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Archie Semple

Alex Balmforth writes:

‘Complex Character’ is an overused phrase when writing on the subject of jazz musicians, however in the case of Archie, I can think of no more an appropriate axiom. Born in 1928, Archie came to London in 1952 from his native Edinburgh and firstly joined the chaotic Mick Mulligan band before in early 1953 leaving for the Freddie Randall mob – then finally in 1954 making his defining career move to the Alex Welsh Jazz Band, where he was to stay until his desperate nervous breakdown on stage at the Richmond Jazz Festival in 1964, but this is to anticipate …

Archie SempleArchie’s style embraced two main influences, Ed Hall and later Eddie Condon’s regular clarinettist, Pee Wee Russell. Curiously these two fine musicians had similar characters, both were highly sensitive, nervous men and crucially both were incurable alcoholics. Although Alex Welsh, in later life made up for the deficiency, when he moulded his first band he was allegedly a censorious tee-totaller and was to rebuke Archie on several occasions for drunkenness. And similarly Archie on a number of occasions responded by going for days without a drink, and then suddenly he would get incandescently pissed.

As Alex’s reputation grew, he began touring extensively, latterly inviting many US musicians to tour with his band, and in 1964 he was to invite Archie’s hero Pee Wee Russell. The story now conflicts, depending on who you ask, however consensus has it that Pee Wee owned several of Alex’s recordings and was aware of Archie’s style, although Pee Wee recognised that the similarities to his own playing were self-evident, he accepted it was not slavish copy. At the first rehearsal Pee Wee evidently thought Archie was 'taking the Michael' and made his thoughts clear … Although the two men were later reconciled and became friends, nevertheless many believe it was this confrontation that was to contribute to Archie’s breakdown.The Clarinet of Archie Semple album


In 1964 on the stage of the Richmond Jazz Festival, Archie was to suffer a catastrophic nervous breakdown.

Subsequently Archie was to make a couple of comebacks, but he eventually faded from the scene and in January 1974 was to die in penury of chronic alcoholism.

In 1962 Archie was to record a solo LP with Johnny Scott directing and remains today a fine example of its genre, additionally the eclectic Doug Dobell’s recording company, 77 Records, produced a fine LP, until recently unobtainable, happily this omission has now been rectified and has recently been remastered and re-issued.

© Alex Balmforth

Clarinettist, artist and caricaturist Jimmy Thomson sends us this historic photograph of Sandy Brown playing with Archie Semple (clarinet), John Semple (trumpet) and Stu Crockett (trombone) and Alex Balmforth writes about the legendary Scottish clarinet player Archie Semple.


Archie Semple Sandy Brown photo

© Jimmy Thomson

Jimmy's photograph comes from around 1948 and shows the young Semple brothers, Archie and John, with an equally young Sandy Brown, before his later recognisable beard, and with trombonist Stu Crockett to the right of the picture. Archie at this time would have been twenty years old.


There are now a number of albums available featuring Archie Semple with various bands (click here). Click here to sample the album by the Archie Semple Six featuring Nat Gonella and Beryl Bryden.

Click here to sample The Clarinet of Archie Semple album from Lake Records which now includes tracks from the 77 Recordings. Click here to listen to a selection of Archie Semple’s playing.

© Alex Balmforth, Jimmy Thomson and Sandy Brown Jazz 2013-2015

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