Manchester – The Silver Age

The following is the full text of my recital at Manchester Jazz Society, April 18, 2019 

 A Silver Age presupposes a Golden Age and for that, the definitive guide is Bill Birch’s book, Keeper of the Flame. The Golden Age of Manchester jazz is Billie Holiday at the Free Trade Hall and Duke Ellington at Belle Vue, Sonny Rollins at Club 43 and Frank Gibson and Eddie Thompson at the Warren Bulkeley pub in Stockport. The Golden Age is what the stalwarts of Manchester Jazz Society were fortunate to experience first-hand. We know that Gold keeps its value. I suspect that Silver does too, but only time will tell. 

Here, I’m defining the Silver Age of Manchester jazz as the years between 1989 to 2010. Quite accidentally, this period coincides with my period as the jazz correspondent of City Life, the Manchester what’s-on magazine. It was, and From the vantage of 2019, as the Silver Age recedes into history, I appreciate what a privilege it was to view Manchester jazz at such close quarters. I expect it was the best job in the world, in every respect except the pay. 

So let’s start with a Silver Age standard. ‘Clockmaker’ by Mike Walker is to Manchester what ‘Take the A-Train’ is to Harlem. I have it in a few versions, actually, all of them good, but the interpretation by Mike Walker’s supergroup, The Impossible Gentlemen, demands to be heard. The players are Mike Walker, guitar; Gwilym Simcock, a graduate of Chetham’s School of Music, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; and Adam Nussbaum, drums. ‘Clockmaker’. Sometimes it has the definite article, but in this case it doesn’t. 

The Impossible Gentlemen, ‘Clockmaker’ (9:15)

My next choice is a band called Buhaina, an Afro-jazz ensemble with a line-up of Charles ‘Phred’ Farret on bass clarinet, Nii Kojo Yaw Saki, known as Kojo, on percussion, Matt Nickson on flute, Trevor Nxumalo on alto, Gerald N’Guijoel on percussion and Anthony Haller on double bass. The two best known names there, are Matt and Phred, who achieved immortality when they were donated to Manchester’s premier jazz club, Matt and Phred’s, which had previously been known as PJ Bell’s, and was an incubator of jazz in the city. Matt and Phred’s names are now eternally linked, though they had an unseemly bust-up in real life, but let’s dispense with the tittle-tattle. 

Buhaina included Mancunian and Ghanian players, which nicely flags the fact that cultural diversity is always a feature of the music. Think of the rejuvenating effect South African players – Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo, Johnny Dyani –   had on the London scene. Manchester had its equivalent culture shock, but with musicians from Ghana. Kojo’s father, Stanley Saki, founded Waduku, the most prominent hi-life/Afro jazz band in the North West. The tune ‘Sweet P’ was written by another Ghanian musician, Danny Okpoti, a saxophonist who played with ET Mensah in Accra and, upon moving to the UK in the sixties, first landed in Newcastle. He was in an early line-up of The Animals and jammed with Ian and Mike Carr. In terms of fame, it may have been a backward step to move to Manchester, but he was active at grassroots level. I heard him play at a jam session down the road from me at the Grants Arms in Hulme, and once I visited him in his flat on the Rochdale Road. It was impeccably tidy and had pictures of Jesus Christ and Bob Marley on the walls. He was a lovely man and died a year or so later, in the late nineties. So this is ‘Sweet P’ by Buhaina, written by Danny Okpoti, from the album Swallows and Africans on the Iroko label. Let’s play it for Danny Okpoti.   

Buhaina – ‘Sweet P’ (8:10)

Next up is the quartet Whirl. I’ll play it first and then give you the line-up. One of them is well known in Manchester jazz circles under another guise. 

Whirl, ‘Freewheeling’ (6:11) 

Right. Helen Pillinger played tenor saxophone, Nicki Dupuy was on double bass and Andy Hay played drums. The guitarist and composer was Steve Mead, who is better known as the artistic director of Manchester Jazz Festival, and a very charming fellow. Thinking about it, MJF could not have achieved what it has, without a creative musician in the driving seat.

Only last week I became Facebook friends with Mick Waterfield, Steve Mead’s faithful lieutenant. He told me he’d quit MJF and gone back to his first trade, cabinet making, and was making bespoke furniture. This was news to me. I’ve missed the last two Manchester Jazz Festivals because I was away in Spain. It’s typical in a way because I always tended to be behind with the news as a roving jazz reporter. One day I bumped into Helen (Helen Pillinger, who played the saxophone there), and she told me that Richard and Nikki Iles had been separated for two years. I insisted on calling them a husband-and-wife team in the City Life jazz listings. A few weeks ago I bumped into Helen at Unicorn and she told me that the piece we’ve just heard is called ‘Freewheeling’. The information on the disc, a limited release made for promotional purposes, is lacking or confusing.

There’s a continuity, of course, because many Golden Age musicians were still active in the Silver Age. Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz epitomise a certain strand of vintage Manchester jazz, as their name suggests. The late Mart Rodger was not known primarily as a composer. Yet here he is on his own ‘Then It Changed’, a bittersweet evocation of bygone times…. 

Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz, ‘Then It Changed’ (4:04)

The line-up is Mart Rodger, clarinet; Allan Dent, trumpet; Terry Brunt, trombone; Alec Collins, piano; Tim Roberts, banjo; Colin Smith, bass; and Pete Staples, drums. It comes from Makin’ Whoopee, a 1993 collaboration with singer Marion Montgomery, who, needless to say, sat out on that performance. Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz, to my certain knowledge, never played the Manchester Jazz Festival.  

The title ‘Then It Changed’ tells you that Mart is remembering things past, but poignant, bitter-sweet nostalgia is not confined to the old-timers. This next comes from the Steve Chadwick/Ed Barnwell Quartet and is called ‘Going Back to the Village’…

Steve Chadwick/Ed Barnwell Quartet, ‘Going Back to the Village’ (7:19)

The line-up is Steve Chadwick on cornet, Ed Barnwell, piano, Matt Owens, bass and either Danny Ward or Rob Turner on drums. No line-up is given on my demo, which came wrapped in a piece of paper, and both were members of the band at different times. Steve Chadwick and Rob Turner will crop up again in my survey but I wanted to have something by Ed Barnwell, who is outstanding even in that crowded field of great Manchester pianists. In fact, Ed Barnwell comes from Harrogate, but he studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and adorned the Manchester music scene for a few years back there. ‘Going Back to the Village’ was written by Matt Owens. There’s a good version on Matt Owens’ album The Aviator’s Ball, but this version, without the sweeteners, has the edge, I think.

You’ll note that jazz musicians, if untethered from the music stand and allowed their own voice, will go pluck their hearts and place them directly on their sleeves. Both ‘Then It Changed’ and ‘Going Back to the Village’ illustrate the tendency. But one man’s tender warmth is another man’s sentimentality. Each listener must draw that line for themselves. This is called ‘The Generous Heart’, and it’s Jon Thorne’s heartfelt tribute to his mentor on bass, Danny Thompson. Gilad Atzmon takes the clarinet solo and JoJo Thorne is the singer.

Jon Thorne, ‘The Generous Heart’ (6:14)

Danny Thompson’s own musical idol was Charles Mingus, and so Jon absorbed Mingus by osmosis, and made the most of it by forming the Mingus tribute big band, Oedipus Complex. Mingus was known for his mercurial moods, but was never twee. I think we should be indulgent of his followers. It came from the heart, I think.

The Magic Hat Ensemble maintain the quest of some of the more searching hard boppers. ‘Speak No Evil’ is a Wayne Shorter tune, and the band contains the cream of the Silver Age players. I’ll identify them afterwards, but dig the way drummer Rob Turner changes metre at the drop of a magic hat. We can call off the search for Manchester’s Tony Williams. 

Magic Hat Ensemble, ‘Speak No Evil’ (8.10)

That’s from the album, Made in Gorton. I was in Gorton last Saturday, so I can appreciate the piquancy of the title. The Magic Hat Ensemble comprised Steve Chadwick on cornet, Andrzej Baranek on piano, Nick Blacka on bass, Tony Ormesher on guitar and Rob Turner on drums. Steve Chadwick moved to London, and  is now collaborating with Swedish folk musicians from what I read on Facebook. Andrzej Baranek is still active in the area, and Mike Hall, the saxophonist and jazz educator, wants to find a free night to go see him (that’s another Facebook snippet). Nick Blacka and Rob Turner have riding high with GoGo Penguin (I shall return to GoGo Penguin), and Tony Ormesher, who studied at the Guildhall School in London with John Parricelli, is now back in his hometown, Liverpool. (He gets around though and in 2006 won the Berlin Jazz and Blues award.) His father, Tony Ormesher Snr, plays guitar in the Original Panama Jazz Band, a carry-over from the Golden Age. Father and son have been known to play as a duo at Hillary Steppe, Chorlton, on a Sunday night.     

And the hidden track from Made in Gorton by the Magic Hat Ensemble brings the first half to a close, thanks.  

Second set 

Alan Barnes, who was born in Altrincham, is a man out of time: chronologically he belongs to the Silver Age but spiritually, he comes from the Golden Age. Here he is with Scott Hamilton and the David Newman Trio on the Zoot Sims’ tune, ‘Zootcase’. It belong here because of Alan (on alto sax; Scott Hamilton is on tenor) but also because of bassist Matt Miles and drummer Steve Brown, who made their own contributions to Manchester jazz… 

Alan Barnes & Scott Hamilton, ‘Zootcase’ (5:50)… 

Matt Miles and Steve Brown studied by day at the RNCM, and woodshedded by night at PJ Bell’s. Steve Brown moved to London and the next time I saw him was at the Royal Exchange playing with Stan Tracey. It was only then I realised how good he was. I next caught him, reunited with Matt Miles, at an Alan Barnes gig at RNCM. Alan Barnes, one of the great wits of British jazz, introduced them thus: “If you don’t like their playing you haven’t got far to go to complain.” 

Another of Manchester’s favourite sons is the late, great piano-player John Taylor. This next is a collaboration with the Creative Jazz Orchestra, a Manchester-based ensemble with a floating line-up directed by Nick Purnell. And although every member was an outstanding soloist, as was John Taylor, here they opt for brevity, enigma and collectivity… 

John Taylor and the Creative Jazz Orchestra, ‘Without’ (2.00)

‘Without’ is probably the most accessible thing from Exits and Entrances, an album from 2001 of inner-directed self-exploration. Some of the same players – like Iain Dixon and Andy Schofield – can be heard to more rousing effect on a 1999 album, From Here to There, by flugelhorn player Richard Iles. This is a tune called ‘All Good Things’. Note the ‘Clockmaker’-like exultancy. That’s either a general feature of Manchester’s Silver Age or a sign that Mike Walker is in the room.… 

Richard Iles, ‘All Good Things’ (7:12)

Let us now praise the journeyman jazz musician. Manchester jazz would be nothing without its unsung heroes, the musicians who ply the North West circuit, perhaps playing standards in a pub with a guest soloist within a fifty-mile radius of Stockport. Bassist Ken Marley is one such, and doubtless he’s played many gigs since dropping in at The Railway on March 31, accompanying Alan Barnes and Mike Hall with Paul Hartley and Eryl Roberts. Once in a blue moon such journeymen will release a CD, and then, Lookout! That’s the name of the album by the Ken Marley Trio actually. His partners are Richard Wetherall on piano and Matt Home on drums. This is the closest we’ve got to a piano trio from the esteemed Richard Wetherall. He seizes the opportunity with both hands. 

Ken Marley Trio, ‘Tribute to L.A.’ (5:02)  

This next comes from Kathy and John Dyson who went under the name Inside Outside at the time of recording in 1998. I’m reminded of Herb and Lorraine Geller, and that very special rapport you sometimes get with musicians who happen to be married. It comes from the pure pleasure, pure tenderness and pure telepathy of two shared lives. 

Inside Outside, ‘No Time For the Blues’ (4:33) 

I’m told that GoGo Penguin were the sensation of the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival and I myself witnessed a similar eruption of euphoria at their MJF appearance in 2012. GoGo Penguin met whilst studying at RNCM. I can guess some of their inspirations, like the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, and some others I needed to be told about, like Aphex Twin. ‘Fanfares’, the title track of their debut album on Gondwana, Matt Halsall’s label, is additionally influenced, we’re told, by György Ligeti, mostly familiar from the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Einojuhani Rauavaara, a Finnish composer who died in 2016. It’s a tribute to RNCM that such arcane names are included on the syllabus.

GoGo Penguin, ‘Fanfares’ (4:51)

GoGo Penguin at that time were pianist Chris Illingworth, drummer Rob Turner, and bassist Grant Russell, although the bass chair is now occupied by Nick Blacka.  

In summer 2001 an Asian lad, a clarinet player, brimful with energy, knocked on my door and dropped off a demo for my listening pleasure. This was not common. As a general rule jazz musicians are rubbish at self-promotion. He had the usual suspects with him, namely Stuart McCallum, Jon Thorne and Danny Ward. This is what it sounded like.

Arun Ghosh, ‘I’ll Swing For You’ 

 His name was Arun Ghosh. The tune is optimistically entitled ‘I’ll Swing For You’. Naturally, I filed it away without giving it a second thought or a second play, and Arun Ghosh didn’t appear on my radar again until perhaps ten years down the line, and this is what he sounded like then… 

Arun Ghosh, ‘Caliban’s Revenge’ 

‘Caliban’s Revenge’ was commissioned by the Royal Exchange for a production of ‘The Tempest’. In the ten years I wasn’t looking, Arun pioneered a form of Indo-jazz fusion he called ‘Northern Namaste’ and moved to London where he enlarged his musical circle with the players on Primal Odyssey, from which ‘Caliban’s Revenge’ comes: Idris Rahman on tenor sax, Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet, bassist Liran Donin and drummer Pat Illingworth.  

Seamus Cater is not a native but comes from Derbyshire and spent some time in Essex and Devon. He moved to the North West in 1995 to take up a place at Salford College (it was still Salford College in 1995). He formed a band circa 1998 with guitarist Mike Outram, a local lad, who took lessons from Mike Walker and earlier, my dear pal Pete Bocking. I remember being with Pete seeing John Ellis’ Big Bang featuring Mike Outram headline at Manchester Jazz Festival in 1996, and Pete was murmuring approvingly, ‘That’s my boy’ throughout. Milo Fell is one of those drummers who propel things nicely with delicately placed accents, and bassist Gary Culshaw was in Some Other Country with Mike Walker. They are collectively known as Rare Birds. Birds of passage might be more apt, since Mike Outram and Milo Fell were shortly to decamp to London and Seamus Cater was last seen in Amsterdam. They left behind one cracking album, the eponymous Rare Birds. It has a good version of ‘Clockmaker’, but ‘E.G.T.’, a co-composition by Seamus Cater and Mike Outram, attains similar heights. 

Rare Birds, ‘E.G.T.’ 

One of the most extraordinary nights as  a jazz correspondent came at Manchester Jazz Festival in July, 2011, at a night at BOTW headed The Imaginary Delta. It was an extended tribute by a very advanced pianist, Adam Fairhall, to his musical ancestors, It had shouts and yells and jollity and elegance and chaos and catharsis, and it seemed to me a more authentic recreation of antebellum New Orleans than anything ventured by the trad revivalists. They were greatly aided by enlisting technology to access the actual voices of Victoria Spivey and Ivy Smith, so there was a ghostly element too. The Imaginary Delta was resurrected by James Allsopp on clarinet, Chris Bridges on trombone, our old friend Steve Chadwick on cornet, Adam Fairhall on piano, Tim Fairhall on bass, and Gaz Hughes on drums. Paul J Rogers who fed the voices of the blues singers from a laptop and manipulated them on-stage via a gizmo he called the diddley bow. This is ‘Harlem Fast Shout’… 

Adam Fairhall – The Imaginary Delta, ‘Harlem Fast Shout’ (6:01) 

The concert was recorded and issued on a CD – Adam Fairhall - The Imaginary Delta on Slam Records. By the way, that clearly audible whooahhaaa is my standard whoop of euphoria. So there you go, I actually feature on one of the records on the playlist tonight. 

A guitar duo, I think, to play us out after the anarchy of The Imaginary Delta. 

Stuart McCallum is a player who utilises loops and pedals and other electronic paraphernalia and might even forfeit the jazz tag, except he’s been a fixture at Matt and Phred’s since it opened and no-one works harder or is more committed to the principle of musical freedom. Here he forsakes the gizmos and favours straightforward beauty. And Mike Walker is a player of such emotional intensity that I’ve seen him weep as he plays, and sometimes you get the feeling he lashes himself and his audience into frenzy to sublimate depthless agony and joy. So I rejoice at the serenity he’s found at this late stage of his career. I’m sure you’ll recognise the tune.

Stuart McCallum & Mike Walker, ‘Alfie’ (5:28)

Does it follow that we now languish in the Bronze Age? I hope not. Remains of silver can still readily be found and possibly even some gold if you look hard enough. It’s just that I now hunt for treasure on a voluntary basis, like everyone else. 

That was Manchester’s Silver Age, ladies and gentlemen. 


‘When you know the script you enjoy the show’. The following is the script of a record recital given by MIKE BUTLER at Manchester Jazz Society on Thursday, 21 June, 2018, with the response of MJS members. Oddfellows potman Henry Moss joined the MJS and was made welcome. 

Whither jazz and folk? Henry, Mike and Don Lee in discussion

The title is a reference to something Louis Armstrong said when asked about the relationship between folk and jazz. He said, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” This is very astute and so true that nothing more really needs to be said on the subject.

[Prolonged pause. A nervous laugh. This ploy to break the ice doesn’t go down as well as Mike hoped, and so he pushes on…]

My field of specialisation when I was an over-employed music writer was jazz, but since becoming an under-employed music writer I’ve been working on a book about folk. So I tend to sit up and take notice when the genres collide or overlap, and even if they’re separated by a wide gulf, the difference can be revealing. 

Going back to the swing years, the jazz singer who did most to promote British folk music was undoubtably Maxine Sullivan. And she really got around, covering England with ‘Barbara Allen’, Ireland with ‘Molly Malone’ and Scotland with ‘Loch Lomond’, and all without moving from 52nd Street, the famous ‘Swing Street’, in Manhattan. At one point she and the John Kirby group moved from the Onyx to The Famous Door, which was next door, and reputedly the smallest and smokiest dive on 52nd Street. The group, a sextet, almost crowded the place out by themselves. A reporter from The New Yorker visited The Famous Door, and observed “it’s practically impossible to be a devotee of hot music and fresh air at the same time”. The conditions make Maxine and the Kirby band’s achievement all the more extraordinary. Never was jazz more plaintive, gentle and enchanting: –

MAXINE SULLIVAN, ‘Just as the Tide Was A’ Flowing’

Note the swinging Sailor’s Hornpipe; the musicians quote the Wedding March to signify a happy union, a trick they repeat in ‘Barbara Allen’ in blithe disregard of the fact that ‘Barbara Allen’ is a tragic ballad which ends in the death of the separated lovers. So the musicians rapidly change tack and tag on the chords of Chopin’s Funeral March. It’s wonderful!    

My book – the working title is Found Out Musical Tunes – touches on folk music, social history, recording technology and record collecting, and the point of focus is the prolific folk producer and engineer Bill Leader. My next selection, which might count as ‘horse music’, was recorded by Bill in a pub, The Nag’s Head, in Southery in the Fens, on August 6th 1962, a Bank Holiday Monday. It’s a paean to a magnificent team of horses, who are mentioned by name as Captain, Short, Boxer and Ball. Not much happens – the horses are watered and put to bed – but I find the performance exhilarating. It somehow convinces that all is for the best in the world and virtue is its own reward. The pay-off line, ‘straight way is the best’, fills the heart with an inexplicable joy. The hero of the song, the waggoner, is a good bloke, and clearly the singer is too, with his rousing voice. This is ‘Four Horses’ by Hockey Feltwell.    


Hockey came in late because he’d been out driving a lorry all day. Hockey Feltwell’s dad was the waggoner, and it was his dad who taught him the song. Hockey himself got his start on tractors and graduated to heavy vehicles rather than heavy horses. In its own way, ‘Four Horses’ is as Arcadian as ‘Just as the Tide Was A’ Flowing’. It summons a time when there was a direct connection between people and the land, and when the world was based on horses. Has such a time existed? Was folk song in its classical form ever the popular music of the industrial proletariat? These are hard and searching questions. One of my interviewees, Reg Hall, an authority on Irish and English folk and a great jazz enthusiast, put it to me like this: “We’ve got all sorts of prejudiced views that everybody was singing ‘A Sailor Cut Down in His Prime’… but, you know, were they?” For that matter, did mill-workers in Wigan cavort to an early form of jug band music? Here is the evidence that they did… 

OLDHAM TINKERS, ‘John Willie’s Ragtime Band’

Apparently kazoo bands flourished in Lancashire in the early years of the twentieth century, peaking in the 1930s, which happened to coincide with the Depression. Kazoos were the poor man’s musical instrument, and they came out in force every year at Oldham’s annual carnival. The song, John Willie’s Ragtime Band’, was recorded in 1916 by George Formby Snr. It’s unlikely the Lancashire musicians were aware of Cannon’s Jug Stompers or the Memphis Jug Band, but clearly ‘John Willie’s Ragtime Band’ is an answer to ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’, Irving Berlin’s great hit from 1911. The Oldham Tinkers version was recorded in 1974. The singer, John Howarth, is always at The Oddfellows in Middleton on Monday nights. Is John Howarth still at The Oddfellows on Mondays, Henry? [Mike has to wake Henry up and repeats the question. Henry breaks into an encomium about the Oldham Tinkers and enjoins the members of MJS to visit Oddfellows. Peter Caswell says he knew John Willie’s Ragtime Band’ in infancy because his mother used to sing it, testifying to its pre-war popularity in Lancashire.]

The Lancashire jug bands went unrecorded, as far as I’m aware, but we have examples of jug bands from the States, because the recording industry was so much more advanced over there. Did Oldham kazoos sound anything like Memphis kazoos, I wonder? 


That’s Cannon’s Jug Stompers, with Gus Cannon on vocal, banjo and jug, recorded in Memphis, in 1929. Does anyone remember the teatime music programme hosted by Wally Whyton which had ‘Walk Right In’ as its theme? [No-one remembers but Don informs that ‘Walk Right In’ was a hit for The Rooftop Singers in the sixties.] Oh well perhaps I dreamt it. 

I’ll let the next tracks run together. The link is fairly obvious, but I’ll say that the artists are Maxine Sullivan, Fletcher Henderson and John MacDonald.  


FLETCHER HENDERSON, ‘What Do You Hear From the Mob in Scotland?’ 

JOHN MacDONALD, ‘The Ball O’ Kerriemeer’ 

Right. After Maxine’s ‘Loch Lomond’, backed by John Kirby and His Orchestra, we had Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra jumping onto the Highland bandwagon to ask ‘What Do You Hear From the Mob in Scotland?’ (Henderson operated out of Chicago rather than New York.) 

John MacDonald, recorded in 1974 in his caravan home in Morayshire, answers Fletcher's question. The mob are having a high old time.

Novelty, you say? Maxine Sullivan transcends the novelty tag in a way that Fletcher Henderson doesn’t attempt. Maxine is among the most enchanting women of jazz, and is in many ways the antithesis of Billie Holiday. It depends on whether you want your singers fragrant or ravaged, or go for songs of innocence or songs of experience. [Peter Caswell reminds that Mazxine Sullivan was the guest of honour when Oldham hosted the International Duke Ellington Conference in 1978, and praises her undimmed graciousness and beauty.] But there’s little doubt that Scotland, England and Ireland are sites of fantasy to Maxine, whereas jazz artists from Django Reinhardt on created a distinct identity by recasting their own native traditions in the jazz idiom. This could be the subject of a talk in itself, but here is pianist Tete Montoliu with two Catalonian folk songs, ‘El Testament d’Amelia’ and ‘Cançó de Lladre’, playing from the depths of his Catalonian soul: – 

TETE MONTOLIU, ‘El Testament d’Amelia/‘Cançó de Lladre’

[The piece earns a spontaneous round of applause. Lorraine comments, That's beautiful.

I played Tete Montoliu, but I could have played Kudsi Erguner from Turkey or Reem Kelani from Palestine or Jan Garbarek from Norway or Monty Alexander from Jamaica or Ivo Papasov from Bulgaria or Gilad Atzmon from Israel. It seems that every patch of earth has its own distinctive flavour, made be manifest in jazz or single malt whisky. In that way, jazz music is folk music too. 

Here is Bob Davenport, from a private recording made at Walthamstow Folk Club in 2005, singing straight from the depths of his Geordie soul. It's the most stentorian version of 'Lover Man' ever. 

BOB DAVENPORT, ‘Lover Woman’ 

Bob follows the song with this explanation: The reason I sang that last song was I had all the 78s of Billie Holiday and she sang at the Albert Hall in 1954, and I went along to hear her sing. That was quite a thing. In fact I nearly got up to sing with her. She said, will anybody from the audience come down and join me and... Id organised them to come and hear this unique occasion, Billie Holiday, and so they were all there. ‘You know this song, go on Bob.’ But I was at the back and you had to climb over this... [indistinct]. And I wouldn't sing in public. Anyway, another guy came up and took my place.    

Bob and Billie. Now that would be interesting. It shouldn’t surprise that Bob Davenport loves Billie Holiday, or that Norma Waterson is devoted to Ella Fitzgerald. It would be daft and presumptuous to think that folk and jazz musicians live in a hermetically sealed world of folk and jazz. There’s no law to prevent jazz singer Ottilee Patterson making an album of Irish songs (Ottilie’s Irish Night) and folk singer June Tabor making an album of jazz standards (Some Other Time). There might, however, be explanations why both are such stinkers. Perhaps we can hazard some general principles:
  1. Style defines category not repertoire. This is why Peter Pears can sing ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’ till his face is blue but he’ll never be a folk singer. And… 
  2. Every form of music has a regulation voice. This applies as much to your favourite music, be it jazz or folk or blues, as it does to your least favourite music, be it hip-hop, death metal or grime (I don’t know what grime is either). I suppose this leads towards the psychology of subjective taste, which might be an interesting area of study. Anyway it explains one’s instinctive reaction to horrible music in public spaces, and most music in public spaces is horrible, as I don’t need to tell you. 

Before we turn to pieces that transcend the labels, it might be worthwhile to consider the different uses and methods of jazz and folk. Jazz is continually exploring new directions. Jazz musicians spin variation after variation on simple themes. Could you call on John Coltrane? Or they might pare a melody to its essence, like Miles Davis. Here is ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ by Miles Davis and John Coltrane, recorded at the Newport Festival on July 4, 1958, with Miles, Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Note the contrast between Miles’ spareness and Coltrane’s effusiveness. This is a striking example of what jazz does best.  

MILES DAVIS, ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’

‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ belong to the world’s joint stock of great songs. In other words, it’s a standard, and anyone can have a go. ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, or ‘Bye Bye Skipper’, as sung by Mike Waterson, demonstrates what folk can do best, which is about bridging generations and reshaping an old song with such integrity that it becomes your own… Actually that applies to jazz as much as folk, but you couldnt mistake Mike Waterson for Miles Davis, even in the dark.

MIKE WATERSON, ‘Bye Bye Skipper’ 

There was a moment when jazz, rock n’ roll and folk were united, before things diversified and got segregated. Skiffle was that moment, and it contained both jazz and folk, and, in embryo, rock. The Beatles started as a skiffle group. It sprang entire from the trad jazz scene, and ‘Rock Island Line’, the song which kicked the whole thing off, languished for a year on a Chris Barber 10” LP ((New Orleans Joys), before some bright spark at Decca backed it with its skiffling companion, ‘John Henry’, and released it as a single in 1955.  

Here is some prime skiffle from 1956. It’s an old union song, actually a parody of a hymn – ‘Round and Round the Picket Line’ by Hylda Sims and the City Ramblers. When it’s done I’ll tell you two or three interesting things about Hylda Sims. 

HYLDA SIMS & THE CITY RAMBLERS, ‘Round and Round the Picket Line’

Right. Did you know that Hylda’s dad, Tom Sims, sold herbal remedies in Petticoat Lane market and co-founded the Communist Party of Great Britain? He seems to have been written out of history (at least he doesn’t have an entry on Or that Hylda and the City Ramblers starred in a 1958 Russian film in Magicolor, the Soviet version of Technicolor, with a title that translates as A Girl With Guitar? Or that Hylda is a published poet and novelist and still performs? Hylda is a marvellous woman. 

So to close the first set, from the skiffle era, I’d like to offer an example of perfectly integrated folk and jazz, or so it seems to me. It comes from one of the Radio Ballads, a unique hybrid in itself, created by Ewan MacColl and Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger, being a mixture of recorded interview and original song with a documentary purpose. This comes from the second Radio Ballad, Song of a Road, broadcast by the BBC Home Service on November 5th, 1959, about the road building programme that was visibly changing the nation. The piece is identified by the first words spoken, ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’, and the first singer is Jimmy MacGregor, followed by Ewan MacColl, who carries the rest of the piece. The clarinetist is Bruce Turner and the trombonist is Bobby Mickleburgh. 

EWAN MACCOLL, ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’ 

The jazz in ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’ is of the sprightly trad variety. Further transformations took place when modern jazz gained a foothold in the folk community, as we shall see in the second half. 


When I tell you that Miles recorded ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ in 1958 and Ewan MacColl recorded ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’ in 1959, you can see how far Britain lagged behind the U.S.A. in jazz tastes. Davey Graham did more than most to bring the folk division up to speed in terms of the advances in jazz. Graham revolutionised guitar playing in the UK. Up to this point the British guitarist had been a simple strumming skiffler (I’m simplifying somewhat but let it pass). Davey Graham had Thelonious Monk tunes in his repertoire. He travelled around Europe and Africa and brought back exotic tunings. DADGAD is his discovery. He was wont to sprinkle traditional Irish songs with raga-like passages. There are pages and pages of web content devoted to his influence on Jimmy Page, most of which isn’t worth reading. Davey Graham went farther out than anybody, musically, geographically and, sadly, chemically. At Alexis Korner’s instigation, Bill recorded the guitarist one day in 1960. The setting was domestic. In fact it was in his mum’s kitchen. At the time Mrs Leader lived below her son in a garden flat at North Villas, Camden Town. This is the tune Bill recorded...


‘Anji’, a simple enough tune, spread like wildfire. It was on every guitarist’s fingertips. Bill talks of going to Glasgow to record an anti-Polaris demonstration. Lots of young people had foregathered in a Glasgow square, waiting for the demo to begin, and there were many dozens or perhaps a hundred young men with guitars. Bill says, “as you walked around the square, you would float into one person’s interpretation of ‘Anji’, and as you walked past you would move into another one.” It was like something by John Cage, Bill says. Everybody played ‘Anji’. Never mind ‘Blowing in the Wind’ or ‘The H-Bomb’s Thunder’ – ‘Anji’, a guitar instrumental, was the true sound of protest in the early sixties.

So, to honour the ubiquity of ‘Anji’, even if the spelling is variable (sometimes it’s A.N.J.I. and sometimes A.N.G.I.E.), here’s a second ‘Anji’. This comes from Bert Jansch’s debut album in 1965 and Bill recorded it in his bedroom at North Villas. So two floors apart from Davey Graham. “He was quite keen to do it,” Bill remembers. “He’d just put his foot through his own guitar so he had to borrow one, and had to be careful he didn’t put his foot through that. He sat on the bed, and I stuck up the one and only mike that I had and plugged it into the one and only tape machine that I had… and he just sang.” Or played.


Notice the terrible sound quality. 

The technical term is dropout and it happens when the tape moves away from the head causing a momentary wobble in the audio. “It’s my worst recording,” says Bill, “and it’s probably been more played than any other.” Poor quality tape is responsible, but it was all Bill could get hold of. The recording was made on spec, and Bill eventually sold it to Transatlantic for £100. Bill kept thirty and gave Bert seventy. The record has never been out of print since 1965, and the 50th anniversary of its release in 2015 was marked by a super deluxe edition, which must have been a challenge to the sound engineering department. t

Did anyone recognise the quote? [Bob, Frank, Eddie and everybody else did: shouts of ‘Work Song’ and ‘Nat Adderley’.] From quotes like this, the choice of repertoire and various references on Pentangle and related LPs by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, you can build up a picture of their listening habits at the time: English traditional singers, the Staple Singers, Charles Mingus – lots of Charles Mingus – Coltrane, Booker T and the M.G.s, Elizabethan madrigals, Moondog, the blind New York street performer, and this, which Jansch quotes on the instrumental ‘Smokey River’, also from his debut album. Shout when you recognise it. 

JIMMY GIUFFRE, ‘Train and the River’

[Mike the treasurer, instantly, “‘Train and the River’!”] The second selection of the night from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, ‘The Train and the River’ is characterised by its graceful weave of jazz, blues and folk. It demonstrates how the most creative players in the U.S. were on the same route as advanced English folkies, albeit travelling from the opposite direction. Great musicians have never scrupled to borrow tunes. Ian Dury was nervous upon meeting Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman’s bassist. He apologised for lifting the riff of ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock ’n’ Roll’ from a phrase in Haden’s solo on ‘Ramblin’’ from the Coleman album, Change of the Century. Charlie told Ian not to worry: he’d nicked it himself from ‘Old Joe Clark’, an old-time hillbilly tune. 

There are lots of Mingus tropes on our next selection. You can tick them off as they come up. ‘Waltz’ is from the first, eponymous Pentangle LP, from 1966. Pentangle were Jacqui McShee on vocals (not heard here), Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitars, and, crucially, the experienced jazz rhythm team of Danny Thompson on bass and Terry Cox on drums, who were in the house band at Ronnie Scott's for a spell. You might describe this as warmed over Mingus, but, as we know, if you change the context, you also change the meaning, and in the context of British folk this was electrifying (if ‘electrifying’ is the right word)... 

  PENTANGLE, ‘Waltz’ 

If I may inject a personal note I first noticed Tony Coe, Henry Lowther, Lol Coxhill, Chris MacGregor and Dudu Pukwana as names on folk, or folk-rock records? I knew ‘The Theme from The Pink Panther’, of course, but I didn’t know it was Tony Coe until much later, whereas he gets a credit for his tenor sax obligato on ‘Solid Air’, which is so crucial to the atmosphere of the song. Folk-rock and, let’s not forget prog-rock, which also had a subterranean jazz element, primed me for the real thing. I’m glad though that I came across Danny Richmond in the conventional way, as the drummer with Charles Mingus, rather than a sideman on Bert Jansch’s Moonshine, an album from 1972. I recommend the version of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ from Moonshine, which boasts the unexpected conjunction of Danny Richmond and Mary Hopkin. And so it was that on the day I got three O levels at school I celebrated by joining Middlesbrough Central Libraryrecord library and the first record I took out was Tijuana Moods by Charles Mingus. It was a revelation. And what is Tijuana Moods but a grand synthesis of blues, bop and swing with something else: something we can only call folk music, albeit of the Mexican variety.

[For a change nobody asked, but the line-up is Charles Mingus, bass; Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Curtis Porter (Shafi Hadi), alto saxophone; Clarence Shaw, trumpet; Bill Triglia, piano; Danny Richmond, drums; Frankie Dunlop, percussion; also Isabel Morel, castinets and voice.] 

CHARLES MINGUS, ‘Los Mariachos’

Sometimes there are extra-musical reasons for jazz and folk crossover. (I can’t bring myself to say the horrible ‘f’ word; crossover is bad enough.) What, for example, if you’re the best Irish traditional singer in the world and the best jazz guitarist in the world happens to move in four doors down from your house in Rossendale? Naturally you get along famously. Making music together is the obvious next move. Such was the case with Donal Maguire, the great Irish traditional singer in question, and Mike Walker, a jazz guitarist of local and international renown. Donal Maguire’s album, Gilded Chains and Sordid Affluence, from 2001, resulted from the collaboration. ‘Little Bridget Flynn’ is the lead track. The saxophonist here is Iain Dixon.

DONAL MAGUIRE, ‘Little Bridget Flynn’ 

And what happened when Stuart McCallum, the cool, calm, urbane guitarist, a mainstay of Mancunian jazz, met Rioghnach Connolly, a lass from Armagh in Northern Ireland, steeped in traditional Irish song, who has made Manchester her base? Answer: they formed a group called The Breath and signed to Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. The second album is imminent. I was given the task of writing the press release, so I’m well placed to give you the story behind our next song, ‘Let It Calm You Down’… 

The scene is Matt and Phred’s, a club, as all we know, noted for its noisy and inattentive audience. The long hours and tiny fees absolve performers of any obligation except to please themselves, which is the first rule of the artist anyway. And so Stuart and Rioghnach, together with John Ellis, Luke Flowers and Sam Vicary – collectively known The Breath – were taking the opportunity to try out new things. Rioghnach, alas, has been in a foul temper all night, and is slightly the worse for drink. Stuart starts to play something loosely based on a solo arrangement he once made of the standard ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’. The band follow. At this point Ellis Davies, Rioghnach’s boon companion from her bar-room band Honeyfeet, walks in, and settles at the back within Rioghnach’s direct line of vision. She discerns him through a red mist. The rest of the audience disappear and only Ellis remains. She sings directly to him; in Rioghnach’s words, Ellis is “my soul mate in the crowd, the only bastard that can calm me”. She plucks the words from the air, and this is what happens, quite spontaneously…

THE BREATH, ‘Let It Calm You Down’

If you remember, the last words of the film Chinatown are, ‘Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown’. Chinatown is not a place, but a condition of life where the individual is helpless in the face of all-encompassing evil. So even Rioghnach’s most gorgeous love song must have its little barbs.  

Next… Quite serendipitously, I found a jazz take on ‘Brigg Fair’ among my jazz CDs at home. It’s by the Avalon Trio, who are Pete Churchill on piano, Tony Woods on saxophone and Rob Millett on percussion. As the name suggests, they’re attempting to summon the old elegiac pastoral spirit of England…

AVALON TRIO, ‘Brigg Fair’ 

I’ll fade it there [after one and a half minutes], because it changes into something else, and there’s still a bit of ground to cover, and those tablas are really horrible. 

[Mike the treasurer testily says, “You chose it. Why put it on?] 

It leads to something I wanted to say about ‘Brigg Fair’, which was among the songs Joseph Taylor sang into Percy Grainger’s new-fangled phonograph machine in 1906 in Lincolnshire. In Brigg, actually. Grainger alerted his chum Frederic Delius who wrote it up as a full orchestral work. He called it ‘An English Rhapsody’. In 1908 Grainger invited Joseph Taylor to London to an early performance of ‘An English Rhapsody’. Sadly, the legend that the singer got to his feet and sang along to ‘his tune’ turns out not to be true. But Grainger took Taylor to the Gramophone Company, where he made some records which were released commercially on 78. He was marketed on the label as a ‘Genuine peasant folk-singer’. Someone (Lea Nicholson) once told me that this marked the beginning of the commodification of folk music. That’s a very hard line, in my opinion.

I haven’t got Joseph Taylor singing ‘Brigg Fair’, but here he is singing ‘Creeping Jane’, recorded by Percy Grainger on the same occasion in 1906. It hasn’t got anything to do with jazz but it is about a racehorse, so I can justify its inclusion by the horse theme. It’s also inherently interesting to listen to something so old.   

JOSEPH TAYLOR, ‘Creeping Jane’ 

To close, I’d like to finish where I began, in the company of Maxine Sullivan. ‘If I Had a Ribbon Bow’, one of the more unusual songs of 1940, caused an altercation between Eva and myself because we both want it played at our funerals. We’ll have to arrange to go together… [Eddie says “Dont push your luck.”] 

MAXINE SULLIVAN, ‘If I Had a Ribbon Bow’

I could mention that ‘If I Had a Ribbon Bow’ was the debut single by Fairport Convention, a band much influenced by West Coast psychedelic rock but clearly with wide-ranging tastes. They were shortly to invent folk rock with the album, Liege and Lief, but that’s another story. 

Thank you and goodnight.

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