by Anthony Abel
Sadly, I heard from his family that Anthony Abel had passed through the Departure Lounge at the end of 2022. Tony had been ill for many years and despite his chemotherapy, stayed in contact with us and sent these memories of discovering jazz.
I think this picture was taken at Cheam baths possibly as it looks very clean and institutional.
I stopped listening to most music after discovering Trad Jazz in the early 1960s, to coin a phrase "that's what I call jazz". A bit of name dropping here, I met and spoke to many of my Trad heroes in those days and I clearly remember when Acker Bilk and co. gave me a lift in the old Bedford van that they were using, we were all crushed in the back with their kit. I muscled in on the Bob Wallis band at the Corn Exchange in Redhill all those years ago and sang his favourite piece with him Everybody Loves Saturday Night, Mickey Ashman was on bass.
[Here is a video clip of Bob Wallis and his band playing Bellissima in 1962 in a movie about British Traditional jazz].
I first remember hitching out to Reading to see Ken Colyer after work with a work colleague. I was 15 at the time and working at Greenly's advertising agency in London's New Oxford Street (Dave Cousins who went on to play with the Strawbs also worked there). In 1959 I had no real interest in any sort of music, but a fellow messenger at the advertising agency had and he suggested we go to an all-nighter in Reading after work that Friday night. It was my first introduction to Ken Colyer and traditional jazz.
The experience was fantastic, my pal Mick got far drunker than I did and passed out in the middle of the dance hall, nobody took any notice or even minded but I had to place a couple of chairs over him to prevent him being trampled by the hoard of dancers jiving and stomping. We were both booted and suited coming straight from work and looked totally out of place but nobody gave us a second glance. That was the start of my lifelong addiction to Trad, no cure available for one as so intense. My commitment to hearing the purist style of New Orleans music was as strong as Ken Colyer’s desire to play it. From then on I was addicted and tried to see him at as many clubs as I could. I travelled all over, sometimes hitching long distances to see him.
Ken was immensely popular at the club nearest to me - I lived in Sydenham at the time and used to go to the Croydon Jazz Club at The Star Hotel. Many great bands played there but when Ken Colyer was there it was a sell out and everybody’s favourite number of his was Maryland, a great tune to start a stomp, much to the management’s fury.
Best of all were the all-nighters at Studio 51, not licensed, but we used to tank up at the pub over the road in Great Newport Street. I was fortunate to be at the bar with Ken before one all-nighter, I liked a drink too. I attempted to have a conversation with him, but if any of your readers tried the same they would have found out that Ken was a very private person and was not easily engaged in small talk, we had a couple of rounds together but he said very little. He expressed himself in his music though, and that was good enough for all of us.
The club was a smoke-filled basement and very crowded, I and many others took drink in with us. In my case it was usually a large flagon of strong cider, it's not sold like that anymore but then it was available in the sort of container people now use to make homemade wine (lasts all night!). I saw Sammy Rimington there playing with Ken for the first time, he hadn't been with him long and I don't know who he replaced. Many of us commented how odd he seemed, he was dressed in evening dress and played with his head leaning at an angle to his right. Seemed out of place and very awkward, but once he started playing we all realised he was really special. He is still on the scene and I have seen him playing a couple of times, although he is playing the same music still superbly, for some reason there has never been a trombone in his line up.
[Here is a clip from the 1963 film West 11 where we see Ken Colyer's band arriving at a set made to look like Studio 51. As one YouTube commentator says: "We never danced the twist in a Trad jazz club"!
The venues now are all wrong, you can't listen to that sort of music sitting down, it's meant to be heard in a smoky crowded club standing or jiving on a sticky floor. I remember going to one all-nighter with a girlfriend who was a fantastic dancer - I had difficulty keeping up with her, especially when I had been drinking. I took a break and fell asleep on the floor and left her to carry on alone, she didn't mind a bit. When I woke up nearly at the end of the night we did our usual thing and staggered down to Trafalgar Square and dunked our heads in the fountains to wake up properly before the homeward journey to South London. I felt very itchy then and to my horror I was covered in flea bites, but I considered even then that it was a small price to pay.
Another clear memory of the club nights was seeing Ken and Diz Disley, both drunk fall down the very steep stairs and landing on top of each other. Apart from a nasty cut on Ken’s head which someone put a plaster on, neither of them seemed bothered by what happened and both of them started the set, which of course was brilliant.
I used to see a lot of bands at Cheam baths (see the picture above) where I first met Acker Bilk and got my much needed lift in the old van the band used. Again I went with my friend Mick and sometimes used to stay the night at his house as he lived in Ewell, not far away. I saw Ken Colyer there as well and rather than walk through the night back to S.E. London, which I had done sometimes in the past (no real effort then), I used to walk up to Tattenham Corner station which was unlocked in those days and spend the night sleeping on the first train out to West Croydon and a bus ride from home. I did that many times, the trains were warm and very comfortable then, I used to wear my duffle coat back to front to block out the light.
Perhaps my best memory of Ken Colyer, the icing on the cake, was the North Sea Shuffle, which was organised by the Melody Maker for the princely sum of £7.00, which was rather a lot then. In the morning, we all caught a train from Liverpool Street to Harwich, bands playing all the way on the train. We took the Ferry to Hook Of Holland, bands playing on it too. I talked to Ken and Brother Bill and a woman who I think was Ken’s mother on the boat deck for some time and we all shared a few drinks. At the Hook there was an evening concert - the only band I can remember, other than Ken playing, was the Dutch Swing College Band. That was followed by an all night session with them both and others I can't recall. Then a huge breakfast in the morning and the same sessions all the way back. You can see what I mean about the best bit!
I lost contact with my friend Mick, mainly because of the state he got into when we were out together, he always drank far too much, fell over and invariably ripped the knees out of his trousers. All this caused huge rows between his parents and he overheard his father say "I can't take much more of his behaviour, I have always tried to treat him as one of my own." Until that moment he never knew he was adopted.
This picture of another friend, Bryan, and myself was taken in the early 60s at the Black Prince in Bexley, I am the one with big paint brush. We had been given the task of posting stickers by the organisers and were paid in beer, the picture was taken by my other friend Barrie Wentzell who went on to be the staff photographer for the now defunct Melody Maker.
The occasion was a jazz festival sponsored by Guards Cigarettes. That could not happen in this day and age now smoking is taboo, but we all smoked in those days. It's one of the first big outdoor jazz functions that I attended. I cannot remember the bands that were on the bill - that may be because of the beer I was paid and not my memory at fault.
I do have a very clear memory of the amateur band contest and seeing Ken Sims playing trumpet in one of the bands that entered. I was talking to him as I had seen him playing in the clubs, he pleaded with me not to mention who he was as he clearly was not an amateur and would be disqualified if found out. I wouldn't have said anything anyway, but his band did not win. The drummer was Viv Prince, who in later years played with The Pretty Things as well as many other bands. Another band I do remember very clearly (not jazz) was a bunch of young Irish guys calling themselves ‘Them’. The singer was called ‘Shorty’, who I also spoke to. He went on to be Van Morrison.
In 1977 when I met my second wife's mother who loved traditional jazz - which endeared me to her - she mentioned being at the Black Prince event. All the family were there including my future wife who would have been seven at the time (I am ten years older than her). It's a very small world!
After seeing Ken Colyer my friend Mick and I were determined to form a band of our own, me on trumpet and him on trombone. Fired with enthusiasm we both purchased our instruments from Boosey & Hawkes - my second hand trumpet cost me the princely sum of £15. I used to drive my mother mad trying to practice scales so I thought I'd better see about lessons.
There was an advertisement in the Melody Maker for Junior Bandsmen needed to join The Scots Greys at Kneller Hall, so we duly applied. I never heard back, and it was not until sometime later that my mother told me that a Major from the Scots Greys called at our house to interview me. She told him I was not interested and not to bother to call at Mick’s as he was not either. She probably did me a favour as I don't think I would have been suited to army life!
As I had heard nothing from them I decided to approach The Master, Ken Colyer. I tracked him down to his agent’s office just of Regent Street and asked him if he would give me lessons. He mumbled that he didn't do that sort of thing but recommended ‘Old Man Dansey’. I went and saw him as well on Ken’s advice but he charged £5 per lesson which was beyond my means. Cyril Preston the trombonist and Charlie Gall the trumpeter (later to play with The Clyde Valley Stompers) shared a flat on the outskirts of Croydon near where I lived and Charlie agreed to teach me for nothing, I got to know them both at a party they held.
At that time I was a fervent member of CND, equally passionate about the girls involved as well. I was arrested at a sit down demonstration at the Russian Embassy in the early '60s. We were all thrown into police vans and piled into cells at Great Marlborough Street police station. There must have been twenty of us to a cell, very smelly and sweaty until the police realised that some of us were female, it was hard to tell in those days, we were all hair and duffle coats.
We were separated and just two of us were left, the police were very decent to us, we even had a cooked breakfast in the morning before appearing four at a time in the dock at the magistrates court. I think I was fined about £8. In those days the police called at one’s home to verify the address you had given and my mother was absolutely furious being woken at 2 a.m. to verify I was her son! The upshot of all this was that she refused to lend me the money to pay my fine so the trumpet had to go. Thus ended my blossoming career as a jazz musician. Who knows – ‘I could have been a contender"!!! (Apologies to Brando in On The Waterfront).
Undaunted by that mishap my enthusiasm for Trad still burned hot in me and I joined the Croydon Jazz Club at The Star Hotel in West Croydon. The club was run by Frank Getgood and his friend Nobby - 5 shillings entrance every Friday night. There was always a bar extension when Ken Colyer played, in my cups I duetted with him singing Walking With The King one night, I don't think he really appreciated it though.
[Listen to Ken Colyer's band playing Walking With The King here]
Mike Daniels used to play there fairly regularly and I got to know Gordon Blundy the trombonist quite well. We used to share a table in the café next door before the session. Gordon was a keen amateur film maker and he was planning making a Western picture and he was going to cast me as a Red Indian (native American) in it, nothing ever came of it though. I remember a night when Alex Welsh played with Lennie Hastings on drums. In the interval when the band had retired to the bar I climbed aboard Lennie’s drum kit to try and emulate him, he heard me from the bar and came charging in, incandescent with rage, I was sure he was going to hit me, it was only extreme grovelling that saved my bacon.
Alan Elsdon played another night. I really liked Alan, he was always up for a chat and a thoroughly nice bloke. It was after his gig that my friend Bryan and I went for a curry further up the street, as you do after prodigious quantities of beer. We were rather the worse for wear and had to have the meals we had ordered put into ‘doggy bags’ to take away. Bryan had taken a toilet roll from the toilet and we were outside throwing it back and forth over the phone lines. Unbeknown to us the curry house had had a spot of bother earlier in the evening and most of the customers were undercover policemen, they of course all piled out and arrested us both rather vigorously. We were carted off to Croydon Police station, photographed and fingerprinted and told to report to the magistrates court the next morning.
When we were arrested we looked like a couple of down and outs, that was the "in" look in those days. But we both turned up clean shaven and dressed smartly. After the bench had dealt with the drunks and prostitutes we were put in the dock and charged with the theft of a roll of pink Delsey toilet paper value two shillings. The magistrates were having a difficult job smothering their laughter as the evidence was produced from a large bag. They stifled their laughter and asked us what we had to say for ourselves, we both replied "we were very sorry for the trouble we have caused". The magistrates conferred and the Chairman said "I can see this is just a case of youthful high spirits, £1 fine each". I now have a criminal record, if any toilet rolls go missing in the future the police will come knocking.
I mentioned earlier that I had a barny with Sandy Brown at the bar there. It was all my fault I'm afraid, it was either about him not playing a request or comparing him unfavourably with Sammy Rimington, I think it may have been the latter judging by how angry he got. Humph played there as well. I had his book I Play As I Please which I took with me that night for him to sign. He did that and also did a lot of Flook drawings in it for me, I greatly valued that book but I lent it to someone years ago and never got it back.
Croydon had a good jazz scene at that time. There was an all-nighter at The Old Civic Hall, now demolished. The only band I can remember was Eric Allendale and His New Orleans Knights, they were brilliant. Much later in the 60s I went to see Graeme Bell at The Chislehurst Caves and there are several stages in there. When Graeme took a break I wandered down one of the other passages and there was Eric again with the Foundations, I couldn't believe it at first.
One night at Croydon when Ken Colyer was playing and the bar was extended as usual (a pint of mild was one shilling and two pence, shorts and best bitter two shillings and sixpence), my friend Mick was very much the worse for wear. I had a Norman ‘Nippy’ moped in those days and Mick lived in Coulsdon. Quite a distance from Croydon. The moped had a single seat and a carrier at the back, I got Mick on it and strapped him to me with a couple of bungee cords.
We set off, I had to keep stopping as he was sliding sideways and the moped never had enough power to get us uphill so we had to put our feet down and run as the road steepened. At one time a policeman on a Noddy Bike (remember those?) asked us if we had a good night? I can't imagine that happening these days. I got him home to face his parents’ anger, they were both waiting up. I never saw him again. Years later, someone heard that his father had taken over a pub in Abinger Hammer so we all went down to see him. As soon as his father saw me he came over the bar to give me a good hiding, we beat a hasty retreat. He blamed me for being a bad influence on Mick, probably right about that too.
I went to Cy Laurie's Club several times during the '60s, unfortunately the man himself had gone mystic and departed for India so I never got to see him. No visit would have been complete without ogling the pictures on display outside the Windmill Theatre across the road, very tame by today's standards, but enough to inflame a 16 year old back then. I can't be sure who I even saw playing there, but I can remember the terribly sticky floor and so much smoke that made my eyes water. The heat emanating from all the bodies crammed in there made it a relief to get out again.
There were some strange characters in the area in those days, one chap called Pete The Brolly, he always carried one. I kept meeting him at various parties over the years. Smokey Shrover was another and a chap with the rather exotic name of Dido Plum.
The Six Bells in Chelsea was one of my favourite places. Jazz was played upstairs on a Saturday night, I even had a membership card, it had a picture of Flook on it, drawn by Wally Fawkes I believe. I saw Humph there several times until he started experimenting with mainstream and had Bruce Turner on sax in the line up. It sounds rather daft now but I considered him a traitor and the Six Bells just lost its appeal. We all used to go down to the Cafe Des Artistes in Radcliffe Gardens off the Fulham Rd afterwards where there was always somebody who knew of a party we could crash.
Then my friend and I discovered the Jazz Boat moored on the river at Kingston. It always surprised me how many people used to cram on there. The bands were left with very little room, and it was not wise to be too near the trombonist and risk getting hit by the slide. The drink was served from the ticket booth, only Watneys Red Barrel though.
Eel Pie Island hotel
After that it was always Eel Pie Island on a Saturday night, what a fantastic place that was. I saw Ken Colyer there and Acker Bilk, how that floor used to bounce when we stomped. One night on the way out a friend bet me 5 shillings I would not jump off the bridge into the river. Of course I did and enjoyed it so much I went back on the bridge and did it for nothing. There was a police car parked on the Twickenham side and the policeman just watched and laughed. The downside of that was I had to travel all the way back to Sydenham dripping wet.
Another Saturday on the island Bryan and I gate-crashed a party in a boathouse, a very upmarket affair. They had huge cheeses with candles for lighting. I was hungry and cut an enormous slice out of one to eat, the host was furious as apparently the cheeses were on loan and had to be returned intact, needless to say we were roughed up and ejected.
The Crown in Morden was another favoured venue, run by Steve Duman, a welcoming host who let us get away with some rather bad behaviour, he just looked the other way. The bands were always first class, I must have been pretty drunk because I can't remember any of the lineups, may have been Mike Cotton Band or Terry Lightfoot. Bryan and I used to hitch hike all over to see bands, I mentioned The Corn Exchange in Redhill previously. We went down to Brighton often with our blanket rolls on our backs, Bonnie Manzies Chinese Jazz Club was our destination usually.
Prior to going to the club we used to frequent the Lorelei Coffee bar in the Lanes, then a wine bar that sold draught Merrydown and Mead, powerful stuff. We were always short of money after that and could not muster up the entrance fee for Uncle Bonnies so we used to rush up to him as if we were old friends shouting "Uncle Bonnie we are here again". He always was pleased to see us and let us in for nothing, "chop chop velly good" was the response from him. The last time we were there Georgie Fame was playing and I had a bit of a barney with his drummer and we were thrown out, never to return. We used to sleep under the pier after those nights, we never got moved on by the police but they did roust out the other dossers. We were completely without funds in the morning so we decided to try begging. We both took one side of the street and managed to collect 12 shillings between us. We went to the beach to divvy up the spoils and were approached by a policeman. He said he had seen what we were up to and told us we had an hour to get out of Brighton.
It must have been on a Saturday as we decided to go to the Isle Of Wight as we had heard of a club at the Starlight Ballroom at the end of Ryde Pier. We arrived there by a very roundabout route, that happened often when hitching lifts. The band playing were The Clyde Valley Stompers, with Fionna Duncan. I've always been a great fan of the band and Fionna's singing was always a joy to hear. The club owner was a chap called Leo, and unfortunately my pal Bryan said something rather suggestive to the woman he was with. It turned out it was his wife and we were ejected from the club for insulting her. I was with another girl and we spent the night on the beach, I don't know where Bryan went. In the morning I started looking for him fruitlessly so I went to the pier head and asked the chap on duty if he had seen anybody who looked like me? "No mate" was the reply. I went up and down the seafront for about an hour to no avail and decided to try the pier again. I asked the same question and the man said "Yes, he was here about an hour ago looking for you". It took me a little time to realise that it was me he was talking about, he had seen me twice! I did eventually find Bryan passed out in a shop doorway. It took us until early evening to get back home. I was on a dating site some years ago and a woman emailed me asking me if I went to the Black Cat club in Sydenham in the '60s? I said I did and she replied that her eldest son looked like me, she sent me a picture of him. A spitting image. Ah those heady days of free love where anything goes.
I was an avid reader of the Melody Maker in those days and they published a list of gigs countrywide. There was a Jazz Festival advertised at Earlswood just outside Birmingham which we both decided to go to. We set out on a Friday night, taking the underground to North London to hitch a ride up the M1. We got there when a crowd was queuing for admission. There was not a huge crowd attending, unlike music festivals these days and one could easily see the bands at close quarters. A few local bands were billed, but best of all were Johnny Dankworth with Cleo Laine, and a real treat The Clyde Valley Stompers with Fiona Duncan. Hearing her sing Salty Dog was well worth the journey [Listen to a recording here]. It was a long haul back home and we got to the outskirts of London in the early morning.
As we had walked some distance we were both pretty tired so we got in our sleeping bags and dossed down outside Chalk Farm underground entrance, it was still closed and gated but there was a steady flow of warm air coming up, very comfortable. The station staff roused us when the station opened and we went on our way, I phoned work to say I was not to well and would not be in that day. When I got to work on the Tuesday I was called into the sales manager's office. He asked me had I recovered enough for work, and what had kept me from coming in on the Monday.
I replied that I thought I may have been coming down with the flu. He replied, looking rather angry "Perhaps you will explain the fact that our receptionist saw you asleep outside Chalk Farm underground station yesterday morning?" What could I say, he was working himself into a rage and beetroot red. He said " I'll give you a choice, you can resign or I'll sack you". I said "Suit yourself, I don't care". At that point I honestly thought he was going to come across the desk at me, he was shouting at the top of his voice "Get out! Get out!" and he had the office manager eject me from the building. Jobs were plentiful in those days and I was once again employed at the end of the week.
The Trad scene started to fade after a while and I decided to go to Australia, I was there for nearly a year working in a fairground, never got to work the dodgems though which was my ambition. I lost contact with my partner in mayhem Bryan shortly before I went, which is a shame because we did have enormous fun. I could write loads of other high jinks we got up to unrelated to Traditional Jazz. Incidentally we both went out with Pamela Kelly who went on to sing blues as Jo-Ann Kelly, what a fabulous voice she had but died tragically of a brain tumour several years ago. [Here is a video of Jo-Ann Kelly singing Me and My Chauffeur Blues in 1989]
One high spot though, after many years silence Bryan phoned me out of the blue last week, I'm really pleased he did as we share some memories, both in music and women we met. Sadly he now has Parkinson's Disease, I told him what I am now diagnosed with and his response was " f*** me Abel you always had to go one better". Who will be first "Over In The Glory Land" I wonder?
In March 1962 not long after our 'great toilet roll theft', [see above when they were charged with the theft of a roll of pink Delsey toilet paper value two shillings], the National Front, the forerunner of the BNP were holding a rally outside the curry house in question in West Street Croydon, a deliberate provocative act guaranteed to inflame the owners. The then leader of this obnoxious party was a chap called Colin Jordan who was to be the speaker. A good crowd had gathered including a great number of protesters against this racist rant.
Bryan and I decided to go one better and pelt the speaker with tomatoes. The uproar was a sight to behold, fists flying, press cameras flashing and the police trying to maintain order. I was grabbed by a policeman, cuffed and arrested and so was Bryan. We appeared before the magistrates on the Monday and were both fined £5 for breaching the peace. At the time I was working at a company where my mother was a director, she duly informed the manager that I wouldn't be in that day as I was not well. Unbeknown to her my picture in the arms of a policeman had been taken by a cameraman from the News Of The World and one of the warehouse staff at the company had pinned it on the notice board for all to see. It caused her so much embarrassment that I was told not to return to work again. It stopped Jordan's speech, but unfortunately not my mother's when she got home. That woman had no sense of humour at all, my father and I had a laugh about it in secret.
I was talking to my pal Bryan last night and he told me he was drinking with Johnny Bastable in the Fighting Cocks in Kingston the night Johnny was run down by a bus and killed, a real tragedy. [June Bastable says that Johnny had moved moved out to a mobile home in Sunbury. It was there that he was killed in a traffic accident, running back across the road from the local pub on Upper Halliford Road, rather than at the Fighting Cocks. Ed] Incidentally Bryan was in an antique business with the also deceased Brian Hetherington who played drums for Ken Colyer for a year or so.
I think it was in the last months of 1964 when I went to Australia. By then the clubs I used to go to were shutting due to lack of audiences, indeed I recall my last visit to the Croydon Jazz Club when there were not many more in the audience than there were members of the band. I had fallen out with Bryan at that time and was very disillusioned with my job and the social scene.
By the end of 1966 I was back in the UK and as far as I could see the Trad boom was well and truly over. I did try to recapture past glories by visiting folk clubs, which were far too sedate for my taste. I did frequent several R&B gigs around the West End seeing Long John Baldry, Alexis Korner and John Mayall, but the atmosphere in those places was totally different, as were the audiences. There always seemed to be an undercurrent of violence there. Long gone were the days where people were of a far gentler disposition as they all seemed to be in the Trad days. I married when I was 24 and we shortly after had a son together, and all ideas of clubbing were impossible.
The best years as far as I was concerned were from 1959 to 1963, from the age of 15 to19 years old. I have had plenty of good times and bad since then but I can honestly say without looking through rose-tinted glasses that those five years into the 1960s were the best years of my life. I'm really glad that I am back in touch with Bryan again as we speak often and reminiscing about those days is a delight for both of us.
Anthony Abel passed through the Departure Lounge at the end of 2022. He had managed his cancer with chemotherapy and good humour over all the time he sent his memories to me. He also stayed in touch with Bryan, although that became difficult as both of their health conditions deteriorated. I am sure his memories, and perhaps some of their activities, will ring bells with others who were there at the time - Ed]