A Visit O'er 'Ome
Arriving in Manchester in the early hours after an all-night flight from Canada, I was met by my brother-in-law who transported me to Lancaster, saving me the problem of driving on the left side of the road while suffering from a bad attack of jetlag. I was soon settled into very pleasant accommodations in Mulberry Cottage adjacent to the castle.
Two days later, while still trying to adjust to the time change, I received a 'phone call from Barrie Marshall who plays clarinet with a number of local bands. He had suddenly been taken ill and asked if I would take his place that evening. Of course, I readily agreed. I had an hour to unpack my clarinet and to find my way to the Wagon & Horses, a public house overlooking the River Lune. Although I arrived early the pub was already crowded and a number of customers, clutching pints of best bitter, were standing outside on the riverside, hopefully still able to hear the appropriately titled "New Riverside Jazz Band".
The cornet lead was Alan Duckles. In the early 1950s he and I, both novice musicians, founded the first traditional jazz band in the area. He now plays regularly with various bands, but this public house has been his principal venue for some years. It was a great pleasure to play a gig with Alan again, especially as this was such a great band.
In spite of my being unaccustomed to the group and their repertoire, Alan spared me no quarter. Most of his tunes were unfamiliar to me and all were played with little or no verbal introduction. However, this only added to my pleasure. Each melody stretched my creative abilities and provided a new experience. I had a wonderful evening.
The following Sunday lunchtime I had planned to visit "Ye Olde John O'Gaunt" in Lancaster's Market Square. This is my most favourite watering hole. At any time of any day you visit this pub the background music is traditional jazz or early swing with live music on some evenings. The food is excellent, the walls covered with photographs of musicians and jazz memorabilia; altogether a terrific atmosphere. Of course, a variety of great draught beers are offered including a "guest" beer. My favourite is Jennings bitter.
The band is the "Sun Street Stompers", a quintet led by Barrie Marshall on clarinet. Barrie is a fine clarinetist with an individual style who happens to be my brother-in-law. These sessions are very popular with musicians as "sitters in" are welcomed. There are always at least two or three guest players, some having travelled considerable distances. I suppose I hold the record, having come over 3,000 miles.
During the first band break, Barrie passes among the drinkers with a giant silver platter of free sausages. However, these must be consumed speedily as there are a number of dogs of various sizes that watch you eat with appealing eyes and drooping tongues. You have to be hard not to offer them the last half-inch of sausage.
Tuesday evening I was off to the Bowerham Hotel to hear the Jubilee Jazz Band. This is a very professional sounding band in spite of a couple of substitute musicians. I had come to hear an old friend of mine, Mick Unthank, another very fine clarinet player, but unfortunately he wasn't playing. His chair for that evening was taken by Dave Lee, who must be one of the best reed players in Lancashire and beyond.
Dave is an ex-student of mine from Blackpool School of Art who I haven't seen for about 40 years. He immediately won my respect by recognizing me and stating that I hadn't changed a bit. During the break, when Dave came over to talk to me, Derek Johnson, who had been a student of mine at the same time as Dave, came into the bar and joined us. Derek plays trumpet with a couple of traditional jazz bands in the Blackpool area and is a very fine painter (He is one of the most gifted artists from the north of England). You can imagine the intense conversations the three of us had during each interval.
I was sorry to leave Lancaster after so short a visit, but pleased to know that traditional jazz is alive and well in that city. I carried many happy memories back to Canada; enough to see me through to my next visit across "the pond" which I hope will be soon.
Trevor Hodgson Clarinet with the Sensation Jazz Band and Southern Comfort Jazz Band in Ontario, Canada.
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