INSIGHTS ON IVOR
Part Twenty Nine
It probably comes as no surprise to you that because of my varied musical tastes when Skiffle arrived I was also caught up in it and joined the craze by buying my first guitar. This came about through another friend of Brother Bernard’s, Dickie Bishop, who played banjo occasionally with the Barber band, and guitar with Lonnie Donegan. Dickie had decided to change his guitar for another model and asked me if I’d like to buy his old model. As it was a Gibson, a make highly regarded as one of the best in the business I jumped at the chance.
I was also lucky that my brother Bert, who played saxophone and clarinet and had formed his own dance band, put me in touch with a brilliant guitar player by the name of Bert Kirby. I undertook lessons from this virtuoso of the guitar for the princely sum of ten shillings per lesson. This resulted in me mastering about six chords and suffering very red indented fingers as a result of the long hours of practicing. But the suffering was worthwhile because it meant that not only was I able to accompany myself when singing some of the skiffle and country and western songs I was also able to play my guitar along with my father on his mandolin banjo thus swelling the rhythm section whilst Bert on sax and Bernard on trumpet provided the melodies for the rest of the family to sing along to at the Hodgson annual Christmas Festivities. What wonderful happy memories I have of those joyful occasions.
At that same period in my life when learning to play the Guitar I was also having driving lessons. I would have a guitar lesson in the evenings and a driving lesson during the day. There was one classic moment when I was having a driving lesson the morning after a guitar lesson the evening before. I was driving along quite comfortably when the instructor gave me some particular instruction which I never heard quite clearly so he repeated it whereupon I said ‘Sorry, I forgot what key I was in’ instead of what ‘gear’ I was in. The incredulous look on the instructors face was a sight to behold. I imagined him telling all his fellow instructors back at the Driving Centre about the idiot he had today who forgot what key he was in and the laughter that resulted. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that somewhere my name is in included in a Driving Instructors Manual entitled ‘Idiots I’ve taught’
When Lonnie Donegan was with the Chris Barber Jazz Band there would be a half way break when the band was doing a concert. It was at this point when the Skiffle group would take over. This group comprised Lonnie playing his guitar and singing accompanied by Chris Barber on double bass, and I do mean a real double bass not a tea chest, plus Beryl Bryden on washboard. This Skiffle spot always received great acclaim and its popularity eventually led to Lonnie leaving the Barber Band and forming his own Skiffle Group. They went from strength to strength touring all over the UK , Europe and America where he appeared on the famous Ed Sullivan television show. It was amazing that here was a young British musician taking American Folk music to the land of its origin and introducing it to many of its citizens for the first time and receiving great acclaim for doing it.
I was lucky enough to meet Lonnie once. This came about through Dickie Bishop. Lonnie had just returned from another successful tour throughout America which included performing in Las Vegas and was appearing at London ’s Prince of Wales theatre. As all tickets for the show were sold Dickie and I were allowed to wait in Lonnie’s dressing room until he had finished his show. At the end Lonnie came off stage and after a brief rest to come down to earth from his highly adrenalin charged performance he proceeded to regale us with hilarious tales and anecdotes from his wonderful tour of the USA .
Whilst I enjoyed many of Lonnie’s Skiffle songs particularly the religious ones such as ‘Just a closer walk with Thee’ and ‘Precious Lord, Lead me on’ there is one number which for me is his best. Unlike the above mentioned type of song this one comes from a Broadway show, and subsequent film, called Bells are Ringing. The song is called ‘The Party’s Over’ which went on to say ‘it’s time to call it a day’. Lonnie sang this lovely song very slowly and with great feeling and emotion. It was a world away from many of his usual skiffle numbers. Unfortunately, the party was finally over and the time to call it a day came on November 3rd 2012 when Lonnie who was half way through a UK tour, and had a history of heart problems, collapsed and died aged 71 at Market Deeping in Lincolnshire .
My love for Trad Jazz continued and when my brother Bernard and his Band were engaged to perform every Sunday afternoon at the Hamborough Tavern in Hayes, Middlesex I would go along and help out by taking the money at the door whilst enjoying the music for free.
After the Second World War, there was an urgent need for the Government to build more houses to replace the loss of so many due to the Blitz leaving thousands of people homeless, particularly in the London area. It was decided that certain areas of the country would be developed as designated ‘New Towns’. Stevenage and Harlow in Essex were two such New Towns. Another one was Crawley in Sussex . At this time my brother Bernard and his wife Joan were living in a Flat in Greenford and they decided to upgrade and move to Crawley where they bought one of these new houses. They quickly settled in and it wasn’t long before Bernard, much to his delight; saw an advert for a trumpet player needed to join a Trad Band based in Crawley .
Although Crawley was, and still is, a town, it was decided that the band would use some poetic licence and so it was that The New City Jazzmen came into being. They were the first band to play at the Crawley Bandstand. This was a big success with the Saturday shoppers and was repeated many times thereafter. The band’s popularity grew quickly and they were in great demand, performing at Weddings, Anniversary and Birthday parties as well as corporate functions all over the Sussex and Surrey areas. L.P records and CD’S were made, copies of which I still have. They were featured and played on the BBC’S Jazz Club. Their success and popularity was to last for the next 54 years ending on the 31st December 2011 when they played, appropriately, their last gig at the Crawley Bandstand. Although it was a dark cold December night the people still turned out to hear them. It was also fitting that one of the numbers they played on that final concert was Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful World’. It certainly was on that memorable night in 2011. For anyone interested in learning more about this never to be forgotten group of individuals who bought so much pleasure to all devotees of Traditional Jazz I suggest you go onto Google and insert The New City Jazzmen – Crawley England and sit back and enjoy.
--End of Part Twenty Nine --