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According to John Chilton's Who's Who Of British Jazz, Steve Lane was born in London in November, 1921. His father was a concertina player who recorded with the Rio Grande Tango Orchestra in the 1920s. Steve played cornet and guitar and is recognised for his work as an arranger, bandleader, record label owner and jazz magazine producer.
Here is Steve Lane and his Famous Southern Stompers playing Dr Jazz from the 2014 Fellside Recordings album
British Traditional Jazz, At a Tangent Vol. 6 - The Classic Style Bands
John Wurr profiles the life and music of Steve Lane:
The death of Steve Lane at the age of 93 on 22nd August 2015 marked the end of a unique British jazz life. Although he had been musically inactive for the last few years, his was a long and notable contribution to the revival of, and in the maintaining of interest in, traditional jazz in Britain in the years following World War II. From the formation of his Famous Southern Stompers in 1950, until the last performances of his Red Hot Peppers in the first decade of this century, Steve led bands which always displayed his uncompromisingly high standards of musicianship and integrity.
Steve Lane was born on 21st November 1921. Having heard his first jazz in the Rhythm Clubs of the late 1930s, Steve’s first choice of instrument was guitar, but, following wartime service, he switched to the cornet on which he soon developed a jazz style based on the hot trumpeters of the 1920s he so much admired, with particular emphasis on his role leading the collective ensemble. Never the greatest technician, and with a limited range, he was nevertheless capable of generating great energy and swing, as well as musical precision, as he led his ensembles through their extensive repertoire of rags, stomps, blues and standards.
In two other respects Steve’s bands stood out from the general run. The first was in his use of original material – he was a gifted composer of vocal and instrumental pieces, probably numbering a hundred or more, most of them memorable. The other was in his use of female vocalists as an integral part of the band, presenting a range of songs carefully chosen to showcase the singer, and with the supporting musicians strictly trained in the art of accompaniment.
Steve Lane and John Wurr circa 1968
Photograph © John Wurr
I did two major stints with the band – first in the late 1960s, and again a decade later. You never earned much money, you were required to attend weekly rehearsals, and you had to be prepared to adapt your ways of playing to meet Steve’s demanding, and often idiosyncratic, musical objectives. Due to all these factors personnel changes were frequent, and rehearsals sometimes acrimonious, but Steve, undaunted, always found new players to take on, often discovering youngsters in their very early stages of development. Many of his young protégés, such as pianists Martin Litton and Bruce Boardman, and trombonist Bob Hunt, moved on to become seasoned professionals, but I know that they, along with everyone who passed through the ranks, will acknowledge Steve’s role in their futures.
Steve Lane and the Famous Southern Stompers 1979
Standing Left to Right: Gerry Ingram, Bob Beardsworth, John Keen, John Wurr, Martin Litton, Barbara Passanisi.
Seated: Steve Lane and Geoff Walker.
Photograph © John Wurr
We should also remember Steve’s partnership in the VJM Record label, which made available much previously unreleased vintage jazz material, and also his role in founding, in the 1960s, the consortium of bands and clubs known as the West London (later British) Jazz Society, together with its supporting magazine, Jazz Times. This was a life very much devoted to the performance and promotion of the music he loved.
Steve Lane and the Famous Southern Stompers 1978/79
Personnel as above except for Nick Singer (banjo)
Photograph © John Wurr
A committed egalitarian, and a one-time Communist who addressed everyone, irrespective of race, creed, gender or station in life as ‘mate’, Steve had a profound distrust of authority, and in particular all politicians and traffic regulators. He nevertheless was difficult to get to know personally, living a fairly reclusive domestic life in a gloomy North West London house with his elderly mother and mentally ill brother, both of whom pre-deceased him. Sadly, in his last years, as physical frailty and dementia took their toll, he became isolated from his few remaining musical friends. So I, along with many of his ex-musicians, was pleased to make it to his funeral at New Southgate Crematorium and to play in the parade band organised by Bob Hunt.
Here is Steve Lane and his Famous Southern Stompers playing Streamline Train from the 2014 Fellside Recordings (Lake Records) album
British Traditional Jazz, At a Tangent Vol. 6 - The Classic Style Bands
John Chilton's book records how Steve's band was billed as the Red Hot Peppers from the mid-1980s and that during the 1990s they toured Europe with gigs in Czechoslovakia, Holland, Denmark, Poland and Belgium. Steve also led and recorded with the VJM Washboard Band.
We can listen to Rusty Taylor singing Shine with Steve's Red Hot Peppers at the Joseph Lam Jazz Club in Amsterdam on 8th January 1982: Rusty Taylor (vocals), Steve Lane (cornet, leader, arranger), Paul Harrison (clarinet), Bob Beardsworth (trombone), Colin Knight (piano), Geoff Walker (banjo), Keith Feinson (string bass) and John Keen (drums).
Here is the VJM Washboard Band playing Oriental Man. The text with the YouTube introduction says: 'Not content with recording Britain's only jug band, the VJM people are now offering a washboard group drawn from the Famous Southern Stompers. Steve Lane, the brilliant and painstaking cornetist and leader of the Stompers, directs this bright little group, which has neither trombone nor sousaphone and in which the drummer plays washboard only. Otherwise the group is the same as the Southern Stompers. Mellowness and relaxed feeling for the music is dominant, good taste is everywhere apparent, and the recording is splendidly natural. The best of these tracks, Oriental Man, is comparable with any of the several performances of long ago by Johnny Dodds' little groups, and the other items are not far behind. As with the Kansas City Five and the Cy Laurie records, the music sounds unforced and ripe, as though those producing it cared a great deal—which they undoubtedly did. B.R. (Gramaphone March 1962).'
Derek Lane-Smith, Steve Lane's cousin, writes:
Thanks so much for your profile of Steve Lane. I am his cousin, and spoke first at the funeral. I also made several audio recordings, of the service itself and of various conversations afterwards, there at the crematorium and later at the Fox and Goose.
These are accessible if people would like to listen to them (click here). Also there are one or two videos, including the funeral procession, a most interesting letter written to me by Steve in 2001 and high fidelity transcriptions of a couple of master tapes recorded by Steve. There was a treasure trove of these master tapes, of which I was offered two to see if I could get them digitized
(which I did, by The Great Bear. Unfortunately, while that was being done, there was some pretty heavy rain in Kenton and, apparently, the contents of Steve’ garage, including the remainder of those tapes, were soaked. Without my knowledge, the lot was trashed. Truly a tragedy.
Anyway, there are those two left. One is a 1987 recording session with, I guess, Red Hot Peppers and the other a session with Duke Ellington. You can download them in any of three different levels of fidelity.
Others also remember Steve:
Alex Revell says: 'Steve was a beautifully melodic player with his very own sound, a vastly overlooked player, arranger, song writer and developer of talent, who did more for British jazz than anyone I have ever known.'
Alvin Roy remembers: 'I once auditioned at the Ken Colyer club for Steve Lane’s band but was told I was too modern for them.'
Although Steve's band played at the Ken Colyer Club, his style was very different.
Alan Bond writes: 'Steve was far removed from the Ken Colyer style of playing, both in his musical tastes and his dislike of tired sounding bands and Ken had too many of those down the years. Steve was very firmly in the classic jazz mould rather than the New Orleans style that Ken espoused ad nauseam. Steve's favourite trumpet player was Joe Smith, late of the Fletcher Henderson organisation and some of Joe's style comes over in Steve's accompaniment of some of the various singers he had with the band. He seemed to have a particular rapport with Pam White and also with Pam Heagren.'
Steve Lane, Pam Heagren and John Wurr
Photograph © John Wurr
'He was always able to set his arrangements so as to reflect the varied styles of his vocalists who varied between the lusty, Sophie Tucker style of Rusty Taylor and the rather more refined styles of Barbara Passinisi and Michelle Castell. I have a large collection of Steve Lane stuff which I have amassed over more than fifty years. It's made all the more poignant as an old mate of mine, the drummer Brian Chadwick, played with Steve's band from the late 1980s until he died in the late 1990s. On the occasion of Brian's funeral, Steve put on a wake at the Tally Ho at North Finchley and it was a packed house with entertainment by Steve's band and a pick up group with Brian Lemon among others. We gave Brian a good send off and I hope that someone will do the same for Steve.'
They did! Roger Trobridge took this video of the traditional procession for Steve's funeral held at New Southgate Crematorium, London N11 on Monday 7 September 2015. All the musicians participating were members of Steve's band at some point during his nearly 60 years as a band leader.
Dave Burman says: 'The funeral almost became comical at times, as the speakers delivering orations failed to take note of the microphone that had been set up for them just under the dais. At choice moments the speaker would inadvertently knock the dais. The result was a loud knock! Everyone looked at the coffin! One speaker voiced the opinon that Steve did not make friends easily - loud knocking. "Down Steve" from the speaker.'
A while ago, Roger Trobridge also recorded Steve Lane talking about harmonica player Cyril Davis and two numbers Tennessee Twilight and Hear Me Talkin'. Cyril played banjo with the Steve Lane Band. Roger shares this recording with us - the piece with Roger talking to Steve is at 6.30 minutes into the 50 minute programme.
Cyril Davies - from Trad Jazz to the Rolling Stones by The Archivist on Mixcloud
Alan Bond continues: 'Of all the bands that played in the 'traditional' style, Steve's was far and away my favourite. It was classic jazz played with a great deal of taste and conviction. His renditions of King Oliver classic numbers such as Snake Rag and Just Gone were not to be missed. Sadly few of these are on his recordings but the legacy he has left is enormous. The best thing of all was that the Steve Lane band was instantly recognisable and with Steve a hot cornet player, it was seldom that a session was anything but thoroughly enjoyable. I first heard the band in 1960 or 1961 at The Norfolk Arms at North Wembley and it was a regular Friday night out for us. Among the notable players who Steve gave a chance to were clarinettist Paul Harrison, the late Bob Beardsworth (trombonist) and bass player extrordinaire Gerry Ingram. We were also introduced to some fine singers such as Michelle Castell, Cherry Camm and Barbara Passasinisi.'
'A little tale for you regarding one of Steve's regular gigs at The Christopher in Eton High Street. During one session there this elderly guy in a scruffy mac asked Steve if he could sit in with the band and Steve looked a bit dubious but decided to give him a try, however, it was definitely a mistake as this guy was just about the worst pianist you could possibly imagine - I have heard East End sing-songs with pianists who had more vitality. At the next visit by the band I was chatting to Steve before the session and knowing I lived locally, he asked If I knew whether 'the underwater pianist' would be about. It took me a second or two to work out who he was referring to and I asked him why the name? He replied that he thought that was where he should be playing - permanently!'
'I also remember a tale about an occasion when Steve was depping for the regular trumpet man in the Eric Silk band (probably Dennis Field at the time) and when he got there he was asked by 'Pop', who used to manage the band, if he would like a drink and Steve said he would like an orange juice which duly arrived as did a couple of others during the evening. At the end of the gig 'Pop' came round with the fees for each musician and they were neatly distributed to the guys in proper pay packets neatly sealed down. Steve didn't bother to check his until he got home and only then did he find that 'Pop' had deducted the cost of the drinks from his pay.'
Steve Lane, John Wurr and Dave Soby circa 1968
Photograph © John Wurr
Paul Adams at Lake Records adds the following about Steve Lane's style: 'Ken Colyer was a New Orleans revivalist rooted in the music of Bunk Johnson / Elmer Talbert / Kid Howard / Mutt Carey school whereas Steve was a Classic Jazz player – King Oliver / Bix Beiderbecke / Natty Dominque / George Mitchell. Not poles part, but stylistically very different!'
Here is Steve Lane and his Famous Southern Stompers playing A Good Man Is Hard To Find with Pam White singing the song on Paul Adams' Fellside / Lake Records album British Traditional Jazz, At a Tangent Vol. 6 - The Classic Style Bands
Dave Burman says: 'I was in Steve's band in the 50s. I remember one occasion when Steve gave me a piece of manuscript with a 4 bar intro for piano Blue Blood, (I'd just passed grade 8 piano) He wanted me to take it home and learn it! "Steve I can play that for you now" I said "but I'll take it home if you insist"... and in remembering Colin Kingwell Dave says: 'The key to the origin of the Kingwell band is Steve Lane's Southern Stompers that played every Friday night at the Fox and Goose, Hanger Lane just off the North Circular Road. Colin Kingwell was trombonist with the Southern Stompers. I first met him somewhere around the early 1950s. when I replaced Steve's pianist Ian McDonald. In Steve Lane's band were Colin Kingwell (trombone), The Grey Brothers (sousaphone and something), Drummer ??, Johnny Milton (clarinet and alto sax), Cyril Davis (banjo/guitar) and known as 'Squirrel', and later a big name in the R&B circle (which used to meet at, I think, the Marquee) and myself (piano). I believe that Colin Kingwell also began to play with the Barbary Coast Rhythmn Kings, a Watters style group that was formed by the Sherlock brothers, who both played trumpet. This band used to play at the Viaduct Inn. Colin Kingwell eventually formed his own band, the Jazz Bandits.'
John Westwood writes: 'Steve Lane's 'Famous Southern Stompers' was one of the very few bands that could play across the styles without trying to copy anyone or anything and still produce what many of us call 'Proper Jazz'. Fully paid-up 'Mouldy Fygges' will know there are many who don't agree on that point, of course. Steve's repertoire ranged from Jelly Roll, Louis, ODJB, Ma Rainey, Jug/washboard band, Lu Watters, Condon, even Charlie Parker and the Beatles - not to mention classical, opera, military pieces and many others... plus his own compositions. Very few bands have ever achieved this with any success and it seems that there just aren't any today, more's the pity. His later "Red Hot Peppers" band was rather less successful in this regard, and sadly his work has never been fully recognised, or indeed, publicised.
Back in the 70s he started the "Jazz Guide" - a slim, free, publication, printed on what appeared to be reject off-cuts of paper made for the Bronco toilet roll factory, but it kept fans in the South - and later Nationally - informed of where and when they could go to hear real jazz - and not just that played by his own band! The little mag. did well, and Bernie Tyrrell joined him in its production for a couple of decades, latterly taking it over fully in his own right leaving Steve free to concentrate on his music. On Bernie's demise the publication fell into other hands which have made it into a slick, glossy commercial publication - the opposite of what Steve started! They call it progress....
Steve also produced LPs and CDs on his own 'Azure' and the 'VJM' labels, but these never got into mass circulation, and are today very much collectors' items. So he might be gone - but he won't be forgotten.
I grew up in Stanmore, and later - in the 80s/90s when visiting my Mum and Dad, used to pass the house in Kenton Lane where Steve lived with his Mum and Dad. The house was the only one that had a huge (probably centuries-old) oak tree in front, and that made it very difficult for Steve to get his little red motor onto the parking space outside the house. But it was always possible to know whether he was at home, or not, by the presence there of that car!'
Here is Steve Lane and the Famous Southern Stompers again, this time playing Gatemouth from the album British Traditional Jazz, At a Tangent Vol. 6 - The Classic Style Bands
Richard Thomas has come across some LPs that used to belong to Steve Lane. Richard says:
In a charity shop in North London a few months ago I came across a small collection of jazz LPs, all with hand-written numbers stuck to the top left of the sleeve and some with printed labels giving an address in Kenton Lane, Harrow, and (on a few of them) the name Steve Lane. Closer inspection revealed recordings by Steve Lane's own bands, along with re-issues of recordings by high profile names such as Duke Ellington, Jack Teagarden and Fletcher Henderson, and more obscure (to me at least) names including Maggie's Blue Five from Sweden, and John Deffray's Creole Jazzband, from Chatham.
All the LPs (I have about 20) are in excellent condition though a little dusty, and some of the sleeves show signs of foxing. The numbering runs from 141 to 451, so there are a lot more records out there somewhere.
Many of the recordings are on the VJM label. Three are on Czech label Supraphon, including Beryl Bryden with the Prague Dixieland Band, and Czechoslovak Journey by Graeme Bell and his Dixieland Jazz Band. Two LPs, one by The Frog Island Jazz Band and another by Steve Lane and his Famous Southern Stompers, are on the Stomp label, "produced on a non-commercial basis, in limited editions, for the benefit of collectors, enthusiasts and connoisseurs."
One of my favourites is a 1974 Retrieval label collection of recordings made in London in 1927 by Charles Remue and his New Stompers Orchestra, described in the notes as "the first jazz recordings known to have been made by an exclusively Belgian unit."
Reading the addresses of the various record companies - Enfield, Harrow, Kingsbury, Pinner - you get the impression of a cottage industry run by enthusiasts beavering away from their homes on the north-western fringes of London.
At the time I bought the records I knew nothing about Steve Lane, other than that he was a jazz player. There was little information online and the reference books carried only brief mentions. It was clear he would be in his nineties and unlikely to be still playing, but I had the vague idea of knocking on the door of the house in Kenton Lane to see if it led to anything. Before I could do so I learnt the sad news of his death, via the London Jazz News website, and was then fascinated to read John Wurr's profile published on your site and to discover so much more.
I will probably go and take a look sometime at the house that was the home of Steve Lane and his records, and give thanks for the man and his music.
As I write, Steve Lane, backed by John Wurr on alto clarinet, is on my turntable singing "Someday Sweetheart" from the Southern Stompers album Movin' On (number 283), recorded at the Railway Hotel, Greenford, in 1977.
Pete Lay writes:
Regarding Richard Thomas's piece about Steve Lane LPs - John Deffray’s Creole Jazzband wasn’t from Chatham – they were a London based band run by clarinettist John Defferary – formed in the mid 1960s, they had a regular Monday night at The Whyte Hart, Drury Lane, London, played the Faversham Jazz Club (at the Fleur De Lis pub) on a Tuesday night and other clubs on the West London Jazz Society’s list on other nights. The LP shown VJM LC7 is in my collection. My brother Mick Lay played drums in the band. Rest of the line-up: - Roger Link (bass), Harmer Johnson (piano), Dave Carpenter (trumpet), Barry Weston (trombone) and Brian White (guitar). Pleased to say all these guys are still alive.
Kate Turner writes: 'I was wondering whether you might be able to advise me where I could purchase a copy of Steve Lane and Rusty Taylor's Red Hot Peppers album Azure AZMG17 please?' Please contact us if anyone can help.
If any other readers are able to add any information, anecdotes or pictures to this profile of Steve Lane, please contact us.
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