The Manchester Sports Guild
By Jack Swinnerton Reproduced by kind permission of Jack Swinnerton
& Just Jazz Magazine 2002
Jack Swinnerton died peacefully
on 30th June 2008
Part 9: Nothing is easy
by Jack B. Swinnerton
In announcing the impending Earl Hines visit (discussed last month), the 'Melody Maker' provocatively noted, 'Looks like the Manchester Sports Guild won the battle of Earl Hines'. Meaningless to the casual reader of the day, unless in the know about the rival bid for Earl's services from a considerably more powerful organisation.
An interested party in all this, I must refuse to let the passing years give an impartial view. We had taken the gamble of Henry 'Red' Allen a year ago, although really eighteen months or so if you include the planning. Jazz enthusiasts we were, but not professional promoters or businessmen in that sphere. Proud of our considerable efforts, remembering the many hours of entirely voluntary work put in, and our subsequent promotions, and not afraid to shout about it. It must have occasionally antagonised the more experienced. To recall events precisely, even delivered second-hand at times, of the intrigue of the day is difficult. I am of the temperament that once the battle is won, all is forgotten, but it now needs some coverage for a balanced view.
A senior promoter (not to be mentioned at this late date, but not hard to work out) was apparently overheard saying something like, "Those cocky Manchester people need bringing down a peg or two." (The words have been cleaned up to protect the innocent!). This was in the presence of several eminent jazz enthusiasts, some of whom very much respected our efforts. He announced the intention of usurping the intended Earl Hines tour, following our already fairly expensive pre-planning.
'Jazz Journal' editor Sinclair Traill was much incensed, 'The Sports Guild are deserving of a helping hand. They are doing their best to present jazz in this country at reasonable prices, and it speaks ill of the promoting fraternity when the more experienced ones stick out the foot to trip the newcomer, instead of extending to him the helping hand. And that is surely what has happened in this instance. The bringing of American musicians to this country must not be allowed to become a monopoly - surely, the music itself means something?' In this particular instance, I think it was merely a case of a personally inflated ego, rather than any dog-in-a-manger policy of an organisation, but it certainly does not help either the music, or more importantly, the musicians.
The double-cross was thwarted, and the work put in at the MSG was saved.
One of the problems of organising a nationwide tour was not only gaining the interest of other promoters and selling the idea, but the occasionally unfortunate fact that we were
seen as responsible for the lot by the jazz fraternity. During the Red Allen performances, for example, and disturbed by a ludicrously small turn-out at the start of the evening at the Bath concert, my enquiry, which went something like, "Does it normally start quietly and build up later on?", brought an immortal reply to treasure: "Oh, no. We only get more than this on nights we advertise."
Visiting this same venue a year later, one RE. Shepherd of Bristol, writing to 'Jazz Journal praised the efforts of Hines and the Welsh band, 'Under what must have been trying circumstances. The view from the stand, of a few people sitting on chairs and beyond them a vast stretch of empty ballroom, could not have been very pleasant. The same circumstances prevailed with the Red Allen visit.. .there was not one mention of Earl Hines prior to the visit in either the Bath or Bristol papers. Perhaps next time, someone will do a bit of local advertising'
Sinclair Traill seemed to feel that this was a failing of the MSG. 'Publicity in future must be geared to the modern methods - the names of the musicians they promote must be brought to the notice of the public in a much stronger manner. It is ridiculous to think that an artiste of Hines' stature appeared in Bath without any previous press campaign whatsoever... It says much for Hines' temperament that it appeared nothing could put him off his stroke, not even a diabolical piano, or the tough but genuine Rugby Club boozing audience he had to face on another occasion.. .the MSG should in future insist on a seated audience, as opposed to an unorganised mèlée, cluttered around the bandstand with no sense of order at all'.
The three of us who led the jazz sub-committee (Jenks, John Pye and myself) were somewhat upset by what was considered as unreasonable criticism. No doubt there were problems in editing 'Jazz Journal' unknown to us, as there were in selling an artiste or package to other venues that only we would know.
In importing an American musician, one did so and accepted financial responsibility. In turn, one then sold to other promoters (on non-MSG nights) for an agreed fee. The promoter who had then committed made his own arrangements to ensure recovery. To assist, the MSG provided photographs (three different studies in the case of Hines) and blurb for press release, with at least 1,000 leaflets, personalised if requested. In addition, we circulated the jazz press and local press to each concert or club venue (then the production manager of C.W.S. Advertising, I was more than familiar with any local newspaper). Photographs and a press release were sent to them. We also contacted local radio and TV to attempt interviews. Short of telling each promoter that they did not know the job, and that we should insist on vetting their advertising/publicity programme, I fail to see what more we could have done. Certainly, I can't imagine that anyone did more.
Mentioning our jazz sub-committee brings me on to a short tribute. I had initially known John and his wife Eunice Pye merely by sight in the Thursday night crowd at the Black Lion, Salford. Apparently, I was similarly spotted by them in an audience at Bowdon Assembly
Room, near Altrincham. . . a memorable snowy Christmas 1961, Ken Colyer occasion. At that time, I had no knowledge of John's other interest in cricket, which he still follows with enthusiasm, but it was via this sport that he joined the centre. Jenks was very fond of the game - in season it could sometimes be difficult to prise him from the glow of the TV set in his darkened room - so they had an immediate rapport. Older than me by about twenty years, John brought a maturity of thought and deceptive surface calm to what was often a heated bickering across the desk between Jenks and I. Some regarded our three temperaments as a positive strength, and John quickly became an important part of the organisation. John is clearly seen in the photograph of the New Orleans All-Stars adjacent to the end of Archey's slide. Which neatly brings me to the next subject.
It seems a pity that this particular event caused me to quarrel with Keith Smith. I hope that what is about to come will not revive upsets. By coincidence, I have never seen Keith since then, although heard on recordings, of course. He had become a welcome visitor to the club for some time, both with his own band and as accompanist to such as Alton Purnell, Mae Mercer and Champion Jack Dupree. He was doing a fine job for us and our audiences, which makes the disagreement of February 26, 1966, most regrettable.
This was probably the only occasion we held two concerts (of the same band) on the same day. The reason was simply economics and availability. The expensive package primarily targeted at the concert hall (was ours the only club appearance on the tour?), our relatively small capacity forced us to charge more on the door than we
would have liked. Our only chance to break even was to have two performances. That we were right is proved by the memories many seem to have of seeing the band in the intimacy of the club's cellar. The afternoon audience was better served musically, I recall, and hearing this galaxy of jazz legends on a miserable February afternoon lingers in the memory.
By general consensus, Darnell Howard and Pops Foster proved to be the most appreciated at the sessions, and celebrated 'slap' bass breaks from Foster brought tumultuous applause. On hearing the doyen of the traditional bass style, "Amazingly agile and forceful," said Chris Lee. "I expected that age would have taken its toll, but he was as superb as ever." Purnell's jovial piano style had been heard on our stage before and was, as usual, most engaging. 'Cie' Frazier, probably the least well-known of the visitors, was warmly welcomed by one A.J.P. in the Liverpool Daily Post the following Monday morning:
'By sheer wrist power he puts more shading into a short solo than half a dozen of the five minute break boys'. Alvin Alcorn was the steady, unshowy lead we had heard on many a record, whilst Jimmy Archey's tailgate trombone (but, I thought, somewhat excessive use of mute) was as good as we had grown to expect in ensembles.
Why did I make an odd and unnecessary reference in our leaflet to Darnell Howard being no relation to Kid Howard? I remembered years later that it remained in by accident because the originally planned line-up included Kid Howard. Taken ill prior to the tour, he died in March, 1966.
The first notification of any such package came during the summer of 1965 via Jack Higgins of the Harold Davison Agency. Apparently, he was organising a tour featuring Kid Howard, Jimmy Archey, Darnell Howard, Alton Purnell, Johnny St. Cyr, 'Pops' Foster and Josiah Frazier - would we be interested? Yes, I think we would! Long before the contract stage, St. Cyr became too ill to travel and, like Kid Howard, passed on the following year.
A copy of my report to the Guild's jazz committee on the 10 September, 1965, has survived, in which I stated, 'New Orleans All Star package was booked on the arrangement of a 50 mile barring clause being necessary to protect our interests. The contract received from the Davison agency showed a 20 mile radius. I brought this to the attention of Higgins, and the telephoned reply resulted in a list of venues so far determined. The jazz sub-committee decided that future dates may be arranged and that the original radius should be adhered to. The jazz press had recently reported the addition of Keith Smith to the line-up (remember that point, dear readers. We were deliberately preparing the event as the first exclusively all-American full band to appear in our jazz cellar. All our publicity and posters announced it as such). I suggest that I write to both the Davison office
and Keith to explain that the strength of the tour to us lay in that fact and that, musical consideration apart, the presence of Smith in the line-up can not be accepted. This was agreed
Two days later, on Sunday, 12 September, 1965, the committee of the centre met on my jazz report.. 'It was agreed that the contract for the New Orleans band should be returned, for amendments with regards to the personnel to be playing to be inserted, and for amendment to the barring clause.
Later, on the 30 December, 1965, in my role as Jazz Organiser, I reported to my colleagues.. .'We have been advised that Kid Howard is unfit and he will be replaced by trumpeter Alvin Alcorn. The jazz organiser pointed Out that, although Alcorn is a less gifted musician than Howard (obviously, my 1965 opinion) he is also more consistent. It was agreed to take no further action on this than to accept the substitution and our reasons for doing so'.
Arriving with the band at about noon, prior to the 2.30 matinee, Keith said to me something like, "We'll just stick to the usual programme, shall we?" Realising what he was getting at, it seemed obvious that Keith was not aware that our contract did not include him in the performances.
In a sincere attempt to placate Keith, I suggested that he might like to totally replace me as compère for the concerts, which he did and included a short and well thought out summary of each musician.
Had we known from the outset, we need never have quarrelled at all. The unknown person who did not advise everyone properly that the concerts had been planned from the start as Keith Smith with the New Orleans All Stars was responsible for the problem. I think we acted properly in the circumstances.
The preceding would seem an appropriate lead to express some uncertain reservations. It is today pretty obvious to most that many MSG events were being recorded. The late Goz Buckley, close friend of Jenks, was aware of the existence of much of this material, and had some copy tapes. He did, indeed tell me that he had heard a tape of the New Orleans All Stars but did not possess it as it was not to his taste. I had never heard that session. Please attempt, readers to imagine how I would feel today.
Considerable and somewhat astonished sympathy comes to me in contemplating the editorial in 'Jazz in' February when this magazine faced charges in the Small Claims court for payment for an article. That it had to attend for what is our common joy seems unbelievable. My efforts in the MSG days were entirely voluntary. Not only being an unpaid jazz organiser, my own transport to and from including often late night taxis and all drinks were paid for by me. Not a penny from jazz interests has ever lined my pockets.
Jenks accumulated these MSG tapes and, on the last occasion that we were destined to meet in the early 1970s, offered them to me - at a price. Anxious in his later years to emigrate to the warmth of Spain, he needed financial assistance and offered me the complete collection for £250. At that relatively youthful point, and recently married with first son in infancy, it was impossible to pay but I would attempt to in the future. It may not seem an astronomical sum today - it was then. Compare your house price today with its value then - you will get the message. They would have simply been a private but eternal and joyful memory of wonderful years.
Years later, CDs are available of some of those tapes. Never having been consulted in any way - probably deliberately not - how would you react in these circumstances? The events are far from fifty years old and so are not
necessarily legal issues. John Pye and I are the only survivors and scarcely in obscurity. Why do we not even get consulted?
It is obviously difficult. People would be missing out on these years without recorded evidence, and it does help the reputation of the MSG as a reminiscence. Particularly interesting for those too young to have attended. But why should the non-volunteers make the profits? Shouldn't all profits be donated to, say, amateur sport or some jazz society?
Many of the covering notes on these CDs have been read. Mainly compiled by people who did not even know the organisation (e.g. band members as opposed to the now often deceased leaders who had to know who was doing what).