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Photograph © Mandy Duncan
Trombonist Malcolm Lawrence ‘Mac’ Duncan was born in Leeds in Yorkshire on 9th February, 1930.
Syd Wardman was at school with Mac. Syd says: ‘We were about fifteen when Mac and I were in the 6th form at Roundhay Grammar School. At school we sat together talking about jazz most of the time. We played together me on trumpet, him on his trombone in the early days - a traditional style of jazz. Mac lived in the Roundhay district, in Leeds. Mac and his elder brother lived in a large Victorian type house in a tree-lined street, and his father was a chemist. The larger part of Roundhay is very up-market with properties in excess of a million, but the part nearer to Leeds Centre is a bit more run down. Many of those large Victorian houses have been turned into multi-lets now and they have a desultory air about them. I have Googled the street where Malcolm Duncan lived - it is on Harehills Avenue where it runs into Roundhay Road - you can see the tree lined streets and the large Victorian houses.'
'I remember Mac bought his first trombone from Geoff Sowden. He was very clever at school but was a bit of a maverick - I remember him walking out of the Higher School Certificate exam to practice his trombone! He could easily have passed it.’
‘I lost touch with him when he went in the Forces. Things happened to me in those days. I was called up for the R.A.F. but fell ill with a severe ear infection so never went in the Forces.’
Photograph © Mandy Duncan (Can anyone identify the other musicisions here?)
Mac played for various bands in the Leeds area before his National Service with the Guards. While he was stationed at Bovington in Dorset, he played with Ron Weldon’s Band in Bournemouth.
He played with the White Eagle Jazz Band before working for five years with Ken Colyer (and with Colyer in the Omega Brass Band).
Here is Mac Duncan with the Ken Colyer band in 1957- 59 playing Up Jumped The Devil. Apparently this was recorded live on a single mike in a live jazz club. Alongside Ken were Ian Wheeler on clarinet, Mac Duncan on trombone, Ray Foxley at the piano, Johnny Bastable on banjo, Ron Ward on string bass and Colin Bowden on the drums.
Again in September 1959 Mac was recording with Ken Colyer. Here is Somebody Stole My Gal with the same line-up as above.
According to the website bradfordtimeline.co.uk, the Ken Colyer band played at London's New Victoria cinema in February 1959.
This picture of the band has Ken Colyer (trumpet), Ian Wheeler (clarinet), Mac Duncan (trombone), Ray Foxley (piano), John Bastable (banjo), Ron Ward (bass), Colin Bowden (drums).
June Bastable says: 'Mac was best friends with John Bastable up until Mac's death and, in fact, was planning to move in with John when the news broke. John was devastated - he rang me and was in tears. They originally met as members in the Ken Colyer Jazzmen and Omega Brass Band in about 1955. Mac was highly intelligent and had a wicked sense of humour which helped while away the hours spent in the bandwagon. He would often stay with us in our first married flat at Clapham Common after a late night gig. Previously to that, Mac often attended our infamous jazz parties in Guilford Street, a popular venue for many British and foreign musicians including some of Louis Armstrong's All-Stars, the George Lewis Band, Alex Welsh, Kenny Ball, Johnny Parker, Cy Laurie, Graham Stewart, members of the Chris Barber Band, Pat Halcox, Monty Sunshine etc. etc. I remember Mac's first wife Weibke and visiting them at their maisonette in South London to see their baby daughter Scarlett.'
Mac left the Colyer Band early the following year, 1960, and joined the newly formed Ken Sims – Ian Wheeler Vintage Jazz Band that spring. He was also playing with Micky Ashman during the 1960s and in 1961, he formed his own band. He accompanied Henry ‘Red’ Allen for a London concert in 1964, and worked with various other American musicians including George Lewis.
The Henry ‘Red’ Allen concert was held at the Westminster Central Hall in London. Billed as HENRY"RED"ALLEN & HIS ALL STARS the band comprised some of the top musicians of the day: Red Allen (trumpet), Mac Duncan (trombone), Sandy Brown (clarinet), Johnny Parker (piano), Diz Disley (guitar), Jim Bray (bass) and Terry Cox (drums). This recording of Honeysuckle Rose from the event does not have very good sound but it is a useful reminder of the concert and has some interesting pictures of musicians of the time.
Mac's daughter, Mandy Duncan, says: 'I was only small I was born in 1962 after Mac split up with his first wife but I am in touch with his daughter Scarlett who lives in America. I remember jazz musicians being in the house all the time arriving with their instruments for rehearsals in the front room. I also remember getting up most mornings to different dishevelled musicians on the sofa!! Micky Ashman was one I remember because I was frightened of him and his beard and used to hide behind the sofa much to the annoyance of mum and my dad who said he was one of the nicest men you could meet and it was most unfair! Ian Wheeler of course and his family I remember well.'
'Mac made our clothes when we were kids on the sewing machine and knitted sweaters. He had a wicked sense of humour. A story often told was when he and some fellow musicians were at a gig and the band on stage were not very good ... Mac suffered it for a long while then got up and cut the wire supplying the power to the stage! He was very intelligent but he did suffer with depression.'
Photograph © Mandy Duncan (Can anyone identify the other people in this picture?)
Like many, Mac was a semi-professional musician. In terms of his other work, Mandy describes him as something of a talented Jack-of-all-Trades: 'He really was one of those people who just turned his hand to anything. He went to art college at some point, St Martins I think. He had many jobs, he was some sort of an electronics engineer; he was in the Queens Guards, he was usually locked away in a spare room or shed working on his latest project. He made furniture, wooden puppets, clothes, including a suit for himself one day when he had no band suit for a gig the following evening, wet suits for when he and my mum went to Swanage!'
'He and fellow friends musicians used to take a boat out and dive for Sea Urchins (which were later on made into lamps). I remember this so vividly because they smelt awful the longer you had the lamp on! They devised a system where one of them dived down with a rope tied around them which they tugged when they needed to come up and whoever was on the boat pulled them up! Yes! Exactly why Health and Safety now comes into play! Anyway the inevitable happened. Mac went down, the rope came unattached, and a long time later poor Mac arrived at the surface coughing and spluttering.'
Photograph © Mandy Duncan
Mac played with Pat Hawes (1966), Keith Smith (1968) and Rod Mason (1968-1969). He reformed his own band and guested with others including Monty Sunshine and Guy Fenton, and again started up his own band in 1978.
Don Coe remembers working with Mac in Mole Benn’s band: ‘The regular line up when I was with Mole and when we were resident at the Commodore Club was Malcolm Joe Smith (clarinet), Mole Benn (trumpet), Mac Duncan (trombone), Malcolm Saunders (bass), Arthur Friat (drums), Don Coe (banjo). This was the band for as long as can I remember.’
‘Mac was playing with us after I had arranged a residency at the 'Headstone', Harrow - I had designed the refurbished interior for the brewery. Our wives / girl friends were in the audience, but Mac didn't turn up. His girl friend said that they had had a row. We had an idea that he was married. A couple of days later Mole rang me to tell that Mac had committed suicide.’
Sadly, Mac Duncan died on 27th October 1981 at the age of 51. June Bastable recalls that the Librium he used to take for his depression was also found at the scene.
Tony Rose writes: 'The best trombone player Ken Collier ever had and was a huge personality.'
The following albums featuring Mac Duncan are available at the time of writing:
The Mac Duncan Jazz Band - Live At The Lord Napier 1973 - [Click here for track list and to sample] Mac Duncan was one of a handful of home-spun musicians to have been inspired by what is now called the 'jazz revival' just after WWII, yet he rarely played in the same band for very long! Bold and fearless, he played with heartfelt simplicity and unfaltering conviction. On this CD we can hear all the atmosphere of one of those popular Napier Saturday nights recaptured on a recording that conveys the energy and enthusiams which made their sessions so faithfully attended week after week into the 70s. Here the band features Mac Dunca (trombone, vocals) with Sonny Morris, (trumpet, vocals), Dave Bailey, Jack Gilbert (clarinet), Eddie Edwards, Jim McIntosh (banjo), Ray Holland (bass), Brian 'Dipper' Duddy (drums).
The Mac Duncan Jazz Band - Live At The Lord Napier Vol. 2 - [Click here for track list and to sample] 1973-1975 was an unexpected and astonishing time for British traditional jazz - a re-awakening after the trad boom of the late 50s, and this CD was recorded at the height of this revival! It features The Mac Duncan Jazz Band with Sonny Morris Live at the Lord Napier Volume 2 plus The Frantique Jazz Band Four Stars from Manchester Evening News and Steve Millward. Volume 1 is on URCD188 Tracks 1 to 9, Recorded 21st and 28th April 1973. Mac Duncan Jazz Band - Sonny Morris (trumpet), Mac Duncan (trombone, vocal), Dave Bailey (clarinet), Eddie Edwards (banjo), Ray Holland (string bass), Tony Scriven ( drums). Tracks 10 to 14, Recorded August 1975 Frantique Jazz Band - Sonny Morris (trumpet), Mac Duncan (trombone), Len Jacobs (clarinet), Jack Hobbs (piano), John Griffith (tenor banjo, guitar), Fred Belsey (string bass), Tony Kinsey (drums).
Mac also plays on a number of albums by other musicians including those of Ken Colyer. We do not have a full discography.
© Sandy Brown Jazz 2016
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