Last Updated - Thursday November 26, 2020
 

GUEST MUSICIANS WITH NORTH WEST BANDS
By Brian Legan

23/10/20 -

Earlier this week I was lying on my back on a bed in the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital with a newly fitted defibrillator counting the ceiling tiles when Terry Birkinhead rang me. We chatted for a while exchanging stories about guest musicians with North West bands we had encountered over the years, some humorous some serious. When he rang off I got to thinking there is a vast store of untold stories about these events and time's getting short! There are already lots of reminiscencies on your site but very few are concerned with visiting guest musicians, especially international stars.

The North West played a key role in the post-war revival of jazz in Britain, spearheaded by The Merseysippi Jazz Band and The Saints Jazz Band who played at the famous NFJO Festival Hall Concert on 14 July 1951. You've no doubt heard the recording and I have played with some of the musicians who took part and recalled the occasion. A number of North West musicians also made it onto the national stage including Roy Williams, Ron McKay, Ken Sims, the Christie brothers, John Barnes, Derek Galloway, George Melly and Johnny Tucker. There has been a thriving jazz scene in the North West ever since George Webb kick-started the revival in GB in the 1940s and jazz musicians owe a great debt to the volunteers who organise jazz clubs, provide work for the bands and fund appearances by special guests. The Manchester Sports Guild was foremost in booking national and international stars between 1961 and 1973. Jazz festival organisers, jazz club organisers, fans and musicians are sitting on a gold mine of untold stories, anecdotes, etc.

It might help if I give you a couple of examples of the kinds of things I'm talking about which are specific to special guests appearing with local bands. Tony Davis organised jazz festivals on Merseyside for a number of years and booked special guests to play with the local bands. On one such occasion Beryl Bryden (who played washboard on the Lonnie Donegan recording of Rock Island Line which made it to No. 8 in the British Hit Parade in January 1956) was booked to play with The Savoy Jazzmen at a pub on the Wirral. Although washboard bands were popular in the USA in the 1920s and the washboard made a mini come-back in the UK during the skiffle era Beryl was the only washboard player I have known to be a featured artist with jazz bands both in the UK and on the continent. She was a larger-than-life lady with real joie de vivre. Beryl liked to "boss" the bands she appeared with. When she arrived at the gig she handed out cards to members of the band listing the numbers she was going to sing, their keys, etc. and briefed the band. When she thought Ken Horton's attention was wandering she jabbed him in the chest like a naughty schoolboy and told him to pay attention! The gig went down a storm. Beryl was a consummate artist/cartoonist and produced marvellous calendars featuring jazz musicians which she sold on gigs. Her drawing of Johnny Dodds is a particular favourite of mine. I mentioned the Beryl gig to Sid Pye, a drummer from North Wales who spent years gigging around London. He told me that London jazzers would gather at Teddington Lock on a summer's day before an evening gig and one day Beryl appeared wearing an incredible '20s style swimsuit. She dived in and the water dived out!.

When Bruce Turner appeared with The Savoy Jazzmen at the Hesketh Arms jazz club in Southport he stayed at my house. When he emerged from Southport Railway Station I thought it was Spike Milligan! We chatted long into the night and it was fascinating to hear his opinions on famous reed players over the years (mainly American). He told me that he was suffering with severe arthritis of the hands and found it difficult to play the clarinet (which is very fiddly) so was tending to play more alto. We played to a packed house. Bruce was one of Britain's best improvisers. You could never second-guess what might emerge from the bell of his instrument next. He was totally unpredictable. Some wag in the audience shouted out the infamous "go home dirty bopper" call of the fifties. Bruce turned to me quizzically and asked what was going on. Today clarinet players who do not double on sax are almost unheard of - an almost extinct breed! Bruce had probably forgotten the earlier incident. He had a terrible memory for names and called everybody "dad" to avoid embarrassment. I have a signed copy of his autobiography Hot Air, Cool Music which I treasure.

I am aware that very many national and international jazz stars have guested with bands in the North West - players like Alvin Alcorn, Henry Red Allen, James Archey, Kenny Baker, John Barnes, Acker Bilk, Ruby Braff, Sandy Brown, Wendell Brunious, Campbell Burnap, Buck Clayton, Kid Sheikh Cola, Bill Coleman, Ken Colyer, Wild Bill Davison, Vic Dickenson, Al Fairweather, Pops Foster, Cie Frazier, Bud Freeman, Pat Halcox, Edmond Hall, Captain John Handy, Earl Hines, Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, Cy Laurie, George Lewis, Wingy Manone, Barry Martyn, Phil Mason, Louis Nelson, Albert Nicholas, Emanuel Paul, Alex Revel, Sammy Rimington, Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Sancton, Ken Sims, Kid Thomas Valentine, George Webb and Roy Williams.

If you were a musician or in the audience at any of these occasions what do you remember about it? It would be great if you took photographs at the event and could share them with us.

Brian Legan


11/11/20 -

Peter Swensson writes, "What a great idea of Brian's.

At the end of Bruce Turners session with the Savoy at the Hesketh Arms I gave Bruce one of the Savoy's band cards. I said if you are ever up in the North West again give me a ring and I'll see if I can arrange another gig for you. He studied the card for a few moments and then said " These are a good idea, I must get some. Where do you get them from?" I couldn't believe having being a pro all his life never had cards.

Also that evening he was selling his autobiography. Ken Horton bought one and asked Bruce if he would sign it for him. He duly signed it. In the morning Ken discovered Bruce had put " To Bruce from Ken". Maybe a collectors item!!!!

During Beryl Brydon's session with the Savoy at the Grange Moreton, Beryl shared with the band that the washboard she was playing was the very one used on the Rock Island Line session. I've attached a photo of the session courtesy of Terry Birkinhead.

 

The following email from Terry" :-

Yes, we did bring Beryl back from Malvern jazz festival at Tony Davis’s request, and she had mid-day lunch and early evening dinner with us.

At about 12.30pm, Tony rang and asked if I could get Beryl to Liverpool for 1.15pm for her to be interviewed on Radio Merseyside – from Newton-le-Willows, impossible ! About 1.15pm Beryl asked if she could listen in to Radio Merseyside, and we soon heard her laughing. In her words “The cheeky buggers – in place of me they are talking to a prostitute !” She is an accomplished seamstress, and while with us, she was embroidering a ‘necklet’ for her friend, the singer Adele Hall.


Years ago she had been an avid scuba diver, and she told us that Diz Disley told the tale of him lying on Bondi Beach, Sydney, when the Loch Ness monster emerged from the sea – Beryl in her scuba gear ! She said he was a cheeky sod.

She sat with us at The Grange, much to the locals’ surpris
e, drinking gin & T’s all night and never bought a round. I don’t think she even thanked us for the lift from Malvern or for our hospitality. Though we have two of her marvellous calendars – her drawings of the jazz greats – signed by her to us, and I think that she gave us one of those, so I might be being unfair.

To put it mildly, she was entertaining company !

Terry Birkenhead.

John Westwood sent me these recordings of Beryl, back in March 2012

 


11/11/20 -

Just to add more names to Brian Legan’s list of national and international jazz stars have guested with bands in the North West, I’m sure many local bands have great memories of special gigs. In addition to some of the guests Brian mentions, The Original Panama Jazzband hosted Humph many times, as well as Alan Elsdon, Tommy Burton, Kenny Ball (who told me to stick a cork up my a**e) (so I have); Pete Alan, Digby Fairweather (Almost struck dead by our heavy speaker and its stand falling forward off the high stage at the Leasowe Castle Hotel and just missing his right ear as he arrived and walked towards us); also George Chisholm. And when I was in the Blue Magnolia Jass Orchestra back in the late 60s / early70’s, I hired the whole Alex Welsh Band to perform at our residency at The Coffeehouse in Wavertree, Liverpool. I still have Alex’s letter confirming the gig at a cost of £175!   Bargain.

Sadly I don’t have any photos of these gigs. Nowadays there would be hundreds taken with smartphones.

Jon Critchley


 

Thanks to Bernard Selby for submitting this photograph. Bernard writes, "Here's one for the archive.  The picture was in the Stockport Express. Those long ago days when a jazz band had a picture in the local paper.  Jon Iddon, son of Tony, still has a frame with tickets from all the stars who played with the Red River, which somebody gave to Tony not long before he died. From that I know that this was taken on 13th February 1975, strangely enough a Thursday. Strangely, because the gigs at the Warren Bulkeley in Stockport were always on a Sunday, resulting in bad heads on Monday.

The line-up is L - R Alan Pendlebury (tbn), Pete Mooney (db), 'Wild' Bill Davison (cnt), Pete Staples (dms), Tony Iddon (clt & leader), Dave Mott (clt, alt, bar),  the pianist hiding behind Dave Mott is Roger Brown.

I won't tell you what 'Wild' Bill said when he saw the poster saying 'Bud Freeman is coming here.  Most importantly, the person in the leftish foreground is yours truly. It must be a long time ago I still had (some) hair!".

 


This is Cy Laurie guesting with The New Riverside Jazz Band in its early days upstairs at The Park Hotel, Lancaster. - Barrie Marshall

 


John Barnes guesting with the Savoy Jazzmen at The Grange, Moreton, for the Wirral Jazz Festival on 10/9/90. Brian Legan (clt) and Robbie Foster also in the photo.  Robbie noticed a label on John’s baritone sax. And said “ You’ve left the price label on your sax, John.” His reply – “Oh, no, - that’s the instructions !” - Terry Birkenhead


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