Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

It's Trad, dad

By 1959 a lot of things were beginning to change for me. I had passed the 13+ (technical) exam and gained a place at Southall Technical College, the family had moved (instead of living in the flat over the shop we now lived in a three bedroomed semi with a large garden, about a quarter of a mile away from it) I had acquired my first guitar and I had abandoned The Eagle comic in favour of a weekly publication entitled Jazz News. I was also beginning to become politicised. These things affected me in various ways.

The move to the new school was a bit of a shock to my system. I had hated my Secondary Modern school even more than I had hated Primary school and so had made a determined effort to pass the exam that would get me out of there. Quite how I emerged as suitable fodder for the Technical curriculum is anybody's guess - and anybody less suited to such a regime than me would be very hard to find. I had (and have) no mechanical aptitude or enthusiasm, an interest in chemistry that extended only as far as the ability to create spectacular explosions from common household ingredients (under the helpful tutelage of my friend, Fen), a total lack of interest in Physics and a total lack of comprehension of applied mathematics. The only other 'grown up' discipline that I tackled was Economics and here I waded in with great enthusiasm, writing long and closely reasoned essays that were invariably marked with an 'E' and deemed 'socialistic nonsense' by the Economics master.

In my first year at Southall Tech I had developed an unpleasant and disabling skin disease that affected my hand and feet, resulting in a long period of hospitalisation and recuperation that meant that I was away from school for best part of half a year. The good part was that I was excused engineering when I returned, on the grounds that I was probably allergic to the various greases, oils and cutting compounds that one came into constant contact with in the engineering work shops. As a consequence I started spending two whole afternoons a week in the newly commissioned Art Department (The 'Tech' was soon to be amalgamated with Southall Grammar School and as a consequence their was a statutory requirement for Art facilities as the Grammar's intake started at age 11). This 'art' time was also to prove influential in my life.

Sadly, I can find no trace of information about Jazz News on line, but I remember the publication with great affection. The infamous 'Trad' boom was beginning to happen, which meant that the cover story was generally about Chris Barber, Acker Bilk or Kenny Ball, but within its pages (all of which I devoured avidly -up to and including the publishing and printing details in small print at the bottom of the last page) all forms of jazz and related musical forms were catered for. I'm pretty sure that that was where I saw a review of Red Bird Dancing on Ivory, a poetry and jazz experiment by Christopher Logue and The Tony Kinsey Quintet (an EP which I immediately went out and bought). It was certainly where I first saw an advertisement for a Topic EP entitled 'All For Me Grog' by A.L.Lloyd, which introduced me to English folk music, although this was not until about 1961). I also remember seeing an ad in the classified section which offered jazz piano lessons given by somebody with the unusual name of Manfred Mann.

The main change in my life that the guitar brought about at this point was sore fingers. It took me a very long time to master my first three chords as I am not by nature very dexterous, but I did plug away fairly determinedly, despite always having to ensure that my father was nowhere in the vicinity before I started to practice. I managed to get the E and A major chords under my belt fairly quickly, but the contortions required for the B7 chord remained so foreign to my fingers that a slick change was next to impossible for me. I recently found a photograph in my archives, taken in late 1962, of my friend Paul and I playing and singing together in a pub. As he pointed out to me when I sent a copy to him (and that's another story!), my hand is firmly locked in the B7 position although I am not actually playing at that point, whilst Paul is clearly playing E7 ( D7 capo-ed at the 2nd fret). I'm damned sure that I'm holding on to that chord shape so that I don't forget it.
I'm sure that Jazz News also heralded the Beaulieu Jazz Festival of 1959, which I have strong memories of watching on TV. That strange brief emergence of 'Trad' (or British Traditional jazz - most of which was dominated by the incessant plunking of a banjo) as a pop music fad had just started to happen and the Beaulieu event, which was a clearly recogniseable ancestor of today's pop festivals, featured quite a lot of it. Trad was also beginning to find its way onto all sorts of pop programmes on both radio and television. My father walked into the living room one day when I was watching one of these programmes. The band - probably Barber's, Ball's or Bilk's - were on a bandstand in the studio and a bunch of young and (to my father's jaundiced eye) extremely eccentrically dressed people were skip-jiving to them. "What in God's name is all that about?" said the old man. "It's trad." I replied. "Baah!" he spat. (He really did used to say Baah.) "They're just a load of pimps and panders!" Then he stalked out of the room leaving me somewhat baffled. At the age of fourteen I had some notion of what a pimp was but as yet was only aware of panda's with an 'a', and thought it quite the most peculiar insult I had ever heard.
By the start of the sixties, an increasingly 'must-have' item of apparel was the C.N.D. badge, and one was frequently to be seen adorning the baggy jumper that was part of the trad uniform. My brother, Alcohol, had recently finished his National Service and was beginning to get involved with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It was not long before I, too, was sporting a badge and attending 'Ban the Bomb' demonstrations, where trad jazz and folk music was much in evidence. I began to meet like-minded people that lived near by and to hang out with them of an evening. Meanwhile, back at school, I was becoming more and more of an outsider. Most of my fellow pupils were into The Shadows, motorbikes and football and I had no time for any of these things. In the meanwhile I had made good use of my art room time and gained a Royal Drawing Society Diploma. On the strength of this I was offered a place at Art school but my father refused me permission to take up the offer, on the grounds that he wasn't going to '...have a damn beatnik in the family...'.
Battle lines were being drawn.