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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.


Jimmy Thomson (Caricaturist) - January 2017


Jimmy Thomson


Jimmy Thomson
(Photograph courtesy of City Life Dundee)


Jimmy Hall Thomson is one of the UK’s most able caricaturists. His work over the years has captured the essence of many musicians. Born in Dundee, Scotland in 1937, Jimmy started work in 1954 working as a cartoonist with local Meadowside publishers D C Thomson (no relation). Their art department at the time had some top comic and boys-paper artists, creating British comic magazines. The newspaper, magazine and comics company now also has offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow and London’s Fleet Street. Jimmy was also studying life Jimmy Thomson exhibitiondrawing, fashion drawing and sculpture under Alberto Morrocco at Dundee College of Art.

He went on to work for the Scottish Daily Mail in Edinburgh and then back to Dundee to work at Valentine's studio, where he stayed for the next twenty-four years designing and scripting humorous greetings cards. Jimmy also secured work with the Melody Maker, the first ever newspaper devoted to popular music and jazz. In the early 1970s Melody Maker was selling a quarter of a million copies a week. It had a reputation for its excellent photographs, well-written articles and its humour – including Jimmy Thomson’s unique caricatures – he drew musicians from every genre, jazz, pop, folk, everyone who was famous in the world of popular music.


Jimmy and Irving Miskell-Reid of Freedom Hair with one of Jimmy’s Melody Maker covers at the 2014 exhibition


Jimmy has a particular interest in jazz – he plays clarinet, and recalls that he bought one of his clarinets from Billy Amstell - and through his work over the years he has made strong contacts with many jazz musicians and people in the jazz world. Jimmy says: 'My first sitting in was with Dave Carey in London, while with Ken Gallacher, who then told this to Acker Bilk in Dundee, 1959, leading to me duetting with him on Trouble In Mind. Acker never forgot me.' A long-time friend of American clarinettist Pee Wee Russell, who was also an artist, Jimmy went on to be commissioned to draw many jazz musicians including Wild Bill Davison, George Melly, Bill Evans, Eubie Blake, and many more.


In 2014, there was an exhibition of Jimmy’s work at Freedom Hair Exhibitions in Dundee who have been promoting the work of local artists since 2012.


Dave Brubeck

© Dave Brubeck by Jimmy Thomson


I caught up with Jimmy for a Tea Break ...


Hello Jimmy. Good to see you - tea or coffee?

Good morning, Ian - coffee please - extra hot latte!


Milk and sugar?

Oh, sweeteners please.


I sometimes wonder, when you first meet someone, whether you look at them and think of their face as a caricature? Are there particular features a caricaturist looks for – the nose, the ears .......?

I always saw the faces a whole, with perhaps, a nip and tuck here and there, but, I've always been amazed at the variations of the human ear, that important Jazz recepticle!


Gillott 290 nib




What made you start drawing caricatures rather than other types of drawing and painting?

From an early age I liked drawing funny faces and often obsessed with large noses. I did do life drawing, fashion drawing and clay modelling at college, but it was in D. C. Thomson's art department that I was introduced to the amazing Gillott 290 nib whose flexibility eventually enhanced my work.

Joseph Gillott Pointed Dip Pen Nib 290. A needle-point drawing nib for drawing and copperplate writing and sometimes call a 'Litographic nib'.




George Melly




Hmm, my nose is quite large. Better change the subject! You obviously have an interest in jazz – can you remember the first jazz you heard?

Yes, my uncle Bill had a band in Milnathort (Bill Thomson's Hot Shots) and so, through my Dad I got to hear Jazz on radio, and through old 78s of Louis, Don Redman, Muggsy Spanier, Duke, of course - and Humph. (Uncle Bill wrote a discography of Red Nichols recordings, an avid fan, I had his collection of 78s for some time).


George Melly © Jimmy Thomson





Sorry – I should have offered you a biscuit – I have chocolate digestives, Garibaldis, Hob Nobs – or I think a have a few mince pies left over after Christmas?

Now - Bill Wyman loves Hob Nobs. I'd rather have a chocolate twist.



Did you meet or hear back from any of the jazz musicians you caricatured?

Yes, well, George Melly, Bruce Turner, Humph, Acker - I sat in with him in 1959 and he never forgot me. A nice guy. By the way you should see my autograph book! I have Kathy Stobart when she was seventeen with Vic Lewis and many years later when with Humph.


Jimmy Thomson with Acker BNilk

Jimmy playing with Acker Bilk at Dundee Palais De Danse in 1959



Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz band playing In A Persian Market Place in Prague in 1964






What did they think of their pictures?

Some subjects did appreciate my versions of them - George Melly, for example, although he said it veered towards flattery! Tony Bennett asked for the original; Cheech and Chong were very keen to have the Melody Maker drawing, and got it, however Matt Monro's wife wasn't too pleased with my rendition of Matt. On the whole though, the drawings have been mostly well received, including by the Beatles and the Stones - and many others.


That sounds just like George! Are there any people you would like to have drawn?

Well, I wish I could have contributed more jazzers.  As it is, my files still bulge with  faces. So many became lost in the huge tide of performers of the '60s and '70s when I was a contributor to Melody Maker between 1964 and 1968. I wonder whatever happened to Jobriath?


I have never heard of Jobriath, but there is an interesting video of a trailer about him called 'Glam Rock's Lost God' - I must do a little more research I think .....






Pee Wee Russell



You were a friend of clarinettist Pee Wee Russell for many years – how did you meet him and what was he like?

I knew Doug Dobell of Dobell’s Record Shop quite well and I used to draw Christmas cards for him and then I met Jeff Atterton at Doug's shop in Charing Cross Road. Jeff was the Jazz specialist at the Sam Goody Store on West 459th Street in Manhattan, and he introduced me to Pee Wee through one of my caricatures. That resulted in ten years of correspondence with Pee Wee. Pee Wee was also a painter - I have said before that I always thought there was a hint of a ‘red indian’ blanket about his work. Pee Wee was not forward but conversational when you talked to him. His wife, Mary, described him as 'irascible'. One example is a time when apparenly at Manchester Sports Guild, sitting in the lounge, Ken Gallacher, then sports writer on Daily Record, asked about the Summa Cum Laude orchestra -"could have been good - conflict of personalities". Athough I didn't have much chat with him, I got the impression that he could be quite reserved.

Pee Wee Russell © Jimmy Thomson






Listen to Pee Wee Russell with Red Nichols playing Feelin' No Pain in 1927





Do you have a favourite recording by Pee Wee? I have always loved his playing on the Red Nichols recording of ‘Feelin’ No Pain’.

Too many brilliant Pee Wee solos! There's a beauty on Someday Sweetheart with Bud Freeman and Brad Gowans but oh!, a most tender rendering on These Foolish Things with Ruby Braff at Newport. Then there's Down Among the Sheltering Palms with a Condon group, Sterling Bose et al ...



Listen to Pee Wee Russell with Ruby Braff playing These Foolish Things at Newport







Wild Bill Davison



While we are speaking of favourites, do you have a favourite from among all your caricatures?

Pee Wee certainly, but a great variety of physiogs - Jimi Hendrix, Wild Bill, John McLaughlin, Bud, Woody Allen, and Duke, of course (what a remarkable head - I met him face to face with Ken Gallagher in Glasgow.


Wild Bill Davison © Jimmy Thomson





So, if you could ask any painter, alive or past, to make a drawing of you, who would it be?

Toulouse Lautrec! A wee man, like me!


Another coffee – or perhaps a piece of Dundee cake?

Dundee Cake? Heavy man! I'll nibble a Digestive. You're so hospitable, Ian. It's been a pleasure. Dundee Cake? Hate the stuff!

Jimmy Thomson


[Jimmy walks off, carrying his 81¾ years with youthful aplomb!]


[Click here for our Profile page for Jimmy Thomson]


Utah Teapot


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