Sandy Brown Jazz

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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

Musicians On A Train



1950s train

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Humphrey Lyttelton was able to tell a good story. His book Second Chorus was first published in 1958 and apart from his usual wit, in this extract Humph talks about how things were in the 1950s on those occasions when musicians travelled by train.

'Touring at home is on the whole less strenuous. Bands which are on the road all the time usually travel by coach. On our sporadic sorties Train Compartmentout of town, it is more economical and quicker to go by train. This has its disadvantages, which need not be stressed to anyone who has spent much time on the British railways. As we travel mostly at week-ends, we quite frequently endure the horror of a cross-country train journey on a Sunday. The time-table journey is always an hour or two longer than on week-days. The actual journey is longer still, with frequent prolongued waits around lunchtime at stations which provide no food other than some hard pastry containers, practically hollow except for a thin layer of congealed mincemeat at the bottom, which are euphemistically referred to as meat pies. Sometimes, at big city stations, you may find tomato soup available, for which you can queue like prisoners en route for Siberia. But if you want to keep in with the wardresses the other side of the counter, don't walk off with that pink plastic spoon by the tea-urn. Give your tea a brisk stir and leave it behind. It's the only spoon they have.

'Musicians have perhaps more curious experiences on trains than ordinary people. Ticket collectors, sleeping-car attendants and guards have only to spot an instrument case in the rack to be smitten suddenly with violent persecution mania. Light a cigarette thoughtlessly in a non-smoker, and an enraged official will threaten to stop at the very next station and summon the police, the fire brigade and the entire bench of Railway Tea Roommagistrates to deal with you. Hold a murmured conversation late at night in a sleeping compartment, and sooner or later the whole carriage will resound with thunderous blows on the door and stentorian threats. One morning, having been called with tea, I dozed off again, to be woken a few minutes later with a vigorous shake. "Yer tea's gettin' cold!" I gave a non-commital grunt. "Very well, then, if you don't drink yer tea, I'll report yer!" I doubt whether anyone but a musician has ever been threatened with a report to the stationmaster at Euston for allowing his tea to get cold.

'Eddie Thompson, a blind pianist, once had trouble getting his guide dog on board a sleeper in the North. An argument developed around the carriage door. Kenny Graham, a bandleader of independent spirit and formidable appearance - with his prickly auburn beard he could be mistaken, in a bad light, for Charles Laughton in a beachcomber role - remonstrated vigorously with the attendant. "I'm sorry," said the man, "I'm responsible for the other passengers, yer know. Supposing he bit somebody?" Kenny's beard jutted. "How d'you know I won't bite somebody?" In the end, by rousing from their beds the city police chief and the stationmaster, authority was given for the dog to be allowed on board. As far as is known, neither he nor Kenny bit anyone during the night.'

From Second Chorus by Humphrey Lyttelton


This seems a good point to watch Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon with Running Wild from the movie Some Like It Hot:





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Visit some of our other The Story Is Told pages:

Roy Eldridge - Let Me Off In Harlem
Tubby Hayes And The Arrival Of Rock And Roll
New Orleans To Chicago With The NORK
Mingus Moving On

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