bad news was it needed the hard work of practice ... and then more practice. Just like everything else folk do properly ... we needed to learn.
Soooo ... a method was slowly concocted and learning was hard hard ... jazz had to be discovered ... gleaned from Humph and Slim Read and Glenys ... and The Banjo Player had tales of woe ... after fretting over endless convivial pints ... and endless hours of practice fun ... according to himself and the remarkable Jaqueline, six of the best were compulsory -
lots of leg slappin' - there was a right and a wrong way to play an instrument, the basics had to be taught by someone who knew how to 'pitch me a BIG NICE ROUND G' ... otherwise practice made perfect mistakes ... it was all about sounds ... and cloth ears had to be coaxed to listen ... Wynton said, 'check out Miles' sound ... check out Louis' sound ... and Jacqueline said now blow me a G and listen'!
get the toon stuck in yer 'ead - the song had to be really really learned inside out & upside down, you had to get INSIDE the song, 'cos when you were playing you had no time to think in fact thinkin' was the quickest way to lose it ... and losing it was serious destruction of relaxed swing ... why do you think we play The Blues ... ? ... Wynton said, 'your foot starts tappin' and those changes keep on comin' at yer'!
throw away the dots - you don't 'play' The Blues, you must FEEL The Blues, you can't be distracted with reading, no one can feel sounds and read instructions at the same time? ... anyways The Blues can't be wrote ... most folk don't know that ... Wynton said, 'play your own thing and improvise ... play with others and swing ... and feel The Blues'!
find your own line through the toon - it's up to you to
contribute something of your own ... create, build, motor, pump, decorate, tailgate ... Mozart didn't write out no
Blues lines for you, you yourself
made up something
'pretty' and exciting by 'singing' on that BASS LINE and 'drumming' out those
lyrics in your head ... Bach got the idea of 'building' those thirds on that bass line ...
all you can do is try and remember & repeat what works ... it's in
your bag ... then one day you'll say, 'Where did that come from!?' ... Wynton said, 'there's no
right and wrong, just some notes sound better than others'!
As our Banjo Player famously said, 'once its stuck in yer 'ead and you've thrown away the dots ... THE SKY OPENS UP'!
hear me talkin' to ya - listen, LISTEN to the sounds of the others, hear me talkin' to ya' ... don't shout, call & respond, you're having a conversation with other folk it's not a soliloquy, it's no exhibition ... it takes at least two to tango ... you can't feel The Blues on your own ... Wynton said, 'you gotta share the grief and share the joy'!
sound relaxed & swing or you're better off growing tomatoes - you must make the others sound good ... help them, give them a nice 'groove' and they'll respond ... Baby said, 'if they don't like your groove give them another until ... folk start dancing'! Dixieland Jazz was always social dance music ... it was FUN
This concoction seemed like a good system and over a pint or two we took it on board ... perhaps it would work?
After we persuaded our crooner to turn trumpet player we were unsure about the 'role of the soprano sax' and unable to control the ferret in the soprano which was shrill & sharp and had a mind of its own ... on July 1st 1997 we secured a magnificent Yanagisawa Tenor from 'Musical Exchanges' in Birmingham for £1,275 and set out with renewed enthusiasm.
There was no doubt we worked hard ... there were recorded writes on all our efforts ... but we threw away our recorded sounds, too embarrassed to care. Perhaps there were just too many front line instruments all doing their own thing and no rhythm section that we could hear. Our astute neighbour, Jill Martin, was spot on, everyone was pushing their own pet solos, all at the same time, thinking they were Louis Armstrong, Chris Barber and Benny Goodman ... no empathy just cacophony. We should have realised time was up when intense practice ended up as shouting matches ... but we stubbornly continued.
We woodshedded along a long musical journey through what seemed like endless time, somebody said it took 10,000 hours for things to become something like interesting ... or 'listenable to' as our piano player used to say ... no wonder we needed beer to fend off exhaustion!
In 2001 we managed our first endorsement ... the late & great Roger ‘Slim’ Read suggested we were on the right track ... with Bill Bailey and Five Foot Two ... we just needed more practice and an exciting ride out! And then in 2012 our virtual mate Ernst Neukamm from Lake Constance in Germany persuaded us to record All of Me by remote control ... and claimed 'a little gem and that's jazz'!
The granddads thought they were playing British Trad jazz but it didn't work out like that because there were all sorts of sounds in their heads. We couldn't help it ... we always 'heard' evolved music, we couldn't shut it out, it was everywhere ... and like Darwin's species ... we only 'heard' the surviving themes and the survivors tended to get in your head ... if we listened ... and if we didn't listen we 'might as well go and grow tomatoes'.
Like it or not, music, just like everything else, evolved, and brains learnt and remembered what they liked ... so most just played their own thing.
But jazz required pretenders to expose themselves to each other rather embarrassingly. There were no punters to listen, nobody knew the old songs anymore. And only the old swing songs were on the menu, they were the ones that went the same old way. Songs that were never heard nowadays, and they were played on strange instruments ... only one guitar and that was a banjo ... and no fiddles at all.
In a deluded way the music spawned many happy hours; as long as it was fun and as long as it was getting better we indulged ... a band of old farts were having a bit of fun while the youngsters were elsewhere.
Clearly the jazz was different for each individual; different sounds from listening to different performers and different sounds from dues paid in different ways but the breakthroughs were the synergies, the sheer pleasure came from playing together in the rehearsal room, hearing each other and noticing the synergies ... the punters would have been slightly bemused, they thought the performance was for them but the pay back came from playing your music with your mates ... many folk said you're lucky if you have mates to jazz with ... but others smiled, Jazzers had no truck with luck and suggested perhaps the harder you practiced the luckier you got!
Out of The Blues enter the youngsters.
Designer and The Banjo Player had always been upset about our crass sound -
'How is it that youngsters can get beautiful sounds out of their horns almost as soon as they pick them up?'
In 2010 out of the blue came a load of young kids from the streets of New Orleans and they were playing the old songs and swinging ... maybe there was life after death after all? ... but for sure, nostalgia ain't what it used to be.
Their pleasure came from playing together the music they loved ... there weren't many punters on Royal Street but their recordings were up on YouTube ... and they went viral -
'I'm happy to report that 'Tuba Skinny' are under my skin ... a narcotic mix of youth, exuberance and Shaye Cohn's phrasing. I listen to their YouTubes and am compelled to have a blow myself ... repeatedly failing to reproduce their magic but I enjoy trying'!
There were lessons; the magic of swing was not a 'thing' to be controlled like a tap, there was no specification, no user manual, individuals had to be free to create their own contributions and get excited about them, but crucially their freedom was inextricably linked to the others in the band, and swing was an emergent phenomena which nobody really understood ... but unmistakable when it happened. The synergy of swing never materialised unless everyone cooperated and were in sync ... and how do you do that when everybody was different?
And there was more; swing was a moving feast constantly changing as new creative rhythms collectively ebb & flowed. As folk called and others responded, there was a time pressure and a timing pressure which meant magic was never guaranteed and many creative experiments failed and required adjustment to secure the exciting and swinging responses.
The test was the recorded evidence ... Designer constantly asked, 'did it sound good enough to listen to'? ... and The Banjo Player mused continuously, 'Sorry that experiment didn't work, I won't do it again, try this one instead'.
No recriminations, everyone was trying to make it work through trial & error ... mostly errors. The give & take was call & response but the magic was synergy. And if there was synergy there was fun and it was getting better.
The kernel of sociability was there in the band, moral empathy was the unchangeable center of the human soul; everybody wanted to get excited without harming others. That was the unstoppable necessity. Jazz reconciled differences by making them complementary ... otherwise it didn't work. Hard work, honesty & investment. Jazz was aesthetics not mechanics ... and very occasionally it was better ... otherwise there would be more tomato growers.
Obituary The Meister Concert Hall (1992-2016)
Music at The Meister Concert Hall had started by ‘accident’ some 24 years ago ... (Our ‘Autobiography of Beer Drinking’ noted that CJM told us it was Thursday December 17th 1992!)
Wot an opportunity! And many budding musos we talked to were green with envy!
Over the years -
Ken Robbo had ambitions for the bassoon but such dreams were immediately swapped for golf
Mal Davies, 'Bongo' was a drummer until his dog ate his drums and Spanish and flying and archeology and hiking went full time
Mel Scott, was a proper musician who was immersed with his tutor in a prestigious accordion club.
Mel Scott (1941-2017) RIP June 18th 2017 ... and his mother called him Melvin -
It's tough, we've lost a great friend, so very sad, Mel was everybody's best friend. We only remember the good times, we never guessed work and retirement could be such fun. The pleasures & pensions of Unilever. The treks & banquets with the Old Soaps. The horns & harps with The Smithy Lane Stompers. Thank you Mel, we can still feel your smiles & energetic enthusiasm ... and above hub bub in the Celestial Tavern, we're certain we can still hear you, 'I'll get the next round, get into B flat and we'll play The Blues'.
Jim Trueman, 'Super Sax', was also his own man and a formal student of music at Liverpool. We exchange erudite emails on the music we loved and we will never forget his kazoo solo delivered with such flair and enthusiasm in the 'rehearsal room at The Meister.
RIP James Raymond Trueman Jan 6th 2018. Jim, aka 'supersax', aged 85, who passed away peacefully 6th of Jan. He was greatly loved and will be very sadly missed by his beloved wife Terry, his children, Victor Maxine, Jacqueline and Margaret. Also, his grandchildren Christina, Andrew, John, Tom and Aidan. Rest in the arms of the angels Jim. Goodnight and God bless.
Geoff Lewis was already schooled and experienced but already spent too much time with music
Roy Miles liked Dixie but preferred his choir and orchestra up the Wirral
and the Martins from next door were focused on the delights of wind bands and The Ashton Singers
.... all at one time or another played with us at The Meister and all left and pursued their own alternative musical endeavours. No problem we loved all their very personal preferences and wished them well as they joined the clubs of their choice.
By 2016 we were convinced our current line up of reprobates was a mash of different musical passions –
Piano Man was self taught on piano and moved on to deep studies & listening to classical music at The Liverpool Phil
Crooner turned trumpet player was conventionally tutored by the delightful Hannah and enjoyed dotin’ & orchestrations in Barrow
Celtic Strummer was a folk singer accompanied by his guitar banjo and formed his own folk group to play Bob Dylan ... and he listened to ‘modern’ jazz for inspiration!
Busker & Banjo Player entered the world of professional tavern bands at Stamps with real musicians like Geoff Lewis & Keith Jones
Busker also experimented with his own brand of ‘Jazz at The Paddock’ and was paid astronomical sums of money to play gigs for a proper band the 'Downtown Dixielanders'
Banjo Player even crossed the border and went to Llangollen and The Jolly Tar for gigs and reached a pinnacle of excellence when invited to play with The Wall City Jazzmen at The Mill in Chester
Dr John enjoyed a bit of musical fun before his beer ... social interaction, pop, ballroom dancing and non-chromatic harmonicas ... wise, melodic, sensible stuff ... but never decadent jazz ...
Amongst all this diversity we were clear that our own musical fun came from a lifetime listening to
‘American giants of jazz’ and saxophones, starting with Dance Music and Dennis Williams at Clemences and finishing with Johnny Hodges, Lester Young and Charlie Parker
... and we were intoxicated by the enlightened coaxing of the great Roger ‘Slim’ Read ... who taught us all about The Blues.
On Thursday nights we started to feel like a spare prick at a wedding, an ‘accidental’ prisoner 'trapped' in our own home, tied by loyalty to friends and common courtesy to music where there was little progress and no longer any fun ... we remembered how Slim Read had been on the button -
‘I know you only want to have a bit of fun music before you go to the pub, but it’s no fun playing crap ... is it?’
Without noticing it and without Machiavellian intent, we had all moved on to pursue our own things.
Following the Banjo Player’s absence for four weeks during September, the Celtic Strummer then went to sunny Madeira for four weeks ... suddenly we realised this long interregnum on Thursday nights was a relief from heaven saving our souls from excruciating harmonies and a dire shortage of rhythmic melodies which swung ...
After 24 years of hard work and fun ... painfully slowly ... feelings finally emerged and crystallised ... our music on a Thursday was a mess would we be better off growing tomatoes after all?
On November 3rd 2016 we were clear but nobody was listening so we wrote words in a fateful email -
Mike et al,
wot a mess, we are an impromptu band with no leader.
All I can do is state more clearly -
1. I do not want to play Thursday nite type music as it has evolved (I feel like a ... ... etc).
2. I do not wish to upset my friends of 20+ years by 'closing' The Meister (I feel trapped).
3. I believe there are alternative avenues for us all to pursue our different musical passions (folk groups, Jazz at the Paddock, dottin' in Barrow, real gigs at Stamps, proper music at The Liverpool Phil ... etc)
I'm calling for tugs.
There will be no music at The Meister tonite!
The Strummer was sweet ... he was reluctant to impose on a friend -
'I'm sure we all very much appreciate your hosting our Thursday night jazz
sessions for the last 20+ years, but it is a bit of an imposition and if you
have grown disillusioned with the music we should respect your feelings and
not impose on you more. I personally have had a very good time and am
grateful you encouraged me to join the band, all those years ago.
Maybe next week we could discuss this in the pub (we could do it by Skype, perhaps?).
Mike (still just a strummer)'.
The Piano Man welcomed the peace & tranquility and the new possibilities for relaxed swing and noted emphatically -
'You make peace with your enemies not your friends. Friends must always vote with their feet and join a club of their choice'.
The Crooner was magnanimous -
Just a note to say 'Thank you so much' for resolving
my download problem.
Meanwhile I’ll take this opportunity to say how much I have valued and enjoyed your Thursday evening hospitality over the last ??? years. Without it the group’s playing would have never got off the ground.
For me it was always special fun although I accept that I, for one, didn’t progress into the New Orleans style as much as I and others had wanted. However I will miss it.
Furthermore it’s a pity that the post-jazz sessions split asunder last April, but having a fascinating in-depth conversation became increasingly difficult as our numbers increased. None of us were able to remain silent while sets of 2 or 3 progressed an initial topic – hence the multi conversations with which my old ears can no longer cope.
But, and this is very important to me, whatever the group’s reasons for closure, it’s a pleasure to realise that its valued friendships will continue.
The Busker wrote an obituary ... a tear jerker of a musical 'ending' ... The Meister Concert Hall (Thursday December 17th 1992 - Thursday November 10th 2016) ...
Sent: 08 November 2016 11:30
Subject: RE: My Type of Music! A Personal Thought.
Very interesting but you forgot what we learned from that excellent book by Colin Aston and Glenys. As I was pondering on an obituary for our Thursday session, I was going to write particularly how much I valued that book and even more the tutorials you gave every week for about a year around 2003. The lasting value of those is something I have always been grateful for, as I continue to try and do my best and improve with my instrument. I got to understand the music and how it impacted with my long interest in jazz. I still run on it whenever I play.
Whenever I get to play in public, I give my thanks to you and Glenys in tandem. It is a lot like our discussions on John Robinson and Bishop Spong which we used to have when we drank together.
But as we discussed in my house a month ago, your final conclusion is correct.
It is something you have been saying for 10 years, in the old Goshawk in that little room I recall. I used to think we might get around it but reluctantly I have realised you were and are correct.
We can just do our best, listen to each other and practice beforehand. We will never be a good band in totality but individually we all are better through playing with other people rather than practicing alone. A more limited goal but I suggest, not an unworthy one. Les has improved I think since he began playing with his band at Barrow.
I will now practice for Thursday with the third of your three legacies (BiaB) which you installed for me in 1999 and has been another fulcrum for my continuing efforts with my hobby. It even beats the installation of double glazing so I could practice without annoying my neighbours.
Hope you are blushing now because you deserve to be. If you want to share this edited or unedited with the others, be my guest.
Remember it is not just theory. The beauty of Glenys and your tutorials in particular is that you give a coating of understanding (convergent thinking) to blend with divergent thinking which is what is in your ‘ead so you can harmonise. And that usually means an understanding and appreciation of chords and how to use them as you listen to the others in the band. In other words, how to busk in tune.
I am reminded once again of the wise words of the good Dr Jones one Wednesday night as we left the Marlborough round about 2008. He said there are only three things to remember in jazz.
- 1. You have to be competent on your instrument
- 2. Listen and react to what is going on around you
- 3. Be able to improvise.
I replied 'Fine but what about rhythm and timing?', 'Oh' he said, 'you are OK on that'. I was on Cloud 9 after the master had thus spoke. Whether others think it is true or not is another matter. But it does reflect well a philosophy I have in that I regard the clarinet as a component of the rhythm section (as well as its front line role) and if I am playing well, I can do it. If I am not paying well, it is rubbish. That is why I was especially pleased after my last 'Stamps' session, the drummer said he liked what I did and kept a good tempo. I suppose that is why like Omer Simeon as well as the lyricism of George Lewis. On another occasion, I recall once at 'Stamps' we even got Myra up dancing. Other days, not so good I realise. But Glenys (and you) underpin all that and that is not just theory.
Reference to your greeting last Thursday, it was time for 'a renaissance'. I had not realised that this was indeed the last stand of the Mouldsworth Stompers. It is a pity but after 23 years, none us can complain and indeed you will have noted that none of us did. I endorse my earlier comments, even more so after last night when I was pressganged off the street to play clarinet with the Downtown Dixielanders in Liverpool. Keith Jones could not attend and had not fixed up a deputy. I was of course delighted but I had to give it some wellie as playing was in a big slightly noisy room with two admittedly very fine tuneful horns alongside me. And the first number up – 'That da da Strain' - which I have never played before even though I knew it, (a benefit of senior middle age). I survived very much on your teaching including one other tune where I could not pick out the middle eight and was relieved that John Dorgan behind me thought the same. But a wonderful evening and following some good recent previous advice from Dave Burke, I had been giving some attention to my breathing. I just about survived. Not too much puff left and that has never happened before. Another thing apropos our conversation on keys. We played Georgia in C instead of F because the singer wanted it. John Dorgan was not too happy. His view of that key C is like Keith’s for much the same reason. I don’t mind. I have enough licks in C (D for me of course) and play lots of F#s. Good note to play when stuck.
As for Thursday, although I think we agree that the band as a group was going nowhere (I had come round to your view to be precise), I thought the sessions valuable because they made people play together and listen to each other. These more limited goals changed my strategy towards Thursday playing particularly in the last 2-3 years. That said, and despite one or two cynics, I thought there were some nice notes last Thursday night, including from you. The trumpet was better until he collapsed and went flat with 'Changes' at the end. He clearly had been practicing Breeze. When he is OK, I can play off him as a clarinetist should, although timing errors and the guitar following the lead makes for complications. I still think the piano could have done much more to help us in ensemble play rather than just sit on the sidelines. Frankly we are not rubbish but we were not good enough either and had not improved enough as a group because there was too much self indulgence. I will have contributed to that probably but not in the past 2-3 years when I made a deliberate effort be unselfish.
But overall, it has a been a most valuable experience as we agreed last Thursday. I cherish it more than carp about it.
My one real regret is that the convivial pint you and I started with Ken back in 1989 has gone and that I am sure hastened the band’s demise.
I miss our chats on musical, philosophical and sporting matters and in part compensation, I hope you can join us tomorrow for coffee at about 10:15am. We will let Les tell us about his Barrow band and get his insight on how he thinks it has improved him.
Hope to see you tomorrow and if not thanks again; I thought of you and Glenys last night as collectively you bailed me out!
Meanwhile The Banjo Player pushed ahead doing his own thing with a noo 3-D printed mouthpiece and proper gigs but still needed help -
Monday night Panama gig was more than a challenge. (St
Louis Blues in F and a completely different interpretation, duet with dep
trombonist on Sweet Georgia ... murder!!!)
Had call from Paul Blake, would I do the trombone at The Mill Monday night?
Terrified but said yes.
Need help and succour.
Talk to me!
Cheers Banjo Player
But there was no finality in all this ... we still preferred to think of a 'renaissance' rather than an 'obituary' ... while there was still time!? Rather than a death, the happenings at The Meister Concert Hall led to some really splendid rebirths of our musics, full of new opportunities for our different musical funs.
Our very own efforts were to try to practice and experiment ... 'cos we'd still not got it right –
practice and ‘get stuck in the ‘ead’ some 5,000 wonderful toons which we had accumulated over a lifetime
experiment and see if we could manage to record one
or two saxophone blowouts which were
'listenable to' -
- ‘fun’, ‘blue’, ‘relaxed’ & ‘swinging’ (our type of music?)
- for our grandchildren (who, of course, won’t be the slightest bit interested ... yet?)
We were determined to play and experiment ourselves out of a rut! ... before it was too late?
We knew we could do better! But there ain't no app for that.
Captain Chorlton had the last word,
'rather than be sad that it came to an end we should wonder and be grateful that it ever happened at all'.
One day something quite remarkable happened ... on Wednesday July 11th or 18th 2012? ... after an incomprehensible delay ... with 2 iPads and 'Band in a Box' ... me & him glimpsed the starting line of our marathon and conducted an uncontrolled experiment ... we attempted to play and record 'Running Wild' and 'Sheik of Araby' ... followed by 'My Blue Heaven' and 'Margie' a week later ... then Buddy Bolden's Blues ... The Banjo Player was beside himself and real perplexed -
'Where on earth did that come from'?
In October 2012 Designer 'piano' Hughes joined the experiment for a lilt ... and then on November 12th 2012, Mel Scott, an outstanding friend and a bone fide fully fledged musician, acclaimed our recording of 'Buddy Bolden's Blues' ... nothing was ever the same again, the 'Buddy Bolden' experiment changed our world ... where on earth did that come from? ... quite so? We'd always made a balls of that toon? The sound wasn't Dixieland Jazz, it was different, but it was us ... 'cos we checked? We had learned how to try to play? ... not what to play ... but how to play a sort of relaxed swing? ... we didn't know what was going on!
Mel Scott's enthusiasm was inspiring; a proper musician actually liked our recording and it was actually on his 'play list' in his car!
Buddy Boldens Blues, our very own apothyosis. So on we went, we just played what we felt like, we played 'I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of this Jelly Roll', we didn't have no dots, we played by beer. This was fun fun and from then on we were permanently in a state that resembled intoxication.
After 20 years of trying music, we had stumbled across an experiment that sounded ‘interesting’ ... or 'listenable to' as our piano man said ... it was certainly not 'good' but it was 'different'. This was not a Machiavellian plot, we just wanted a bit of fun. Any gloss on this musical bash was ‘tarnished’ by the necessity (in my case) for artificial support from ‘Band in a Box’ ... how much better if we could play with real live beer drinkers!
Then on Thursday May 5th 2016 just 4 folk pitched up for our regular Thursday gig ... a Quartet ... we played - 105 Saratoga Swing, 133 Barefoot Days, 028 Shine, 052 Hindustan, 012 I can't Give You Anything but Love, 067 You Only Hurt the One You Love, 113 Dallas Blues, 009 When You're Smiling ... and went to The Goshawk afterwards and had some fun and reflected. Serendipity ... we had inadvertently discovered ‘a quartet’ which also felt ‘interesting’ and offered a (remote?) prospect of using a real live banjo to ‘hold us together’ without the 'Band in a Box' crutch ... and also generate some better social musical fun.
We agreed that at our age we wanted to seize any glimmer of hope before we were too old to care. So on Wednesday June 1st at 2pm we experimented with a ‘one off’ meet to record – Saratoga Swing (a Bb blues), Barefoot Days (a simple good one), Higher Ground (a familiar bluesey), Canal Street Blues (with piano intro). This was no big deal just an ‘experiment’. But we were all well aware that experiments often led to unintended consequences which were impossible to resolve ex post by returning to a status quo which no longer existed ... the experiment itself changed the proclivities of the participants ... if you follow our drift?
Celtic Strummer bought a brand new Rhythm Guitar - he tried to keep time with a propulsive groove and added some unpretentious vocals for more fun ... the strummer was a reliable journeyman who just stuck to his craft ...
Piano Man didn't seem to need training - he tried a very simple style with no finger busting note cascades but with an unmistakable jazzy lilt for more fun ... he just let everything hang out and it just worked for us ... it sounded good ...
Banjo Player played The Blues on the 'bone - he just used his ear and attempted some responsive tailgating fills and hoped to discover some bass lines through the harmonies which added a bit of glee and more fun ... he stayed real close to his mates, really listened and really helped our hapless saxophone player ...
Saxophone Player managed to find an inspirational tutor but failed to find some motoring riffs which pumped up the ensembles without thieving space from the 'bone ... it was all very difficult ... we needed a drummer so we didn't get lost but we couldn't find one ...
In the sixties we had paid our subscription to the cricket club and never expected to play croquet ... and in retirement we subscribed to The Blues ... the costs were meagre ... a simple lead sheet, a BiaB backing track for practice and a couple of iPads for recording ... and it worked for us ... we didn't want to play croquet.
By September 2016, as with Juliet, we had been plagued -
'It is the lark that sings so out of tune, straining harsh discords and
Some say the lark makes sweet division; this doth not so, for she divideth us'.
Our music had been calling for tugs ... but as we struggled out of the fog as a Quartet ... we recorded our efforts ... some songs were 'listenable to' and we enjoyed them while shaving, and in the cars and on CDs.
In 2017 we played more Blues and found Alcoholic Blues ... and then Albert von Tilzer ... then Roll Along Prairie Moon and then rediscovered Al Bowlly, Pennies from Heaven and British Dance Bands ... and a new burst of enthusiasm ... this was the music and the songs that had been buzzing round in our heads ... the sounds we had heard during our 'impressionable' younger years ... from Mum, from the recordings on the radio ... from Clemences ... even before cricket, girls ... and beer ... and without a doubt this was the music The Banjo Player had heard from his dad. Tom Garnett was a saxophone player, active around the Wirral and Liverpool before the war ... we know his favourite song, 'Darktown Strutters Ball' but, infuriatingly, we know little about his sound and his bands ... but we can bet that he was part of that great British Dance Band tradition which was embraced by The Smithy Lane Stompers in 2018.
Then on November 7th 2017 yet another twist of fate ... 'musical differences' exploded The Quartet ... the Celtic Strummer couldn't sustain the long trek from Llandudno, especially in the Siberian Winters, just to play ancient British Dance Music he couldn't relate to ... overwhelmed by our enthusiasm for 'our' jazz. It was all our fault, the truth was we were all different ... thank goodness ... but we were friends we all wanted synergies from cooperation and not downward spirals of compromise.
Our Renaissance would have been quite impossible without the flow of convivial pints which always seemed to lubricate endeavour.
On March 17th 2016 after 76 years of studious search we discovered 'a pub with no beer' ... The White Lion at Alvanley ran out of beer! On March 24th The Banjo Player booked a table with Sophie at The Goshawk and folk 'voted with their feet and joined a club of their choice', no big deal, no Machiavellian plot, we were too old for hassle, but not yet ready to 'just go and grow tomatoes', we vowed never to 'sprinkle the desert with a tea spoon' ... we were ready to deepen our passions for music & beer, to experiment and mind our own business ... sure The Goshawk was now an up market restaurant ... but the beer was fantastic.
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