(Winners of The BBC Jazz Heritage Award 2003)
Liver Building by John Bythell
founder member of the band on 14th February 1949, passed away in his sleep at
10.45a.m. on 28th February, 2006.
Dave Rigby is now the resident guitar/banjo player with the band
John Lawrence took the decision to retire from playing in January 2007. He passed away on 2nd October 2007
Dave Dixson (Reeds) replaced Don Lydiatt in January 2009. Don passed away in his sleep on 30th November 2011
Frank Robinson died in hospital on December 30th 2010, the resident pianist is now Malcolm Hogarth
Derek Vaux retired through ill health, and Isobel Toner is now on bass
Vintage Merseysippi Jazz Band a CD released in 2011 of recording made between 1955-57
Click here for details
*A Book about the band - available *
In the latter part of 1948, in the North West of England, in Liverpool, a group of musicians got themselves together and formed a band called 'The Wallasey Rhythm Kings'. Then only little more than schoolboys, Ken Baldwin (banjo), Frank Robinson (piano), Wally Fisher (trumpet), Dennis Gracey (trombone), Pat Evans (aka Evan Patrick) (clarinet), Dick Goodwin (bass) and Ken Metcalfe (drums) launched themselves upon an unsuspecting world on St Valentine's Day, Monday 14 February,1949, at the Grosvenor Ballroom, Wallasey.
Bassist Dick Goodwin was the driving force in the band and he provided the impetus that led to the band promoting itself at 'Merseyside's First Jazz Band Ball.' Admission was three shillings (15p), refreshments could be purchased "at moderate prices" and dancing was from 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm. The night resulted in a net profit of £2. 1s. 9d.
Flushed with this fiscal triumph, they thought on. It was Frank Robinson who, mindful of the origins of their music, was brilliantly inspired to suggest that the band be re-named 'The Merseysippi Jazz Band.' This was instantly agreed and the name has remained firmly in place ever since, only to be affectionately and frequently abbreviated to 'The Merseys' or 'The MJB.' Banjoist Ken Baldwin also made a lasting contribution to the history of the band. His abiding habit of addressing just about everybody as 'Nob' has stuck like glue and for fifty years the casual eavesdropper to band conversations is confused by everybody calling everybody else 'Nob' - and the fact that individuals in the band so addressed, instinctively respond to whoever is talking to them in particular.
The band was initially inspired by the post-war revivalist movement in Britain. However, it was the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, a two-horn Watters/Scobey-led band which had been formed in San Francisco in the American West Coast revivalist movement to re-create the King Oliver/Louis Armstrong sound, that influenced the kind of music that they played.
As early as September 1949, The Wallasey Chronicle reported: Another successful evening with the Merseysippi Jazz Band on this occasion being joined by a visitor from London, George Melly, who surprised everybody with his powerful singing of some traditional blues including "Frankie and Johnny".' By this time Don Lydiatt (clarinet), had replaced Evan Patrick, and not long afterwards Frank Parr (trombone) and John Lawrence (cornet) took the places of Dennis Gracey and Wally Fisher. Frank and John had both been avid fans of the band, and having been given the opportunity to get into the act had both set about learning their instruments - from scratch- with remarkable success. Frank Parr had joined the band whilst continuing his career with Lancashire Cricket Club, and he stayed with the Merseys for six years before joining the Mick Mulligan Band as a full- time professional in 1956. George Melly's superb book "Owning Up" which, with chilling accuracy, recounts a jazzer's existence in the fifties and sixties, describes Frank Parr to perfection. Like so many other surviving jazzmen of that era, both George and Frank remain good friends of the band.
Then, out of the blue, came the vital factor that deeply influenced the band. With the benefit of hindsight, it actually formed its destiny. It was a London trumpet player by the name of Peter Daniels. Pete had heard the band's first BBC broadcast and had recorded it. He was so impressed that he travelled north to Liverpool and introduced himself and his acetates - to the band. The outcome was remarkable. Everybody liked Pete, Pete liked everybody - musically and socially - so he left London and moved to live on Merseyside. The MJB had its line-up to create the two-horn sound that has been its trademark ever since.
In early 1950, the request from Liverpool Jazz Club to use the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall as a jazz club was turned down by the city's Finance and General Purposes Committee 'on the grounds of the unsuitability of the music to be played.' However, Humphrey Lyttelton still ventured north on 5 February, playing with the Merseys at the Tivoli Theatre in New Brighton. Presumably the Tivoli's management was somewhat more aware of the potential market than Liverpool's elected administrators across the river and this inaugural concert led to numerous guest visits from bands of the day.
Sooner rather than later however, Liverpool became the focal point of jazz on Merseyside. On 2 April, 1950, Kenro Productions promoted a 'Festival of Jazz' at the Stadium. The MJB played alongside Ralph Sharon, the Terry Walsh Bop Group, Kathy Stobart's New Music, Tommy Smith's Swing Group, Freddy Randall's Band and, beginning a long association both on stage and leaning against the nearest bar that survives to this day, Mick Mulligan and his Magnolia Jazz Band.
During the following years, grimly determined to remain semi-professional, the MJB established themselves at the Picton Hall in Liverpool. They welcomed and backed Big Bill Broonzy, George Melly, Neva Raphaello and Beryl Bryden and played with just about every band of the day, including Humphrey Lyttelton, Alex Welsh, the Yorkshire Jazz Band, the Saints Jazz Band, Freddy Randall, Mick Mulligan, Sid Phillips, Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band, the Crane River Jazz Band, the Hedley Ward Trio, Chris Barber, Dickie Hawdon, Sandy Brown, Ken Rattenbury, Terry Lightfoot, Eric Silk, Mike Daniels, the Temperance Seven, Cy Laurie, Teddy Foster, the Squadronaires, Ken Colyer, Bobby Mickleburgh, the Christie Brothers Stompers and Ray Ellington.
All these engagements led up to 'the great day in 1956' when the band shared the stage with Louis Armstrong. Some months before, John Lawrence, Frank Parr and Nob Baldwin had travelled together to Paris to hear Louis on his European tour never suspecting that before long they would enjoy the ultimate experience of sharing the bill with the great man himself at his Liverpool Stadium concert. To meet, talk to and play with Louis Armstrong was an experience that few British musicians have ever enjoyed.
There have been remarkably few personnel changes over the years, simply because of the rigid (yet never known to have been expressed) MJB doctrine that if you are obviously a good nut with a pleasant disposition, willing to get stuck in no matter what, and if you're a half decent musician with a broad appreciation of the ridiculous, then "you'll do, Nob".
It isn't a proud boast, it's a fact. Nobody has ever been sacked from the MJB - simply because you were quintessentially the right person in the first place. For whatever good reason, you either leave or toddle off to that great Jazzer in the sky. The band fondly remembers:
Dick Goodwin Left-handed bassist, founder-member and amazing whisky drinker, Dick sadly passed away at the end of 1996. His commitment to the MJB had always been total and became even more intense when he stopped playing in 1964 and concentrated on managing the band. His propensity for dressing up when 'going a bit' in the early hours of the morning is unforgettable. What he could do with a string bag, two oranges and a marrow was a privilege that only the members and close friends of the band ever enjoyed, but he will always be remembered as a quietly brilliant motivator and quite lovable man.
Pete Daniels Similarly quite unforgettable, Pete Daniels' contribution to the MJB was immeasurable. A quite incredible character and, just like Jill Martin and Dick Goodwin, his sudden death left everybody shattered.
What a man. Hair like an exploded mattress; clothing always looking as though he had risen suddenly from his bed and got dressed in the dark - and always with a cigarette smouldering away in his hand. He lived an amazing life to the full and gave enormous pleasure to countless jazz fans with his attacking style, infectious good humour and very considerable ability on the trumpet - and announcing the band at the microphone.......
Tony Barrow - who was for many years the senior press officer for the Beatles and Brian Epstein's NEMS empire - said with noticeable passion in an early 1998 Radio Merseyside interview: "To me, the Merseysippi Jazz Band WAS Merseybeat. It was the music of my generation - it was the band we went to worship in the Temple Restaurant every Sunday night. My wife, Corinne, and I returned to listen the them recently at Hartley's Bar their regular Monday night Liverpool home. It was one of the most pleasantly nostalgic evenings we have enjoyed for a very long time. Long may they!" The band will drink to that, especially:
Peter Fryer - trombone
In 1980, when the band learned that a primary school head teacher was to join the band, there were high hopes that he would bring with him discipline, authority, dignity - all the qualities that the band had previously sadly lacked. (Ah well, there you go!) For twenty years, before and during his time with the Merseys, he led the trombone section of the Brian Jones Big Band and, as a result, reads the dots better than the rest of the band can read newspapers. Peter is an invaluable member of the ensemble for numerous reasons, not least that his local Parent Teachers Association has absolutely no choice when booking bands for their social occasions even now that he has retired to pruning the rose bushes in his back garden.
The trombone chair is not Peter's only duty in the band. He's in charge of worrying. An innocent question , like "What uniform are we wearing on Friday night", or "Are you sure that Nob said it was the B2497 that was the short cut to Eastbourne?" throws our man into paroxysms of angst. As a result he tends to be the only one who gets lost, arrives at gigs three hours too early, wears the wrong uniform and leaves his kit in hotels and boarding houses the length and breadth of the country. But hit him with a guest artist who mutters out of the corner of his mouth "Right, let's go! 'Swonderful. Five flats. Straight in. One, two, one, two, three, four," and his only reaction will be a brief adjustment of the spectacles, a nod, a lick of the lips and he's away. No problem.
John Higham - trumpet
In 1970, when the band learned that a respected member of the medical profession was about to join, there were high hopes... (Ah well, there you go again). Dr John became involved in jazz at Liverpool University in his undergraduate days, when he was a member of the highly successful and widely respected University Jazz Band from 1952 to 1958. After five years in the Army, he played with a number of local bands in the St Helens area before joining the MJB.
Obviously well educated, and a man to be trusted implicitly, his bearing inspires total confidence and belief in all who meet him. He has travelled extensively and has amassed a considerable collection of silly hats, all of which clash badly with his square-jawed features. Wearing his retired General Practitioner's hat (which, being invisible, suits him) he is always pleased to attend upon members of the band who think they are suffering from anything from depression to fear of flying, terminal illness, claustrophobia or alcoholic poisoning. Or all five at the same time. His diagnosis is swift, his remedy unerringly effective - "Just imagine you're a pair of curtains and pull yourself together, Nob. "
An absolute natural as the band's compere, his creative announcements range from the incomprehensible to the interminable, especially if given the slightest hint of encouragement. Listen to his jokes by all means, but whatever your reaction to his brand of humour don't laugh or display any fascination without being fully prepared to face the consequences.
When asked to name his ten favourite musicians, his reply was "Louis Armstrong." You can tell.
And now for the band's new kids on the block :-
Pete Darwin - drums
The youngest member of the ensemble and the only one in full- time employment. Peter has a musical instrument retail business in St Helens, the Lancashire town famous not for its musical heritage, but for its glass industry. His shop, and sense of humour, make him worth his weight in banjo strings. When the band is inflicted with a full-tone-flat piano, or a disco (especially one with lights that can re-create the atmosphere of the wartime blitz) Pete's vicious humour can always be relied upon to ease the pain. He has an identical twin brother and when asked how they could be distinguished, he said: "One of us can't play the drums and the other can't play the bass. " The band still isn't quite sure which one it has, but his lunatic presence is a source of everlasting comfort. He has now been slumped on the drum stool longer than any drummer has been able to achieve. This is a significant indication of both his (and especially the band's) remarkable resilience, patience and understanding.
Isabel Toner - bass
Dave Rigby Banjo/guitar
Dave joined the band in 2006 and is a great asset on banjo and guitar both for his musicianship and his personality. He's no longer new of course, since he stepped into the breach last April, when Nob first announced that he was having to take time out
Malcolm Hogarth: piano
Malcolm, is a southerner who moved north. Born in Mitcham, he spent many years in the Harrogate area. He now lives in Chester, and plays with many bands in the northwest.
Dave Dixson: Reeds
Another retired teacher – French, which means he can pronounce Bechet’s titles correctly and sometimes knows what they mean! He has played in and around Merseyside since the mid 60’s and brings with him soprano and alto saxes in addition to his clarinet.
So what is the band doing these days?
Apart from the usual round of Jazz Festivals up and down the country it continues to play at its resident venue in Liverpool. They have been there just about every Monday night since 1984 and have welcomed many visiting bands, including Russia's Igor Bourco's Uralsky Jazzmen and, from America, the Paradise City Jazz Band and the South 'Frisco Jazz Band. The countless musicians who have been pleased to guest with the band over the years reads like a 'Who's Who' of British Jazz. Just for example, Keith Nichols, Dave Mott, Roger Myerscough, Clinton Ford, Digby Fairweather the late Campbell Burnap, John McCormick, Dave Shepherd, Alan Barnes, Johnny Richardson, Mike Cotton, Roy Williams and Honorary Life Member of the Merseysippi Jazz Band, John Barnes.
The band will be delighted to see you anywhere!!!
(c) West Coast Entertainments Ltd.
Ken 'Nob' Baldwin - banjo/guitar -
Baldwin died on 28th February, 2006.)
Ken was one of the remaining founder members of the band. His nickname derived from his habit of calling everybody 'Nob', regardless of gender. Starting on a ukulele-banjo at the age of 12, he and Don Lydiatt developed an interest in jazz whilst at school together. He made the Merseysippi additionally unique as the only band in the world to feature monologues such as "Albert and the Lion" and "The Battle of Hastings."
As band secretary he took care of
administration. Among his favourite musicians he listed Django Reinhardt and
George Formby, but setting his preferences aside, he was without any question
the catalyst of the Merseysippi Jazz Band. His attitude towards life was a
combination of unfailing cheerfulness, deeply underpinned by a clear
understanding and belief in life's fundamental qualities and a remarkable sense
of responsibility for 'the chaps.' All of which was presented to the outsider
with an air of slight eccentricity, frequently illustrated by his well-reasoned
"Well, what do you think yourself, Nob? - I know, let's go for a pint!" reply to
a searching question, on just about any subject, that he considers to have been
brought up at the wrong moment
John Lawrence - trumpet (
John Lawrence died 2nd
When the band's original trumpet player, Wally Fisher, suddenly left very early on, John lashed out £6 for a cornet and three months later was on stage for the band's first concert. Fortunately, he says, the occasion was not recorded. As second horn in the King Oliver-style front line, he describes his function as a desperate search for any notes the other three have left out. Before his retirement to the fleshpots of the Wirral he ran a cork stopper and bung business. He and his wife, Jasmine, have for a very long time generously and royally entertained visiting musicians well into the night and morning. This philanthropic attitude to fellow musicians eventually led to his initiation to 'The Brothers' - a London-based and extremely exclusive band of alcoholic devotees who actually believe that, remaining within the sanctuary of the law, they have the right to conduct such things as underwater marriage ceremonies and to take the lives of milkmen who rattle bottles on the doorstep before opening time. He is an outrageous pedant who delights in writing to anybody, no matter how august, who goes into print with a spelling mistake. Internationally renowned publishers of dictionaries and thesauri find themselves particularly vulnerable. Getting the proofs approved of this brief account of the history of the MJB was a nightmare.
Frank Robinson - piano
(Frank Robinson died on 30th December 2010)
Another founder-member of the band, it was Frank who combined the Mersey and Mississippi river names to give the band its unique title. Hardly surprisingly, it has been mispronounced and misspelled countless different ways, but once heard is never forgotten.
As a poor reward for his inspiration, Frank has been plagued throughout his life by out-of-tune pianos. If he had a pound for every time he'd sat down at a pile of condemned timber having just been told "You'll find its in good nick, we had the piano tuner in only yesterday" he would be a happier and richer man today.
He is in charge of the band's finances - rarely
a daunting task. Far more importantly, however, it has been his
skill on the keyboard combined with his philosophical and
gentlemanly bearing, ever epitomising correctness, that has been
a cornerstone of the band's stability for fifty years.
Don Lydiatt - clarinet (Don retired from playing in 2010, Dave Dixson is now the band's reed player)
John Arthur Lydiatt started playing the clarinet at the age of 12 and graduated to tenor saxophone before joining the Royal Navy in 1945, when he was dispatched to serve on the Russian convoys. Following the news of his inspirational posting being deliberately leaked to Lord Haw Haw by the War Cabinet, WW2 came to a sudden and totally unexpected halt. Hitler was no fool. He had been employed at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool in the 1930s and instinctively realised that the game was up. Don played both instruments during his naval service and continued to do so until joining the band in 1949. Having decided that carrying two instrument cases was one case too many, he gave up the heavier one and concentrated on clarinet.
A brilliantly natural musician, in May 1986 he was judged by the organisers to be a member of the "World-Wide All- Stars" - a band of the outstanding musicians at that year's Sacramento Jazz Festival. The plaque that records this honour is picked out by a searchlight in his home. In his working life he was engaged in both the retail wet fish and printing industries. There must be a correlation between the two, but he can't explain it - or for that matter spell correlation.
The late Frank Robinson with the certificate of entry into The Merseybeat Hall of Faame
Please Note, The Merseysippi Jazz Band no longer plays at Hartleys Wine Bar, see What's On for details
See the Merseysippi Jazz Band 60th Birthday Celebration page
John Higham Trumpet/cornet
Pete Fryer Trombone
Dave Dixson Clarinet
Dave Rigby Banjo/guitar
Isabel Toner Bass
Pete Darwin Drums
Malcolm Hogarth Piano
AVAILABLE BAND RECORDINGS
Oh! You California
Up The Amazon
A Dip In The Mersey
Sweeping The Blues Away
The Quality Of Mersey
Back To Square One
On compact disc:
A Dip In The Mersey
The Quality Of Mersey
The Best of the BBC Jazz Club
Mersey Tunnel Jazz
The Great Revival
Pick Another Band
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