Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Folk me sideways part 1

In September of 1961 I left school. I had returned after the summer holidays for my GCE ‘O’ level year and had been summoned to the headmaster’s office. I was by now an active CND member and Committee of 100 supporter and this fact had come to his attention. Furthermore, I was now wearing a CND badge to school, which was guaranteed to cause grief. It did. There was a short discussion during which the headmaster suggested that I remove the badge without further ado and I suggested that this was unlikely to happen and he suggested that if I didn’t remove it I should go home and I said “Goodbye” and walked out of school, never to return.

To say that my father was not pleased would be something of an understatement. After much shouting and threatening I was duly despatched to the local careers advice officer, who frowned at my CND badge and asked me about my hobbies and interests. “Music” I said, “art, literature and drama”. He pondered this for a minute or two, jotted a couple of notes on a pad, pushed said pad to one side, folded his hands and pronounced sentence. “Tell me” he enquired, “have you ever thought about the army?” I got up and left without bothering to reply.

By the Wednesday of the following week I had found myself a job with a literary...ish connection. I was due to start work the following Monday for W. H. Smith’s as a trainee assistant manager on their Uxbridge Underground Station book and paper stall, at the princely wage of £4. 10 shillings per week. Of this I would pay £3 a week for my keep and the rest was mine to forge a life with. On the Thursday I learnt that the film Jazz on a Summer's Day was showing at a nearby cinema and managed to persuade my mother to advance me some of the wages that would be mine at the end of the following week. I spent the money on three consecutive nights watching the movie and came to the conclusion that life might not be so bad…The downside to this jazz feast was that it involved first sitting through Raising the Wind, an appalling sub -‘Carry On’ type British film comedy set in a music school and starring Kenneth Williams and James Robertson Justice. The upside was that I got to hear and see the likes of Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer, Chico Hamilton, Anita O'Day and Thelonious Monk every night for three days. (It never occurred to me at the time that I should not bother with the second feature – however bad it was. I had, after all, paid for it.) Here are some clips (from the main feature!)

Here's the opening sequence with the Jimmy Giuffre Three - Giuffre, Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer - playing 'The Train and the River'

Here's Thelonious Monk with 'Blue Monk'

and here's The Chico Hamilton Quintet playing 'Blue Sands'

By way of contrast I had also become a firm fan of The Temperance Seven (see Pop and me). I think that it was the Hayes branch of the YCND who promoted a concert featuring them at a local school. It was certainly through fellow members that I heard about it. With my friend Paul I had founded the Hillingdon branch of the YCND but its membership had been small. We had amalgamated with the Hayes branch having met up with a lot of them on that year’s Aldermaston March and I had made a lot of new friends, many of whom were into both ‘trad’ and folk music. One or two of the hipper ones were also into modern jazz. Suddenly I was mixing with people of my own age who shared my musical interest and my politics.

I think that the ‘Temps’ gig was the first proper music concert (we had not yet learnt to call them ‘gigs’) that I ever attended. I had, by this time, joined the Jazz Book Club and I remember somewhat pretentiously taking my latest purchase along (I think it might have been Barry Ulanov’s ‘The Jazz Handbook’) and getting the band to sign it for me. The uniform cover design for the series consisted of the title of the book printed over a collage of cartoon instruments – saxophone, trumpet, trombone, drums etc. - and each member of the band signed over the appropriate instrument. It makes me squirm more than some what to think of it now, but I was delighted at the time. The novelty must have worn off a long time ago because I can’t for the life of me remember what I did with it. My remaining Jazz Book Club books went to the charity shop about three years ago and that one wasn’t among them.

My interest in folk music continued to grow, spurred on by a combination of my regular dips into the Topic Records catalogue and my newfound friendships. There was also a growing ‘can-do’ attitude, born initially from the idea of promoting fund-raising concerts for the cause. I attended a number of CND benefit concerts around this time at venues ranging from The Albert Hall, Kensington Gore (home of the Promenade Concerts) to The Albert Hall, Hayes (home of the Hayes and Harlington Spiritualist Society). It was at the latter venue that I first heard Louis Killen in person, having previously bought some of his EPs of Tyneside and Northumbrian songs. At the former I got my first taste of George Melly and also of ‘Professor' Bruce Lacey and The Alberts (more of them later).

Around about this time I also joined the Hayes Young Socialists and started to attend meetings. It was through the YS connection that I was elected as a representative to Southall Trades Council to help in the setting up of Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42 Festival in Hayes. This in turn would shunt me sideways into setting up my first folk club…

To be continued...