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Tony Augarde

Drummer, critic, author and broadcaster Tony Augarde was born in April 1936 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. ‘Augarde’ is believed to come from the French ‘En Garde’, the warning in fencing to be ‘on your guard’, not particularly suitable for a member of the national Peace Pledge Union, but perhaps quite appropriate for a Tony Augardelong-established music critic.

Tony’s ancestors apparently came to the UK many years ago by ship, setting up shops in London and playing clarinet in pit orchestras. It is not surprising then that Tony’s dad was a multi-instrumentalist who played saxophone, trumpet, trombone and piano semi-professionally in dance bands. ‘He also worked as a Registrar in a London firm,’ says Tony. ‘I don’t know how he managed. Gigs in those days usually started at 9.00 p.m. and finished at around 3.00 a.m. He would come home, have a few hours sleep, and then be up again to travel into Town to work. There was always plenty of music around at home – Goodman and Ellington were my father’s favourites. His band entered the Melody Maker annual competitions, but sadly they never won.’

When Tony passed his eleven-plus exams, his father bought him his first drum kit. ‘It was a basic kit,’ Tony recalls. ‘It cost £10 and the drums had real skins. My father didn’t know much about the drums, but it is what I wanted. He bought me military drum sticks that were as big as tree trunks, and I think that is one reason that I have always been a loud drummer.’

Self-taught, Tony gradually added to the kit and by sixteen/seventeen was playing occasional gigs in local hotels with his father. In 1957, he left the Skinner’s School in Tunbridge Wells to read English at St. Peter’s Hall (now St. Peter’s College) in Oxford. He left his drums at home and for the period of his studies, spent little time with jazz or dance band music. His original intention had been to become a teacher, but when a tutor offered him the opportunity to stay in Oxford and work on the Oxford English Dictionary Supplement, Tony jumped at the chance and started a life-long association with the city.

In the early 1960s, he brought his drum kit to Oxford. Living in the heart of the city it was difficult for him to practice at home. ‘I joined a rehearsal band run by the Musicians’ Union that played over the Co-Op in Walton Street,’ Tony says. ‘I didn’t have a car and so I had to take my drum kit there in an old pram. Eventually, I was offered a job playing in a dance band on Friday and Saturday evenings in clubs around Oxford. There were many clubs in those days such as the Conservative Club, the Labour Club, the Reform Club and the Cowley Workers’ Club. People would come to the clubs to meet and drink and during the evening they would often have a game of Bingo. We would play either side of the game!’

‘Eventually, I suppose I became known in the area and was asked if I would like to play at a Jazz Club in nearby Wheatley. The club had a resident rhythm section and they often booked guest artists from London. I remember playing with Don Rendell, and I remember Tubby Hayes and Tony Levin playing at the club.

Tony AugardeTony continued to work on the Oxford Dictionary, his projects now extending to further supplements. His playing also spread further afield and he joined Pete Lay’s band that had a monthly gig at Banbury Jazz Club, again often with guest players such as Ronnie Ross.

‘My style was always “retro”,’ says Tony. ‘My idols were Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. Bass drum, four-in-a-bar. It gave me a sense of rhythm, and I never got into ‘dropping bombs’ as others did in the 1970s, but by now I was playing more with jazz bands than dance bands. As we entered the 1980s I was even working with a brass/rock group playing music like the Brecker Brothers.’

Tony had met Humphrey Carpenter, a string bass and tuba player who was also a writer of biographies – he wrote a biography of JRR Tolkein, the Oxford based author of The Lord Of The Rings. Humphrey also worked for Radio Oxford, and from this connection he involved Tony and others in recording signature tunes for radio programmes. In the early 1980s, he also formed a band called Vile Bodies (named after the Evelyn Waugh novel). With Tony on drums, the band secured a residency at the Ritz Hotel in London for several years playing music in the style of the 1920s and 1930s on Fridays, Saturdays and Bank Holidays.

The line up included 2 trumpets, three saxophones, a trombone, piano, bass/tuba/sousaphone, guitar and drums. At various times Alan Barnes and Dave Green played with the band and the original vocalist was Pooky Quesnel. As the years went by, the personnel of Vile Bodies changed, Humphrey left, the band was taken over by saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and a singer named Stacey Kent joined when Pooky Quesnel left. Eventually the band broke up when Jim and Stacey decided to go their own way.

Tony’s way with words and dictionaries continued. He compiled the Oxford Intermediate Dictionary and the Oxford School Dictionary in 1981 and he had started to write The Oxford Guide To Word Games, the first of several books to be published in his own right. He was setting Word Quizzes from LBC Radio in London and had become Arts Editor for the Oxford Times newspaper, writing and organising reviews of music, art exhibitions and shows.

At various times, Tony had played Latin percussion or drums with big bands and small groups led by Peter Sykes, who was Deputy Editor of the Oxford Times. Peter asked Tony if he would review pop music for the paper and this in turn led to him compiling listings, previews and classical music reviews as part of his work for the Oxford Times. ‘I had to learn much more about classical music,’ Tony Augardesays Tony. ‘But as I listened and read up about it I came to understand it more and more.’

Asking Tony about his approach to reviewing jazz, he replied: ‘Any reviewer or critic has to find a happy medium between subjectivity and objectivity. You cannot let your own prejudices spill over into the review. There are many reviewers around who will say good things about everyone, but I have to write about what I see and what I hear. There are Good Time Jazz bands who play for their own pleasure and for an audience who simply want a background to drink and chat. Other bands play for audiences who listen and appreciate the technique. Reviews have to assess the music within each genre. In a way, I am saying to readers: ‘This is my opinion. I’m trying to give some guidance as to whether you should go out and spend money on this or whether it is a load of rubbish.’

In 1991, Tony compiled the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations, and then left the Oxford University Press. As a Council member of the Peace Pledge Union, he was offered the job of Campaign Organiser and took on this task from 1991 to 1993. ‘We were trying to extend people’s understanding of the issues,’ he explains. ‘Do you believe that money should be spent on a machine gun or a kidney machine?’ Tony would cycle to the centre of Oxford to catch the coach to the offices in Euston and then cycle back again in the evening. It was tiring; the organisation was struggling with funding, and by 1993 Tony decided to withdraw. As the 1990s passed, the Vile Bodies band work ended, the radio quizzes dried up and Tony eventually retired from his job with the Oxford Times.

The mid-1990s saw Tony broadcasting a fortnightly word quiz on Talk Radio for two years andWordplay by Tony Augarde presenting a weekly jazz programme for BBC South for nine years. He has continued to write books. His Oxford Guide To Word Games was published in 1984, The Oxford A to Z Of Word Games in 1994, Oxford Word Challenge in 1998 and most recently in 2011, Wordplay, a collection of articles originally written for the Oxford Times.

Tonmy AugardeTony is still playing with various groups in the Oxford area, although less so these days. He continues to review music for Music Web (for which he is the Jazz Editor) and writes for Jazz Rag magazine.

Tony thinks that it is difficult to identify a specific trend in jazz at the present time. ‘I think that musicians are looking around for ‘the next thing’ but they have not found it yet,’ he says. ‘They are trying out different line-ups and mixing different genres - listen to bands like Kwartet and Richard Galliano. That mixing of styles cannot be a bad thing, after all, it is what happened when jazz was born in New Orleans all those years ago. Whilst classical music is hidebound by its strict adherence to composition, jazz has always been a melting pot.’

Wordplay by Tony Augarde is published by Jon Carpenter (ISBN 978 1 906067 10 6). Click here for more information.

Tony sadly passed through the Departure Lounge on 24th February 2017. Click here for his daughter's tribute to him in The Guardian.


© Tony Augarde and Ian Maund 2012-2017

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