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Looking Back

Chris Macdonald


When Chris Macdonald, second clarinettist / saxophonist with the Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra came across our page about bandleader Eric Silk, it triggered off many memories. Chris looks back at those early days and hopefully his recollections will bring back memories for others.


I used to see Eric Silk’s band in his final days at the Red Lion, Leytonstone, and from that moment on at the ex-Servicemen’s Club next door. The personnel at that time were Denis Field (cornet), Alan Dean (trombone), Jack Gilbert (clarinet), Pete Tamplin (piano), Eric Silk (banjo), Alex O’Dwyer (bass) and Norman Davey (drums). The Interval often featured Brian Rackham playing piano rags, or Eric’s dreaded portable wind-up gramophone, more often than not pumping out very worn 78s of Sister Rosetta Tharpe! Excruciating!


Eric Silk Band


In this photograph of Eric Silk's band the personnel are L-R: Norman Davey (drums), Alan Dean (trombone), Eric Silk (banjo), Denis Field (cornet), Alex O'Dwyer (bass), Jack Gilbert (clarinet) and Pete Tamplin (piano).

Occasionally Teddy Fullick played trumpet when Denis Field was indisposed. Teddy and I were at Wanstead County High School. Our PE teacher, Ron Pickering (later a TV athletics pundit), and Phyliis Rigby, one of our Domestic Science teachers put on a series of four weekly jazz Chris Macdonaldconcerts at Ilford Town Hall. This would have been around 1959. The bands included the excellent Sandy Brown Jazz Band, Mick Mulligan’s Band with George Melly and Ken  Colyer’s Jazzmen in the days when he had Ray Foxley on piano. I just cannot think for the life of me who the fourth band was but it was very exciting for us youngsters!

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon; all my friends were doing other things, so I took myself off to the Odeon cinema in South Woodford where I saw The Benny Goodman Story. I was grabbed! We weren't well off, but my parents bought me a clarinet for a combined Christmas and birthday present, so off I went on the adventure of a lifetime, and that is where I am today, still at it!

As I said, we were all exposed to jazz at school, through both small school bands that existed when we arrived, and the discovery that our somewhat staid music master actually liked Chris Barber, along with Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti. The four concerts organised by Ron Pickering actually exposed us to what we had previously only experienced on record.


Chris Macdonald, 22nd April 1989 at the Prince of Orange, Rotherhithe


A further opportunity came from our Art mistress taking a sabbatical. She was replaced by the wonderfully eccentric Hugh Gordon - he played jazz guitar and caused a sensation by arriving on his first morning in a black frock coat and driving a vintage black Rolls Royce saloon. He was a wonderful chap, and soon palled up with Ron, and they organised our first school "hop" with a live band (previous dances were accompanied by Victor Silvester records). But this wasn't just any old band. The personnel? - Bobby Mickleburgh  (trumpet), Alan Cooper (clarinet), John R  T Davies (trombone), Tony Cash (alto sax), Des Bacon (piano), Hugh on guitar, and Martin Fry (sousaphone). A night to remember ... and essentially the Temperance Seven prior to George Martin unleashing them on to an unsuspecting world!


Here's a video of the Temperence Seven in 1962 playing Everybody Loves My Baby.




At fourteen, that night was particularly significant for me as I formed what was to be a lifetime's friendship with Alan Cooper.

Jazz Clubs were then the places for us to visit. The Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford was a massive place when we first started our Sunday night pilgrimages. You had to queue up in single file and present your membership card to pay the lady in the kiosk. It was amazing how many people you could get in with one card! You then went down a long rickety staircase which emerged into a huge barn - no seats, but hay bales. Beer was purchased by the bottle, or crate (!). Quite a big stage enabled us to see the bands quite clearly. We saw, in no particular order, Cyril Preston, Mick Mulligan, Chris Barber, The Confederates, Temperance Seven, Ken Eric Silk at Colyer's Club posterColyer, Terry Lightfoot, Dick Charlesworth ... all the top bands of the time. We soaked it up. Later the barn was closed and the sessions were held in the Hotel itself, but it was never quite the same. I'm sure the move was a wise one though - timber barn, hay bales, everybody smoking....

Another venue that I used to frequent on a Thursday night was the Tally Ho! in Kentish Town, home to the excellent Brian Green New Orleans Stompers - Alan Snook (trumpet), Alex Revell (clarinet), Gordon Blundy (trombone), Brian on drums, Charlie Morrish (banjo), Tom Culbert on piano (later to join us in the PRO, albeit briefly), and Pete Barton on bass.

Ken Colyer's Studio 51 club was a regular haunt as well. No alcohol, toilets (?), smoky cellar. Saturday all-night sessions - I remember falling asleep playing the piano around 5 am on one! We would see Ken's band, the Gothics (Bee Minter, Dick Douthwaite, Richard Simmons, Roger Nicholls, Ron Clarkson, Alan Ward), and other New Orleans style bands. Teddy and I would also regularly go on Wednesday nights to see Barry Martyn's Ragtime Band with Cuff Billett (trumpet), Pete Dyer (trombone), Bill Greenow (clarinet), Graham Patterson (piano), John Coles (banjo), Terry Knight (bass), and Barry on drums - superb band, which I listen to on two LPs that I have, one a private white label copy with George Lewis replacing Bill Greenow. This particular experience was good for Teddy as well as he ended up replacing Cuff Billett when the Martyn band toured the USA in 1968.

The 100 Club was a bit too expensive for us, but I do recollect going once or twice - I remember Sid Phillips berating some Asian girls, who were seated in front of the stage, for talking while he was playing!

There were lots of pubs featuring local bands in our area as well - The Cauliflower in Ilford, Seven Kings Hotel, Green Man in Leytonstone, Cowley Arms Leytonstone, Rising Sun on Tunnel Approach (home to the Bill Brunskill Band), White Hart in Drury Lane...

Going back to Eric Silk and his band - a quick anecdote: When my friend Teddy Fullick was first asked to dep for Denis Field one Friday evening he was greeted on arrival by Pop and Mrs Silk, Eric's mum and dad who always did "the door". Pop said they were very grateful for young Teddy stepping in at the last moment, and asked him if he would like a drink. Being somewhat nervous Ted asked for a pineapple juice or the like. Ted acquitted himself marvellously for a first time, and at the end of the evening he was given his pay packet - evening's fee, less one pineapple juice! We've never forgotten that.

A very rare occurrence at Silk's Club was a band from overseas. Anders Hassler and the Cave Stompers from Sweden were on tour and they made a Friday appearance in 1962. I have a copy of the "Club Diary" page from the March 7th 1962 edition of the weekly Jazz News. At the top of the third column, "Southern Jazz Club", is advertised as being at the Masonic Hall, 640 High Road, Leytonstone. This is interesting in that the address is actually the Red Lion, and I suspect that the "Masonic Hall" was the name of the upstairs room in which the jazz club was held. I'm not sure that I've ever come across another Masonic Hall in a pub?

This means that the club moved "next door" (actually round the corner), to the Leytonstone & District Ex-Servicemen’s Club, 2 Harvey Road, shortly after that, because I remember the Cave Stompers played the latter venue the same year.


Cave Stompers


In the picture of the Cave Stompers above, the personnel are L-R: Nalle Hallin (trumpet), Kjell Sonderqvist (banjo), Arne Oberg (drums), Anders Hassler (clarinet), Knut Rutenborg (trombone) and Anders Froberg (bass).

Eric Silk had a fine band even before I heard him at the Red Lion and earlier members included Alan Littlejohn (trumpet), Don Simmons (clarinet), Teddy Layton (clarinet), Pete Strange (trombone), Ron Weatherburn (piano), and the wonderful motorcycle and sidecar-riding Norman Bunce (sousaphone). It was a great band for dancing, and the venue was a regular meeting place for aspiring young musicians like Teddy and myself, and proved to be the spawning ground for my Creole Dance Orchestra in 1965 which, in 1969, became the Pasadena Roof Orchestra. For many years the Eric Silk band also featured fairly regularly at the Budworth Hall in Chipping Ongar, then at the very end of the Central line!


Chris Macdonald's Creole Dance Orchestra 1966


Chris Macdonald's Creole Dance Orchestra circa 1966

L-R: Mick Hickey (trombone), Teddy Fullick  (trumpet), John Farrell (piano), Tony Cooke (trumpet), Dave Price (banjo), Mick Carter (drums), Jo Gurr (alto sax/clarinet), Chris Macdonald (leader), Roy Rhodes (alto sax/clarinet), John Arthy (sousaphone), Clive Payne (soprano, tenor & bass sax/clarinet).


Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra is currently featuring Swinging At The Cotton Club, an action-packed show celebrating the music, dance, and songs of the Cotton Club – New York City’s legendary nightclub of the 1920s and ‘30s. Performances by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Fats Waller would have had the club swinging – whilst dancers such as Bojangles Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers lit-up the stage with their breathtaking routines. In this show, the exciting dance and music of the Cotton Club is recreated by the fabulous The Lindy Hop Dance Company, the world’s premier jazz dance company and Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra featuring vocalist Marlene Hill and compere/vocalist Megs Etherington.

Chris Macdonald will share more of his reminiscences from his life of almost 60 years performing on the British traditional jazz scene in a future article.

Photographs courtesy of Chris Macdonald

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Other pages you might find of interest :

Photographic Memories
Jazz Remembered
Tracks Unwrapped
Riverboat Shuffles

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