Trumpeter George Austin was born in Islington, North London in 1923. At fourteen, he began to collect records from London’s Caledonian Market, just up the road from where he lived. George’s interest was particularly in the music of the dance bands of that time. They were of course 78 rpm shellac records and George would take them home and play them on a Columbia portable wind-up gramophone. It was when he bought a copy of Melody Maker magazine that he started to find out more about the English dance bands, and then more articles began to appear that wrote more and more of the American dance and jazz bands. ‘I never actually thought about playing an instrument then,’ says Bunny, ‘Although my mother, father and sister all played piano quite well.’
By the time George was seventeen the War had started. ‘In January 1942, when I was nineteen, I was drafted into the Royal Corps of Signals,’ Bunny recalls. ‘I became an air support wireless operator, and in September 1942, I joined the 14th Army in Burma. Incidentally, another wireless operator in my unit was Frank Donnison, who after the War joined Oscar Rabin, Geraldo, the Tito Burns Sextet, and then the Herb Miller Orchestra.’ At Imphal in Assam, another wireless operator, Bill Sawyer, started calling George ‘Bunny’ after Bunny Austin the champion tennis player of the 1930s. ‘I must admit I rather liked this nickname because I thought if ever I was to be a band leader, I could name the band The Austin Seven!’ Bill Sawyer also happened to be a bass player from Bournemouth.
L-R: Lennie Felix, Bunny and Bruce Turner circa 1965
© Bunny Austin
When the War ended, Bunny returned to London and it was then that he began to frequent the Cook’s Ferry Inn at Edmonton where there was a large hall attached to the pub. ‘I first went there around 1946, or early 1947,’ Bunny says. ‘Freddy Randall had a good band there with Bruce Turner, Eddie Harvey, Lennie Felix and Al Mead. They would play every Sunday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Freddy had a big following of fans, and the place was always packed full on a Sunday night.’
‘The Cook’s Ferry Inn was actually started by Harry Randall, Freddy’s brother, and Albert Bale who had a good band himself. It was here that I met some other amateur musicians who became my friends and persuaded me to buy a trumpet and join them.'
'Eventually people went their own ways, our pianist Pat Mason joined Kenny Ball, then Charlie Galbraith, and after that Dave Shepherd’s band at the Blacksmith’s Arms in Theydon Bois. Joe McGrath, our clarinetist and sax player sailed off to Australia where he played in a quintet that was featured on television. Sadly, both have now passed on.'
L-R: Harry Brown (former trombonist with Humphrey Lyttelton), John Lawson, Bunny Austin, Bert Geast, (clarinetist unknown)
© Bunny Austin
'I soon realised that I was not good enough to play professionally, so I settled for playing in local dance bands and took a steady job working with the General Post Office as a telephone engineer. I played with a band in Walthamstow, East London, run by pianist Bill Stone and we played a lot of dances in the Essex area.’
Bunny still went along to the Cook’s Ferry Inn to listen to Freddy Randall’s band, and when Freddy was touring, other bands featured at the Inn included the John Haims band, the Yorkshire Jazz Band, Mick Mulligan, Mick Gill (from Nottingham) and various others. Bunny also used to go along to Wood Green Jazz Club where he remembers hearing Sandy Brown with Al Fairweather, and Bruce Turner’s Jump Band. ‘I was in the Musicians’ Union in 1959 and we used to have meetings over at Bush Hill Park, not far from Wood Green.’
A float at Harrow Carnival circa 1961 with a back view of Freddy Randall. To Freddy's right is his young son Peter, sitting in on drums is regular drummer George Horne with back to camera. Ray Egan is the pianist, Pip Gaskell, clarinet, on trombone is an unkown Australian, Bunny on trumpet.
© Bunny Austin
By the late 1950s, Bunny was living in Crouch End, London. ‘I played on occasion at the Tally Ho pub in Kentish Town and remember having a blow with Tony Milliner and Alan Littlejohn. Both these musicians ran a fine band then, far superior to certain ‘Trad’ bands that were playing at the time.’
This picture was taken in the late 1950s when pianist Ron Weedon was married. Matt Monro was a guest and sang with our quartet which included George Cox, a very fine pianist. One of the guests had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and taped Matt singing with the band - someone has a collector's item!'
L-R: Matt Monro, Mr & Mrs Weedon, Bunny Austin
Cook's Ferry Inn in the 1960s
© Bunny Austin
In the early 1960s, Freddy Randall was back at the Ferry together with George Chisholm and Lennie Felix and stayed for about eighteen months. Then, around 1963, some of Bunny’s friends – Nevil Skrimshire, Pat Mason, Dave Jones, Alan Wickham, Harry Miller (Shillingworth) and Bert Murray - had formed a band named the Ferry Jazzmen. ‘These boys started off at the Cook’s Ferry Inn Hall and the band soon became very popular. Freddy Randall had now left Cook’s, but a lot of his followers became new members.’
'They asked me if I would run the door for them,’ says Bunny. ‘Pat Mason said I was the only one they could trust with the money! It was a non-paid job, but it meant I could play in the interval band. I was helped on the door by two ladies, one of whom was my wife – I married her because she had some Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman records! The other lady was Doris Dunn, known as ‘Doddy’. This remarkable lady worked on the door for Freddy Randall in 1946/7 and then twenty years later was still helping out.’
The early 1960s at Cooks Ferry Inn. Nevil Skrimshire (guitar), Harry Miller (drums), Ted Fawcett (bass) and Pat Mason (piano). 'I forget the name of the instrument Lennie Felix is playing it had keys and he blew into it, and did he swing!'
© Bunny Austin
'Doris’s son was Cliff Dunn, a professional guitar player who recorded with Rex Stewart in the 1950s. The band and the record were called ‘Rex Stewart’s London Five. It had Cliff on guitar, Gerry Moore on piano, Danny Haggerty (bass) and Dave Carey (drums). Gerry was a well-known pianist before the War, Cliff and Danny both played with Freddy Randall, and Dave Carey had his own band, of course. Dave also ran a specialist jazz record and instrument shop over in Streatham.'
'I seem to remember that Cliff Dunn became involved in some religious group in the early 1960s and turned up one time at the Cook’s Ferry club in a monk’s habit and cowl, sat in with his Gibson guitar and played some really good jazz. I think the audience thought it was a gag - Cliffie really did become a monk!’
Bunny recalls how one Sunday morning the great Sonny Stitt turned up. ‘His agent asked if Sonny could sit in! Sonny played tenor sax on this occasion, he was changing over from his alto. He had a great blow with the musicians. On another occasion, Joe Harriott appeared (I think he was a friend of Harry Miller the drummer), and Joe played a few numbers with just bass and drums. Richard Sudhalter also appeared at the Ferry around this time – he was a fine cornet player.’
‘The audience at the Ferry consisted of a lot of jazz musicians, semi-pros and professional musicians. I remember that two young lads would sit in the front row, one of whom was Martin Taylor. His dad, Buck Taylor used to bring Martin along, and Martin is now one of the great jazz guitarists.’
‘The Cook’s Ferry Inn jazz club came to an end in 1967 due to dwindling attendance, but it was good while it lasted, and I’d like to thank the musicians who let me sit in over the years.’
L-R: Dave Shepherd (clarinet), Bunny Austin (trumpet), Ron Agar (tenor sax)
© Bunny Austin
In 1972, Bunny, his wife and two sons moved south to Totton, a dormitory town near Southampton and close to Cadnam in the New Forest. ‘It is only eight miles from the Beaulieu Motor Museum,’ says Bunny. ‘I like vintage cars, and at one time in the 1950s I did actually own an Austin Seven!’
Down in Hampshire Bunny put together that seven-piece jazz band that he had imagined back in the 1940s, and they played at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, the Southampton Jazz Club and other venues in the area. Bunny became a committee member at the Jazz Club and was chairman one year.
‘I also played at the White Buck at Burley in the New Forest for about fourteen years,’ continues Bunny. ‘During that time we welcomed many guest players such as Dave Shepherd, Al Gay, Jack Free and Chris Walker. Regular players were Dickie Soloman (sax and clarinet), Bert Crossland and Peter Finch (guitars), and Stu Gledhill (bass). We also had a young, fourteen-year old trombone player, Adrian Fry, join us. Adrian played with the band for four years – what a great musician! He went on to play with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, then to Andy Dickens’ band and Adrian now leads his own band – Bones Supremacy.’
This one was taken around 1982 in Shirley Social Club, Southampton. The young man on trombone is Adrian Fry, now leader of Bone Supremacy and assit MD on Terry Wogan Sunday Show on Radio 2. Bunny Austin (trumpet), Jack Mathieson (drums), Colin Brinton (clarinet), Ron Poole (piano) and Gordon Hillier (trumpet) both out of picture, as.is the bass player.
© Bunny Austin
Adrian had only started to play trombone by accident. At twelve, he had gone to his school’s music hut where there was only a trombone left as all the other kids had wanted to play trumpets and cornets. By the time he was fourteen, Adrian had been heard by Pete Strange, trombone player with the Humphrey Lyttelton band and Pete had been so impressed that he sent special trombone arrangements down to the lad.
In 2003, Bunny played his last gig at the White Buck and many musicians came along for his farewell performance. He has now put away his King Long Model cornet in its case, but he still ‘hammers away on the keyboard’ entertaining anyone (usually the cats) who will listen. (‘Don’t tell the RSPCA,’ says Bunny).
Jonathan Bell writes:
I spent a very pleasant evening with Bunny Austin a couple of weeks ago talking about Jazz. I have know him for many years and grew up with his eldest son. He's a great guy and really influenced me during my teenage years regarding Jazz. I'm happy to say that at the age of forty one I still get as much pleasure out of Jazz and long may it continue!
Late in 2013, Bunny became unwell and was admitted to hospital for a month. Just before Christmas, he returned home to his family and passed away on the 30th December. Mary wrote:
'Bunny died peacefully at home on Monday 30th December 2013 surrounded by his family. He would have been 91 on 2nd January. Bunny had a long and pretty happy life and I feel lucky to have had 53 years with him - he was still making me laugh in the last weeks of his life and was a popular patient with the nurses when he was in hospital. We were all with him at the end - he was a very special man and will be remembered with love and laughter. Bunny's funeral will be on Monday 13th January 2013 at 2.45 pm in East Chapel, Southampton Crematorium, then on to Concorde Club, Eastleigh. No black. No flowers by request, donations if desired made payable to Wessex Heart Foundation to J Beavis & Sons, 19 Water Lane, Totton, SO40 3DG'
© Sandy Brown Jazz and Bunny Austin 2010-2017