A Minstrel in Spain

Chapter Nine

A Hot Time in Munich

The reader will notice here a gap in this account of my life stretching over the next fourteen years. A full coverage of these missing years can be found in Ron's Pages, where my professional life is described in detail. My private life between 1951, when I joined the Vic Lewis band, through my transfer from London to Munich in 1963, and the onset of my job in the Radio Free Berlin Orchestra in 1965, does not form a part of this tale.

My friend Richard Krueger has been instrumental in obtaining two of my most important jobs for me. Richard is a couple of years older than me, which made him old enough, first for the Hitler Youth, and then the German Army during the Second World War. Near the end of the war Richard found himself stationed in a V-1 flying bomb unit in a woods somewhere near Antwerp. He said that a great number of the bombs, when launched, misfired and crashed. He remembers running, several times, with the entire unit, round and around the woods in panic as one of the bombs took off badly and circled the launch ramp half a dozen times before exploding nearby.

They had to keep a lookout for the Belgian resistance. They were very active in the area, and even managed to steal a complete V-1 bomb. The factories used to leave their delivery trucks containing the bombs at the edge of the woods. When Richard’s unit went to fetch them one of the trucks had been hijacked.

Just before the Allies overran the emplacement he escaped, and, palling up with another wandering soldier, he crossed the Rhine in a rubber boat he found on the banks. The idea was to join up with another army unit, but most of the time he was in a blue funk at being caught and shot as a deserter.

I believe that Richard was born in Leipzig, but he has now lived for most of his life in Saarbrücken, where he is responsible for broadcasting the jazz programmes. After the war he ran a jazz club in Düsseldorf for a while.

About the Hitler Youth he said what most Germans repeat about the experience. If you’re standing in the middle of hundreds of youths shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ you have to join in, or risk being singled out as a dissident, and then you were really in trouble.

He is the only person I know who has met every one of my wives (I've had four). Whether this makes him distinctive I don’t know—it’s certainly unusual because each time I have married in a different country. This is perhaps the proof of a long friendship.

Before we left London to drive to Munich in the winter of early 1963 I’d previously asked him to fix us up with an apartment in Munich, which he did. He also told me to turn right immediately after leaving the Autobahn to get to the house, and we ended up quickly in a snowdrift in the middle of a large field. He’d meant turn left. It was a bad omen.

The apartment was certainly large enough for us, but there was no bed. The owner was waiting for us.

‘Where’s the bed then?’

‘Oh—you want a bed as well?’ I thought she was joking. But people of her age group seemed to prefer sleeping on pull-out couches, which turned the bedroom into a second lounge during the day.

I discovered, at once, that our doorbell didn't work. Using the command of the language I had gained at school I wrote Bitte Knocken on a piece of card and hung it over the bellpush. The man upstairs told me later on that the word was Klopfen. I had written the equivalent of Please Bones.

It was a double house, and the people upstairs introduced themselves by showing me the house roster, which said that it was my turn at once to clear the deep snow from the pavement outside. After I’d done this, before we’d even unpacked, we were invited upstairs for a drink and a game of Pontoon. The man seemed to make up his own rules as he went along, at any rate they differed greatly from the English ones, and I’d lost twenty marks before I twigged what he was up to.

His wife was the first of the many Bavarian beauties I was soon to meet, long brown hair, a sulky face, heavy tits, and a plump juicy body meant for hugging and squeezing and weeping over. She also had a pair of what my pal Cyril used to call broad childbearing hips.

The girl’s mother had a restaurant which lay on my route to the studio, and she worked there as a waitress, so I dropped in there a couple of times to have a beer on my way home, and take a surreptitious peek at her bosom, which blossomed saucily out of her dirndl in the approved manner. But she misunderstood that for a pass, and started to come on to me so much in the house that it got embarrassing and made us decide to move out after only a month.

When I tried to get my deposit back from the owner she hummed and hawed, and finally sent it back in postage stamps, hundreds of them.

I found an apartment in the Westend, which is actually on the outskirts of the town. We were on the second floor, while above us lived the family Kunte, pronounced Koonta. This didn’t stop my son Marc from telling my mother in a high penetrating voice over the phone that, ‘We’ve got ever such a nice flat here, Granny, and Frau Cunt lives upstairs.’

Frau Kunte was an enormous young woman, married with a child to a much older man who owned a famous Bavarian photocalender company. She had broken her leg on the icy road and we never saw her without the plaster cast.

Our apartment was OK, but it was owned by a rich eccentric, and everything in the place was antique and easily breakable. Some of the chairs even had signs on them begging us not to sit on them. This made it a great playground for Marc and his newly found mates, and caused us to move out again quickly before they wrecked the place.

Only a few days after arriving in Munich I received a phone call from the local radio station, the Bayerischer Rundfunk. There was a letter there for me. I went along to get it, and the address simply said Ron Simmonds, Musician, West Germany.

The letter was from San Francisco, from a girl I had known about twenty years earlier, when I was with the Sampson band. She said that she had only just been divorced from her husband, an airline pilot, and wanted to make contact with me. I never discovered how she found my whereabouts, but wrote back and told her I was married, and there was nothing doing. That the letter had been delivered at all was incredible. It had apparently been first delivered to the West German Radio station in Cologne. The guys in Kurt Edelhagen's band had known where I was due to start work and forwarded it.

The mystery of the radio station knowing my telephone number was quickly cleared up, because the bandleader there phoned me directly afterwards to invite me to dinner. This man was a really marvellous person by the name of Christian Schmidt-Steinberg. I found out later that he was greatly respected all over Germany as a talented musician. He told me that all the musicians in town knew of my impending arrival, and he'd asked Max Greger for my number. Over dinner he asked me if I would play a carnival ball with his band, just for laughs, and, he added, a great deal of money. I accepted on the spot, and did the dance the next evening.

It was a big band, with the usual instrumentation, but it was pretty bad. Christian had already warned me about that. Apparently, after the war, all the German radio stations had searched around for local musicians to make up their Glenn Miller cloned orchestras; in this case the wife of the programme director had been having an illicit affair with a very sad Munich bandleader, and she’d given the task to him. He had then procured life contracts for all of his friends, some of whom could hardly hold an instrument the right way up. Christian had been called in desperation to try and bring some order into things, but it was a hopeless task, and, shortly after I arrived there, the radio station went through a massive piece of legislation to get rid of the band.

The carnival, or Fasching, is famous in Munich, and is a very colourful affair where everyone gets blind drunk, and anything goes, rather like the one in Basel. In the band the trumpet player on my left was the only one who spoke English, and he had been detailed to help me find the parts, and so on. I quickly discovered that he knew only very few words of English, and had, in fact, learned what he did have from song titles. ‘Why Don’t You Believe Me?’ he said, when we first met. Each time we had to play he cried, ‘Strike Up the Band!’ Later on he tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Five Minutes More!’ Then came the interval.

‘Don’t you know any other words?’ I said. ‘Getting to Know You In the Still of the Night Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,’ he said, grinning happily.

There was a guest star in the band that evening, a local star saxophonist. He came on at midnight to put on a little show, and started off at once with his version of Desifinado. Almost immediately it was obvious that something was terribly wrong with his saxophone, the keys had jammed, or whatever, and he whipped around in the middle of the tune and tried to wrench the saxophone away from one of the musicians sitting behind him. This guy wouldn’t let go by any means, and a tug of war took place that went on all over the stage, ending up in the wings with a shouting match. We finished the number as a piano solo, and I never saw the sax player again. That little cameo showed me right from the beginning that German musicians aren’t an awful lot different from their British counterparts when it comes to that sort of thing, fondly remembering Vic Lewis in Geneva, and his fruitless chase after Ken Goldie’s trombone.

I was invited several times to Christian’s house. Christian had a boy of about four years of age. His house was only a few doors away from that of Max Greger, in the Gruenewald.

Years later, when his son was fourteen years of age, the boy hanged himself. Christian returned home one afternoon to find him, too late to be revived. He was completely devastated. I have no idea why his son did that. Christian never recovered from the terrible blow. Some time later I was phoned while on holiday in Spain by a Frankfurt producer, and asked to write the music for a television show. It was such a rush job that I wouldn’t even have been able to send the completed scores through the post in time, so I turned the job down. It was then given to Christian, who flew to Frankfurt and spent a week working day and night to get the music completed. Then he went back to Munich and died almost at once of a heart attack.

Friedrich Gulda phoned and said he was coming to visit me. He was usually touring the world playing his immensely popular piano concerts, but now had a few days to spare. I had been to one of his musical evenings in the Berlin Philharmonie, which had been booked out.

Friedrich was no oil painting by any means, with his big hooked nose, thick black horn-rimmed glasses and a perpetual look of horror on his face. He walked on stage grim faced, flipped his tails, and, without acknowledging the presence of an audience, said, ‘Brahms.’ Then he played. There was magic in the air.

After the applause he looked straight ahead for a moment, then, in a graveyard voice, said, ‘Beethoven’. All the time he was playing Friedrich looked as if he hated it. Afterwards he had to play no less than six encores.

Now he was coming to my apartment. I was afraid that he’d frighten my small son Marc, but the moment Friedrich came through the door Marc was fascinated by him.

Without preamble Friedrich launched into a long detailed and complicated plan he had concocted. He proposed to gather all the best musicians in Europe together under one roof in Vienna and have them take care of all important music productions on this side of the Atlantic. He spoke of already having Cannonball Adderley interested in the scheme.

I could hardly believe my ears. Was this man Tommy Sampson in disguise? I examined him carefully. Except for the nose it could have been Tommy. Certainly it was the same scheme, now transferred from Cardiff to Vienna.

A film producer would finance the building of a large apartment block in Vienna where we would all live with our wives.

I quickly vetoed the plan. It would not be possible for so many talented musicians to live with their wives and families in such close quarters without them eventually killing one another. This gave him much food for thought.

While we were talking, Marc, who had up to now sat quietly on the far end of the long couch where Friedrich was also seated, now began sliding slowly along it. Keeping his eyes fixed on Friedrich’s face he worked his way along until he could slip himself up onto the great man’s knee. There he remained, with his face about two inches away from Friedrich’s, staring straight into his eyes, and breathing a heady little-boy mixture of chewing gum, Smarties, peppermint and Coca-Cola straight into the big hairy nostrils.

Friedrich ignored him completely.

That night we went for a stroll in Schwabing, the university quarter of Munich. Here, by the light of guttering oil lamps, the students and street vendors set out their wares—knicknacks, paintings, jewellery. We stopped at the door of Freddy Brocksieper’s club. It was closed.

‘Damn,’ said Friedrich, and strode off to the nearest telephone. A few minutes later Freddy Brocksieper turned up and opened the club for us. He was one of the original members of a famous band which had gone the rounds just after the war. Kurt Edelhagen, Werner Müller, Della Hensch and many others, now all band leaders, had been in the band. Freddy had been the drummer.

During World War 2 jazz music was officially banned by the Nazis, but they seized upon the idea of using it for propaganda purposes. A band of top jazz players from all over Europe was assembled under the direction of a man named Carl Schweidler, calling it Charlie and his Orchestra.

The musicians were required to listen to BBC broadcasts in order to copy the latest jazz recordings and popular tunes and rearrange them to be played by their own band.

The vocals were then parodied. Cole Porter’s You’re The Top now contained machine-gun fire and an all-out attack by Rommel. Boom (“Why did my ship go boom?) became sung by the apparent victim of a U-boat attack, and You Started Something was dedicated to Winston Churchill.

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do was changed to Frankie, Frankie, an appeal to Roosevelt for aid. St. Louis Blues became Blackout Blues. In the text, Where I hate to see that evening sun go down was followed by ‘cos the Germans, they done bombed this town. Inspiration there most decidedly at rock bottom.

Brocksieper was the drummer in a band that included musicians from Belgium, Holland and Italy. Since the war ended most of the other members of that band have not wished to be identified.

Freddy insisted that all the musicians in the band, including Charlie himself, were anti-Nazi, but were motivated by the opportunity of playing together in a first-class big band. In his own case, he thought it better that he should be doing this than being in the forces killing people.

The musicians were well paid and well treated, but it’s doubtful that they got to play much jazz since the vocals were all-important. The material was simply dance music, such as could be heard on the BBC and, later, the American Forces Network. The Allies responded by using, among others, transcriptions of the Geraldo and Jack Payne bands, with vocals in German. It is doubtful whether either side paid much attention to such nonsense.

Once in the club we sat around drinking and talking about the good old days. There were only the five of us in there—my wife and myself, Richard Krueger, Freddy, and Friedrich Gulda. After a while Friedrich stood up, a trifle unsteadily, and made his way over to the piano. There he sat and stared into space for a few moments.

‘Mozart,’ he said.

I closed my eyes. Sitting in the tiny circle of light, there in that little club I was transported up into the clouds, because he wouldn’t stop. Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Bach—all followed with hardly a pause in between. There was an angelic look on Friedrich’s face as he played. For a moment he actually looked beautiful.

I asked him afterwards if he ever played Rachmaninoff.

He looked at me with incredulity. His face went red, then redder, purple, then purpler, finally turning an interesting shade of black.

‘RACHMANINOFF?’ he thundered.

Marc had also been fascinated by the American trumpeter Benny Bailey. Benny was the first black man he’d ever seen. While we were talking he pushed up real close and photographed every inch of Benny’s face with his eyes; taking a hand he inspected it gravely on both sides.

‘Yeah, well you’ll know me next time, kid,’ said Benny.

‘Daddy, Benny Bailey is black,’ said Marc, later.

‘He is?’

‘Oh, come on, Daddy. You saw him!’

‘So I did.’

‘Is he always black? Why is Benny black, Daddy?’

‘Because he comes from Africa,’ I said, to cut a long story short. I showed him Africa on the map.

Some time later we were driving along the Dachauer Strasse and passed Benny’s house.

‘Look,’ I said. ‘Benny Bailey lives there.’

‘Ooh!’ said Marc. ‘Then we must be in Africa!’ He began to inspect the neighbourhood with lively attention.

I had to go back to London now and then to look after certain things, one of them being to try and sell our house in Bushey Heath. On those occasions I’d usually do some studio work with Bill Russo, or Dankworth. If some of the contractors heard I was in town they’d phone me, too, and, in this way, I managed to play on several of the James Bond film sessions while I was over there.

I stayed at my Mum’s house usually, and received a very mysterious phone call one morning.

‘Who’s that?’ I said.

‘The voice of doom,’ said the phone. ‘Be prepared to pay for your sins.’ It was Lawrence Leonard, the conductor of the West Side Story. He wanted me to come with the show to Vienna, but I didn’t fancy that. I’ve often wondered what would have happened to me if I had taken the job. Intriguing to think of the turn my life may have taken.

John Dankworth talked me into going with the band on a short trip to Belgium, to a jazz festival in a place called Combain-la-Tour, which I cannot now find on any map to verify the spelling. It was a tiny place, but had a yearly jazz festival put on by a grateful American, whose life had been saved by the village during the war. It had been a clearing place for downed airmen, most of whom had been smuggled back to England at the height of hostilities. This had been extremely brave of the villagers. The German army had only too often razed towns to the ground for less.

The festival took place in large tents, but it rained so hard that the star turn Bill Evans refused to play. A small waterfall had gushed from a hole in the tent just above the piano, filling the instrument with water, and rendering it unplayable. We seemed to manage with it all right later on, but he was adamant.

We stayed the night in a nearby monastery. I had a small spotlessly clean cell all to myself on the first floor, and was able to take a nap in the afternoon before the festival began. Looking out over the fields, complete with grazing cows, reminded me of my youth, and, for one moment, I was terribly homesick, but not for Munich. I could see why anyone would want to be a monk.

After the concert we had a meal in the village and went to bed. At least—I went to bed. I dozed off for a while, but a shadow passing my window must have awoken me.

I thought at once of Charlie’s Room in Manchester, and got up to take a look. There in the half moonlight, two-stepping along a very narrow ledge under the windows, went Bobbie Breen. By the time I’d got the window open he’d disappeared into the dark.

I opened my bedroom door. Outside all hell was loose. Musicians were running all over the place, shouting, laughing and playing the fool. Every one of them was completely pissed. I grabbed hold of Ed Harvey and asked him what Breen was up to. He said that Ron Snyder had got a girl, or even one of the nuns, I wouldn’t have put it past Ron, up in his bedroom. Breen was out on the ledge determined to take a peep at them through the window.

I went back to bed. Next morning revealed that the ledge, which was about six inches wide, hung over a part of the monastery that had recently burned down. If Bobby had missed his footing he would have plunged on to some very sharp twisted iron girders below.

We were served breakfast in the great dining hall by nuns, who seemed to have taken the vows of silence. What they thought of the shambles of the previous night I can’t imagine; nothing showed on their faces. There were no monks to be seen at all, and no one volunteered any information as to their whereabouts.

When we arrived back in London I went to visit the Parnell band. The TV job had finally shifted from the old Empire cinema in Wood Green to the Elstree film studios. As soon as I got there Lenny Bush took me for a ride in his new Lotus. Lenny wore a heavy surgical boot on his right foot which he used to crash down now and again when he got carried away on the bass. Now he was using it on the accelerator pedal. He just rested it there and the car tore away and did 200 mph at once.

In the old days Lenny, Bob Adams, Dave Goldberg, and I used to go the Odeon, Leicester Square at the end of the motor racing year to see the RAC films of all the events. Dave always fell asleep during the show, but he never missed the occasion, which was put on at midnight. I knew Lenny to be a race fan, but didn’t know he was this much of a devotee.

Lenny drove the Lotus around the film lots on the assumption that no one else in the world was going to be casually crossing the road at any time, using the entire area as his own personal Formula One racetrack. I hung on like grim death while we belted through an amazing panorama of scenes ancient and modern, most of which I vaguely remembered from some film or other in the past. At one moment we were tearing through a quiet English village, the next along a shot-up, deserted Dunkirk street, with hastily vacated cafes, abandoned vehicles, and a burned-out tank. Then through a steaming jungle, to emerge right under the pyramids, cross the desert and dive straight back again through a Hong Kong market. Lenny kept his boot rammed down on the floor at all times, eschewing the use of brakes. We did the lap record for the circuit a couple of times and then we went into the studio.

Laddy Busby greeted me inside. I was still shaking. ‘Hey,’ I said, ‘Have you had a ride in Lenny’s Lotus?’

‘Not any more,’ said Laddy.

It may have been a better studio, but the atmosphere of Wood Green was gone, and gone too were the nightly trips to Alexander Palace. Elstree, like all film studios, had the unreal sheen of a fantasy world. The orchestra played in a separate studio, away from the action, while Jack conducted with earphones from a monitor. In the old Eggbox we’d been right in the middle of things. Wood Green had been more fun, more down to earth.

Back in Germany I had to learn a whole new set of musical values. Quavers, crotchets, and minims were out, replaced by eighth-notes, quarter-notes, and half-notes. A B-flat became a B, while a B became an H. To add a flat to any note one suffixed it with es—thus Ces, Des, Es, Fes, Ges, A-es were all flats, just as Cis,Dis, E-is, Fis, Gis, and A-is were all sharps.

The Germans have a system of phonetic spelling used by everyone. The whole alphabet is to be found in all telephone books, spelled in this way, and musicians use it too. There is never any doubt about the spelling of words in Germany. To say my name down the phone one would spell it: Siegfried-Isar-Martha-Martha-Otto-Nordpole-Dora-Siegfried. Even the chance of mistaking the spoken zwei for a drei is avoided by saying zwo instead of zwei. One of my first problems in sorting this out was caused by a visiting Austrian arranger who invariably counted the band in by shouting ‘EINS-ZWEI-ZWO-ZWEI’. Because of this I named him that mad bugger. This tickled Benny up so much that he would meet me in the entrance of the studio on those occasions, saying, ‘We’ve got that mad bugger again today.’ On one session I pointed out a wrong note on my part to the Austrian. He took the part, studied it for a moment, tore out the offending note and handed the part back to me. People in that part of the world hate being told they’ve made a mistake. I’ve seen copyists walk around the studio showing the score to everyone present to prove that a wrong note was in there, and not the result of a copying mistake.

The only chaos that occurred in the German studios was with something that a British or American musician would normally pass over without comment. This concerned the repeating of a certain passage. The bandleader would say ‘Repeat Otto four times,’ and from then on it became pure comedy.

If the passage marked Otto (i.e. letter O) had a repeat bar already at each end of it, a fierce discussion would break out. As the passage was already being repeated once, thus played twice, did this mean we were now to play it eight times?

‘Ach,’ said the bandleader, ‘Of course I meant play it four times.’ But they weren’t having that, because of those repeat bars. ‘Well then, repeat it twice,’ he said, with finality.

Up jumped the foreigners in protest. ‘You mean—ve play it tvice, or four times?’ said the Hungarian, while the Yugoslav bass player shook his head in confusion, having already marked his part with a thick black marker pen.

Generally, at this point, Benny, Dick, Rich Richardson, Don Menza, and I wandered out into the canteen, telling them to call us when they had it all straightened out. The phenomenon is widespread, and, later on, I often wickedly started the discussion off myself in other studios. The German musicians then sat back with serious faces, nodding and saying, ‘Der Ron is right, you know.’

The German language is, of course, harsh and uncompromising. Because of the glottal stop it is one of the most unmusical languages in the world. Words like Strumpf and Schweinefleisch are offensive to the western ear.

A comparison was made to me by the Austrian tenor saxophonist, Heinz von Hermann.

‘Listen to this,’ he said.






Peter Ustinov sings a number on stage which parodies all things German. Written in the manner of a song by Schubert it describes the woes of a young woman who gets a stomach-ache after eating a stranded halibut found on the seashore. To me this is the German language and music in a nutshell.

When I began work in Max Greger’s band in Munich I realised that I’d been conned into the job. First of all we were in a different studio. This one was in an old converted cinema. Where the first studio had been light, airy and modern, this was dark and gloomy, the only lights being the shaded ones on our music stands.

A lot of the musicians I’d met before were gone—they’d only been booked for the recording, and there were just four of us non-Germans left, Dick Spencer, the first alto player from Florida, Rich Richardson, a valve trombonist from Chicago, and the jazz trumpeter Benny Bailey, who’d come straight down from Sweden after leaving the Quincy Jones band.

Benny had played lead trumpet with the Gulda band the time I was on French Horn, so we knew each other. It was Benny who prevented me from going mad in the Greger band. But he was by no means pleased with the job either. Every day when he came into the studio I noticed that he kept his car keys in his hand while we played. For some reason this used to irritate Max.

‘Why do you always hold your car keys while you play, Benny?’ said Max one day, testily.

‘So I can get away quick Max in case I don’t like it here any more.’

Benny got away quick several times, and returned to the States, but he came back every time. There were no jobs to be had like this in America with a steady wage.

Upon arrival in Munich I had a month to spare before joining the band. Max phoned me one evening and said I should come down to the Salvator Keller to have a drink with the rest of the guys. I thought: Keller—cellar, and reckoned the place would be a London-type underground jazz club. A taxi deposited my wife and I at the gates of an enormous compound. Inside was a complete fairground, with dozens of stalls serving beer and sausage. Hundreds of people were milling around.

‘Over there,’ said the taxi driver, pointing at the entrance to a huge building. Inside we were assaulted with a sound wave fit to break both eardrums. The room was roughly the size of a zeppelin hangar, and filled with about thirty thousand people, seated at long wooden tables. There was a military band on the stage, playing old German songs, all of which sound like war marching songs to the foreigner. Every person in the place had his or her arms linked, and they were swaying left, right, left, right to the music. Waitresses in traditional Bavarian costume hustled around carrying up to sixteen two-litre beer steins at a time, and never spilling a drop.

‘Jesus!’ I said. ‘Do the occupying armies know about this?’ To my eyes it only needed Hitler to jump up on the stage to complete the scene.

‘How are we ever going to find anyone in all of this,’ asked my wife, plaintively.

I grabbed one of the waitresses.

‘Do you know a man named Max Greger?’ I asked, without much hope.

‘Over there,’ she pointed to a distant corner, and hurried away. I was impressed.

We sat down with the band and started in on the beer and Weisswurst. Soon I was swaying with linked arms with the rest of them.

After about a year Don Menza joined the band. Max had heard Don on the Kenton record Adventures in Time and had sent him an air ticket at once. Don made a lot of difference to the band, because as soon as he arrived he altered the lay of all the sax players’ mouthpieces with a pocket knife to get a bigger sound.

This completely ruined the squeaky noise that Max loved so much when we played Glenn Miller stuff like Moonlight Serenade with all that syrupy clarinet and saxophone stuff. Now it came roaring out rough and hearty.

The first time he heard it he ran up and down in front of the saxes with his fingers in his ears shouting ‘What’s happening?’

There was now a marked difference in Max’s attitude to me. On my first visit I’d been wined and dined, and treated with respect, the way musicians were used to being treated in London. Now I was safely under contract he became offhand and bossy. I didn’t like that, and let him know about it in several ways.

If you stand with your back to the market in Munich, keep Karlstor on your right, and march straight ahead you plunge at once into the network of narrow back streets that is downtown Munich. There, if you are lucky, you will eventually find my tailor.

I forget his name now, although I carried it for years sewn into the inside pockets of all my suits. He was a small, fierce, flamboyant Jewish/German/ Italian, with a black patch over one eye like Sammy Davis Jnr.

His suits were not merely sewn together—they were works of art. Once in the gloom of his little shop you were deep in the world of comic opera. A smirking minion would cringe into the room bearing the latest creation, lashed by the tongue of his master. You would don the suit, only to have sleeves and lapels brutally ripped off at once with a barrage of muttered curses. Pincushions would be hastily brought, and other minions, also on their knees, would re-pin and re-sew until the master was halfway satisfied. Come back next week, he said.

I let him do what he wanted with the very first suit that he made for me. We only had one grave difference of opinion, and that was over how the pants should be held up. He insisted on braces, otherwise they would hang wrongly, but I was a belt man. I hated braces. Even in the air force I had refused to wear them. Where others had been excused boots, I was excused braces.

Finally, the suit was ready. I stood there resplendent. He took a step back and clasped his hands reverently.

‘Mama mia,’ he breathed. Then he turned and screamed.


Out from the depths of the shop his little fat round wife waddled.

‘Mama! What do you think? Isn’t that the best, the very best suit that I ever made? You, Signor! Turn around please. Walk a little. Well, Mama? What do you think?’

But Mama was already sobbing with pride. She could only stand there, hands clasped to her huge bosom, too full for words as I pirouetted slowly before her in my wonderful suit.

‘Now you pay, please? Seven-hundred dollar.’

‘Surely there must be some mistake? Max sent me here—you know—the band leader. It’s the band uniform. He will pay you.’

‘No mistake. Max order suit, you pay. Seven-hundred dollar, cash please.’

I borrowed his phone and quickly called the other non-Germans in the band. They were all fuming, but they’d had to pay, too. We came to an agreement.

Next day we all turned up at the studio, neat and shining in our new suits. The Germans, used to obeying orders, just gaped at us.

Max was furious. ‘You can’t vear them,’ he stuttered. ‘Das ist der band uniform.’

‘Oh no,’ we said, ‘these are our private suits. Where we come from the band leader pays for the band uniforms.’

‘But, you are in Chermany now. Here ve do things differently.’

We came to a compromise—we continued to wear the suits, and he stormed out of the studio and drove home in a blazing temper to complain to his wife.

Life went on. It was the coldest winter Munich had known for five hundred years. Every day, in my new suit, I drove to the studio through snow-ploughed streets.

We spent the studio sessions partly in recording jazz productions, and partly in rehearsing for an upcoming jazz concert, to show off the new band.

Max’s idea of recording was to tape the takes and then play them back at half speed, to listen for any mistakes. The engineer, Willi Schmidt, had a thing we used to call the Black Box. With it he could slow down a piece of music, while retaining the original pitch, or, conversely, lower the pitch while keeping the same tempo. It was a piece of electronic wizardry, and was intended solely for the purpose of adjusting pieces of music to suit the various singers who came along. If the pitch was too high, but the tempo just right, Willi could take it down a tone or two.

Max cried with joy when he first saw the Black Box. He could now get the music we recorded played back at very slow speeds, but still up in the same pitch, not like a conventionally slowed down playback. Listening intently to the tape he could now gleefully point out tiny errors of timing, or intonation—things that would never be noticed at full speed. He would make us rehearse until we were thoroughly sick of each piece of music. He insisted that this was the only way of getting the best from every musician, when, in fact, he only succeeded in making us so fed up that we didn’t want to play any more.

Max had reportedly had an offer earlier on to join the Basie band. I often wonder how he’d have gotten on with all of his incredible neuroses in that band.

The time grew close to the jazz concert. Meanwhile I was busily pursuing my hobbies of bowling and weight-lifting, both admirable pursuits in the cold weather.

Max was wont to address the band at length every day, haranguing them rather in the way I imagine Hitler had done to the masses. As I couldn’t understand him I asked Dick what he was saying.

‘You’ll be able to understand him yourself one day, and when you do you’ll flip out.’

I asked one of the other trumpet players to translate one of the speeches. The gist of the monologue was that we were to play a jazz concert within the next few days, we would play badly because we weren’t used to playing live, only with playback, and tape dubbing, and synch, and he knew the concert would be a catastrophe, but good luck anyway.

I was furious when I heard that, and lost my temper with him.

‘What do you mean by running the guys down before they’ve even had a chance to play? You should be giving them a pep talk, not all this depressing rubbish.’ I shouted all this at the top of my voice. The Germans in the band looked gloomily down on the floor.

Next day, after yet another bit of dialogue from him I asked the same trumpet player what he was saying, but he said that Max had told everyone not to translate for me any more.

On the big day of the concert we gathered in the Deutsches Museum to set up the stage. The first thing I noticed was that I had no music stand. Everyone else had one, neatly arranged before his chair. Only mine was missing.

I sat down, unconcernedly. I could see Max eyeing me up from the other side of the stage. Finally it became too much for him, and he came over.

‘Vere is your music stand?’

‘I don’t know. They must have forgotten.’

‘No vun forget. Until today your colleagues haff put up your music stand. Now I say, “Enough! He must do his own vork”. From today you must put up your own music stand.’

‘You mean—you have no bandboy? Surely not. Everyone has a bandboy!’

‘Ve haff no bandboy—now you are in Cher...’

‘I know, I know.’

He walked away. I just sat there. He came back.

‘Put up your music stand. At vunce. I insist.’‘

‘I don’t need one. I’ve memorised the music anyway.’

He was dumbfounded. ‘That’s impossible,’ he gasped.

‘Want to bet?’ (Many musicians have told me that I am well known for having played in the various bands without ever looking at the music. I’ve been told that I have a photographic memory. In fact my talent, if it is such, is for remembering the music exactly as it sounds, rather than the way it looks on paper—more of an aural recall.)

He strode away and returned with the music stand, a complicated wood and steel affair guaranteed to skin knuckles and pinch little round black spots into your fingers.

‘Look! It is not difficult. I vill show you.’ He wrestled with the thing for several minutes, muttering curses. Finally it was erected, and he stalked off, red-faced. I noticed an odd piece of wood hanging down the back where it shouldn’t have, and drew his attention to it. He came back, and, with one mighty kick, removed the offending piece, demolishing the music stand completely in the process.

‘There! Now look vat you make me do! Now are you satisfied?’

The pianist, who had an electric train set, and also knew a lot about music stands, fixed mine for me.

Just before the concert began Max gathered us in an ante-room for a pep-talk. This consisted of a long monologue, delivered in a dispirited tone, as if he were briefing us for a suicide mission. I didn’t understand a word, but Dick was waggling his eyebrows at me comically, so I reckoned that he was giving us his final words of encouragement. Finally he trailed off dismally, and we went on stage to tumultuous applause.

Shortly after moving to Munich I had begun to suffer from rheumatism, something which I attributed to the extreme cold and damp. My local reform house had run me up a rather large number which covered me from neck to knees in highly impregnated red flannel, which I now wore permanently next to the skin, and which I now referred to as my Red Army Underwear.

In the Deutsches Museum that evening the heating had been turned up to maximum, so that in no time at all I began to perspire, itch greatly, and give off a strong odour of hot menthol.

The concert proceeded well, and everyone played brilliantly, despite the pep-talk.

We got through a couple of Oliver Nelson numbers, another score written by Don Menza, and a solo for Benny called ‘Meet B.B.’ which Quincy Jones had composed for him while they were up in Sweden. Then the four of us trumpet players wandered down front for a Basie number.

I forget the name of this one; all I can remember is that it featured the trumpets in tin mutes. These are bad enough to play in at the best of times, but I was having real trouble with mine, which seemed to have been fashioned from solid lead and fell out at the least excuse. As I was usually playing at maximum strength when it did so it used to come out as if it had been shot from a rocket launcher. The racket when it hit the deck, coupled with the sudden unbelievable blare of raw trumpet sound was incredible.

So there I was, blasting away, sweating, itching, and panicking about the mute. True to form, about halfway through the number I felt it loosen in the bell. I stopped playing, grabbed at it frantically, and missed. It fell to the floor with a solid ZONK! and began to roll around. I bent swiftly, grabbed it, and stuffed it back into the trumpet. That evening I must have been wearing what Zero Mostel used to call a cardboard belt because when I straightened up I suddenly felt it snap.

All of my weight-lifting and so on had caused me to lose quite a few inches around my waist, and at once my pants started to fall down.

I went immediately into an Igor Crouch. Remember Frankenstein’s trusty hump-backed assistant? Remember the crouch? That’s the one.

As far as the other trumpet players were concerned I suddenly vanished from view downwards. I finished the number bent almost double, my knees together, one elbow jammed tightly into my waist. I wasn’t about to let this audience get a free look at my underwear, no sir.

I hobbled back to my seat afterwards to the sound of frenzied clapping. They probably couldn’t figure out just how such a deformed person could play so well.

‘What happened?’ said Benny, when he took time off from laughing. ‘You just disappeared downwards. I thought you’d fallen through a hole in the stage.’

‘My belt broke, OK?’ I said crossly.

In the interval I borrowed a leather strap from the drummer, one that he normally used to close one of the drum cases. It went around my waist twice and drew many expressions of horror and distaste from Max, who nevertheless kept his distance.

Next morning I went out and bought the strongest pair of braces I could find, the kind they wear in the fire brigade. The underwear went into the furnace, where it stank the house out for the next half hour. I made a special trip down to the Isar, kicked a hole in the ice and watched my tin mute sink slowly from view.

I finally found out why Max had brought me over to work in his band. He had signed a contract to produce thousands of jazz titles for the second German television network called the ZDF (Zweite Deutsches Fernsehen). Presumably they would insert these titles between programmes as filler music. As far as I know not one single one of these recordings was ever played on the ZDF. They disappeared into the archives, apparently without trace. I never discovered why.

Meanwhile, the nightmare went on, and the Black Box became an integral part of it. Max only stopped using it after the celebrated arranger Russ Garcia turned up in the studio.

Russ made a habit of visiting Munich each year to buy a new Porsche, which he shipped directly back to Los Angeles. Max had heard about this and begged him to write some arrangements for the band. He gave Russ some really ghastly German tunes to write, like Wenn die Elizabeth which was a typically rubbishy pop song at the time.

Russ turned up with several excellent scores which we quickly recorded. What he thought of the band I can’t imagine—Russ had just finished working with the Los Angleles Neophonic Orchestra, which was really the Kenton band with horns added. He listened with us to our playbacks. In the control room Max was radiant.

‘Vot an arranger!’ he exclaimed. Then, turning to us he clapped his hands briskly, another thing that used to bug me, and said, ‘Come, come—let us play them through a few more times until ve get it right.’

‘Hey—hold on!’ said Russ. ‘You don’t need to record them again. They’re fine. Play them once more and you’ll lose the freshness and spontaneity.’

‘But ve haff time,’ said Max.

‘Well I don’t.’

Russ was just saying goodbye to the guys when Max got Willi to run the tape through the Black Box. He came back into the control room slowly.

‘Jesus Christ, what the hell is that?’

Max explained gleefully. ‘You see? You hear the mistakes? They are not together there—and there—and there.’

‘You’re out of your mind,’ said Russ, and left the studio. We heard the Porsche roar away.

A week after our jazz show Duke Ellington played a concert in the Deutsches Museum. There had been some mix-up with the band luggage coming from Vienna, so the concert started late. We sat around for about an hour, then, just as the audience was beginning to get restless, Sam Woodyard walked on stage, carrying his drums. He proceeded to set them up, to a mixed reception of cheers and jeers, then gave us bit of a drum demo as he tried out all the bits and pieces.

There was a lull, then on came Ray Nance, carrying his fiddle. The two of them then started playing C-Jam Blues. The effect was hard to credit, just the drums thumping away in the background, and Ray standing there dead-pan going Eh-eh—3—4, Eh-eh—Eh-eh, Eh—Eh. I don’t care who he was, and what he represented, it sounded utterly ridiculous.

One by one the others crept on, sheepishly, and joined in. Finally on came Duke, telling us that he loved us madly. The people didn’t like all that, and there were quite a few boos and catcalls. The band never really took off that night.

In the interval I went down to the bar with Benny, and we spoke to one or two of the guys. Cat Anderson came over to say hello. As far back as I can remember Cat always carries his trumpet with him, wherever he goes, and keeps his hand capped firmly over the mouthpiece, so that no one can see what he’s playing on.

‘Hey man! Whatcha playin’ on there? Lemme see that,’ said Benny, who knew darn well that Cat wasn’t going to show us. Cat shrank away, holding on to the mouthpiece like a kid afraid of losing his favourite toy.

‘Oh, yeah, well—you know—it’s the same one, man,’ he muttered, and disappeared.

We stayed down there when the band went back on and listened for a while to the mad thumping coming from the stage above us. This was a phenomenon I’d noticed before with the Ellington band. With a band swinging the way they do you’d think that the guys would be banging their feet down together with some sort of collective rhythm, but they don’t. Each man has his own specialty—some thump before the beat, some after, while others only bring their feet down on syncopated notes. One or two specialists rock up and down with a regular heel and toe movement, as if working an old-fashioned sewing machine. The result sounds very much like people in boots running wildly around on stage.

I took a job with the Radio Free Berlin Orchestra, but had to first work off my six month's notice with Max. Don Menza had recommended a pal of his from the Maynard Ferguson band as Max’s new lead trumpet, to take my place. This guy’s name was Rick Kiefer, and he had gained fame as being the only trumpet player ever to get to play a solo on one of Maynard’s records. Normally Maynard would screech about in the high register with a lot of fireworks, and get on your nerves after a while, but Rick had upstaged him on a low soulful solo on a thing called Bossa Nova de Funk that was really beautiful.

Max kept playing the record in the studio and shaking his head in wonder. He couldn’t wait for Rick to arrive.

When he did he turned out to be a very nice, quiet person, rather like his solo. He hardly spoke, and seemed to be more interested in baseball scores than music. Max was a bit choked off at this, but for some reason he wouldn’t let Rick play the lead until I had left.

Johnny Scott and Bill le Sage arrived in Munich on a cultural visit. I invited them to the studio to meet Benny and Don Menza. John brought the score of Blues in 7/4 which we’d recorded with Bill Russo, together with a complete set of copied parts, and presented them to Max. We recorded it, and did so pretty well. There wasn’t much wrong with that band that couldn’t have been cured by a proper bandleader.

On the day I finally left Max didn’t come in to the studio at all, but sent a message via the second alto player to say goodbye. I was glad to go. And Max was in for a worse time than he realised.

Once Rick was in command he showed Max at once that he wasn’t going to put up with any of his nonsense. Now there were five Americans in the band and Max began to feel the heat. He had to go into a nerve clinic during the summer holidays to recuperate.

Where I had occupied my time in insulting gatekeepers and studio porters by shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ when they refused me entry because I was a foreigner Rick went one step further and insulted the producers.

‘We’ll never work there again,’ said Max, shaking his head sadly after one particularly impressive episode. ‘The Ron—he was an angel compared to this—this—’ Words failed him.

Rick left quickly to join Kurt Edelhagen in Cologne and Ference was back once again on lead trumpet. He now played exactly the same way he’d played when I joined the band two years earlier. On that day Max had said to him, ‘Listen and learn everything you can from the Ron. He will not be staying long.’

But from the Ron, the Rick, the Benny, and all those other great American players he had learned absolutely nothing.

Benny, Dick, Don, and Richard left at once when the ZDF job folded and the band went rapidly downhill. Overnight the Max Greger band became just another pop commercial band.

Dick Spencer had his moments with Max too. One one occasion that I remember with glee Max had gone over to him just before he was about to play an alto solo on a live broadcast and hissed at him, ‘Don’t play high.’ This was enough to set Dick off and he played the entire solo up in the stratosphere, with screaming harmonics and everything.

Max was furious, and attacked Dick in the bandroom. They yelled at one another while we stood around waiting to leave. It was Easter, and Max had brought a whole load of enormous Easter Eggs along to give us, each one about two feet high. When the argument ground to a seething halt he spun around, picked up one of the eggs and thrust it into Dick’s arms.

‘Here, happy Easter.’ This looked so ridiculous that we all fell about laughing, which caused Max to stalk out indignantly.

A sequel to all this was that once I’d left the band, and taken a job at Radio Free Berlin, Max began phoning me regularly to complain bitterly about everyone in his band. Nobody liked him, and nobody talked to him.

‘They hate me,’ he whined. I didn’t have the heart to tell him why.

I was particularly sorry for Don Menza. He had come out of the fabulous Stan Kenton orchestra to land into all this. But no one could have guessed what things were going to be like in this band. As a band leader Max was unique in Germany, the typical neurotic joke leader.

Don was in the Kenton band at the time they had to stand up and sing some numbers like September Song. The record of this tune had been a hit, so Stan had several other songs written like it. Don was standing there singing along in the band one day when the humour of it all struck him and he began to laugh.

Kenton was at his side in a flash.

‘What’s the matter, son?’

‘Man, I came in the band to play tenor, not as a choirboy.’

Now he was expected, on Max’s TV shows, to act as well. Before he’d been in the band a week he was standing before the cameras in a New York cop’s uniform, while scantily dressed floozies paraded before him up and down swinging their handbags and chewing bubblegum.

They even had Benny dressed up as a US Army MP with a steel helmet and a big white billyclub. He looked pretty damn menacing, at that. The rest of us were supposed to act around in the background, dressed like adagio dancers, while the playback wailed out Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.

We did that show and then flatly refused to do anything like it again. Max said that we were spoilsports.

On the next show he said that we would only play the instruments, no fancy costumes or clowning around.

We were loaded into a train, out of the windows of which we were supposed to be madly playing as it drew slowly into a station. Then we had to pile out, still playing, and march merrily up a small hill into the local zoological gardens.

This we did, but the producer made the mistake of having me lead the procession. Spotting a Kneipe or pub at the top of the hill I veered right and marched the lot of them inside, where we quickly downed a few beers while the producer was running up the hill behind us yelling ‘Cut!’.

There was hell to pay about that because it was all being shot on one camera, and we had to get back in the train, which had to reverse out of the station and then come back in again for the first shot.

When we got into the zoo it was the childrens’ section, with lots of swings and roundabouts. On these contraptions we now had to crouch, still pretending to play while they whizzed around. Benny was squashed into a kids’ gondola on the Ferris Wheel, which gave him the horrors because it creaked a lot, and he reckoned that the chains weren’t strong enough to hold him.

It was all supposed to be playback, but musicians usually play along with playbacks just for fun. When we did that now most of the animals galloped away screaming, and we were begged not to.

At one point we arrived in front of the lions’ cages. The producer wanted a shot of Don blowing away with one of the lions in the background. He positioned him before the bars of a cage containing a very, very old lion, and retired to converse with the cameraman.

‘Hey!’ said Don to me. He pointed at a sign bolted to the bars of the cage which said: ACHTUNG! LÖWE SPRITZT!

‘What does it mean?’

‘How the hell should I know? I’ve only just arrived here.’ There was no one around to ask, but seeing the word ACHTUNG I quickly moved away a few yards.

The producer started the shot. As soon as Don lifted his tenor and the music started the lion moved gracefully over behind him and peed through the bars all over Don’s dinner suit. I started forward. ‘Hey! that means ...’

‘I know what it means,’ said Don crossly, stripping off his clothes as if they were on fire.

A large chimpanzee seemed to be fascinated by the music, and swayed backwards and forwards, nodding his head to the beat. The producer had one of his brainwaves.

‘How about a side shot—just one clarinet—a la Goodman, playing music to soothe the savage beast?’ He positioned Dick before the bars. After a few seconds he stopped the music. ‘You’ll have to get closer,’ he said. ‘I can’t get you both in the frame.’

‘I’m not getting any closer,’ said Dick. Max gave him a couple of death looks and he moved over closer to the cage.

The music started. Quick as a flash the chimp reached through the bars with an arm at least eight feet long and grabbed the clarinet.

‘Jesus!’ shouted Dick, and hung on for all he was worth while we all fell about helplessly behind him. A tug-of-war took place. It was Keystone Kops time. Luckily for the chimp, the clarinet came to pieces and he wound up clutching the bell. This went straight into his big, wet, slobbery mouth. He then climbed quickly up to the roof of the cage, where he hung by one leg from an old motor tyre with the bit of clarinet sticking out of the corner of his mouth, looking remarkably like Edward G. Robinson smoking a cigar.

He viewed Dick, who was dancing up and down screaming with rage, with unconcern. The keeper arrived at a run. ‘Don’t shout! Don’t shout! My God, you’ll give him a complex.’

‘Never mind his complex, what about my effing clarinet.’

‘Don’t say effing,’ said Max, who didn't like to hear people swearing in English.

For the show’s finale we lined up along the edge of a large pool. For some reason, German TV producers at the time seemed to be convinced that a musician could only look genuine if he kept swaying from side to side when he played.

For the final shot, Max was silhouetted playing tenor in front of a couple of flamingos, playing the tune Flamingo, i.e., Max, not the birds.

As he blasted away, eyes closed, in his favourite Earl Bostic style, I noticed that the flamingos in the background were swaying from side to side, in perfect time with the music. ‘How did you get them to do that?’ I gasped to the producer.

He looked at me coldly.

‘They are German flamingos. They vill do as they are ordered.’

We moved into a house in the Nebelhornstrasse, i.e., Foghorn Street, very romantic. We had the upstairs apartment over a goldsmith, and there we stayed for the next couple of years.

The owner of this house was the goldsmith’s father. He collected the rent from me, but was at loggerheads with his son, and when we moved in there was an argument going on about the heating. Neither would give way, and the son was prepared to go without heat just to spite his father.

Munich has temperatures way down below zero in winter, often minus 40o Centigrade, and so I found myself shovelling coal and trying to keep the unfamiliar furnace going.

The people downstairs were OK. They had two daughters, one of whom already went to school. Marc quickly learned German through playing with them, and also with his best pal Rudi down the street, who was a Contragen child, and had been born without ears.

When the little girl came home triumphantly one day and said that she could now count up to twenty, Marc took over when she finished and went on in German up to a hundred. He’d have gone even further if I hadn’t nudged him under the table. She was nonplussed, and so was I. Here I’d been studying the language for twenty years, and he could leave me behind in conversations with the man downstairs after only a couple of months.

After three years in Germany Marc returned to England to start school; now, at age forty, he can hardly remember any German.

The father, who was making so much trouble, had been one of the braver Germans at the beginning of the nazi regime who had refused to say ‘Heil Hitler’. For that he would normally have been sentenced to death, but he was an engine driver, and the nazis needed them. He was put to work driving ammunition trains to the Russian front, which amounted to the same thing.

He showed me a photograph of himself as a young man, standing beside his locomotive, which was laying on its side after having been derailed by the Russians. He had one foot on it, so to speak, as if it were some huge steaming animal which he had just shot.

A lonely Russian woman had taken him in and hidden him until the war was over. How he returned I never discovered, but he probably walked back. Most of them did. One of the violinists I later got to know in the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Berlin walked back from Russia carrying the orchestra's conductor in his arms.

Eddie and Mattie Blair turned up suddenly one afternoon. I was just standing in the garden, watching Marc fool around with the other kids when their car drew up.

They were on holiday, on the way to Italy. When they came off the Autobahn into Munich Eddie had said that he was going to drive as straight as an arrow through the town towards Garmisch. If he saw our car he’d stop. Neither of them had any idea of where we lived.

At one point he had to drive across a large area of wilderness, with only dirt tracks for roads. Still he persevered. An inner force convinced him that he’d eventually arrive in the right place.

As the car drew up I noticed Eddie’s small boy standing up in the rear, gripping the back of the driving seat. Ed told me later that his son had stood like that all the way to Italy, and all the way back. I didn’t see Eddie and Matty after that for another twenty-five years.

My wife and I made some new friends. Just speaking English to one another in a shop was often enough to gather others around, asking delightedly if we were British. After a very short time we were members of a group of people which included an American computer expert, a Canadian Mountie, a German economist, and the head of BEA maintenance at Munich Airport.

The BEA engineer was under investigation when we first met him, because of the Munich crash which had killed most members of the Manchester United football team. He was subsequently cleared when it was proved that a thin layer of snow on the runway had prevented the plane from achieving proper lift-off.

Another couple we got to know lived nearby. The woman was hanging out of her first floor window shouting ‘Won’t anyone please talk to me?’ when my wife walked by.

Vera was a very small Indian woman, married to a tall German engineer student named Rudolph. Marc immediately named his favourite Teddy Bear after him, which seemed to bug Rudolph no end.

He used to come out with a succession of fatuous remarks, which he delivered with the utmost gravity and assurance. One of them was his conviction that it never rained while the sun was shining. ‘Impossible’, he said.

We were standing outside in the garden when he uttered those words. The sun was shining. At that moment it began to rain. I looked at him and burst out laughing.

‘Never challenge God,’ I said. He walked away in a huff.

They bought a Volkswagen, and Vera took driving lessons. When she passed the test she came around to proudly show us her new licence. As she prepared to leave we all went down to see her off. Marc and my wife got behind her car in a comic act, pretending to push her away.

Knowing the VW as I did, I recognised the distinctive clunk as she rammed the lever into gear, and pulled them both back from behind the car very sharply. The next moment she let in the clutch with a bang and roared backwards, smashing into my car, which was parked behind, and completely demolishing the front. If the two of them had remained standing there she would have crippled them both for life, or maybe even killed them.

My mother came over for a week. I took her to the Nymphenburg Palace to see the sights, and ended up pushing her around in a wheelchair. Everywhere you go in Germany you always have to walk a lot. I took Marc to Munich Zoo quite regularly, and always had to carry him home on my shoulders. We drove down to Garmisch and went in the cable car up to the top of the Zugspitz. I think she enjoyed herself. She’d certainly never been on top of a mountain before. This was the first and last time in her life that my mother flew anywhere in a plane, and she enjoyed that, too.

My son Marc, now aged five, was beginning to get more and more aggressive. Quite often, he’d take it upon himself to start rushing wildly around restaurants, making car or airplane noises while we were eating. Often there’d be other kids there who would join in.

In the American army restaurant in Garmisch I got into a very embarrassing hassle with the head waiter because of that, and he started demanding my passport, to see whether I was a German or not. Germans weren’t allowed to eat in there, as the place was strictly for soldiers and American tourists. I had to take Marc out of the place, something which didn’t please him one bit, so he screamed and struggled all the way out to the car park. He did something similar on a trip to Amsterdam, when we visited a couple we knew. The man was a chemist, working for ICI in the Hague. They had adopted a boy, and also named him Marc.

While we were there we took a sight-seeing tour on one of the closed-in motor barges, through the canals and across the harbour. Only minutes after leaving Marc insisted upon rushing up and down the boat, non-stop, until the tour guide asked me to stop him. When I grabbed him he struggled and screamed blue murder. The noise in that enclosed space was incredible. The barge had to pull up to let us off—not an easy task, and we disembarked in a small backwater miles from anywhere.

Another trick Marc had was disappearing in crowded stores. If you let go of his hand to pick up something, or pay for an article he’d be gone. After a while I got to know where to find him, because he usually turned up in the toy department. I had to pick him up bodily to get him away again, which caused him to scream and kick as usual. The place being crowded and all, this caused great excitement amongst the Germans, who probably thought I was kidnapping him, or, at the very least ill-treating him.

‘Shame!’ they called, and pressed around me angrily. I shouted at them in English to mind their own bloody business, and the crowd melted away like magic. There’s a standing joke in Germany that people often say to someone who is acting strangely—’Bist Du besoffen oder Ausländer?’ Are you drunk or a foreigner? No one wanted to get mixed up in a British family quarrel.

When my notice had been served I left Max Greger’s band and went to Berlin. I fully intended finding an apartment for us all there, but when I visited them in Munich at Christmas my wife made it pretty clear that she no longer wanted to live with me.

Shortly afterwards I drove to London and rented her a house near Kingston where she lived for the next twenty-six years.

And those were the bad, bad old days.

         Chapter Ten >>>

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved