The Manchester Sports Guild (M.S.G.)
Jack Swinnerton died peacefully on 30th June 2008
3: Tenth Anniversary
Jack B. Swinnerton
was in 1963 that Jenks proposed
that the visit of a top class American jazz musician would be the way to
celebrate the MSG’s 10th anniversary. No ‘front-line’ performer had toured
the jazz clubs with a work permit at that time. Musicians’ Union rules from
the mid-1930s extended for the next twenty years or so, during which period we
had heard no legal American visitors. From 1955 or thereabouts, a steady stream
of mainly full bands/orchestras, usually with a British group as second bill,
started to come over to the concert halls. I could never understand the logic of
why pianists/singers or musicians requiring no native accompaniment could get
into the clubs (an interesting night of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee at The
Bodega is a distinct memory), and yet soloists who would, and eventually most
certainly did, provide extra opportunities for our own musicians could not.
series will eventually include joint endeavours with the Promotional Society for
New Orleans Music. The arrival of Kid Sheik at Manchester’s former Central
Station, to be greeted by many local musicians (I recall it being a prominent
Daily Express feature at the time) and subsequent performance at the
well-remembered Black Lion in Salford is significant. This was a highly
praiseworthy but strictly word-of-mouth event and the customary door takings
were abandoned for that night. Mike Hazeldine circulated with collection jug for
voluntary contributions in the interval, the event being described as a
‘holiday This would not work in our case as we would need to organise a full
national tour, with work permit, to stand a remote chance of recovering some of
help was at hand in our endeavours. Over at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, interval
support groups such as The Beatles and the Swinging Blue Jeans, had been
gradually elevated above the regular jazz groups to become the main attraction.
(The Cavern was a dry venue and so we all fled to the pub around the corner to
leave them virtually on their own in the interval. Why didn’t I leave a
reel-to-reel running none of us knew it might make us rich in the future!) Once these sounds
became a big sensation, American youth decided to try and endure it too. Here
were four people going to perform in the USA and the exchange system required
four musicians to play over here in return, although not necessarily
simultaneously. America’s pop equivalent was of little interest at that time,
so this was where we stepped in with an offer to fill the first of the necessary
It was now over to me for who to select for this
potentially historic occasion. To compile a list of active musicians was not a
problem. The magazine ‘Downbeat’ would list in diary form, city by city,
dates, venues and musicians. It would have to be a true original and one whose
musical ability and creative powers were still undiminished. Who would appeal to
the New Orleans enthusiasts the fans of such as Alex Welsh or Bruce Turner and
the supporters of such as our big band events? The choice came up between two
‘Red’ Allen or Jack Teagarden. Both had played in Manchester before, Allen
in the Kid Ory Band and Teagarden with Earl
Hines. Apart from a record collection in which both
were well represented, those were the only occasions that I had heard them in
person. Allen was the lesser-known, I think, but he did appear to be going
through a revived creative phase and he came over as a more exciting
personality. An audience would also be attracted to the exuberance and
showmanship, and so the decision was made. In the event, and sadly, Jack had
only a couple of months to go, and he died in January, 1964, unaware of these
Next would come the problem of making some financial
sense out of what could scarcely fail to lose some money
event was the thing, of course
but obviously one tries to minimise loss. The jazz cellar, with its
relatively small capacity, could not hope to cover total costs without an
astronomical and prohibitive admission charge. It was necessary to promote
nationally and attempt to persuade other clubs into taking this fairly expensive
tour of Henry ‘Red’ Allen and the Alex Welsh Band. Bill Kinnell, promoter
and jazz enthusiast, certainly needed no persuasion and eagerly joined in, but I
encountered a surprise at Trentham Gardens, near Stoke-on-Trent. Gerald Bright
had engaged the band, and on meeting him at the event he turned out to be the
former celebrated dance band leader Geraldo, operating under his real name. In
the London area, The Crown at Morden joined in and businessman Alan Gatward
booked his own special at the Central Hall, Westminster but insisted on a
totally different accompanying band of his own choice. (If you attended and
recall, he used Mac Duncan, Sandy Brown, Johnny Parker, Diz Disley, Jim Bray and
Terry Cox. I missed it, and so cannot comment on the event.)
It would now be necessary to begin intensive
pre-publicity amongst our own club members. Appreciate that only a proportion of
members would have been aware of Red Allen prior to 1964. Whilst the passing of
time and nostalgia tends to suggest a large crowd of knowledgeable enthusiasts,
there were many who merely appreciated the general sound. All had to become
aware of what a musical treat lay in store. Firstly, my collection of Allen’s
records, dating from all periods of his career, were regularly and intensely
featured on the lounge and cellar turntables, and interest was stimulated. Next
would come our own internal magazine. This had originally been an office
duplicated series of news sheets
about our numerous activities, stapled and handed out at the door. (If anyone reading this has one of these, as opposed to the printed ones, I’d love to have a nostalgic glance). We decided to go into print in the run up to Red Allen, and in our first issue (I had come up with the name ‘Focus’), I drew attention to Allen’s background, recordings and previous concert appearance. Later issues featured his musical style and eventually speculation on what we should expect from Allen and his four accompanying groups.
Nationally, people began to take notice and there was initial and entirely understandable scepticism e.g. ‘Should be good if it comes off...’ etc, and ‘Melody Maker’ on the 23 November, 1963, pondered, ‘Red Allen here for solo tour?’. Nearer the time it built into a furore of anticipation. The usually somewhat cynical Albert McCarthy, editor of ‘Jazz Monthly', was moved to say... ‘For many years readers have shared my regret that jazz followers seem unable to form an organisation that would introduce American musicians to this country... the Manchester Sports Guild has taken up the idea in a very practical fashion...’ Humphrey Lyttelton, in his Sunday Citizen series.. .‘turn out in force to encourage the faith which the Guild is showing...’Steve Voce, of ‘Jazz Journal', paid his first visit following a Duke Ellington concert at the Free Trade Hall: “We can only urge you to join.. .this is jazz in ideal surroundings,” he enthused.
We held our press reception on Thursday, 16 April, 1964. After meeting Red Allen at London Airport the night before, he and I returned by train to Manchester Central and were joined for lunch by Peter Clayton and Jenks. Much has been penned about Red's charm and easy manner. We were entertained by stories of his New Orleans youth and touring with Jelly Roll Morton in the thirties, and I only became aware at that
point of just what a personality I had backed. George Ellis would later write about Allen’s superb memory. He would not only recall and play his own solos from 193Os Fletcher Henderson records at the bar stool, but also those of other horns in the same band and, to sort out any confusion, would play their solos, too.
A stunned George asked ‘Jazz Times’ readers, ‘How can you make any adequate response to that?’
We gladly gave the Don Mitchell Orchestra, who played at the MSG every Tuesday evening, and the Art Taylor All Stars (coincidentally, neither group had anyone of those names in it!) the opportunity to play with Allen and the Welsh Band at the press reception. The cellar was teeming with specially invited members and numerous guests. The Daily Express mentioned on its ‘Society’ page (as it was in those days) that the Hon. Gerald Lascelles had cancelled engagements to be with us, and arrived with Sinclair Traill. Up from Dobell’s Record Shop in Charing Cross Road were Doug and colleague John Kendall. Along with previously mentioned specialist jazz writers such as Ellis, Voce and Clayton came G.E. Lambert. It is impossible to remember everyone almost 40 years on, but you get the meaning -it was packed.
Playing with their customary attack, the Don Mitchell Orchestra was eventually joined by Allen. It is impossible now to adequately describe the moment that we first heard those dynamic notes. About thirty years later, Alan Hare and I discussed the way that Red rode along with the group before feeling his way into the number. Neither of us recalled the title of the melody but agreed it to be one of those rare electric moments that jazz can produce. A fleeting smile of satisfaction passed between Jenks and I, and then it was back to the guests. We had worked very hard over six months to bring this off, enduring inevitable frustrations, irritations and tempers. I believe the coming four day weekend to be one of the finest occasions that we have experienced in this country.
The first four nights of the tour were all held at the MSG to celebrate the anniversary with an extended weekend. Some criticism was later raised at my selection of the accompanying groups, and one in particular. From the viewpoint of 1964 availabilities, I think I would stand by that selection today. It was essential to back Allen with a famous and yet musically sympathetic band of the period and also appeal to as many members of the Club as possible. Henry Allen was chosen to attract the widest range of tastes, and he was the obvious one. Faultless New Orleans pedigree, Luis Russell/Fletcher Henderson ‘middle period’ fans and celebrated for his Metropole showmanship, he could also claim a certain respect of the modernists. To quote ‘New Grove Dictionary’ - ‘in the 1960s, he drew the attention of free jazz players
I had selected the bands of Alex Welsh, Sandy Brown/Al Fairweather, Bruce Turner and Humphrey Lyttelton to play successive nights in that sequence. All the leaders mentioned were more familiar with traditional forms of jazz and all had explored somewhat wider fields, as Allen himself had done years before.
To my later surprise, a private criticism of my selection came from Allen himself. He was quite happy by then, in the closing days of the tour, with all the bands he had performed with, but I made a mistake, in his eyes, by omitting his friend Ken Colyer from the schedules. Whilst I possess records of both men playing with George Lewis, booked Ken to play at the MSG more than most bands and remain a keen enthusiast to this day, I found it difficult to imagine that combination being satisfactory. Somewhat taken aback on Ken’s next visit to the MSG, he quietly criticised me for the same thing. Did they get together in anticipation of a second tour, I have occasionally wondered? We’ll never know now.
The atmosphere of those four nights was something quite different. In subsequent years, there may well have been similar experiences but it seemed a one-off then. They were not comparable with the usual concert or club sessions at all, but rather a continuous experience. Members were wandering in and out all day and could be seen chatting to Red Allen at the bar over lunch. Later in the afternoon, hearing the strains of rehearsal for the evening performance, they would wander downstairs, drinks in hand, to unobtrusively absorb the atmosphere, thrilling to this ‘behind the scenes’ look at how it was going to happen. It was very moving to see Allen relishing the attention of us considerably (in the main) younger fans, and he seemed quite sincere when he told me that the whole experience had been the most satisfying of his musical career to date.
On the Friday night, Alex Welsh and his band provided support. This was the postArchie Semple period and featured Roy Crimmins, Al Gay, Fred Hunt, Jim Douglas, Ron Mathieson and Lennie Hastings. Naturally, Welsh stepped down for lengthy periods to allow Allen the lead and was able to stand with us and assess just how well his group responded to a somewhat different lead. In not attempting a detailed account of the music to be heard on those nights, readers will realise that, after such a passage of time, I would only be consulting contemporary reviews, and the general atmosphere is what matters.
Saturday brought the Sandy Brown/Al Fairweather band and a much more loosely constructed sound than the Welsh band. Stand out support for Allen was provided by the reeds of Brown and Danny Moss. (How sad that we lost Sandy at such a relatively young age.)
Often regarded as the finest night of our initial four was the Sunday session with Bruce Turner’s Jump Band. The superb way in which Allen and Turner were immediately in joyful rapport remains a fond memory. (The late Eddie Lambert wrote in ‘Jazz Journal’... ‘When writers speak of jazz as a minor art, one doubts if they have experienced evenings like this'.)
Work behind the scenes would occasionally keep me away from the music, and the Monday evening session with Humphrey Lyttelton, or certainly the somewhat
in famous on-stand disagreement, escaped me. Apparently, some comment sparked a quarrel between Allen and Eddie Harvey, reported upon and, I suspect, blown out of all proportion, which has tended to minimise the musical qualities of the evening. Eddie Lambert eventually clashed in the press with Lyttelton himself (a pity that Steve Voce was not present to comment - that would have been interesting!), although reporting that Humph and Joe Temperley were playing particularly well.
It was normal after all main sessions to welcome visitors to ‘staff drinks’ at the conclusion. There was no detectable lack of harmony one could spot there. The incident gained such notoriety over the years. If you read Jim Godbolt’s book, ‘A History of Jazz in Britain: 1950-1 970 the only thing that the MSG achieved in that 20 year period was this uncertain and exaggerated incident.
Having booked some of my annual holiday from work following the Monday sessions, I went on tour with Red Allen, travelling mainly by train and meeting the Welsh band at the various destinations. I was probably foolish not to have attempted to record some conversations on these journeys. Allen seemed happiest when talking about his earlier days in New Orleans, of his father’s band and the men who played in it, and was as much in awe of the generation of musicians who preceded him as we were. I happened to possess a copy of ‘Down Beat’ containing his father’s obituary - too distressed at the time to have seen it, he was not only most grateful for the gift, but staggered. Our obsession with jazz in this country - someone in his twenties possessing such an item as this - amazed our incoming guests, and they soon realised we liked jazz. Commuters on these sometimes crowded rush-hour journeys would look surprised as Allen, keeping the old embouchure ship-shape, would remove a mouthpiece from his pocket and blow soundlessly at regular intervals whilst I would contrive to look as if it were a mere everyday event so as not to excite curiosity or explanation.
Besides the four nights at the MSG, we had now successfully negotiated Morden, Brighton, Bath, Trentham Gardens, Nottingham, and Redcar with the Welsh band. Besides the previously remembered Westminster Hall, The Marquee booked a session with Humphrey Lyttelton. (All reports say no lack of harmony there, although I was not present to observe.)
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