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Bebop Spoken There

Randy Brecker: "It's still a thrill for me today to stand out front of a big band as the soloist and hear all that sound going on behind you. It brings the best out of me" - (DownBeat June 2019).

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Today Tuesday May 21

Afternoon

Jazz

Classic Swing - The Ship Inn, Front Street, Monkseaton NE25 8DP. 0191 251 3677. 1:00pm. Free.

Evening

Kamasi Washington - Sage Gateshead, St Mary’s Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead NE8 2JR. Tel: 0191 443 4461. 7:30pm. £30.00.

River City Jazzmen w. Maureen Hall - Block & Tackle, Blackthorn Way, Ashington NE63 8NN. Tel: 01670 813983. 8:00pm. £5 (raffle inc.) Bob Wade, Gordon Solomon, Keith Stephen, Phil Rutherford, Tommy Graham.

Lindsay Hannon Band - Fox Inn, West End Terrace, Hexham NE46 3DB.Tel: 01434 603681. 8:30pm. Free (donations).

To the best of our knowledge, details of the above events are correct but may be subject to alteration.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bebop Spoken Here Talks to Brian Bennett

Hi Brian you’ve been the front man for the Vieux Carré Jazzmen for a number of years now 
Hi, Lance! Yes, I picked up the baton after clarinettist, Ronny Robinson, sadly passed away in 2006. However, I had been responsible for marketing the band, creating gig opportunities and making sure things happened for many years prior to that. Being the 'front man' isn't really my forte, but someone has to do it. So it's now 7 years. Seems like an eternity, tho! 
The VCJ have one of the longest pedigrees in New Orleans Jazz – not just in the north-east but possibly in the UK 
Margaret Barnes reminded me recently that next year, 2014, will be our 60th anniversary. Pete Deuchar, grandson of brewery and hotel magnate, James Deuchar, founded the VCJ way back in 1954. Two of the original founder members are still with us and live locally. Drummer, Pete Drysdale, lives in Whitley Bay and calls into the Crescent Club to hear the band occasionally and trombonist, Jack Goodwin, who lives in Whickham, still keeps in touch. I'm sure there's one or two other bands that have been around for a similar length of time, the Merseysippi Jazz Band in Liverpool, maybe? 
I recall the VCJ from the early days with Pete Deuchar (or Duker as he later re-titled himself) and Peter Gascoigne. When did you come into the picture?
I first heard the VCJ around 1961 when I was an art student in Sunderland but by then Pete Deuchar and bass player, Jed Ward, had left the band to seek their fortunes in London. Many years later around '89 - '90 I was playing with Liz & Paul Bacon's band, The Mississippi Dreamboats, at the Wolsingham House in North Shields where we had a weekly residency. At that time trumpeter Pete Gascoigne had hit rock bottom with drink problems and wasn't playing at all. Paul and Liz had been in contact with Gassy and began bringing him to our gig at the 'Wooly'. Eventually he brought his trumpet with him and would sit in with the band. Of course, I knew Gassy's repertoire of New Orleans numbers and I would ask him "do you play The Postman's Lament?" or "do you know the lyrics for Ace in the Hole?" knowing full well that he did - a bit of kidology but it did seem to encourage him. Anyway, all credit to Liz and Paul because shortly afterwards, Gassy was firing on all 4 cylinders again. So much so that he decided to reform The Vieux Carré Jazzmen with the frontline which had been the mainstay of the band through the 50's, 60's and 70's with Pete Coles, trombone and Ronny Robinson, clarinet. The rhythm section was Dave Rae, banjo (another VCJ veteran); Derek Dixon, string bass and Ernie Jackson, drums. A cracking good band that swung like the clappers at their new residency The British Legion Club in West Jesmond. Shortly afterwards, banjo player Dave Rae decided to part company with the VCJ to form his own band, The Rae Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band. That was when I received a phone call from Gassy inviting me to join the Vieux Carrè Jazzmen. So, to answer your question, Lance, I came into the picture in 1990, can't remember which month, tho. 
You played in other bands before this  
Yes, quite a few. Sunderland Art College was where it all began for me. 1960 was the height of the British Trad Boom and the college had its own in-house jazz band which played regularly in the common room. Some great musicians, too. Crosby Walker, a terrific pianist and clarinettist; Tom Derbyshire, string bass (still going strong around Teesside); drummers Pete Rodgers and Bill Shaw (both went on to play with the VCJ at some point in the 60's) and blues shouter, Germaine Appleton (Stanger). At this time I had a banjo and guitar which I'd inherited from an uncle and I'd learnt to play a 12 bar blues in every key along with a selection of jazz standards. In May 1963 I began my career in the art studio of an ad agency in Newcastle called Redheads Advertising Ltd. Within the agency we had a wealth of musical talent - all of them enthusiastic jazzers, too. Art director Bill Scott, played clarinet & alto sax; copywriter Norman Helm, account executive Clive Brown and graphic artist Alan Taylor, all played trumpet; account handlers Mike Tait and Tim Clapham, drums; media manager, Graham Eastwood, tenor sax; account manager, Alan Twelftree, string bass and receptionist, Joan Smailes, a member of Gateshead AmDram’s, vocals. Very soon we were rehearsing in the bar of The Seamen's Mission in Jesmond and one of our first gigs was for Ford Car Dealer Peter Garvin, (a Redhead’s client at the time) in Whickham. The band for obvious reasons was called The Redhead's All Stars. Other bands I played with locally include: The St Louis Jazzmen; The Ferryboat Brass 'n' Banjo Band; The Heritage Hall Stompers; The Mississippi Dreamboats; plus regular dep jobs with The West Jesmond Rhythm Kings and The River City Jazzmen and, for the past 24 years, with the VCJ. 
Banjo players get a lot of flack these days or does this bother you? Don’t tell me, you laugh all the way to the bank!
Flack indeed! I wonder who from? Name names! If you hear anyone bad-mouthing banjo players, tell them that Keith Stephen & Caroline, Roly Veitch, Dave Rae, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham and myself would like a quiet word with them in the car park at the back of The Village Hotel. I definitely don't laugh all the way to the bank but I do love a good banjo joke. Trouble is most of them are total and utter shite and not funny at all. My all-time favourite banjo joke is one I made up myself. Would you like to hear it, Lance? 
Go on then. Try me! 
This'll crease you up, Lance! Are you ready for it? 
What do you call a banjo player suffering from a severe bout of diarrhoea? 
SPLATS Langham! 
Ha ha ha! Get it? You don't?  Oh well, never mind. I'll ask Brian Chester to explain it to you. Anyway, the Swedish banjo player I told it to at The Classic Jazz Party thought it was quite funny. 
Do you have any thoughts on other banjo players such as Colin Hopper and Clive Gray? 
I remember Colin Hopper with the River City Jazzmen but didn't know him personally. I seem to recall someone telling me that he moved to the Scottish borders to work as a gamekeeper on a country estate, not a bad career move for a banjo player. Clive on the other hand was a good friend and band colleague. He was an outstanding banjo player and was always the focus of my attention whenever I went to see the VCJ. Was he better than Keith or Spats? Probably debatable, but I do believe that in his prime he was up there with the best of them and I'm sure Dave Kerr would agree. I count myself very fortunate to have played alongside Clive in the FBB&BB back in the 70's before serious health issues stopped him from performing. 
Currently the VCJ have been using modernists such as Graham Hardy and Paul Gowland. Do you adapt to them or do they adapt to you? 
The subject of conflicting styles never arose. The fact is that both Graham and Paul, apart from being outstanding jazz musicians are also exemplary professionals. Like the VCJ, they've been 'round the track' many times so it's not too difficult to find common ground among our traditional, standard and contemporary jazz repertoires. 
The future – contrary to what you said in these pages some years ago - there are young musicians coming through who are capable of playing in older styles 
Not so long ago I was very pessimistic about the future because of the ageing (and diminishing) pool of musicians who perform on the local traditional jazz scene. Now I'm totally optimistic. Recently I saw Graham Hardy's New Orleans style street band, The Northern Monkey Brass Band. They were terrific. All quite young, too, and not a grey hair in sight! I was knocked out by trombonist, David Gray, and I'm sure we'll be hearing more of him in the future. Also, on Northumberland Street last week, I heard a very young band comprising trumpet, alto sax, guitar and percussion (a wooden box) and they were playing Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’ - they were brilliant. A question for the guitarist if he reads this: How do you manage to play a Fender Strat with woollen gloves on? Emma Fisk performing with the best of Europe's classic jazz musicians at this year's CJP was a revelation. Mick Shoulder, string bass, played with the VCJ at The Staithes' Jazz Festival; a short-notice, first-time, dep job with the VCJ and he was brilliant. Other young musicians that have played with us recently include Paul Susans, John Pope, Paul Thompson and Seth Tinsley. All from seemingly incompatible musical backgrounds but somehow slotting in seamlessly - and I'm fairly sure they all enjoyed the experience of playing with the VCJ. 
The VCJ seem to be working regularly does that give you hope for the future of jazz as you know it? 
Absolutely! For instance a few years ago we played for a 21st birthday celebration in Rothbury. We've now been booked to play at his wedding next year. Essentially, one good gig will lead to another. My advice is don't be picky about where or when you play (but don't play for nowt) accept every gig opportunity even if the fee isn't quite what you deserve. Take the rough with the smooth as they say, but be 100% professional in all respects of appearance, presentation and performance. Build a good reputation and other better paid gigs will definitely follow on. 
Traditional and classic jazz ain't gonna go away anytime soon. In fact, I predict a revival. Restring those banjos!
Thank you Brian.
The Vieux Carré Jazzmen can be heard every Wednesday lunchtime at the Crescent Club in Cullercoats, Thursday lunchtimes at the Millstone in South Gosforth and every 1st Sunday of the month commencing 8.00pm at The Red House Farm pub in Monkseaton. 

6 comments :

Anonymous said...

All good stuff but have been waiting a long time for a Banjo Solo from Mr Bennett so how about it Brian. I did notice banjo player Gavin Baker and Bass player Johnny Hawker did not get a mention I remember them well early 60s
(Anonymous comment posted at Blogmaster's discretion)

danny said...

Good banter Brian, agree with most your banjo joke was crap (BOOM BOOM ) I also agree with your comment that trad. will be with us for a long time after our last notes have been blown, been hooked since being intro'd in the 60's by the Dutch Swing College at Bristol Uni. Keep up the good work. Dan McT.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,We appreciate the interesting and nostalgic information. Enjoy the Festive Season. Avery happy 2014 to you and Jan, Jack & Betty.

Brian Bennett said...

Dear Anonymous!
I didn't mention Gavin and Johnny, important as they were to the VCJ, simply because they weren't relevant to the questions asked by Lance Liddell.
Where did bass player Johnny Hawker fit in? Was he before or after John Lowes, Jed Ward, Johny Handle, John Oliver, Bill Brooks, Mighty Joe Young, Ian Heslop, Derek Dixon, Phil Smith, Brian Sibbald, Bill Colledge?
Maybe that's a subject for the future - the musicians that have passed through the ranks of the VCJ 1954 - 2014.
Also, feel free to request a banjo solo next time you're at one of our gigs - it'll cost you a bottle of Brown Ale, tho!

BB said...

PS. There never was a VCJ bass player caled 'Johnny Hawker'. Anonymous was obviously thinking of Johnny Handle.

Grahame Easthope said...

Hi Brian - very, very, 'long time, no see'. I started playing again after a 26 year break. For the first time I went and played at the Salsa Cafe jam yesterday and was introduced to Lance's blog. Very surprised to see this posted interview and even more surprised to see you remember me from the days at Redheads. Best wishes for 2014. Grahame.

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