Bob passed away in June 2007 - See Obituary by
Sue Parish (below)
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
That’s the jazz gospel according to local piano
player Bob Moffatt.
Bob, affectionately known as “Moff” by his many
musical friends, kicked off playing the piano accordion. He’s had a go at the trombone too. But these days, he is best known for his blistering approach
to the ivories. Leader of the Bob
Moffatt Quartet, he has been playing for half a century. And he shows no sign of stopping.
Bob’s “medium tempo” is other people’s fast.
When he decides to take the tempo up a few notches, his version of fast
is like listening to a hurricane. A
highly musical one of course.
Lancaster native Bob got his first instrument, a piano
accordion when he was just eleven years old, and learnt to heave it in and out
and press the right buttons. “It
was like an iron lung!” He had a few lessons, but the formal classical
approach to playing wasn’t his style – he preferred using his ears, picking
out tunes and playing about with them. Within
a few years he was contributing to the housekeeping as a key member of Mrs
Beamer's Accordion Band. “My dad
died when I was 14 he says. “Mrs
Beamer asked my mother if I could join the band, and of course the money
“She would hammer away at the piano and we would play for
dances – old-tyme, sequence, modern, the lancers. That’s where I cut my teeth.
In those days there were lots of companies in Lancaster and they all had
dances. A lot of hotels used to
have dances too.”
In his teens Moff got
bitten by the jazz bug. Inspired by
the mellifluous clarinet of Benny Goodman he got his own jazz trio together,
teaming up with other local musicians including bass player Pete Deeley on a tea
chest bass (this was the age of skiffle), and George Niven on drums.
During the 1950’s they played at the Moorlands pub in the
city, where every Monday night saw local musicians queuing up to tear through
their latest tunes. Occasionally Bob varied things by having a blow on a
trombone he’d bought somewhere or other “for about a quid”. As time went
on he gradually moved over more and more to playing piano, eventually developing
the group into a modern jazz style quartet with Malcolm Hall on vibraphone.
has always been jazz night in Lancaster” says Bob.
“First it was the Moorlands. Then,
later on there was Rick’s Place near the Bus Station, who did Monday night
jazz, including bringing in bands from out of town.”
Jazz critics and writers spend a lot of time putting jazz
into boxes and labelling them. Bob
says simply “I just think of myself as a jazz piano player.
I just use tunes as a vehicle. It
must swing. That’s the biggest factor – swinging like mad and playing
with other people – you influence them and they influence you and then, when
you’re lucky something good happens, and you recognise it, and it’s great.
But there’s no planning for it, and you can’t really teach it.
If you want to learn to play jazz, you have to listen. Jazzmen always
listen to other jazzmen. If it
doesn’t go into your ears, it won’t come out of your fingers.”
He may have dropped the accordion and the trombone these days
but Bob doesn’t just play the piano. He
also sings the odd tune, in a stylishly gravelly manner, when pushed to do so
“I thoroughly enjoy it” he confesses. “
I wish I did it more”.
Moff and bassist Malcolm Hall, together with drummer Peter
Eddowes, and guitarist Mark Townson make up the current Bob Moffatt Quartet,
playing ”festivals, weddings, barmitzvahs and funerals”.
Bob and friends also offer a storming jazz experience at Lancaster’s
John O’ Gaunt pub – where Monday night is still jazz night, and the attitude
is robust, to say the least.
“It’s got to be uncompromising - it’s not about fiddling about” he says. ‘You need to get in with both feet and kick it around.”
Return to Sue Parish writes
The Life of Brian ("Bob") Moffatt
Jazz pianist Brian Moffatt, (known to many as Bob, and to most of his fellow musicians as Moff) was a leading light of the local jazz scene for over 50 years. For nearly 20 years he played every Monday night at the John O' Gaunt, delighting audiences of all ages with his swinging, up-tempo performances.
Born on 4 May 1934 in Lancaster, Brian was the only child of Gladys and Redvers Moffatt. He attended Dallas Road School, and later studied at the Storey Institute and Harris College in Preston. He took up the accordian at the age of 11 and as a teenager supplemented the family income by playing in dance bands, including the magnificently titled Mrs Beamer's Accordion Band.
He soon mastered the piano as well, and began a jazz trio with old schoolfriend Pete Deeley on tea-chest bass, and George Niven on drums. Later he created a Modern Jazz style quartet which included lifelong musical colleague Malcolm Hall (now better known as a bassist) on vibraphone. Moff also played occasional trombone in jazz sessions at Lancaster's Moorlands pub, and was a regular pianist at The Chieftan in Morecambe, entertaining crowds of holidaymakers during the summer seasons of the 1950s and
60s. More recent versions of the Bob Moffatt Quartet also featured drummers Peter Eddowes and Phil Gibson, and guitarist Mark Townson, whilst two decades of John O' Gaunt sessions hosted guest performances by countless other players.
In addition to his extensive musical activities, Brian was a Chartered Engineer, and member of the Institutes of Mechanical and Plant Engineering. He served his apprenticeship at Storeys and later worked for Castrol, before setting up Moffatt Lubrication Services, which he ran until 2004.
He had three much-loved daughters - Alison and Lindsay, from his first marriage to Brenda; and Kate, the daughter of his second wife Babs, who he later met and fell in love with. He and Babs were married in 1974 and shared great happiness throughout their life together.
Brian Moffatt was a warm, witty, intelligent and charming man, loved by everyone who knew him and whose lives he enriched so much. His John O'Gaunt residency brought many people into contact with live jazz who may not otherwise have encountered it. Newcomers would be thrilled to find a band of mature musicians kicking out tunes with formidable energy, and it was especially heartening to watch young people gradually drawn into rapt attention. Brian revelled in such support, knocking out blistering solos with fingers flying. He was also capable of great subtlety and sensitivity, including occasional heartfelt vocal performances. The end of the night always brought a rousing version of "Jumping with Symphony Sid" followed by his characteristic Duke Ellingtonian sign off: "You're very kind, you're very gentle, we love you madly." He was still playing weekly at the time of his sudden and unexpected death from heart failure on14th June.
Brian is survived by his wife Babs and his daughters. He will be greatly missed, but his influence will live on in the playing of all those he inspired with his vigorous musical personality.
His funeral service will take place at Lancaster Priory at 11 am on Friday June 22nd 2007.
Malcolm Hall died died in St John's Hospice, Lancaster, on Tues 20th May 2008
I just stumbled upon your profile and obituary of Bob Moffatt whilst googling other Lancaster related links. I was born in Lancaster and was brought up and played ( not music ) with Bob ( although he was 11 years older ) when we lived in Sibsey Street. We lived at 97 ( probably occupied by hordes of 'students' these days! ) and Gladys who was very friendly with my mother and Redvers and family lived opposite on the 'posh' red brick side of the road - they even had bow-fronted sitting room windows I remember! At one point when Brian ( as we then knew him ) worked at Storeys as a draughtsman he played on a couple of Workers Playtime programmes when the BBC ( I guess ) came to the factory. Point is I actually recall seeing the members of the Chris Barber Band alight from a van and sit around - some with instruments (!) in front of chez Moffatt! I think I recall that Bob had established a rapport with Pat Halcox tho' I can't be sure if this continued. I played clarinet briefly but later picked up the guitar playing mostly r & b ( badly) in local groups - I remember playing ( if that's what one could call it ) at for instance The Red Well pub outside Lancaster. Happy days.