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Profile:

Johnny Bastable

 

John Bastable

Johnny Bastable
Photograph © June Bastable

 

Banjo player and guitarist John Bastable was born in Fulham in London in 1929. His father was a carpenter and his mother was a school cook. After the outbreak of war in 1939, the family moved out of London to Croxley Green in Hertfordshire. Leaving Chater School in Watford at fourteen, John initially went to work for Scammell's, a firm that manufactured mechanical horses and articulated lorries, but then moved to a business that made scientific instruments in Watford High Street. It was not a good move. Working with mercury as part of his job eventually gave John an ulcer – good news for the milkman as the treatment demanded that John drink two pints of milk a day.

As a youngster, John taught himself to play the banjo. He gigged around with Trevor Williams’s Eagle Jazzband in Middlesex and with other bands until he became pretty well known on the circuit. And then, in 1956, a phone call changed everything. John picked up the phone to hear Ken Colyer calling from Germany. Diz Disley had just walked out and Ken needed a banjo and guitar player – immediately. So John packed in his job that very day and flew out to Germany the next morning. He was to stay with Ken Colyer for almost seventeen years.

Meanwhile, two seventeen-year-old telephone operators from Leeds, June Murphy and Judith Britton, decided in 1957 to make the journey south to find work in the Big City and to get involved in London’s jazz scene. Arriving in London they found a flat in Soho and spent their evenings at Cy June, Maria and JudyLaurie’s Club. On other evenings they waited on tables in local coffee bars – La Macabre and Heaven and Hell. June remembers the buzz they got from Soho: ‘We would lean out of our flat window and watch the Ladies of the Night go by in their furs on the street below. But our landlady drove us mad; one moment we were ‘her girls’, the next she was grumbling about something we had done or, more precisely, what we hadn't done, like "clean ze cooker, clean ze floor". So we moved to 14 Medburn Street in King’s Cross, but of course in the evenings we still went to Cy Laurie’s, or increasingly frequently to Ken Colyer's Studio 51.’

 

June (left), a friend from Leeds, and Judy (right)
Photograph © June Bastable

 

June had already met John Bastable in Leeds when he played there in 1956, not that he remembered, but meeting again at Studio 51 in Great Newport Street, he and June soon started dating. When June and Judy went to work waitressing for a summer season at Butlins in Clacton, they found the work intoleraby hard. June was also missing John, so she left and went to stay with John and his parents in Croxley Green. She soon found another flat for herself and Judy at Ken Colyer's JazzmenDoughty House, 2 Guildford Street in Bloomsbury, sharing with Maria Williams, another friend she had met at work.

The flat in Guildford Street gradually became a Mecca for London jazz musicians who would turn up and hang out after their gigs – June remembers amongst others the Louis Armstrong All Stars, Buck Clayton and the George Lewis band being there on different occasions. June lived at Guildford Street until John proposed and they married in 1958. Maria would go on to marry clarinettist Ian Wheeler and Judy would marry Sandy Brown trumpeter Al Fairweather.

Working for Ken Colyer the money was initially good - £15 to £20 a week. Ken called John ‘Johnny’ and the name stuck – Johnny Bastable. By 1960/1961 each band member's earnings had gone up to around £60 a week. ‘They were riches in those days!’ says June.

 

 

In 1959, The Ken Colyer band accompanied clarinettist at a concert in Dusseldorf Here is Johnny with the band and George Lewis playing St Philip Street Breakdown:

 

 

 

 

In 1966, the band was back playing in Germany again. Here is Part 1 of a recording of Johnny with the Ken Colyer band in Hamburg.

 

 

 

Chris Barber had previously approached Johnny to play with his band, but Johnny was very loyal to Ken Colyer and chose to stay where he was. He and June now had two children and a house in Watford. Johnny would look after the children during the day while June worked as an office temp, and June would care for the children in the evenings while Johnny played, so free days together as a family were very precious. A few years later they moved to live at Teddington Lock.

Here is the second part of the 1966 recording of Johnny with Ken Colyer in Hamburg:

 

 

 

By the time Ken Colyer decided to break up the band in 1972, traditional jazz had been supplanted by pop and rock music. Johnny took over Ken’s band which became known as the Johnny Bastable's Chosen SixJohnny Bastable Chosen Six and included John Shillitoe (trumpet), Geoff Cole (trombone), Tony Pyke (clarinet), Bill Cole (bass), Johnny Bastable (banjo) and Malc Murphy (drums). Like many other jazz musicians, Johnny took a day job, painting and decorating, and to make the money go round he taught banjo and freelanced with various other bands such as the Riverside Five Plus One.

 

Johnny with the Chosen Six at the Thames Hotel, Hampton Court
Photograph © June Bastable

 

As time went on, John was less able to manage his drinking the way he used to. June remembers him saying how musicians learned to ‘whack down’ the drinks quickly in the time they had during the twenty-minute gig intervals. Now playing less, he still drank ‘as if it were the interval' (his own words). His drinking worsened and he and June drifted apart. Eventually they divorced in 1979, although they still stayed together for another two years before John moved out to a mobile home in Sunbury. It was there that four years later in 1985, he was killed in a traffic accident, running back across the road from the local pub on Upper Halliford Road. He was 56 years old. At his funeral in Woking there was no music. Most of the Chosen Six came along and Mike Pointon spoke of John to the congregation, but as many people did not know about the funeral, the numbers were few.

June Bastable now lives in the West Country where she has become a successful writer. Her Some Peoplecollection of short stories Some People has been published by the Arts Council funded YouWriteOn.com. One of the stories, Perfect Pitch, borrows from her early years in London, although June stresses that John was never cold towards her as the character Rupert turns out to be:

Jayne .. painted her toenails scarlet whilst humming a tune excrutiatingly off-key … you’re a common or garden typist in an office, for goodness sake. Why don’t you ditch that old grey duffel coat and those scruffy drainpipe trousers for something prettier and more feminine? …. I ignored this tirade as we could never agree on these matters. I preferred my pale-lipped, panda-eyed Bohemian look … and Rupert was, of course, my trophy boyfriend. I would stand at the back of the club watching him play, waiting for the interval when I’d put my arm proprietorially through his as the band trooped over to the pub on Charing Cross Road for a twenty-minute break.

Some People is available from Amazon (click here).

June Bastable These People

 

The sequel, These People, was published in 2015, Bix Beiderbecke is quoted as saying ‘One of thethings I like about jazz, kid, is I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?’

Much the same could be said of June Bastable’s second book of short stories ‘These People’. June knows about jazz – she was married to the late jazz musician, John Bastable, and she writes reviews of jazz albums for a magazine, but she knows more about people.

‘These People’ brings us a collection of enjoyable stories of believable characters in familiar situations – the infatuated secretary, the hazards of online chat rooms, a house called Catspaw Cottage, the Saga holiday – but June Bastable surprises us, the stories don’t always go where you think they will. Expect the unexpected.

These people is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

Johnny Bastable remains one of the much-remembered names from British traditional jazz. You Ken Colyer CDcan still listen to him on CD. There are a number of CDs by Ken Colyer with Johnny Bastable available from Lake Records (click here).

You will also find Johnny on the Lake CD Vintage Acker Bilk Volume 2 (LACD 281) (click here) where he plays on a 1958 session with Acker, Mac Duncan, Ray Foxley, Ernie Price and Vic Carter.

On an American site you can play a short sample of the Ken Colyer band playing There's a Yes Yes In your Eyes and Melancholy Blues with Johnny's banjo quite clear on the samples (click here).

There is a brief excerpt from live recording made by Johnny Bastable's Chosen Six in Hamburg on YouTube (click here) of Yes Sir, That's My Baby. Be amazed by Johnny's mastery of German as he introduces the band: Johnny Bastable (banjo, leader), Geoff Cole (Trombone), John Shillito (trumpet, vocal), Tony Pyke (clarinet), Ken Ames (bass), Malcolm Murphy (drums).

 

© Sandy Brown Jazz and June Bastable 2011-2016

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