Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A poster from the past

Last week I received an email from my old mate, fellow blogger and Blue Two and a Half, Leigh Heggarty. Leigh had, in the course of his guitar tuition activities, acquired this old poster advertising events for January 1985 at the jazz club that I ran for several years at The Load of Hay public house in Uxbridge, Middlesex.  Being the good soul that he is, he had forwarded a copy to me, along with a copy of his latest poster advertising events at the club he now runs at that same venue.

 This of course was where the recent Blue Five reunion took place earlier this year, and where the Jugular Vein had played one of their first gigs in the late 1960’s. One way and another I’ve had connections to this pub for over forty years!

Seeing the poster after all this time brought back a lot of memories about the musicians involved. Some of them I am still in touch with, two of them are no longer with us but the rest are still playing – and playing well. I’ve had a snoop around on the net and found a fair amount of material about them so I thought I’d compile it all here. I was also very fortunate in that many of the gigs were documented in pictures by a young photographer called Chris Warren who was just starting his career. All the black and white images on this posting are his handiwork (and, incidentally, his copyright). I tracked him down on the net after I started writing this piece, having lost touch with him some twenty or more years ago and was pleased to learn that he was still taking photographs for a living. He has a thriving business and an excellent web site with many examples of his work which you can find here.

The late Matt Matthewson was a fine pianist who was born in that most unlikely source of jazz musicians, The Shetland Isles. He was the younger (I think) brother of the more well known Ron Matthewson, who played double bass with Ronnie Scott Quartet for many years. I’m not sure what had happened, but at some point not long before I met him Matt had had an accident which had affected his behaviour some what. As a consequence he was not always the most reliable musician, and had been known not to turn up for a gig - or to turn up but to forget his piano, as happened at my club once. But for all this Matt was still worth booking because he was a great and inventive player who always provided an evening of excellent and thought-provoking music. Sadly I have only been able to find this rather poorly recorded example to illustrate this. I post one here by way of memory jogger to any one out there who has memories of Matt or, better still, recordings or video footage of him.

Matt was accompanied on this occasion by the club’s resident musicians – The Coverdale/McCartney Trio, featuring Martin Hart. 

Guitarist John Coverdale is playing as well as ever and works regularly in the Home Counties. John, like me, started his musical life in the folk clubs before moving into life as a professional musician. Unlike me he went the academic route and went back to study music, eventually attending one of the Dankworth/Laine Wavendon music courses.

 I caught up with him earlier this year when we had the opportunity of playing together at the same function which saw the partial reunion of the Jugular Vein. Despite appearances, I am in fact playing percussion and not squaring up for a fight with the invisible man...

The late John McCartney played electric bass in this unit and was one of the few players of that instrument that many of the London based jazz fraternity would work with. John was a dazzling player who swung like crazy, was tremendously supportive of other musicians and was a fine soloist in his own right. It is my intention to devote a whole posting to John in the near future.

Drummer Martin Hart completed that trio. He has a very subtle touch and a very musical ear, and always listens intently to the players he is working with. Martin was never one to blow his own trumpet, so to speak, but he had worked with names as diverse as Dudu Pukwana and John Mayall.

I found this clip of him playing at a jazz club in Surrey in 2008. Unfortunately he's impossible to see because of the juxtaposition of the camera and the saxophonist's sheet music, but you can hear him well enough! 

Inigo Kilborn is the musician about whom I know least. He only played the one gig for me and I can’t now recall anything about that evening. I can’t even remember what the instrumentation of his group was, let alone who the musicians were, although judging by the musical company he keeps these days (John Horler, Malcolm Creese and ex Load of Hay regular Max Brittain) they would have been top drawer players. I have found a couple of clips of Inigo but these seem to show him playing Dixieland!

The third Sunday of January 1985 saw the resident trio supporting chromatic harmonica player Harry Pitch. Harry was another regular at the club. He made a good living from session work but jazz is his first love and he is one of the ever growing numbers of improvising musicians whose first choice of instrument is the harmonica. (In fact, the harmonica is in its second phase of ascendancy at the moment – see this posting on the National Harmonica League’s web site – and Harry was part of the tail-end of the first wave so he spans both phases.) Not many people know him for his jazz playing but most people in England are probably familiar with the theme music for ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’. Harry played this for the first twenty five years of the series. He provided harmonica for a number of chart singles over the years, including ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’. -  Oh, and he played on the theme music for the cult BBC detective series ‘Shoestring’, which ran between 1979 and 1980. Anyway, Harry is still playing and I found this clip of him with Rhythm and Reeds, a group he has run with accordionist Jack Emblow (another regular at the club) for many years. 

Incidentally, the bass player here is Pete Morgan, and a quick glance at the poster will tell you that he replaced John McCartney in the resident trio for the last gig of that January. In fact Pete was a regular ‘dep’ for John at the club, as was fellow double bassist John Rees Jones. All three were busy session players and shared the honours between them, but it was always John McCartney’s first-call gig.

The guest for that Sunday was John Nixon, whose first instrument was another most unlikely source of jazz – the English Concertina!  (Scroll down this list of recordings to find some examples of his  work.) John also plays alto saxophone and double bass (although since heart problems in the early eighties he abandoned double bass in favour of the acoustic bass guitar, which was much easier to manage. 

These days he sticks mostly to the concertina but is still playing the occasional jazz gig. John had two independent careers – one as an engineer and the other as a musician – but the music was always the most important thing in his life. He was a much-in-demand session musician who has played for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, The Kinks(!) and Michel Legrand, as well as providing concertina music (and, where necessary, a dummy concertina for the actor) for more TV and Radio productions than you can shake a sick at. Now retired, he still pushes boundaries and for the last few years has been experimenting with a concertina with built-in MIDI interface. Alas, I could find no footage of John playing jazz, although I do have some in my own archives and hope to upload something in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, here is one of John’s MIDI experiments.

If there is anyone out there who was a Load of Hay regular back then, I would be pleased to hear from you. And if anyone has an old poster, or some photos, audio recordings or video footage I shall be absolutely delighted to hear from you! Just think, all that great music and an entry fee of just £1. No wonder I never got rich. As the old joke goes – “How do you make a jazz musician into a millionaire? Give him two million”

Sunday, 5 September 2010


I’m very fond of the music of a number of French composers and on my recent journeyings in France found myself thinking about how much some of this music seems to reflect the French countryside. Now this may well be purely my imagination at work but the feeling is nevertheless there, in the same way that the music of Delius, for instance, always seems intensely English, even when the work in question is inspired by France or America ( for example, March Caprice, American Rhapsody). Maybe I’m guilty of whatever the musical equivalent of anthropomorphism is, but when all is said and done the music of Debussy, Ravel, and, to a degree, Saint-Saëns and Bizet still conjures up visions of French landscapes for me (with the possible exceptions of 'Carmen', ‘Bolero’ and ‘Danse Macabre’). I’m also enthusiastic about the works of Ibert but these seem much more cosmopolitan to me.

Anyway, enough of these ramblings – here are a few examples of what I’m talking about. You may not agree with me but I’m not trying to lay down any laws here, merely giving a point of view. First off, here’s a favourite piece of mine – Le Tombeaux de Couperin by Maurice Ravel. This was originally written for piano and was orchestrated by the composer in 1920 (although he omitted two of the original piano movements). My first introduction to this work was – somewhat surprisingly - a performance of the prelude by the jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton. He recorded it in 1969 on an album called ‘Country Roads and Other Places’, dueting with himself on piano and vibes. From there I found the original piano work and then subsequently the orchestral version. If I had to choose between them it would be the piano version that would win out but I still retain a great fondness for Burton’s version. By way of a compromise, here is a clip of Vlado Perlemuter playing the prelude. I trawled through a lot of clips before settling on this one. In my opinion many orchestras and pianists take it far too quickly, but Perelmuter has the measure of this work perfectly. Check for yourselves – there are innumerable versions posted so have a listen to some and see what you make of them.

Another Ravel favourite is the string quartet. The pizzicato movement from this has been used as incidental music for several films and television programmes over the years but despite this rough treatment the work still holds up for me. That movement has also been performed on the appropriate members of the mandolin family, in a multi-tracked version by the American mandolinist/guitarist Mike Marshall (this is on a very fine album called Gator Strut). Here, however, the pizzicato movement is played by the American String Quartet.

Now here’s an interesting little test of my feelings viv a vis the French countryside and the music. I found this clip of ‘Carillon’ from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No 1, which has been set to film of windmills in Sussex. It’s a very pretty juxtaposition but despite this I still feel a distinct mismatch between the two elements.

The first two pieces of Debussy that I ever heard were ‘The Golliwog’s Cakewalk’ and ‘Clair de Lune’. The former on BC Radio’s ‘Children’s Hour' in the very early 1950’s and the latter on an EP bought by my older brother, ‘Alcohol’ sometime around 1956 or 57 (see Classical Guess). Later I was to learn that Charlie Parker was much influenced by the harmonies of Debussy and Ravel and was to become well acquainted with their more sophisticated compositions but I have to confess that these two pieces were what kick-started my interest. Incidentally, for those of you who – like me – blench somewhat at the non-pc title of the cakewalk, here’s a link to some interesting observations. Anyway, here’s a piano roll of Debussy himself performing that work, and one of Mária Kovalszki performing Clair de Lune.

It goes without saying that this is by no means a definitive selection. There is a wealth of material to be discovered if you are not already familiar with these composers, but the clips by and large represent the start of my own interest in them. and my recent French trip made me think about them in a new light so I reckon they’re as good a starting point as any.