60 YEARS OF THE ORIGINAL PANAMA JAZZ BAND 1954-2014
By Jon Critchley

This article appeared in the August & September editions of Just Jazz Magazine 2014
Reproduced by courtesy of Jon Critchley & Just Jazz Magazine

 

The following history is drawn from the still agile memories of a number of past band members including John Dodgshon, Ron and Muriel Minshall, Johnny Bingham, Keith Jones, John Braben, Bert Lamb and Neil Hopkins, plus Fred Burnett's website Jazznorthwest. co. uk and some endless googling on the internet. At least forty musicians can be accredited to the band's personnel since its inception: putting exact dates to the early days as to who played what and when was further complicated because some switched from one instrument to another, such was their talent and enthusiasm for what was new music to them. The jazz they heard on the gramophone and radio was new and exciting. Records were relatively hard to get. Today it's easy to access the music from many sources, but the excitement can still be felt when you hear something new on a record you've played countless times before.

In 1954 in Wallasey, Dave Renton, his brother Laurie and a nucleus of old boys from local schools got together in Dave's living room with what instruments they had and made their first attempts at jazz. They also rehearsed at The Atlantic Club, Wallasey. Dave thought of the name of the band: The Panama Jazzband. He was then playing banjo, but later switched to trombone: he could also play guitar, fiddle, and bagpipes! Equally talented Laurie Renton played piano, drums and cornet, though probably not at the same time. They played its first gig at St. Johns Church, Wallasey and such was the success, the band took up a Wednesday night residency at Roycroft Dance Hall in Burns Avenue. In those early days, band members also included trombonist Ron Minshall, Stan Minshall (playing piano chords), Alistair Wallace (gtr), John Lindop (sousa) and John Wilson (clt). At this time the band did not have a trumpeter, just a front line of trombone and clarinet. Incidentally, this was where cornettist Tony Pringle, from Wirral and currently of The New Black Eagle Jazzband, first heard The Panama and, suitably inspired, took up cornet and formed the Druids Jazz band in the late 50s. That band was managed by Tony Davis who was a founder member of the Spinners folk group, formed in 1958.

 

Earliest known photo: Ron Minshall (tbn),  Alistair Wallace (gtr), John Lindop (sousa), Copple Davies (tpt), Dave Renton (bjo), unknown (dms) , John Wilson (clt), Laurie Renton (pno)

 

Dave Renton had been teaching his friend John Dodgshon to play guitar and sing folk songs and invited him to his house to listen to the band. Encouraged, John bought a second-hand trumpet in June 1955 and started the long process of learning how to play. Whilst he was busy doing that, the band found a trumpeter: an ex-Butlins Redcoat named Copple Davies. The drumming deficiency was solved by the arrival of Alf Tweedle, a dance band drummer from Liverpool. [John Dodgshon recalls "We all thought that Alf was of advanced age but, decades later, when I asked him about this, he told me that he was about 30 when he joined the PJB!"]

Ken Sims, who at that time was playing with another local band, The Muskrats, replaced Copple in 1955 and joined the band for about 6 months. He departed for London late in 1956 to join Cy Laurie's band. His talents definitely deserved to be heard in a grander setting. Ken was replaced by Jack Brierly, a cornet player from Chester(?), who also introduced Johnny Lindop to the band. Johnny was a sousaphone player, also from Chester, who drove a Morgan three-wheeler car with his sousaphone wrapped around the spare wheel at the back. These changes naturally gave the band a different sound.

John Dodgshon then joined the PJB on trumpet in late spring of 1956, replacing Jack Brierly. Meanwhile, Johnny Lindop had also left, leaving Stan on string bass. That year the band played a Riverboat Shuffle on the Liverpool "Royal Iris" ferry boat. The Merseysippi Jazz Band had top billing (rightfully so, of course), together with possibly Ralph Watmough's band and the Liverpool University Jazz Band, which featured trumpeter brothers John and Roger Higham. Also a bass player called Hugh Potter, but, as Bill Williams used to say, more about that later.

Harrison Hall, probably 1955/56: Ron Minshall (tmb), Dave Renton (bjo), Ken Sims (tpt), Stan Minshall (wsbd), John Dodgshon (gtr), John Wilson (clt)

 

Laurie had been playing piano and left in 1957 and was replaced by an excellent pianist, Muriel Holmes, sister-in-law of Tony Davis who until recently led his own band. In December 1956 Ron left the band to do his two years national service and Johnny Bingham (real name Rowbottom), from Knotty Ash, took over the trombone chair in-between Ron's leave. On his return Ron married Muriel in March 1959 and moved to Vancouver a few months later. Dave Renton then switched from guitar / banjo to trombone. The band was playing regular Wednesday night sessions at The Tick Tock Café in Grosvenor Road, New Brighton for The Wallasey Jazz Club organised by Johnny Bates and at many venues in Merseyside including the 21 Club, The Temple and New Brighton's Floral Pavilion Theatre. A big event set up by Bruce Bakewell and Johnny at The Tower Ballroom, New Brighton featured Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, with the PJB as interval band. For reasons unknown, this caused a rift between Dave and Bruce, resulting in Dave leaving the band (John persuaded him to rejoin in 1960). Shortly after that The Queen also requested his presence for National Service.

December 1956, Wallasey Jazz Club (Roycroft Hall): Muriel Holmes (pno);  Stan Minshall (bs); Alistair Wallace (gtr); John Dodgshon (bjo) Dave Renton (vcl); Ron Minshall (tmb); Standing is Johnny Bingham, also known as John Rowbottom, who played trombone when Ron went into the army.

 

Maybe as a result of The Tick Tock Café Jazz Club folding, Bruce then arranged for the band to start its own Wednesday sessions at Wallasey Conservative Club in Manor Road. Skiffle was now the rage and the band often featured a skiffle group in the interval, one of which was one called The Quarrymen, led by someone called J. Lennon.

Shortly after that, Liverpool's Cavern Club opened on Wednesday 16th January 1957 with The Merseysippi Jazzband topping the bill which included Ralph Watmough and The Wall City Jazzband. 600 people in there: the mind boggles! So did the toilets! The Panama played there on the following Saturday night, the 19th, and thereafter on one or two dates per month - see our brick in the wall of the new Cavern!

In August 1958 John Dodgshon was also called to help out the Queen for a couple of years, and Bruce ran the band in his absence. Muriel and Ron Minshull, now married, emigrated to Vancouver in 1959. In 1960 Neil Hopkins joined on banjo, replacing Alistair Wallace. Also that year, drummer Bill Williams joined. (Bill had joined the Army as a boy soldier, serving with the Royal Artillery, the First Battalion of the Scots Guards, and then as Drum Major with the band of the Liverpool Scottish). The band entered The Northern Section Prize of The Melody Maker National Jazz Competition. It didn't win: allegedly, one of the judges was the girlfriend of the leader of the band that did win. The band must have done well enough though because it qualified to take part in the Richmond Jazz Festival, summer 1961. Bill Williams arranged a van for the weekend and Jim West stood in on bass for Stan Minshall. Laurie & Dave were also still with the band; Bruce left in 1960/61, to be replaced by clarinettist Brian Williams, from The Druids Jazzband. In 1960 Laurie was back in the band and took over the trumpet chair when John Dodgshon took a day job that took him away for most of a year. When he returned, the band did a gigs with two trumpets. Laurie eventually left the band in 1962.

March 1962 at a Scottish dance in St Georges Hall: great cummerbunds! Dave Renton (tmb), Neil Hopkins (bjo), John Dodgshon (tpt), Bill Williams (drs), Stan Minshall (bs), Bruce Bakewell (clt)

 

Also in 1962 Brian Williams left and Dave Thomas joined on clarinet. Due to their day jobs getting in the way, Dave shared the clarinet seat for a few years with Keith Jones, a Sheffield born university graduate who, in 1955, was a founder member of trumpeter John Shillito's first band, The Gloryland Jazzband, before moving to the Northwest in the 60s. John Dodgshon returned from National Service and stayed with the band until 1966 when he emigrated to Canada, at which point John Braben joined on trumpet. The line-up of the band then was John (tpt), Bert Lamb (pno) Roy Penny (tmb), Dave Thomas (clt), Bill Williams (drs), Robin Tankard (bs) and Neil Hopkins (bjo).

Bert was replaced by Terry Burstall in about 1968. Terry, born in Southport , was a founder member of The Darktown Strutters Jazz Band in the 1950s. He was instrumental in getting the band quite a lot of work, including many at the West Lancs Yacht Club 24 Hour Race, RAF Woodvale and regular gigs at The Moulin Rouge Dancehall in Southport: a major jazz venue in those days. (Many a good night after the gig, upstairs at "The Mooly", Bill leading us in close harmony to "Over The Rainbow" and "The Whiffenpoof Song", but that's another story). Sadly it's gone and is now a Toby Carvery. Terry also had the company of life-long non-driver Bill Williams on many a journey! Terry stayed in the OPJB until 2013 and during that time he and wife Beryl played host to many of the visiting guest musicians, including Alan Elsdon, Digby Fairweather and Campbell Burnap.

John Braben remained with the band until 1973 when he too emigrated, to Australia, and Jon Critchley came in on trumpet. Dave Renton had also rejoined in 1973 and asked Jon Critchley to join the PJB: he was freshly fired from the Blue Magnolia Jass Orchestra for missing their gig to do one with The Merseysippi (JC: "Well, The Mags had two trumpets in those days (Jon and Ken Sims) and the Merseys, on that night, were without Pete Daniels and John Lawrence, so it seemed the right thing to do!") John Braben was a hard act to follow and despite having learned so much from Ken during his 5 years in the Mags he found that playing first horn was not easy
("having played second cornet to Ken in the Mags was great, but I knew that if I stopped he would carry on. When I first joined The Panama , It was really hard to make the change from playing fill-ins to playing the melody. I used Ken's golden rule a lot: if you play some rubbish, smile at the audience: they won't notice anything wrong. i. e., "Smile when you say s**t!")

From 1964 the PJB held a residency at The Black Horse in West Kirby for 15 years. Every Wednesday at 8pm you had to fight your way through the crowds to get to the bar, such was the popularity of the band. It had a great atmosphere. Mr and Mrs Wylie ran the pub and brought round hot pasties in the interval! The musicians and audience were young, in their prime, and could guarantee the bar takings to be well in profit. Great days. The band also concurrently played for many years at The Queens Hotel, Liscard Village, Wirral.

Probably The Black Horse, West Kirby, 1971: Roy Penny (tmb), Robin Tankard (bss), John Braben (tpt)

 

After piano player Bert Lamb left in the mid 60s Terry Burstall joined. Terry was born in Southport and founded The Darktown Strutters in the 1950s. He remained with The Panama for 45 years!

Neil Hopkins left in 1967/8 and Dave "Nipper" Wright joined. Dave was known as "Nipper" (due to his compactness height-wise), and also "The Peter Pan of The Wirral" on account of his Dorian Grey-like youth retaining qualities. Dave's day job got in the way; he was in the insurance business on a big world-wide scale, and always felt that common knowledge within the Insurance world of him also being a banjo player might somehow diminish his credibility; so was forced to put common sense before the band and moved south, as the profession and promise of money dictated, in 1982. But whilst he was with us The Original Panama, as it was then called, travelled to CAM Studios in Liverpool on 14th November 1970 to record for the first time. Keith Jones recalls that the recording engineer, weary of what he supposed to be yet another three-chord trick band come to waste his time, was amazed when the band put down 4 tracks in no time, three of them first takes. The band was John Braben (tpt), Roy Penny (tmb), Keith (clt), Terry Burstall (pno), Dave "Nipper" Wright (bjo), Robin Tankard (bass/tba) and Bill Williams (drs). The EP comprised "Working Man Blues", "Blame It On The Blues", "Bugle Boy March" and "Should I Reveal".

After the Wylies retired in the late 1970s the Black Horse was tarted up by the brewery, and started to get greedy with its desired profit margin. The band became very unwelcome, to the point where the situation was untenable. The last session there was on 25th July 1979. Great days gone. The band was then Bill Williams (drs), Jon Critchley (tpt), Dave Thomas / Keith Jones (clt), Dave Renton
(tmb), Terry Burstall (pno), Alistair Wallace (bjo) and Robin Tankard (bss/tba).

 
Working Man Blues recorded in 1979

The band held several subsequent residencies on the Wirral peninsular: The Grange Hotel (Moreton), The Albion Hotel and The Hotel Victoria in New Brighton (It's amazing, but The Merseysippi were also resident band at The Vic - in 1948!), The Leasowe Castle Hotel (One time at the Leasowe, our drummer Bill Williams was greeted by the hotel chef as the band was setting up. "Evening Bill, same old music?" said chef. "Evening chef, same old food?" said Bill. Touché! When the Albert Dock in Liverpool was first opened to the public in the '70s, the PJB secured many gigs playing on the dockside during the daytime and were often accompanied by Daring Dave: a juggling, uni-cycling, fire-eating street entertainer: he would tap dance to The Charleston; on stilts! Other residencies included The Eagle & Crown in Upton Village and Upton Tennis Club.

Dave Renton left the band in the mid 80s and went on to play with his own "Professor Brown and his Sunset Cafe Stompers", The Savoy Jazzmen, his band The Silver Dollar Six (wonder if he knew that there is actually a casino in the town of Renton in Washington State called "The Silver Dollar "?) and later The Parade Jazzband in Parkgate, until ill health got the better of him. A great bandsman and multi talented personality. As well as his playing, he could sing extremely well too and knew countless songs, including such classics as "The end of my old cigar" and "The Hole In The Elephants Bottom"!

After Robin left the band in 1982 to join The Merseysippi, we had the great help of bassists such as Keith Allcock, Norman Simpson and Colin Fabb until 1984 when Keith Broadfield joined us. Keith was born in Liverpool and developed a love of jazz from the records of Muggsy Spanier; A dry sense of humour, Keith was with us until 1989. Although not well at present, he retains his humour, humility and fond memories of his days with The Panama.

1982 saw Alistair Wallace rejoin on banjo for about a year, and then Cliff Barker until 1984. Then in 1985 trombonist Alan Pendlebury and banjo/guitarist Gordon Porritt joined the band. Alan was born in Stockport in 1932 and taught himself to play banjo in 1947. He formed Stockport's first jazz band - The Unity Jazzband- with himself now on trombone and a trumpeter who only knew three songs. When these were used up, he'd switch to kazoo! A long career in music followed, spanning Mart Rodger's Darktown Jazz band in 1951, The Jazz Aces in 1953 and in 1956 The Zenith 6, "Alan's Dixie Gang" ten years later; The Red River Jazzmen and in 1978 his own Allstars Bands which included son Chris, brother Keith, his daughter and his sister. All that whilst running a grocery store. He sold the store and became fully professional in 1979. He brought to the Panama an enthusiasm for Lou McGarity, corned beef sandwiches and lemonade.

1980s: Alan Pendlebury (tmb), Keith Broadfield (bss), Jon Critchley (tpt), Bill Williams (drs), Terry Burstall (pno), Dave Thomas (clt), Gordon Porritt (bjo)

 

Wirral born Gordon was much travelled in his life. In the 60s he was a founder member of The Memphis 6, and later formed an R & B band aboard the Cunard M. V. "Saxonia" during his years as ship's engineer in the Merchant Navy. In the late 60s he lived in London and was a member of The Main Avenue Jazzband. After a spell in Canada and the U. S. A. playing Irish folk music) he returned to Merseyside and joined the Savoy Jazzmen. During this time his day job took him to South Africa and Libya. As well as a musician Gordon was a super chap, full of enthusiasm and unrepeatable filthy limericks. He was also the band's catering manager and sought out any available food on gigs. He left the band in 1991, travelled, rejoined in 1997 and finally left in 2002 to travel again. In 2003 he joined Bahrain's Dilmun Dixie Landers in 2003 and enjoyed another three years of life. Sadly missed.

And so we rehearsed a bit and in 1987 we (Jon, Dave, Alan, Terry, Bill, Keith and Gordon) made a tape, again with an inspired tile "The Panama Jazzband", which was recorded in Lowton Primary School Hall over a few Saturdays. It sold quite well so we sent a copy to George Buck (sadly recently departed) of Jazzology and GHB records, New Orleans. He wrote to me that October saying that he had discovered the tape on his desk after he returned from Japan: He was "knocked out" by the band, loved the ensemble work and thought it "important that more jazz fans hear of your band", it being better in his opinion than many bands who were placed in the "Favourite Foreign Jazz Band" section of his jazz poll. Valued comments from one who really did know a thing or two. He put it out on cd in 1990 and it is still around. Well, I spotted it on ebay.com the other day.

Isle of Man Ferry; back from the Jazz Festival and Bill's a bit tired!

 

Keith Broadfield left the band in 1989. For the next year or two we were fortunate to draw on bassists Keith Allcock, Norman Simpson and Colin Fabb until Hugh Potter joined in 1991, voted "Most Outstanding Musician" back in the annual Inter-Varsity Jazz Contests when he was in The Liverpool University Jazz Band in the late 50s.

Alan Pendlebury played the last gig of his life with The Panama on Tuesday 21st January 1992 at the Leasowe Castle Hotel, Wirral. Next day, a stroke got the better of him. After Alan, valve trombonist Frank Robinson joined us in 1992. A very funny chap, and a good musician, always considered that the best Sunday lunch was "a nice leg of liver". Also that year Tony Ormesher joined on banjo and guitar, a fine musician, equally funny man and Les Dawson look-a-like (when he chose). We made another recording that October, upstairs in the Hesketh Arms, Churchtown, near Southport (Jon, Dave, Terry, Frank, Tony, Hugh and Bill). We and many local bands appeared there on Wednesday nights. Raymer Sounds captured the whole thing and we put it out under the title of "Something For The Weekend", a title that sprang from the agile mind of our drummer and leader Bill Williams: When dismantling the drums at the end of a night, he would often look up as packed his huge suitcase and say "Something for the weekend, sir?". A quick aside: We attended a few of Bill's regimental reunions at Woolwich Barracks and Nuneaton, where after he had dined with his regiment, would stand in the middle of the floor with a regimental drum harnessed to him and do a one-man "History of The Drum"; charting the drum's roll from communication in early native Africa to its regimental importance on and off the battlefield. Based on good sound fact but interspersed with Bill's typical wit and spontaneous humour, it was truly a unique privilege to watch and hear him. Sadly never recorded. Anyway, as a result of his military background, Bill was always turned out immaculately, shiny black shoes and shoulders back. Paradoxically, his drum kit was a mess. Never tuned, cracked cymbals and his floor tom-tom was principally used as a table for pints of bitter. At the end of a night the tom-tom skin was a lake of Whitbread's. On one frosty Wednesday night at the Black Horse, after the usual post-gig darts game in the cocktail bar: (front line vs. rhythm section), Bill's snare drum slid from one end of the icy car park to the other.

 
Stevedore Stomp recorded in 1992

Whilst we were resident at The Hotel Victoria in New Brighton in 1994 we did a live recording and put out a tape, imaginatively called "The Panama Jazzband-Live At The Vic". (Jon Critchley, Dave Thomas, Frank Robinson, Tony Ormesher, Terry Burstall, Hugh Potter, Bill Williams) and also guest trombonist Brian Oldham.

Bill Williams left the band due to ill health in 1997 and died in 2006 leaving a huge gap in the jazz fraternity and many happy memories, including his History of The Drum monologue; also at our Christmas gigs at The Hesketh Arms, Bill would do the second half in his full Father Christmas outfit (he was that man at Lewis' department store in Liverpool): It must have been hell in there! And John Braben recalls "At our regular gigs at the Black Horse Hotel in West Kirby he would keep the audience entertained even as he was packing his gear away with his ventriloquist's act involving an imaginary character called George Blenkinsopp who hid away in one of his drum cases!" For all that, Bill was a great drummer, admired by many other drummers for his formidable snare drum technique, and an honest, eloquent, caring man and, in his own words, "An all-round good egg"!

Trevor Carlisle joined on drums after Bill in 1998: Trevor was in The Muskrat Jazz Band in the 50s, after that, for many years, The Merseysippi and features on many of their recordings. An excellent drummer who listened to what was going on. Also a keen cyclist. After he left in 2002 Tony Carter joined the band: a great drummer and listener and a thoroughly nice chap. He is self-taught and played with many local bands including The Bags Watmough Band in the early 60s and The Merseys. He turned pro in 1965, completing a 7 month tour of American military bases in Spain and Morocco. On his return he established himself as house musician on the night club cabaret circuit in Liverpool, going on to play theatres, cruises and summer seasons. Sadly, ill health forced him to leave the band in 2011.

After Frank Robinson left, Arthur Pedder came in on trombone in 1995. 1n the early 1960s Arthur had joined Roy Pott's Five and a Penny Jazzband and was also in the New Orleans Express. He left the OPJB in 1997 and joined The Blue Magnolia Jass Orchestra. Bob Hambleton, who had left The Blue Mags, joined us and was with us until 2008 when, having moved to Llandudno North Wales, found that the winter travelling was too much and sadly had to leave the band.

We have made only one more recording since in May 1997 called "Smoke That". (Jon, Dave, Bob, Terry, Gordon, Trevor and Hugh). One day we'll do it again, when we've rehearsed enough / raised the money!

Over the years the Panama have hosted many guest artists including Humph (many times) Kenny Ball ( a boyhood ambition of a very nervous Jon Critchley on that night, shattered by Kenny saying "oih, mate, you wanna shove a cork up you're a**e!" Pete Allen, Stan Grieg, Alan Elsdon (he referred to our repertoire at the time as "the dead sea scrolls"!), Digby Fairweather, George Chisholm, Roy Williams, Tommy Burton, and Cambell Burnap. When Humph was guesting with the band at The Blundellsands Hotel, his baritone sax player Joe Temperley arrived at the hotel to see Humph. He was wearing a very expensive blue denim suit from the USA, but Vicky, Bill Williams' wife and manageress of the Hotel barred him from entering. "We don't allow denim in this hotel" she said, "Doesn't matter who you are". Think it was eventually sorted out.

Musically each band member has a different jazz background so it's difficult to put a label on the band to denote the style. "Traditional", "Dixieland", "New Orleans" etc are handy labels for some to hang on a band, and it's possible to sound a little affected when describing a bands' musical philosophy. But it's easier to say what we aren't! It certainly isn't New Orleans Style or Ragtime for example. To dedicate one's musical life to one particular style or period maybe fine for some, but there's a lot of good tunes beyond the blinkers that some choose to wear. The OPJB is probably nearer to the Chicago style of Condon or Alex Welsh, and with the attitude that a good song is worth including no matter where or what period it came from.

2014: Malcolm Hogarth (pno); Laurie Cooper (tmb), Mark Owen (drs), Jon Critchley (tpt), Hugh Potter (bss), Dave Thomas (clt)

 

2014 Current members:

Jon Critchley (trumpet): Developed an interest in jazz in the early '60s Trad Boom years. Bought a "Melody Maker" trumpet and joined the school orchestra that fortunately had a nucleus of renegade jazz enthusiasts, including his then physics teacher Ian Robertson (now trombonist with The Peninsular Jazzmen) and fellow pupil and bass player Howard Worthington. His first band was the West Coast Jazzband with brother Peter on drums; then in 1968, in the Golden Guinea Club, New Brighton, Alan Miller and Jeff Samuels of the Blue Magnolia Jass Orchestra asked him to join and was somewhat awed to be playing cornet with Ken Sims. In 1973 Jon joined the Panama Jazz Band. Whilst with the OPJB he has also been a member of other bands, including Roger Brown's "Banjo-Free Zone", The Harlem Hot Stompers (5 years), Terry Perry's "Big Easy" (3years) and The Mike Carnie Allstars (7 years). Also plays from time to time with Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz, The Chicago Teddybears Society Jazz Band and The Old Fashioned Love Band.

Dave Thomas (clarinet and vocals): Dave became interested in jazz in the 1950s when he became aware of George Lewis, and played with many bands before joining the RAF. Here he formed a band, which, for a number of years, toured Cyprus. He has an instinctive ear for harmony and his superb tone and attacking style equals that of many professional musicians. The singing is pretty good, too. Dave has played with many bands, including the Merseysippi on their Sacramento Jazz Festival visits, The Chicago Teddybears, and currently is also a member of The Harlem Hot Stompers.

Laurie Cooper (trombone): Born in Bromsgrove, he learnt to play violin at junior school when he was 7. At secondary school he took up tuba, before transferring to trombone shortly before leaving school to attend technical college, specializing in music. Whilst there he joined The Dixieland Ramblers. In 1966 he became a student at The Royal Manchester College of Music. After leaving music college he pursued a career as a freelance trombonist and music teacher based in Manchester, and for 30 years played all kinds of music including classical gigs, theatre work, cabaret, recording sessions, and jazz gigs, with all kinds of "celebrities". Played with many bands of all genre including many years with the North Derbyshire based Goyt Valley Stompers (an article in the Sheffield University Rag Magazine at the time described them as "a raucous load of boozers" which filled them with great pride!). Renamed The City Syncopators, they relocated to Didsbury Cricket Club, Manchester in the 1980's for over 15 years. He joined the Panama in 2008. Laurie was a member of Mike Carnie's Allstars and is a member of The Apex Jazz Band. He also plays violin and tuba and teaches music at various schools.

Mark Owen (drums): Mark's first musical influence was the pop music of the 60s and 70s; not the music he plays now. His father was a big fan of Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner and George Shearing and introduced Mark to jazz: very different to what he had been hearing. From there on he listened to and studied the bands of Ted Heath, Glen Miller and particularly Buddy Rich, of whom he probably knows as much as anyone can! As a result he decided to take up drums and after gaining experience with various big bands, Mark joined the Panama in January 2011 and continues to drive and swing the band with his powerful style. No prisoners are taken! He also plays in the pit band at New Brighton Floral Pavilion for the Christmas pantos.

Hugh Potter (bass): After graduation from Liverpool University, he played for 2 years with the Ken Morrell Trio in Sunderland, followed over the years with traditional to modern bands including: the Dave Ellis Trio, the Deian Hopkin (now Professor Hopkin and vice-chancellor of London South Bank University) Quartet, the John Rubin Trio, the Terry Hawkes Band, The Dave Saul Duo and the John Dunbavand Trio ,alongside drummer Trevor Carlisle, backing those artists mentioned above, as well as Bruce Adams, Alan Barnes, Roy Williams and Campbell Burnap. Hugh joined the OPJB in 1991. Major Influences include Ray Brown, Percy Heath, Leroy Vinnegar and Red Mitchell.

Malcolm Hogarth (piano): Born in Mitcham, London, Malcolm emigrated north to Chester in 1978 and since has become a familiar figure on the jazz scene up and down the empire. Currently is a member of many bands including The Merseysippi Jazzband, partner Isabel Toner's Deeside Dixies, Dennis Armstrong's Great Northern Jazzband, The Severn Side Jazz Band, and can also be seen in Chester's streets busking with trumpeter John Higham. Lists Mel Powell, Erroll Garner, James P Johnson and Art Tatum as the most admirable of piano players. Describes his own playing as "affordable". As the Panama always pays out on a performance-related basis, this works very well.

We are fortunate to have had such fine musicians passing through the Panama; each one has left their own mark and memories, and have helped The Panama get to where it is today, so they must take some of the blame. Some are still active still playing great music across the world:


John Dodgshon lives in San Fransisco, still plays fine trumpet and visits now and again.

After The Panama, Ken Sims emigrated South with Fred the cornet His autobiography in earlier issues of "JustJazz" does far more justice to his career than space allows here.

John Braben lives in Brisbane, playing hot trumpet with The Caxton Street Jazzband. Trombonist Ron Minshull lives in Canada and plays with the Clamdigger Jazzband in Seattle;

Trombone player Johnny Bingham, real name John Rowbottom, always could play piano: he changed his name, again, to John Rowe and turned professional. He now lives in the North East.

Banjo player Neil Hopkins, already an accomplished artist, moved to a small holding on a Lleyn Peninsula hillside in 1976 and in July 1977 set forth to paint his first watercolour! He now lives in Abersoch and as one of North Wales' leading watercolourists, his work has sold to all corners of the world.

Banjoist Dave Wright's day job eventually got in the way; he had been in the top end of the international insurance profession and was always wary that his credibility within the insurance world might be diminished somewhat if they knew he also played the banjo; so in 1982 reluctantly moved south, as the profession and promise of a lot of money dictated.

Pianist Bert Lamb subsequently played with many bands, including Kenny Ball, Pete Allen, Spencer's Washboard Kings, and now plays with Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band.

Trombonist Bob Hambleton lives at the base of the Great Orme and plays with The River City Jazzband in Llandudno;

Keith Jones plays clarinet with The Downtown Dixieland Jazz Band and The Parade Jazz Band.

Guitarist and banjoist Tony Ormesher is with The Chicago Teddybears Society Jazzband.

It proves that playing this music and having such good times, having good friends and meeting musicians, all nice people with a sense of humour that bonds musos together, helps to keep the mind and spirit alive. Happy thoughts of those no longer with us remain and still bring a chuckle.

Currently, thanks to our loyal supporters, the OPJB are the resident band at The Irby Club, Wirral, playing 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of every month. Long may it continue.

Jon Critchley

To go with the anniversary, a new CD has been issued which consists mainly of a re-issue of a tape recorded in 1992 but for the anniversary it includes four tracks that the the band did for an EP in 1970 (Hence 'the bit on the side'), and were the first recordings made by The Original Panama Jazzband. You can order the CD from: http://tinyurl.com/kyg66pg  ( UK = £11.90 plus p&p; elsewhere 12.90 plus p&p) or at any of the band gigs at a discounted rate of £9.  Click on the play button to hear a selection of tracks from the new CD or click here to download the MP3 file - Fred Burnett

 



 

See also The Panama Jazz Band in the 50's by Tony Davis
 

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