Dave Keir recently discovered that his great, great grandmother, Amelia Dreyheller had a father, John Henry (Johan Heinrich) Dreyheller who, when he registered the birth of his daughter in 1815, stated his profession as ‘trumpeter’. Coincidence or something in the genes?
There is further evidence of an argument for ‘something in the genes’. Dave’s father had played cornet in the Dunfermline Town band, and his mother’s cousin, Bill Andrews, was bandmaster for the Salvation Army band in Rochester, Kent, and was another cornet player. This only presents an argument for Dave’s favoured instrument, it may not explain his considerable talent as a multi-instrumentalist.
© Photograph courtesy of Dave Keir
Dave’s parents lived in the small Scottish mining village of Townhill about two miles north of Dunfermline in Fife, where David Keir was born on the 9th April 1928. His father travelled four miles or so daily by tramcar to work at the dockyard in Rosyth.
Soon after moving to Townhill, a neighbour decided to sell up and emigrate to Canada. Amongst the possessions they were selling was a harmonium for which they asked ten pounds, a lot of money in 1929. Dave’s mother managed to scrape together the money from somewhere and with the help of six other neighbours, they manoeuvred it up the flight of stairs to their flat above the village inn.
There, by sheer perseverance, she taught herself to play and read music – hymns mainly, but some light pieces by Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum’, Handel’s ‘Largo’ and Schumann’s ‘Traumerei’. As a tiny tot, Dave would listen spellbound to the sounds coming from his mother’s playing.
When Dave was about nine or ten years old he started to learn the cornet in the local miners’ brass band where the instrument was provided and the tuition was free. The miner who taught Dave to play loved music and also arranged many of the pieces played by the band. Dave recalls that “indeed he was as fine a musician as anyone I met afterwards”.
And so Dave would go home and play along with his mother when she sat down at the harmonium, “busking the tunes because her music was in a different key from me and perhaps it was good training for me later to produce the Jazz sounds in my head”.
At twelve, Dave started secondary school in Dunfermline. The homework he was given left him with little time to practise and his playing suffered. His cornet tutor met Dave’s mother in the street one day and complained about how Dave’s playing had slipped. His mother’s ‘artistic temperament’ exploded and she ordered Dave to hand in his cornet.
Fortunately, the music teacher at Dunfermline High School, ‘Pop’ Gardiner, had as his passion the School Orchestra and anyone who could play was immediately recruited. Now that Dave had no instrument, ‘Pop’ saw his opportunity! Since he already had about seven cornet and trumpet players amongst the hundred or so players but was short of trombone players, he button-holed Dave one day and asked whether, if he supplied Dave with a trombone and a ‘teach yourself’ book, Dave would be interested in playing? So Dave agreed. He was given the trombone and the book, and a notice that there would be a School Orchestra Concert in six weeks’ time at which he would be expected to play!
“It was one of those Bass trombones in G with the handle on the slide. Firstly I took off the handle, worked out which slide positions corresponded to which cornet valves, and mastered the thing in six weeks”.
“Pop had arranged a medley of Scottish songs including a trombone solo. I can still remember his expression of delight when I busked ‘Duncan Gray Cam’ Here Tae Woo – Ha Ha The Wooin’ O’t’. I have never managed to be a good reader of trombone parts, it being too easy to busk anything I wanted to play”.
During the latter three years at High School, Dave acquired his own tenor trombone and played in the evenings in a local dance band.
During the 1940’s, Dave had seen Bing Crosby in the film ‘Birth Of The Blues’, since when he had notions of leading a jazz group on clarinet, so he bought himself an old Albert system and taught himself to play. Two years’ National Service in the armed forces was still a requirement when boys left school in those days, so Dave joined the Royal Air Force and trained as a Radio Fitter. He was eventually posted to a flying station in Yorkshire where in the evenings he and some friends ran a dance band. This provided the opportunity for Dave to lead the saxophones on alto sax and clarinet and so bring some reality to his ‘Birth Of The Blues’ dream. He also played euphonium in the station band. One of his regrets is not coming across Monty Sunshine who served in the same camps, only discovering this later in 1953 when the two met in London.
After National Service, Dave returned to Dunfermline and started at Edinburgh University. He and some friends formed the short-lived ‘Creole Bells Jazz Band’ before in 1949, Dave went on to play with ‘Jock Turner’s Jazz Band’, a little five-piece band that went to London to play at the jazz clubs there. On their return to Scotland the band broke up due to lack of engagements.
Dave moved to lodgings in Edinburgh. It was there that he heard there was a group playing in a pub in town led by a guy called Sandy Brown, so he went along and asked to sit in – on clarinet! “Remarkably, Sandy did not object, and sometime later when his cornetist Stew Eaton left, I joined Sandy on cornet , (Al Fairweather was still in the Army and in any case, he was the band’s trombonist). When Al came home we were at first a front line of Sandy (clarinet), Al (trombone), and me on cornet, but Sandy had heard Al pick up someone’s trumpet and blow on it and was so impressed at the sound, we now became Al on trumpet and me on trombone”.
“Sandy’s ambition at that time was to get as near as possible to the Louis Armstrong Hot Five sound, which meant he wanted a ‘Kid Ory’ on trombone, so I left and Bob Craig joined”.
Dave moved on to join Archie Semple’s Dixielanders. He found the Chicago style they played to be more congenial and when Archie left to join Mick Mulligan in London, Dave took over the leadership of the band and renamed it the ‘Nova Scotia Jazz Band’.
Jackie Graham took over the clarinet position from Archie, and Pat Malloy replaced Dickie Alexander on bass. Alex Welsh had recently come in to play cornet in place of Archie’s brother John.
A year later, it was Alex that took over leadership of the band when Dave received a telegram from Mick Mulligan asking Dave to join him in London. He caught the next train.
Dave stayed with Mick for about a year before leaving with the idea of starting his own group, but he returned to the Mulligan fold for some weeks to help out on clarinet when Paul Simpson injured his hand when the group’s bandwagon crashed.
Paul returned and Dave joined Freddy Randall for a month or two “but he wasn’t doing a lot so I got a band together to play in Dusseldorf for ten weeks at the New Orleans Bier Bar. Our agent was supposed to be booking gigs for us in the U.K., but when we got back, we found nothing had been done – so that was that!”
So Dave joined Bruce Turner’s first ‘Jump Band’ to play in Moscow at the 1957 International Youth Festival. They were there for about a month playing on Moscow Television, to thousands in Gorky Park and at a ball in the Kremlin, “although the Russians were mainly interested in Rock and Roll”.
“Bruce’s band disbanded when we got back, so I had a go at my own group again. We made a private recording of a song I had heard in the Kremlin – ‘Evening In Moscow’. I sent a copy to E.M.I. to see if they were interested, only to be told in their reply that ‘they didn’t think it had any commercial value’. Kenny Ball was later to show how wrong they were when he recorded the same tune (for E.M.I. of course!) and it went to Number One!!”.
For a while afterwards, Dave then put together a band called ‘The Elizabethans’, playing numbers based on songs from Tudor times as well as the more familiar standards.
“During the remainder of my stay in the London Jazz scene I gigged at times, playing trombone with Sid Phillips, Bobby Mickleburgh and Johnny Parker, and on alto sax with Ken Colyer’s Omega Brass band. I recall playing with Bobby Mickleburgh at the Cavern in Liverpool when The Beatles were the ‘Interval Group’. I was too anxious to get to the pub at the interval to stop and listen, something I very much regret today. Little did I think then that we wouldn’t even be the ‘Interval Group’ in a year’s time”
In the early 1960’s, Dave joined Dick Charlesworth for about a year but then left to form his own group again. Dick’s band was pretty successful, so when Dave was asked why he left, his only reply was that “I wanted to play my own material, some of my own compositions and other numbers and styles, a lot of small band Ellington for example, which I was really sold on”.
By 1964, the writing ‘was on the wall’ for jazz and so Dave returned to Edinburgh, and there he completed the degree that he had abandoned so many years before. At the time, Scotland was short of Science teachers and so he trained as a teacher of Mathematics and Physics.
During the twenty-odd years that he taught, he only played with the school band at one school. He played no jazz at all until 1980 when, having retired early from teaching, Mike Hart, the musical director of the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival invited Dave to ‘sit in’ and he has played trombone, trumpet, clarinet and sax ever since.
He also played trombone with Charlie McNair, Frank Birnie, and Mike Hart’s ‘Edinburgh Ragtimers’ and trumpet with the ‘Capital Jazz Band’.
“About eight years ago, I got together with some friends in Edinburgh to try to play the Classsic Jazz of the 1895 – 1930 New Orleans period, first as the ‘Dave Keir Hot 4’, and by adding a trombone, the ‘Dave Keir Hot Five’. The personnel are Mike Westwater (alto sax and clarinet), his brother Jock Westwater (banjo and vocals), the Sandy Brown sideman Dizzy Jackson (double bass), Gordon Melrose (trombone) and myself on cornet. We made a couple of C.Ds. with the Quartet, but have not yet got down to recording the Hot 5 – perhaps in June this year at Kirkcudbright we’ll make an effort.”
© Photograph courtesy of Dave Keir
“There are not as many gigs for our kind of music these days, but we play about once a month at the local jazz club run by Norrie Thomson at the Heriot’s Rugby Club. We manage the odd Jazz Festival at places such as Peebles, Keswick, Hawick, Kirkcudbright, and of course Edinburgh and we are sometimes booked to play for wedding receptions”.
“A couple of years ago, during the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, I got together with three other musicians – Dizzy Jackson (bass), George Washing Machine from Sydney (violin), and Diz Disley (violin), an old mate from my London days and who was formerly with Stephane Grapelli. ‘Washing Machine’s’ name is actually ‘Washington’, but George seems to think his real name is too pretentious! Jock Westwater recorded a souvenir C.D. that we made in his flat at Howe Street in Edinburgh. I hear lately that George has Alzheimer’s Disease and of course Mick Mulligan died two or three months ago. I suppose I should say ‘there but for the grace of God …….”.
Dave lives in South Queensferry, Edinburgh and as he says above, plays regularly with his Hot 5. Their website can be found at www.davekeirhot5.co.uk.
© Sandy Brown Jazz and Dave Keir 2007 - 2015
© Photographs courtesy of Dave Keir