the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
If I could play like Wynton Marsalis
There is an advert on television at the moment, where an instructor is demonstrating fire drill to a group of young men. During the demo he asks a volunteer to fall backwards into him to show how he should be rescued. When the guy falls the instructor moves out of the way and the guy hits the ground. It reminds me of a similar joke that Oscar Rabin once told me, only this time it was a father and son joke.
"You're not going to catch me," says the boy. "I am, I am. On my mother's life, I swear I am going to catch you," says his dad. So the boy falls and hits the ground. His dad looks down at him. "Let that be a lesson to you," he says. "Never trust nobody."
Both Oscar and Harry Davis had a habit of carrying around a ten shilling note in their pocket books. If asked for a loan they would produce the book and say, "I'd like to help you, but lookthis is all I have myself."
One day Oscar said to me, "Tell you what my boy. If you can save up £50 I'll double it for you." That was a lot of money in the 1950s. He was paying me £12.10 a week, however many jobs I played with his band. So I saved the money. Took me a year. When I showed it to him he said, "There, you see? If I hadn't said that you'd still have nothing saved." No mention of his offer.
Later on, when one of the other guys in the band wanted to borrow £50 from him he said that he should borrow it from me. The other musician was my best friend at the time, so I loaned him the money and never saw it again. The interest on it now should be pretty high. Whenever I see the man, fifty years later, he never mentions the loan. Neither do I. I have my pride, even if he has none.
As soon as we moved down to live in Spain a lot of people suddenly remembered what a splendid chap I am, and how they'd just love to see me again. I could hardly remember some of them. I suppose they'd had a brief spell in one of the bands I 'd worked in during the 1950s and '60s, but, one after the other, over to sunny Spain they would come, turn up at the gate one day without any warning, and start unloading suitcases, diving gear and whatever. All ready for the big free holiday.
"Ah! What a shame!" I'd say, looking tremendously downhearted. "My sister, her husband, his mother, Granny and all the kids are coming to stay today. Should be here sometime this afternoon. So sorry. What was your name again?" I always took them to a nearby hotel, and it was gratifying to see their faces fall when they heard the overnight prices. That was usually the last I saw, or heard, of them.
Bob Adams called to say that he was in hospital. He had collapsed in his Kew apartment, phoned his wife in Cornwall, who told him to call for an ambulance. In the ambulance his heart stopped, and for several minutes he was dead. He reported that there were no stairs leading to heaven, no long tunnel with a bright light at the other end, no old man with a beard in flowing white robes, and, worst of all, no Charlie Parker, Chet Baker or Ronnie Scott to greet him at the gates. He fell asleep and woke up again. That was all.
He was now in Hammersmith hospital awaiting an operation, and gave me his bedside phone number. Next day I called and the number was unobtainable. When I called the hospital they would only give out information if I was his wife, mother, daughter or granny. His wife could not be reached. It was here that the power of the Internet came to the rescue.
I knew that the arranger/composer/bandleader Tony Osborne had, at one time, been married to Bob's wife's sister. Tony now lived in Sydney, Australia, and did not possess a computer, but the singer Alan Dean did, and they were mates. Alan had only recently sent me a photo of himself and dear old Woolfie Phillips, just before Woolfie died in Los Angeles. Alan told Tony, who gave him his ex-wife's number in Gloucester for me to call. Alan gave it to me and she gave me the new hospital number. When I called the hospital I was greeted by a woman who admitted, under pressure, that she had only just begun to work there, and that she was from Zimbabwe.
"Bobbaddams. He no here, man." Manuel in Fawlty Towers speaking.
"Would you look again, please? Bob Adams? Heart operation? Middle of chest, go tick-tock?"
"Hard operation? They all hard, man. Oh! He here. He in Tensive Care. He out, man. No can spik. You call later, OK." Down went the phone. She plenty damn busy, man.
I called Stan Reynolds and he went around to see Bob. All very exciting, really. Bob's OK now and has a new Aorta valve in his heart. "Pig?" said I. "No, it's from a cow," he said.
"Do you get any strange urges when you pass by a field with a bull in it?" I asked innocently, but he was not supposed to laugh until the stitches had come out.
I'd recently had an email from Dougie Robinson in Portugal. Dougie had played great lead alto in the Geraldo Orchestra for many years before moving over to the Parnell ATV television orchestra at Wood Green. Stan was going over there shortly to play golf in a tournament, so I was able to put them in contact with one another and they had a joyful reunion.
I was told by Bobby Pratt's widow Tina, who also lives in Sydney, that she was going to visit her aunt in California. I gave her Bob Efford's email address, and they exchanged some mail, and spoke on the telephone when she was there, but didn't meet. There was a festival in Los Angeles at the time, with about fifteen bands, and Bob was playing baritone sax in every one of them. One of the groups he really enjoyed was the Dave Pell Octet, where he played bass clarinet. Well that was a voice from the past! A really sensational group back in the 1950s and Bob says it brings back the memories when he sits in there. Sure does here, too.
On the long flight home Tina had a nasty attack of DVT that laid her low for several weeks. My wife had only recently been to Montevideo and had been lucky to come out afterwards unscathed. The flight to Uruguay was about seventeen hours in total darkness all the way. About halfway there she passed out for some unknown reason and didn't feel too well for the rest of the flight.
She had boarded the plane in Amsterdam, and they had a brief stopover in Paris. She told me that there was no smoking allowed as long as the plane was over France, but it was allowed once they had crossed the coast and were over the Atlantic.
Tenor sax man Heinz von Hermann came back from a China tour with his group. He had this to say about the trip.
He had written to say how sorry he was that his friend, the drummer Ronnie Stephenson, had passed away during his absence. I had been in close contact with a friend of Ronnie's, a drummer called Greg McCaffery. Ronnie was in a Dundee hospital suffering from cancer of the liver and Greg was giving me almost daily reports on Ronnie's condition. I had known and worked with Ronnie often, first in the Dankworth band, later in Berlin with the Radio Free Berlin big band, then on some tours he booked with Shirley Bassey and with Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination & Brass. It was a very sad time for all of us. After he died his wife Jean took a short holiday in Malaga. She phoned me from there, and we talked about old times. We shared a great many memories.
On a lighter note I received an email from a man in Seattle who said that we had been in the same class at the Coventry Technical College during the war, had been in the same ATC (Air Training Corps) band, and, what's more, he had married a girl who had lived only two doors away from me! Trouble was, I couldn't remember him. Just a faint recollection of a fair-haired kid with glasses. Then a book arrived, written by a Coventry musician about all of his mates. I wasn't actually one of his mates, but he'd asked for permission to include a couple of things he'd seen on my website, so the Author page, and also my tribute to the Coventry trumpeter Cyril Narbeth were in the book. There, too, was a long piece by my new friend, John Spencer, who had made a name for himself as a drummer after I left Coventry for the big bands, and was now also well-known in Seattle, having worked with people of the stature of Chet Baker and Art Blakey.
The book was amazing. It contained the life stories of all the lovely people I had worked with as a semi-professional musician in the last days of the war - many of them now still alive and still playing. And there was a long piece all about my pal Pete Warner, who had played tenor sax in many bands with me, including the great Vic Lewis band of 1951, where he sat alongside Ronnie Scott. His memoirs, in fact. When I told Pete about the book he called up the author for a copy, only to be told that the book would cost him £15.
I was very interested in the news that John, the man in Seattle, had married a girl who had lived only two doors away from me in the Norman Place Road. For two doors away had lived my childhood sweetheart, Jean Sadler. This girl was also called Jean. My heart began beating faster; silly really, because we would both now be 75 years old. Still, a sweetheart is a sweetheart, and I could still see her in my mind, both of us barely fifteen and innocent, hanging out of our bedroom windows ogling one another, pretending to do our homework. Nothing could be sweeter than that.
But we spoke on the telephone, and oh! still my beating heart! - she'd lived two doors in the other direction and I could hardly remember her. In the house between us lived the now famous Billy Tallon, the late Queen Mother's butler. He had been 12 years old at the time and had complained bitterly whenever I practised the trumpet. I mentioned this elsewhere on this website and it was picked up by the Daily Express when the Queen Mother died. What did I know about Billy? Well, nothing. Still, I got my name printed in the Daily Express, alongside that of the Queen Mother. Henry MacKenzie saw the item, cut it out and gave it to Stan Reynolds who sent it to me. Fame at last.
Here's something to think about. Heinz included it in his letter sent after the China tour.
Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved