Saxophonist and leader of many big bands in the Southend area.
Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.
Interview Text or Transcript
When were you born Norman?
When were you born Norman?
I was born August 25 1938 which makes me 75 this year.
You were born in Islington, were you?
Yeah, Islington, London yeah.
What got you interested in music in the first place?
I come from a musical family, my father was a song and dance man in the 1919’s in the music halls and then when Dad retired my brother and sister took over and they were called the Two Georgians and they were a musical act. My brother played trumpet and xylophone and my sister was a tap dancer and they went through working all through the war working for Ensa and also for the munician factories entertaining, building a cabaret act for many years. At that time the first appearance on the stage with me was at 6 years old at the Wimbledon Theatre. I was a comedien and tap dancer in those days. The first one we played was Maizey Dotes and Osey Dotes.
I can tell you a quick storey about Wimbledon Theatre, if I like to jump forward a bit. Our first gig was in, when I was 6 years old, in 1944 at Wimbledon Theatre, with the Georgians, we was called the Georgian Twins. Our next gig was in 1951 at the Wimbledon Theatre there and we sung Maizey Dotes, Osey Dotes and When You’re Smiling, but unfortunately had a lovely Trumpet player at 14 who died. Excellent trumpet player he was, brilliant, and so that split the act up; but the last time was unbelievable - I appeared at the Wimbledon Theatre in 1982 with Guy Mitchell. I was his musical director and we used to work on stage with one another and the last gig ended up with She Wears Red Feathers and when we came on he said “Norman, do you know this song When You’re Smiling?” Well, I couldn’t believe it because that is the song I sung when we was 6 years old and when we was 13 years old in Wimbledon Theatre and his last gig in 1982 with Guy, and that was actually the last gig, so Wimbledon Theatre says something about the family, you know.
Yes, doesn’t it just.
It’s gone right through to there, but saying that, I don’t know, well, I was the first saxophone player at London College of Music, 1957. They had no saxophone players there at all and I phoned them up and I sent them a letter and I went to an interview and they said “No, we don’t have saxophones. We don’t teach that”, this was in Great Marlborough Street in London, and I got a phone call back and they said “Yes, you come down, we have got a teacher, Professor Alfred Randall which is the first clarinet with us”. Alfred Randall was the first clarinet player with the London Symphony Orchestra. So I went there and turned up and they had no music for saxophone, the only thing they had was Ravel’s Bolero, the tenor sax part. So next week I went back I took the Jimmy Dorsey saxophone method. Now about 15 years ago I went back to the London College of Music and I couldn’t believe it, there’s saxophones everywhere. There’s too many saxophones, so I wouldn’t say that means anything that I done that but they didn’t have a saxophone there. Then after that I don’t know, I worked in the print, because my father said “You’ve got to get a proper job”. I done my 7 years apprenticeship and I left there.
You must have still been playing though at the time?
I was playing more there, I was playing 8 sessions a week in Islington in a pub called the Mermaid Saville.
Yep. Now if you want experience in playing that’s how you learn your business because every night there will be singers. I had 8 sessions, I used to work at 7 o’clock at night at the print, rush to get my sax and rush down to the pub and what they had there they had singers all out of tune singing different keys, you couldn’t even play, so that’s how I learnt some of my craft for playing.
Yeah, so there’s a change in keys.
All the time. Then I formed my Jazz group in London, and many other bits and pieces there, and that was a quite a few years I played all around London in different Jazz clubs and then McGill 5 they were there, took that over in 1972.
Yeah, with the y’know, what’s the tune, Mocking Bird Hill.
And I was the last one to finish that act because a lot of them left and that was it. So that was in the 70’s that was 72 when Joe Loss was on the bill and we was the second band. That was in the 72’s, then I moved down here in the 70’s, met the McGill 5, came down here.
Why did you come down here?
Because my brother was down here. He moved down here and my mother passed over in 71 so me and my wife decided to leave Walthamstow. The first thing I done was started teaching at the Southend Tech. I formed the big band there and at the same time I formed the Super Sunday Sound, which was a great little band, ages from 8 – 15, the youngest band in England. We appeared on a television show, we was playing at the Queens Hotel on a Sunday morning and the producer came down and he said “We have been looking for something like you over the country. You’re the youngest band in England” and we appeared on a shown called the Junior Genius Christmas Show. That was in 72 or 75. And that was a good little band. Players that came from that were Graham Turner, Leslie Bridge, Graham Martin was in it, mostly youngsters. They are not young now, but they’re doing well, playing well, so that’s when I formed that band and then I was asked for the potential to form a new band and I got the band together in 8 weeks, unbelievable. They couldn’t believe it and we went all over. First it was Kent then we went over to Suffolk from that area with the Prudential Band, great band, excellent.
All local musicians?
Yeah, all local young musicians up to 18, Mick Seymour, Gary Plumley and Vic Woods used to sit in with us sometimes as guests and we had different players sitting in with us with the band.
What’s the difference between the Prudential Big Band and the Sunday Band?
Well the Sunday Band was a younger band, naturally.
Even younger than that?
8-15, these were about 18-21,22.
Oh right, right.
And we raised £250,000 in charity for the band. For the band, with the Prudential, and Princess Anne came down to Nazareth House and she presented me with an award and she came down and saw the band. She was visiting Nazareth House and she came down and the band was playing there and because of the money we raised, On our first gig with the Prudential Band at the Palace Theatre, we raised £1,000.00 and by doing that we raised a £1,000.00 for Nazareth House, a bed which is under my name. Not that I am going to go in it (laughs). She gave me a plaque for that, so that was the Prudential Band. Then I had my own big band at the same time, the HMP’s, Big Band.
When did you start that?
Well, I started about 1979 and that was the Langford Big Band, we had some great musicians in that.
But the one that you started at Southend Tech, how long did that last for?
Quite a while, at Southend Tech. What was his name, the miserable teacher there, the head teacher there, and I used to play at his shows like 'The Pyjama Game' and all that, and he said “Would you like to come and teach?” which I did. I was there for about a couple of years I suppose, but then I formed a big band there which is the College Big Band, and all local musicians down there, you know, a mature band, and it was good, we had a couple of years of that I think, because I like moving on. But that was the big band and we had some great....... and then I formed the Musicians Union Club which was at the Black Rose in Leigh-on-sea. When I came down here there was only about 12 in the Musicians Union and so they made me the secretary and I formed this club and that was a great club, it was one of the best clubs in England actually. We had everybody down there, it was all charity. We would collect the money on the door then we would pay the musicians that would come down and sometimes some of the musicians would come from London, like John Hiseman, Barbara Thompson, she came down, Don Rendall, Jimmy Skidmore, we had Jimmy there, oh quite a few players and the big band went on first, my band, then we had the guests afterwards and we got over 300 members with the club. It was great. So I ran that for 5 years there.
When did you start there though?
I started there 75 and we left there and I went to Lindisfarne. That’s where I played with Ronnie, I met Ronnie Scott there and worked with him, a couple of bits and pieces with Ronnie and Stefane Grapelli was there and Bill McGuffy, he was there and we ran that for a while, then we went to the Ekco Club there, formed the big band, then I formed my young group then.
When did you go to the Ekco?
The Ekco Club about 1977. I would say 1976. But we had one at 74, 73, 74 at the Black Rose, then we went to Lindisfarne, not long there because Derek Wilson who ran it there, it changed and he didn’t really want it on a Monday night because he wanted a night off. So then we went to the Ekco Club, so we are talking about 1974, 73 around that area, you know.
So Black Rose started about 73.
We were there for about 3 or 4 years, I can’t remember now, so we’re talking about say 76. Then we went to Lindisfarne, which didn’t last long there, only a few months.
Oh did it?
No, about, I don't know, about under a year, I suppose.
Oh really, the way people talk about it, it is as though it was going on for years.
No, no, it didn’t. And the most important other one was the Ekco Club. That ran for about 2 years, so we’re talking about the 80’s I suppose, I can’t remember dates now. Then from there I still had the big band, running the big band and from the 80’s then I was with Guy Mitchell, went with Guy Mitchell for a while, on tour with him.
Did you knock your big band on the head while you were away touring with him?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah and when I came back we formed again. It was mainly all charity work I have done all my life you know, and so we formed the big band and that went for a while. There were some good players in that. That finished in 1992, 93. Our last gig was at Westcliff High School, but we used to play at the Winghams Club which is called the Sarah Moore, the pub in Leigh now. We used to have a lovely session there and that was with a big band there and after that really then I wouldn’t do a lot, bits and pieces you know. I was down here teaching people but I don’t now, it’s all finished now, so there are memories but I mean you could go back a long way and I could tell you stories about the 1960’s with different things happening with the bands but that goes on a bit more, it might be too long to hear about, the old 60's band's, yeah that was great, and the Mermaid Saville which I mentioned earlier, but my best teacher was called Bill Reed in Islington. He was with the Don Carlos Latin American Band. He played flute, he was a character, he was a great character, you know. He was the sort of character that I think that he even had a row with Don Carlos and took the money and he went to prison for a while and he came out but the band went to visit him every day, they all loved him, you know, he was a character. He got involved with this girl, but he was a great teacher, he taught me more than anything. And I went to the Central School of Dance Music for a while, but I didn’t learn much there, but my best teacher was Bill Reed, yeah and you know, I mean in the 60’s, one of my first band’s then, we was called Jim Lord and his Comets and he had the old big drum, you know, the big drum? With the cymbals, and three piece, we played at Alexander Palace on a Saturday night. We weren’t much good. Anyway we got the work. I have so many stories, but I never forget one: We done a gig with the Alan Barnard Band, a band we played with in London, and you know, the Krays was there, they had their party, and he come up at the end, Reggie and and that, with his old red braces and that, he said “Great band. We had a great evening. We enjoyed it. If you weren't any good we would have flung you out that window”. (laughs)
That was in the 60’s was it?
Yeah, in the 60’s, oh yeah, a lot in the 60’s, a lot of different bands I played with, big bands, George Formby Big Band. Then I was invited to a Royal Command Performance for Roy Hudd. I stayed there for 3 days and I met everybody. Two of them dead, Henry Mancini, great guy. I met Mancini, and conducting the band was Ronnie Hazelhurst.
I never forget this because I was sitting in front row with Mancini, chatting to him and showing him what I could do you know, and I never forget, he got up, he said “I just want to look at the music”, and that was funny for the band running through the music and he looked over the top and Hazlehurst turned round and said “Get away from my music. Who do you think you are?”, he said He knew he was Henry Mancini but to talk to a man like that........ Then we was invited to the dinner, great, everybody, James Galway was there, everybody, all the shows, all of them and we was there for 3 days and the last day Delfont and Roy Hudd, they had arranged a big dinner and invited me to the dinner as well, for the work that I’d done over the years for charity, I had done a lot of charity work and raised a lot of money for charity and yeah, that was all good and all the shows were there, Torville & Dean, Max Bygraves, all of them really, but Spike Milligan great, brilliant, oh and the other guy I met was Dame Everidge, yeah he was another great guy, met them. Then with Stan Getz, I told you, I got friendly with Stan Getz when I was a young boy, I sent a letter to him. He was in Denmark or Sweden, I can’t remember now, he was in hospital, very ill and I sent a letter to Stan Getz and I got the reply, which was a surprise, but I got a reply and he thanked me for what I’d done and sent a letter to him, and when he came over to Ronnie Scotts, the first in Ronnie Scott’s was Zoot Sims, actually I went to see him down in Gerrard Street, and then he came over and we was friends ever since.
What, you were teenagers then, were you?
No, 20 odd. And at that time I played the sax and I never forget, I was in Ronnie Scott’s in a little back room there and he was listening to us. He said I must go and listen to this guy, I have heard he is a great player and that was Tubby Hayes. He went out with me and he listened to Tubby Hayes playing and he was there with him. He loved that and every time he came back, he only came back about 4 times Stan Getz, I went to see him. The time before last I went to see him in Jazz at the Philharmonic. And everybody was there, there was all the players, some great players, and coming out of the stage door I was with Stan, we was talking about things, Carl Wilkins came out, with their wives and he came out and he said “You know this guy here?”, he said, “Norman, he was the only one that ...” I won’t say the word - “that wrote to me in hospital. Yeah, he was the only one. None of you effing did”, he said, in jest, a joke, you know, and old Carl said alright Norman. He came over and shook hands, he said “I wouldn’t get mixed up with him”. (laughs). There was Chick Corea there as well, I spoke to Chick Corea, lovely guy, lovely musician and met all the players, Ella Fitzgerald, all of them really, that came over, the only one I didn’t see was Coltrane when he came over. I didn’t see Coltrane, I missed him.
Oh Coltrane played over here did he? I thought he only played in Scotland in Glasgow.
Oh no, he played down in Hammersmith. Because Ronnie Scott went in there and he didn’t like him. He walks out and said “I can’t understand it”. After that they became great friends. But, I mean, Dizzy Gillespie, I mean I’m a Latin man, like yourself, you know I love Gato Barbieri, I love all the Latin music, you know, the congas, the conga player with Kenton Band was brilliant. Stan Kenton, I got quite close with Stan Keanton, me and my brother. I must tell you this story quick: when I formed the Super Sunday Sound, the young band, Kenton was playing at the Cliff Pavillion and I went round to see him and had a chat there told him I got the youth band. I showed him a photo of the youth band and he came down the Queens Hotel where we rehearsed.
That’s incredible isn’t it.
Him and his wife, can’t remember her name, she was a singer, not June Christy, they came down and he signed a photo and he said “You’ve got a good little band there Norman, good luck”. That was in 1970-odd when he was over here, but lovely guy he was, you know, lovely chap. No big headed about him. One of the old pro’s. A really nice guy.
You stayed in contact with him for all his life did you?
No, no, he went back and we did have an address with him but I didn’t know, but his daughter lives over here, she’s got a farm up in Suffolk. I think she does farming, animals and something like that but I have never met her, but we saw them every time time he came. It was good to see the band as well, I didn’t think he would do that but he did. That was the sort of guy he was. And he was only here for one day, he’d done two concerts. But we saw all his concerts, Kenton, met all the players there.
When I worked in California, I will tell you quickly about California, I was playing at the hotel, the Waldorf Hotel and a woman came up to me and she said “Would you like to go to California as a solo artist?”, so I said “Oh yeah”, because I had always wanted to go there. You take notice of something like that! Anyway I did hear from her and it was sponsored by Laker. I didn’t get paid for it. He said “We take a lot of entertainers to California” and I went over there and they paid for everything, I didn’t get paid but it was a lovely experience, and I went back three times over there.
The first time went with Laker, second time I went back to play over there with the Jazz group, it was an English chap actually had a group, and I went back over there and the third time I took my daughter down there. But my granddaughter Amelia, she is 14, she’s getting good, I mean she’s into dancing now, she goes to a dancing school, which is all this street dancing and also she is playing keyboard now.
So it’s all gone down the line then
Well, I don’t know, but I mean, music in our line, now my father, which I said earlier in 1919, he was a song and dance man.
What name did he perform under in the Music Hall?
J E Boyd. He was a tap dancer, he was the first tap dancer that made a staircase.
Oh yeah, like Bo Jangles.
Yeah, that’s right. And he used to fold it all up. He made it, and he was on the halls for years, you know, music halls. But his father, cos my father lived in Long Acre, you know, but his father was opposite in Covent Garden. And he died on stage. A blood vessel. Yeah, and that was his father. That chap, far before that, was a well known violinist, but I can’t go back that far. So my father, his father was an opera singer, the opera singer’s father was a very famous violist.
And you were a variety turn.
Oh yeah, yeah.
But your elder brother is a musician as well, isn’t he? You say he plays vibes and trumpet?
Oh yeah, Trumpet. He’s got vibes there. He still keeps them set up in the front room, but as I say, he was a musical act, named the Two Georgians. And they went all through the war, they worked for Edgestone and they worked in munition factories at night and they used to take us out, we were twins, we were only about 4 or 5 and hide us under the seat because you were not allowed to go out in those days. And they went in his old Ford 8 with the trailer on the back with a xylophone, the works. But as I say, he is 90 odd now but he is really with it, you know, he loves all the new players, he loves the National Jazz Youth Orchestra, he likes the new style they play. He said “The other Jazz is finished, I only listen to the new stuff”. He’s got a lovely gift my brother, he’s got a gift for harmonies. He can’t read music but the way he played, he got this terrific gift and he could go way out, you know. He’s got a lovely gift for playing. I wish I had that gift, it’s a gift, you know. He’s got this gift for harmonies. He plays on and goes way out, you know. He’s still around, Les, you could have a chat with him, he’s interesting, he could tell you a few things about the old players years ago down there.
So you talk about Gato Barbieri earlier on. How did you actually become friends with him in the first place?
Well, I wrote to him from his agency and when he came over, I went to meet him and we had so much in common. I like his playing and we kept in touch for a while, only through his agency though, he wouldn’t come through himself, and a lovely band, I mean fantastic, you know, fantastic group, it was a Jazz thing. Do you know Michael Eve at all, Michael Eve? Well Michael Eve is a tenor player but he used to book everybody, and most people know Michael, he’s getting on now but he used to be at Ronnie Scott’s, he used to do all the booking, you know, knew everybody.
He fixed it up for me to meet him.
What I meant to ask you is where was your last big band that went on for decades? Where were you based?
Well, we used to work all around Essex but our last gig was at the Westcliff High School and we had some great musicians there. We called some musicians from London, trombone player, a couple of trombone players and the trumpet player used to be with Billy Cotton, what a great player, he played all the way up to the top, you know. That was our last gig, that was in 19 something and that was for another charity thing, I cannot remember what that was for. That was at the Westcliff High School.
Didn’t you rehearse each week?
Oh yeah, every week we used to rehearse.
Where were you based then?
We used to rehearse in Manors Way in the hall there in the school hall there. The oldest player was George, he was 84 and he came along with his baritone, soprano, his tenor, alto...... He was the oldest player. The other guys were all great, you know, ex-pros and some of them semi-pros, good players you know, it was a good band, it really built up to a good band and I could get anybody because, I don’t know what the word is, but my band was a friendly band, with no arguments and everything was right, we enjoyed ourselves on the stage. There was a well-known alto player used to play, I can’t remember his name that is how well known he is (laughs), used to play with Ted Heath and that and they said you won’t get him. I made a phone call, “Norman, we’ve heard about you”, they was down here.
Damn right, oh yeah, “We’ll do it, we’ll do it”. They didn’t get paid, it was all a charity thing. They came down from Romford and Ilford and that, so I was very fortunate, very lucky that I had a very friendly band, you know, we all got on well with the band, we had no problems. But unfortunately, when I look at the pictures now there is not many of them left, there’s not, there’s only me actually. So, it gets a bit worrying, doesn't it (laughs). Bloody hell, there’s only me left.
Well, Maury Owen’s 86 and he is still playing.
Oh Maury, yeah, well Maury played with the band. Yes, he is a good player.
But my first gig in 1954 was with an Irish band in Camden Town and I played behind the curtains quite a while because I didn’t know the tunes. It was an Irish band and they had a banjo, trumpet, and they started out with The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise you know. Every week. So the week after I learnt his songs behind the curtain and they said “Who’s that behind the curtain?” I was only young, 15, so I came out for fun with this band you know, I was so proud of the family sized band in Camden Town.
Was it all Irish music?
No it wasn’t Irish music. I never forget once we done a gig with this other band, Alan Barnard Band. They were a good band but they were always late, every time I was the first one there and we played at an Irish wedding, so you can imagine, and they were late and they were getting wild, “Where are they?” So they would turn up about an hour late and were setting up and “About time you were here. You know, this guy’s been here”, that was me and the bass player sets his bass up and his bass bridge goes flying across the room and the bass falls to bits. They went mad, they pulled the phone off the wall, they flung it, kicked the band, yeah, came to a big fight, kicked them out. They said “We’re paying him and not you” when they kicked them out.
Dear oh dear.
But then again, something I was telling you that I forgot about, we were the first big band to George Formby Band, was the first big band on Opportunity Knocks and we won it for 4 weeks. And the other first Rock and Roll band I was with on Opportunity Knocks in the 50’s and that was called Carl Cruton and his Rock and Rollers. Now Rock and Roll just started coming out then. I got a recording through that actually and I used to lay on my back then, in those days, playing the sax, jumping on the piano and that was up in Birmingham studios. We were up there in the studios and we won that for about 4 weeks. The first Rock and Roll band. We used to start up with the Dixieland thing on trumpet, then we would go into, not Rock Around The Clock, I can’t remember the tune now, I can hear it but can’t remember it, one of the old Rock and Roll ones, and we ran that for about 4 weeks and went up to Birmingham with the old Ford car with the bass strapped on top and that was a good time.
Any other rock and roll bands?
Yeah, Mervyn Ritter and His Wild Cats. We played when Rock and Roll just started, we played a West Ham cinema. We started playing, I never forget the film, it was a Richard Widmark Army film. As soon as the film finished we played in the break. Rock and Roll just started then. Can’t remember the tune, we played the Rock and Roll one. Oh yeah, Tutti Fruiti, yeah that was it. I was playing the sax. So what happens, they started ripping the chairs out of the cinema, smashing all the place. Anyway they started throwing it on the stage! They loved the band but it was the way they was acting.
Were they Teds?
Yeah, they get the Police down and we come out of the stage door and ran down the road! My Hall of Fame I suppose, they came running after me! (laughs). All the girls running down the road. That’s about the only time. The other one, Tommy & The Cave Men. Oh what another story that was.
Tommy & The Cave Men was another Rock and Roll group and what we done, this chap is running it, he is quite a wealthy chap, he was in property, but when I formed this band it was in the days of Rock and Roll and he was going to make a lot of money, so he said, “Right, Kings Road, Saturday morning”. So Kings Road, we turn up in Kings Road, up comes a chap, a Gypsy, a nice guy on his horse and cart with a big cave on the back. So they’re focusing on the back of the cave and we’re dressed up as cave men walking down Kings Road and we get to the end of it and the chap wants his money. The guy said “Where’s my money?” You know, I said “We can’t give you the money”. He said "Well, I brought you a horse and cart". Anyway, so we were playing there that evening in a big place down there, can’t remember where it was and in the evening all his mates turned up, didn’t they, all Gypsies turned up.
What, for their money?
Yeah, and they got hold of the chap that was in charge and they flung him down the stairs. They didn’t do nothing to us, but they flung him down the stairs to get his money. He didn’t have any money so they took his watch.
I’ve done everything in show business really.
You played for Lou Preager?
Oh yeah, that was a long while ago. I was young, where was that? That was at the ….was it London, a big place, big dance hall, can’t remember it now. I doubt it is still there. Can’t remember, big place, such a long while ago. Yeah, I only did one gig, I was only young then. But I have always been a Jazz player, Jazz is my music you know.
So you were a teacher as well then Norman?
Oh yeah, taught for years yeah. I used to visit some of the schools down here, I used to go in, Fitz Wimarc, I formed the saxophone section for them. Quite a few schools down here, Canvey was a school I went to work for. I found an old book and I went all through the years, I taught over 1,000 musicians. I don’t play the clarinet and flute, I’m just a tenor player.
You taught that amount? Over a 1,000.
Yeah, over 1,000, I couldn’t count them, a long while ago. Then I formed the disabled then for Shelford, I never forget, down in Southend. I done a gig down there, a Christmas gig for them. I went down there and there was all these Cerebal Palsey people, you know, I said "I know what I’ll do", I had spoken to the chap, I said "I will form something for them". What they doing all day? nothing. So what I’d done, I went back home and I thought about it and I got all the little xylophones, you know, I bought those, and I put colours on them, blue, red and different colours on them and Jack Ray, a friend of mine, we made a machine up, I pressed a button and they used to light it up. We put lights onto it and it took ages. Great. People said that it won’t work, but it did work. Within a few months I had them on BBC Essex playing, strange little band, but they used to look forward to it. I done that for about a year, that was something to do for them, you know, because they had nothing to do. We done that for quite a while and all of a sudden a chap left, another chap took over and he said “We don’t want that in here” but I said "They looked forward to Thursdays", but he finished it. It was just a shame, I really enjoyed that.
How ignorant was that?
Oh terrible, yeah, I mean, you know, I said "They have nothing to do. You are not paying me, I’m just coming down here to give them a bit of fun". He said “No, we don’t want that” and after that it all went downhill there.
There's so much opportunity for music at schools these days. When I went to college it wasn’t like that, you know, but now you have so many things going for you that all this material, Jazz courses at London College of Music wasn’t even thought of in my day. Jazz, it was like the Devil’s music. Every college, Guildhall, you know, I mean I am a member of the Royal College of Music, I’m a qualified Teacher from there, I don’t teach no more but I’m on their books. But saying that you know the young musicians have got so much going for them now haven’t they? Music, you know, which you never had in my days, you know, never had them. I mean I used to play hours to the records, learning Stan Getz solos, Bill Perkins solos, you know and Jack Sheldon, I used to like his stuff, just learning all their solos, that’s how I learned. My first song I ever played when I was 12 was I Believe. You remember that one?
I couldn’t believe it, I could play without the music. But my brother Alan he was a lovely player, he was a brilliant trumpet player, he was 13. He died at 14, he had heart trouble which was a valve which they could cure now. He was a great player, he was a born player, he just picked it up at 13 and played right away. Well I wasn’t as good as him, never as good as him. If we was together now we would have been a cabaret act, you know, because that’s what we started with, a cabaret act. Georgian Twins, we would have been working as that, you know, but it didn’t come and didn’t work like that. But my first saxophone my mum bought me from the saxophone shop in Chancebury Avenue and it was £8.00, I never forget that £8.00 and it had no top keys on it at all. So I didn’t know what the top D and E was, it didn’t have them on it. But then my brother sold his trumpet, my little brother, when Alan died, he sold, not Alan’s trumpet, he sold his own trumpet, he had a couple of them and I bought my first tenor it was at Len Davis, Bill Lewingtons, old Bill Lewingtons.
So, when you were running the big band, the last real big one that went on for a couple of decades, were you doing a lot outside of the big band, or was it more or less a hobby in a sense?
Oh yeah it wasmostly elderly in the band any way, there were some youngsters in the band and we just done it as something to do really, I suppose. It wasn’t a financial situation, it never is with a big band is it? No one could afford a big band anyway. But we done a lot of different functions, mainly, you know, for the Lions Club and things like that, just keep it going really like they do now. There’s only one, Melvyn Beddows Band, saw that the other day. I taught a girl in that, she’s 30 odd. I taught her when she was 7, I couldn’t believe it, I hadn’t seen her since all those years. She’s 37 now and plays clarinet and sax. They would turn up out of the blue, and they’d say “We don’t see you any more”. I don't know. A few people have said that. Only the other week, “Well Norman where are you playing?” I said “Well, don’t do much now”.
When I first came down here one of the trumpet players got killed on the motorway or something, and they had a charity thing at the Cliffs Pavillion. I went to see them, Roy somebody, I can’t remember his name now, but Chris, you know he used to play trumpet, what’s her name, the girl singer, getting old now, still a good singer, I’ll think of her name in a minute, that’s the first big band I saw down here. Then I formed my one then Melvyn Beddows was more of a young band. We used to swap arrangements actually and Mervyn played the Black Rose one night with Maxine Daniels because I worked with Maxine Daniels for quite a while.
Oh lovely Maxine Daniels.
We was at the Black Rose with Stan Earnshaw on piano, brilliant pianist. He’s dead now, great pianist he was, he could play anything, any key, he could play all the keys. There were other big bands down there, can’t remember his name, Roy somebody and I saw that when I first came down here. Then there was the band up in Chelmsford, another big band.
Yeah, what was his name, I can’t remember, a long while ago. I suppose the big bands down here really was Roy.
You had that one up in Harlow, didn’t you, that John Petters.
Oh yeah, John Petters, yeah, that’s right. John had Chris English on keyboard down here, what was her name now, this singer called Lois, and she took the band over. Oh yeah, what happened, I can’t think of her name, but she had a big band down here as well, but that didn’t last long, because they were arguing on stage. When I used to take my band out down the clubs in Thurrock and that, they used to say “We like your band because it is friendly. We had another band here, Pat English, but they were always rowing on the stage”. Well, you can’t do that. I met her a couple of months ago, yes, she’s still around and Chris, her husband plays keyboard. He was a lovely trumpet player with Brian Eveington, great trumpet player up in Ilford in those days. When I moved down he came down here and I was surprised to see him on keyboard and he was a good musician, you know.
Graham Turner, that was the first one I taught, Graham Turner, bought him a little alto and that and wrote the music out for him, you know and he’s done well, you know, he’s got on. And the little Les Bridge, another lovely player, 8 years old, yeah. When we done the TV shows, all in red, all the band in red suits, and at the end of it, what did we play, a Glen Miller thing in those days, In The Mood yeah and little Les comes out in the front, only a little dot, and he plays the last note. He played for the band but he was only 8. He came out and he played his last note on the television show. People loved him didn’t they. He’s 40 odd now. I went to his father’s funeral, Les Bridge, a close friend of mine, a couple of years ago and you know, they are all grown up. Another nice chap player as well, Craig Mumford, he was a good player. He’s in America, he does things backwards and forwards in America, got a studio out there, he records out there, does work out there.
You know, I have lost a lot of people over these years, and my pianist I played with, Ken, for 30 years he was in my big band and he died this year and he was a lovely pianist, you know, it was cancer, the usual thing you know, he passed over, there is a picture of him on there playing, its my band’s 74, he retired from the bank, he was a banker who said "I always wanted to do this", then we went out together as a duo, you know, playing the sax and all things, but he was a good player, he knew all the lovely Latin songs you know, great and all the unusual ones, so he was nice, Ken. We knew him for years and Les my brother, he was a good player, you know. He’s got his vibes round there now but they are not working properly. He got the setup in the front room, he loved his music.