A Minstrel in Spain
Chapter Eleven

Journeys to the East

As if by magic, good players started to arrive in the band. Leo Wright came in on lead alto, Phillip Catherine on guitar, Charles Orieux on bass trombone, Carmel Jones on trumpet, and the Austrian Heinz von Hermann on tenor. I was supposed to be the official lead trumpet, but Paul brought in his friend from Kurt Edelhagen’s band as well, the Yugoslav Milo Pavlovic. I was delighted, because the work we were doing was too much for one man to play. In fact Milo took over the lion’s share of work, which left me very little to do, and much time for thinking.

Milo was a large heavy man with an enormous black beard. This caused him to move around slowly and gravely, like a king. When he spoke it was in weighty, measured Winston-Churchill-like tones. When he ate he usually ordered two meals, a steak perhaps, with a goulash on the side, in case he felt hungry afterwards. The good living had caused his legs to swell up alarmingly, and gave him considerable problems, which was probably the reason for his majesterial gait. He was an extremely good trumpet player, with an impressive range and a beautiful warm sound that made him very much in demand as a sweet soloist.

Milo was a chess master. Now I had studied chess for many years, and reckoned myself to be not half bad at the game. When I played Milo he would anger me right at the beginning by pointing at a square on the board and saying, ‘This is where I will win.’

Later in the game, after a series of cunning and devious stratagems I would have him trapped and helpless. Looking up in triumph I would discover Milo looking at me in grave amusement.

‘And now,’ he’d say, ‘I’m going to smash you.’ He then proceeded to do so, right on the square he’d pointed out earlier.

Milo travelled up to Reykjavik in 1972 to see the Fischer/Spassky match. Once there he ensconced himself in the restaurant, in front of a large TV set, and watched the games from there. When I pointed out that we had been able to do exactly the same thing with our sets at home he spoke at length of the atmosphere of the place—of the thrill of actually being there. I don’t believe that he even caught a glimpse of Fischer.

When the Berlin radio band finally broke up he tried his hand at bandleading. During the break-up he fell out with Paul Kuhn so badly that Paul then made it clear that any musician in Germany working for Milo would never be employed in his band. This meant that Milo could only have a band if he booked English musicians, something that he did for several years.

Milo liked to smoke small, black, very strong, Dannemann cigars. Working beside him in the resulting cloud of smoke became a problem until I realised that the only thing I could do about that was to smoke the same cigars. This I did, and together we kicked up a pretty good stink in the studio that earned us the fear and disgust of everyone.

Milo and I got on fine, and Åke was more than pleased when Slide Hampton joined the band. His only problem was with the Frenchman Charles Orieux, who was on bass trombone.

Charles wore glasses with a lens as thick as the bottom of a bottle of Schnaps. To read music he put another pair on top of them with even thicker lenses, so that his glasses stuck out like a pair of binoculars attached to his head.

With all that glass to peer through he attained real time tunnel vision. He could only see a little bit of the part at once, and the mechanism of the bass trombone forced him to keep the music way over on the right of the music stand. This meant him stopping playing at the end of each page to turn the part, whereas everyone else could read the opened-out double sheets right off.

Charles stopping playing like that used to infuriate Åke, and he would often nudge Charles’s music stand at the changeovers, to try and make the music fall off on to the floor. Charles would get his knee up to prevent this, and they would get into a leg-wrestling match that usually caused the rest of the guys to break up.

Slide, Leo Wright, Åke, Milo, Heinz von Hermann and Carmel gave that band a whole lot of class, something that no other radio band in Germany has ever had, or ever will have.

Some of the music we played had been written by Francy Boland. Francy was a very quiet guy. He was a brilliant arranger, but if you met him anywhere he was very shy and retiring. He had a contract with a guy in Cologne called Gigi Campi who owned an ice-cream parlour to make those great Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland records of the 1960’s. When the contract ended he never appeared again with the band. Several of the guys went into Peter Herbolzheimer’s band after that.

One of the arrangers for the band in Berlin was the Scottish trumpet player Jimmy Deuchar. I’d played with Jimmy, of course, in Jack Parnell’s band back in 1953, and he’d been a great arranger even then. Later on, Kurt Edelhagen had contracted Jimmy, with Derek Humble and Ken Wray to join his band in Cologne.

Milo had played lead trumpet with Kurt at the time, and he told me of all the troubles Edelhagen had had with the trio. Of course they had troubles, just as I had with Max Greger. British players just won’t put up with all the nonsense that goes on in the German bands.

Jimmy got fed up and left after a few years to go back and live in his home town of Dundee.

Edelhagen had lots of foreigners in the band then, from Yugoslavia, Belgium, America, Britain, Austria and Holland. None of them could stand him. I only spoke to Edelhagen once and that was more than enough for me.

He seemed to come out with something inane every time he opened his mouth. One of the guys who did some gigs with the band once took along a Walkman to record some of the things Kurt said during recording sessions. In the evenings the guys gathered in his hotel room for the playback and fell about listening to it all again.

It had to be a great band, with all those guys in it, but Edelhagen let his his musicians down very badly. Many of them had left a pensionable job in the radio station in Baden-Baden to go with him to Cologne, where they had been promised a similar deal. More than twenty years later, when Edelhagen died and the band broke up, they were all still only employed on a temporary basis.

The Edelhagen band was contracted to provide the music for the German Olympic Games, held in the new Munich stadium in 1970. The music was written by the arranging/composing team of Peter Herbolzheimer, Jerry van Rooyen, and Dieter Reith, and it was sensational, so much so that Edelhagen and the three arrangers were awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Distinguished Service Cross)—the highest honour a German civilian can attain.

Derek Humble died in the late 60’s, having covered himself with glory in the Clarke/Boland band. He was quite possibly one of the finest lead alto players in the world at the time. I saw Derek not long before he died. His girl-friend had just passed away. As we walked through the streets of Cologne he described the final days of her life to me. I had never seen Derek so depressed. It was impossible to cheer him up. I doubt whether he ever really recovered from that.

Ken Wray left Edelhagen and came back to London when I was in the Ted Heath band. Don Lusher talked Ted into giving Ken a job. When he turned up the airline had mislaid his trombone on the flight back, and he had to borrow Ted’s old one.

As far as I know, Ken had been using a valve trombone for some time now. Ted’s was a slide trombone, and Ken was in trouble right away. To make matters worse, his eyes were pretty bad, and his special reading glasses had been in the lost trombone case. It was a catastrophic evening for him. He was trying to play unfamiliar music with a strange mouthpiece on a strange instrument with his head bent down forward almost touching the music stand. He didn’t stand a chance. I felt sorry for him, because he was a great player, and he needed the job pretty badly.

Ken got into a bad way after that. He was ill a lot, but his main problem had always been drink and drugs. When he got drunk he was obnoxious. Kathy Stobart invited him in a weak moment to a dinner she gave in her house in Norbury. A lot of the wives were there.

Ken came in drunk and ugly, dragging some hooker with him. He became unpleasant during the meal and started throwing his food around, disgusting everyone. Finally, when my wife told him to behave himself he told her very loudly to f— off. At once I threw a glass of beer in his face, like they do in the B movies. Then I grabbed my wife and we left.

I had to go back the next day and say I was sorry to Kathy. When she opened the door she put her arms around me and we had a little cry with one another. Ken had left at once after the incident. Within twenty-four hours the story had gone right around the business. I saw Ken a couple of days later, and we embraced and apologised.

Ken was the one who moved in with Bert Courtley, when Bert had become hopelessly hooked on a well-known cough mixture that was later analysed as being opium-based. This was probably unknown to Bert at the time, but he just couldn't shake the habit. I don’t know whether Ken was trying to stop Bert or encourage him. After Bert died Ken went back up to Manchester, where he, too, died later on.

Now Jimmy was the only one left out of the quintet I’d more or less grown up with in the big bands—Jimmy Deuchar, Tubby Hayes, Phil Seamen, Derek Humble, Ken Wray—all gone before they reached middle age.

My first apartment in the Kurfürstendamm belonged to a tennis teacher called Werner Gebbers. This guy owned a Tennisplatz behind the apartment block, where Joe Harris used to win the tournament cups. I played tennis there with Äke a lot. I enjoyed the game, laughing and cracking jokes all the time, pretty carefree.

Åke never looked happy, playing each shot with grim determination, taking lessons, and practising in his spare time. He told me that his only reason for playing was to get good enough to win the tennis cup away from Joe.

In winter my landlord Werner Gebbers taught ice skating in Garmisch. That’s how I managed to rent the apartment for three or four months.

He had the place all done up like a brothel, with mirrors over the bed, and red lights all above and around it, silk hangings, satin sheets, several sexy nightdresses in the wardrobe, the lot. There was a photograph of him with his arm around the film star James Mason, with Thanks Werner written across it. He’d apparently been contracted to teach Mason to skate for some film or other in the past.

I spotted an old sixteen millimetre film projector at the back of a cupboard, and several cans of film. One evening, at a loose end, I threaded it up and switched on.

The films contained several hours of close-ups of Adolf Hitler. The cameraman, obviously Werner himself, must have been by the Führer’s side constantly. The films seemed to have been taken late in the war, because Hitler looked exhausted. There were no scenes of a jubilant population giving the Hitler Salute, just country roads, seemingly endless Autobahns and mountain scenes. Eva Braun was with him sometimes, and his Alsation dog. They were all intimate shots, obviously for Hitler’s private collection. On some of the reels made in Berchtesgaden you could see Martin Borman, and, now and again, Albert Speer. Nobody was doing much smiling. When the war ended suddenly Werner had kept the films.

It was pretty weird, sitting there alone in the dark, with all that stuff going off on the screen. I actually felt scared some of the time, as if the Gestapo were liable to burst in on me at any moment. I never told anyone about the films. There are still some things that it’s better not to discuss in Germany.

As a West Berliner my current girl friend Pepi couldn’t visit her mother, or even phone her, so I became the courier for everything. Her father, a Jewish restaurant owner, had been murdered by the nazis and she had spent some of the war years, with her mother and her girl friend, in Ravensbruck concentration camp. Her mother was still living in one of their houses in Berlin-Buch, in the east zone, while Pepi had escaped to the west just before the Wall was built.

In those days it was no fun going into East Berlin, but I had to drive through Pankow and Köpernick to get to the village on the other side in the east zone where her mother lived.

I nearly filled my pants every time I went through Checkpoint Charlie to the East Berlin checkpoint. The car was partially dismantled, seats lifted, everything poked and prodded by a guy toting a submachine gun. Mirrors were rolled under the car, to see whether anyone was hanging underneath. The paperwork was awesome. But somehow I got in and out without mishap. Only once did anything happen.

The East German checkpoint looked as it had been run up out of hardboard by an amateur. The guards wore drab, greasy, lumpy unpressed uniforms, and drab, greasy, lumpy expressions. They never smiled. There was a woman guard there who had understudied for the witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They took away your passport and posted it into a hole in the wall behind them. There it was examined, X-rayed, compared with a list, spectroscoped and looked at under infra-red lighting.

You stood there, wondering whether you would ever get it back. Twenty yards away, on the other side of the border, stood a detachment of armed American soldiers, but they may as well have been way back home in Indiana. If the East Germans decided to keep you, maybe on a trumped up charge of spying, no one could do anything about it.

When the passport emerged from the hole once more the guard would stare at you, then at the photo, then back, like in the toilet scene in Firefox. You were supposed to stand there stone-faced. If you smiled you had something to hide.

All people crossing over were forced to change twenty Westmarks to Ostmarks at 1 to 1 on each visit. As the unofficial rate was 1 to 7 the East Germans made a profit every time. Upon leaving the east once more you were asked what you had done with the twenty Ostmarks. I always said that I had given them away. This seemed to satisfy them.

In the early days it was a straight run through both checkpoints from the western side, with only the heavy steel barber poles being raised and lowered to allow cars through.

One day, as I was just about to get back in my car on the east side, with all my papers in my hand, one of the guards told me to lay down quick on the ground.

The next moment everyone was shooting away like crazy at a car which was trying to run the gauntlet right through both barriers. I was down behind the guard hut with my hands over my ears, wondering about ricochets, and having a quiet fit of the horrors. When it was all over the car was gone. It had crashed right through to the western side. We learned later that the people inside had rigged up some sort of armour-plating behind the seats.

Next time I went through the checkpoint they’d built a concrete chicane in there. That was the last time anyone was going to be able to attempt that means of escape.

Still people tried. One family managed to get over by rigging an overhead cable to a building in the west, with the help of some friends, and sailing over the Wall on the cable, holding on to a pulley arrangement. After that no one was allowed within a hundred metres of the Wall. They even shot dogs that tried to swim across the river Spree.

Pepi’s mother was a little crazy, after all she’d been through. Actually it would be kinder to say that she was eccentric, the way people get when they live alone a lot. She lived in a garden hut in her own back garden, while strangers lived in the actual house. In the east single persons were not allowed to have a whole house to themselves. If someone died, or got married, leaving only one person in the house, they had to get out, even if they owned the place.

She received a state controlled rent for the two-family house of eighty marks a month. This was the equivalent of eleven Westmarks. A house of that description in West Berlin would have fetched a thousand marks a month. From the eighty marks she was supposed to keep the place in a good state of repair. For the violent death of her husband from the nazis she received nothing. The western government paid her a widow’s pension for that into a West Berlin bank every month. The Communists used to try and get rid of all the old people over to the west, to avoid having to pay them a pension.

I used to take coffee, soap, toothpaste and chocolate to Pepi’s mother. Everything was controlled at the checkpoint. If I had one ounce too much of anything I had to leave my car there, walk back over to Checkpoint Charlie, and give it to the American soldiers there to keep for me. Even a plastic bag with a West German logo was not allowed in. I took coffee and soap over once in a bag that had a picture of a cow on the side. Deutsche Markenbutter it said. I was told that it would not be allowed to take the bag into East Berlin.

I pointed out that it was a German cow. Ah yes! But not an East German cow.

When I tried to take a new hot water heater over for Pepi’s mother it wasn’t allowed in because the name of the manufacturer AEG was on the apparatus.

I took it back to the west side of the checkpoint. The American soldier there said ‘Wait a minute. The old bag goes off at five. Then you can take it over.’ This turned out to be true. The new east border guard allowed the heater through as long as I stuck a piece of tape over the offending three letters and could promise that my mother-in-law would never ever remove the tape.

They pored over my personal possessions. I used to save all the old stamps on my letters in my wallet for Marc. They studied these at length with magnifying glasses, looking for microdot messages. Cassette tapes were banned absolutely. I’ve never seen anything so paranoic. And nobody ever smiled. It would be impossible for anyone who hadn’t actually experienced all this to comprehend the stupid formalities one had to undergo there.

When I transferred my Encyclopaedia Brittanica from Munich to Berlin I was made to carry all thirty volumes up into the guardhouse where they vanished from my sight for over an hour. An officer then came out and accused me of trying to smuggle pictures of Stalin into East Germany.

‘I didn’t know there were any in there,’ I said. ‘Rip them out if you want.’

That amazed him, and he disappeared for another quarter of an hour. Then a troop of soldiers carried the books back to my car.

‘Thank you,’ said the officer. ‘Very interesting books, but not always quite accurate.’

Pepi’s mother bought me a pair of Zeiss Ikon binoculars. She had to have them entered on her passport, not that she could use the passport in those days. It was only much later that very old people were allowed to travel to West Berlin.

To smuggle the binoculars out I hid them in the spare wheel arch of my Volvo. The car had two spare wheel arches, but only one spare wheel. The guards, ripping everything open in the car, searching everywhere, never once lifted the rubber mat in the boot. If they had, they would have found the binoculars, and I would have been in a lot of trouble. It was a deadly game of poker.

The day that happened I was supposed to bring back a couple of hand-made silk dresses that Lilo had bought in Warsaw for Pepi’s birthday. This was the same girl who’d been in the prison camp with her. She had stayed in the east zone after the war, however, and had married a member of the Communist Party. He had been later jailed and kicked out of the party for Black Market activities. The last I heard of him he had a dacha on the Muggelsee, with motor boats, water skis and crates of Russian Champagne, plus a taxi franchise monopoly at Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse, which was the only way into East Berlin by train from the west side of town. How he had managed all that was a mystery to everyone.

As it was forbidden to take silk materials out of East Berlin we had a bit of a problem, because there wasn’t enough room in the wheel arch.

Then Lilo had a brilliant idea. I was to wear the dresses under my clothes. We all had a good laugh at that until I saw that she meant it. I protested that they were far too small for me. Imagine being caught dressed like that! I had to wrap the dresses around my waist instead.

When I put on my shirt and pants with the skirts all bunched up inside I had a belly like Alfred Hitchcock.

I hoped to God the border guards wouldn’t start looking at any photographs taken of me as I came in.

This was no idle joke, because they took pictures of everybody coming and going through the checkpoint from a concrete watchtower.

I waddled a bit, and couldn’t raise my arms properly. Luckily, I got to the checkpoint just before midnight, plodding through the formalities looking rather like the Michelin Man. They seemed glad to see me go, because the place was supposed to close at midnight.

In later years, the regulations were eased somewhat, and Pepi’s mother was allowed to visit West Berlin for a few days. This involved a tremendous amount of paperwork. Assholes to the end—the East Berlin authorities made it a habit to issue the visas suddenly, without prior warning, so that it was impossible to make plans for the journeys.

I travelled to Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse in East Berlin on the S-Bahn town railway to fetch her. I wasn’t allowed to bring her over by car, as she wasn’t allowed through Checkpoint Charlie, and I wasn’t allowed over the Glienickebrücke, where only Germans, and spies, coming in from the cold, were allowed transit.

The S-Bahn, which ran through both parts of Berlin, was still owned by a company in the east. In West Berlin it was falling to pieces through lack of repair, and could only travel at a snail’s pace due to the rickety state of the railway lines. Officially, you were still on East German territory, even in West Berlin, until you walked out of the station. This led to many arrests by the East German secret police, the greatly feared STASI, even when I was there, and there were many incidents involving the British and US Army when they used force to intervene in the arrests.

Most West Berliners boycotted the S-Bahn, but it was still the cheapest way to travel.

It was possible for me to travel to Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse in East Berlin without crossing any official border. The checkpoint was inside the station.

I stood by the barrier with a crowd of other people from West Berlin, all, presumably, awaiting relatives from the East.

A fat, greasy, sour-faced, lumpy old bag in a creased uniform smelling of sweat stood by a little desk and checked tickets and visas. Beside her stood a border-guard soldier with a machine-gun slung over his shoulder.

Behind the desk was a long wide corridor. All at once, Pepi’s mother appeared at the end of the corridor. She was struggling with a huge suitcase, a couple of handbags and an enormous white poodle, roughly the size of a Great Dane.

I started forward. At once the guard blocked my way.

‘Ich muss die Dame helfen. Sie ist meine Schwiegermutter. (I must help the lady, she is my mother-in-law.)’

‘Es ist verboten!’

I said, in a loud voice, for all to hear, ‘Have you forgotten all your common decency over here? I’m going to help her, and I’d like to see anyone try and stop me.’

There was a hushed gasp from the crowd. I brushed past the soldier, who had his mouth open, and marched along the corridor towards Pepi’s mother, who was just standing there, exhausted.

It was maybe a fifty yard walk, but it seemed to take ages. My footsteps echoed eerily in the stone corridor. My back prickled in anticipation of the expected fusillade of machine-gun fire.

I greeted Charlotte, lifted the bags and preceded her back to the desk.

The soldier was still standing there with his mouth open. He hadn’t even unslung the machine-gun.

The woman at the control point was hopping mad.

‘You can’t get out!’ she shouted. She fought for some way of stopping me, her face red with anger. Finally she got the words out.

‘Where’s your platform ticket?’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ I said. I turned to the crowd of people. ‘You all saw what happened here.’ They shrank back from me, as one does from the criminally insane. They were all expecting me to get mown down at any moment.

The woman attempted to block my way. Pepi’s mother shoved the dog at her and she sprang back with an oath.

‘Go ahead. Shoot me,’ I snarled. ‘I’m British.’

We left. On the train Pepi’s mother said, ‘I’ve been up against far worse ones than her in the Gestapo. They’re all cowards. If you confront them, they back down.’

Still, I was glad when we left the train, and set foot on friendly territory once more.

Chapter Twelve >>

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved