Don Bridgewood - 1931 - 2015
I'm a friend of Ruth & Don Bridgewood; and I know that he used to converse on your pages occasionally. I am very sorry to have to relay the information that Don died this morning (20th July) at the ripe old age of 83 - he would have been 84 in just a few weeks time. He had a heart pacemaker fitted some years ago, but his condition had be worsening rapidly over the last month or so. When we last saw him in April, he was a skeletal image of his former self. I am greatly saddened by his passing, and I thought you may want to pass the news on to your fellow readers. I'm expecting a spectacular thunder solo tonight... Don on clouds.
THE SAD PASSING OF DRUMMER DON BRIDGEWOOD
(7th August 1931 - 20th July 2015)
By: Joe Silmon-Monerri
Don Bridgewood, drummer extraordinaire, raconteur, journalist contributor to several Angling magazines and an ardent Jazzer on our local Jazz scene for six-and-a-half decades, died from heart-failure in the early hours of the 20th of July, 2015, aged almost 84. He leaves his Wife, Ruth and family, to whom I offer my sincerest condolences along with those of us on the Manchester Jazz scene and anyone who knew him well for well over half-a-century in Jazz circles.
Don grew up in Withington, Manchester. In a similar way to many of the local Jazzers, his interest in Jazz started at school. Don formed an embryonic version of what later became the Southside Stompers. It is remarkable how the boys kicked off this musical venture, as we shall see. On the bread-and-butter side, one of his first jobs in 1946 was as 'Copy Boy' at the local office of the Daily Telegraph. The job required "running" with messages between copy-writers, editors and sub-editors. He was soon to become a 'Copy Writer' himself. His articles and even Technical Writing, graced many a journal and magazine. But, primarily, he was a Jazz enthusiast and a budding musician.
Unfortunately, very little has been written about the Southside Stompers - an excellent band - other than by Alan Stevens’s few articles on it in the Manchester Evening News. However, their one-time clarinettist, Dr. Alan Brown, retired, yielded some useful snippets. Don Bridgewood himself not long ago and Roy Bower (trumpet) - both founder members - and John Turner (trombone – a later addition) were fortunately able to supply several more stories, to help put together a clearer and more realistic picture of the band throughout its brief, but significant, lifespan. It all made for a very interesting story.
The band that eventually became the Southside Stompers, was tentatively formed in Withington, Manchester, in 1952, according to my conversations with Don in happier circumstances. The boys were finally ready for the road in 1954 and firmly established by 1957. They had unusual occupational antecedents. Almost in the fashion of the good old Jazz Appreciation circles, it was a wind-up gramophone and records, plus liberal amounts of sheer youthful enthusiasm and vitality, that started it all off. Don Bridgewood, the founder and the band’s first drummer, had started out playing on washboard. He used to take his wind-up gramophone and records into the Yew Tree Lane Recreation Ground in a park in Withington. There, on Saturday afternoons, he played records to a select group of like-minded friends, including Roy Bower (eventually on trumpet) and Frank Cholerton (later the much respected Manager of the band). They listened intently to a mixed bag of music; this included Danny Kaye, the Andrew Sisters, Glenn Miller, among others. However, Don frequently tuned in to a BBC regional broadcast, particularly featuring the King Oliver Band, one Saturday afternoon. Suddenly, Jazz was for him! He started collecting and playing Jazz records.
By now, Don’s Jazz record collection included King Oliver and Fats Waller. The meetings, both at the Recreation Ground and at St. Paul’s Church Hall, also in Withington, were already taking place between 1952 and 53, during which time Roy Bower was steeped in his National Service duties in the Army. Eric Lister (clarinet/vocals) appears to have been the first reedman, followed by Alan Brown, although someone who became very famous – little Johnny Dankworth – was in the clarinet chair very briefly. He was in Manchester, as he had been an evacuee from the London bombing, and still lived in the area until he set out for a more successful life – as it is widely known. The great Manchester trombonist Eddie Warburton, then a young man of a similar age to Don and Roy, came along for one session and decided against joining, but made it on his own merit elsewhere on the local Jazz and dance-band scene. He became an outstanding trombonist who was capable of covering all aspects of Jazz. A pianist called Brian Fitzgerald (later of 'Big Band' fame) and banjoist John Coloff added themselves to the fold at different early stages of the Stompers’ evolution.
Don recalled, in August 2006:
‘… For a short time, John Mayall did some rehearsals at Johnny Roadhouse’s [a long-standing music shop], playing bass. I also sat in with John [Mayall] occasionally when he played piano during intervals … Key point in forming the band proper was a Rag Day thrash when I came across Alan Brown, clarinet, and Jack Palmer, banjo, making wonderful (for those days) sounds in the Students Union… I think it would be around 1954 that the band became a real entity …’
The above must have been a reference to the Thatched House on Cross Street, when John Mayall used to do his "one-man-band act", during the intervals, singing through a mouth-organ into a microphone-box attached to a guitar strapped to his chest, which he strummed intermittently while playing the piano.
One day around 1954, with Roy already a civilian again, Don, who up to this time was the proud owner of a washboard only, brought along a record by Bud Freeman’s Chicagoans. When Roy Bower heard the trumpet player, Rex Stewart, he was immediately hooked on Jazz. As soon as possible, he bought himself a trumpet and began to learn to play it (by now, it was c. 1955). The record sessions at the Recreation Ground continued; then Don bought his first drum kit, an inferior second-hand kit, not long afterwards replaced by more reliable Olympic pieces, and in the early 60s by a Premier kit with a Rogers snare drum and Zyldjian cymbals. Their other friends shortly afterwards [by late 1955] had acquired their instruments, and not only was a band formed, and actively playing that same year, but the boys also ambitiously did some recordings in the mid-late 1950s. Eight tracks were laid down at an unnamed studio in St. Peter’s Square. This was a remarkable move for a band that was still practising and rehearsing its limited repertoire. The band-name chosen by the boys was finally to be The Southside Stompers. The line-up, by the time of the recording (in c.1957-58) was: Don Bridgewood (drums), Roy Turner (bass), John Featherstone (piano), Norman Dakers (banjo), Roy Bower (trumpet), Ron Pratt (clarinet – Ron had replaced Dr. Alan Brown, owing to his medical commitments by then. Alan had earlier replaced Eric Lister -- a major pioneer of the Manchester Jazz Revival of the 1940s, along with Harry Giltrap -- and John Turner, the temporary but excellent bassist’s son, was on trombone.
The line-up in 1956 had been largely similar: Roy Bower (trumpet/leader); [Student Dr.] Alan Brown (clarinet); Eric Brierley (trombone); Jack Palmer (banjo – then reading Pharmacy at Manchester University); Don Bridgewood (drums – and technically, the original founder/leader); Derek Newton, nick-named “Ulysses” (double bass/ sousaphone). The nick-name "Ulysses" was coined due to Derek's brass sousaphone being heavy to lift. In March 1956, the band had been unable to accept any outside bookings, because Alan Brown was constantly swatting for examinations at University and was frequently unavailable. He settled into a routine as a hospital-based doctor for about half-a-century; he is now retired as a doctor, but until quite recently, he played Jazz accurately, enthusiastically and vigorously, as he did even when a hard-working Student Doctor. He could deservedly let off some steam, at that time, by indulging in this medium!
Another slight change in personnel by 1957: Roy Bower (trumpet/leader); Ron Pratt (clarinet); John Turner (trombone); John Featherstone (piano); Norman Dakers (banjo); Don Bridgewood (drums); Roy Turner (bass).
By some time in 1957, the Southside Stompers had secured a 1-night residency every Saturday, at the Black Lion Hotel, Blackfriars Street, Salford, just yards from the Manchester-Salford boundary, which was centred on Blackfriars Bridge, leading downhill from almost the very right-hand end of Deansgate, looking towards Salford. By now, the band also featured a female vocalist, Pauline Seton, Stuart Seton’s wife, for some months. Stuart was the drummer with one of Ged Hone’s embryo bands at the time. Between 1959 and 1960, there were more personnel changes, including one which comprised a very well-known local female vocalist (our very own Sheila Collier), and a complete change of style. This different style – not the new vocalist - prompted one or two of the boys to leave the band. The relevant section of my eventual book will show how exciting – and disruptive - these changes were for all bands in the area.
An important highlight for the Southside Stompers, while Don was still in the band in the late 1950s, came in the form of a two-band session at Wigan Little Theatre on the 21st of May 1958. It was a concert entitled “The Story of Jazz”, in two parts:
Part I, “The South”, in which the Southside Stompers represented stylistic transitions between early Jazz from1892 to the early 1900s (Buddy Bolden, Alphonse Picou, etc.) and by 1920 (Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, etc.), ably illustrating the move from pre-Classic to Classic style Jazz.
Part II, “Mainstream”, where the “Liverpool University Jazz Band” represented part of the early New Orleans influences, and how Jazz had developed into different forms, emphasising Swing and big-band Jazz, such as that of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and the Goodman-style small groups that featured black and white musicians playing together. The band thus explained how Mainstream Jazz came about.
Line-up of the Southside Stompers:
Roy Bower (trumpet/leader); Ron Pratt (clarinet); John Turner (trombone); John Featherstone (piano); Norman Dakers (banjo); Don Bridgewood (drums); Geoff Shean (double bass); Pauline Seton provided the vocals.
I thought it strange that Don Bridgewood, whom I had always considered to be an ardent purist, would opt for playing records that included a saxophone player – Bud Freeman – especially when the band had started up playing with a Crescent City-style line-up, i.e. including a clarinet, not a saxophone. When I tackled Don about it, he explained that all he wanted to do was “… to play good JAZZ …”. He had left the band – that he had been so instrumental in forming seven years earlier - after a disagreement about musical policy.
It must have been devastating for him at the time.
This is what had happened: Don had become unhappy with the repetitiveness of the solos; and with the tunes played predictively in exactly the same way every time, coupled with the fact that the band was ‘running before it could walk’. The band had begun to play tunes that were too tricky to master and stay mastered. It had also changed its title to the Southside Jazzmen and was playing Mainstream, by approximately 1960. I hope it wasn't my Mainstream leanings that made Don decide to leave. I was in the band, on clarinet and tenor sax for a while in either late 1960 or early 1961. I think I replaced Eric Welch (what an act to follow!; Eric made twenty of me!!!). Eric Brierley and Sheila Collier were in the band and Don had been replaced by Keith Morrey. Eric and I used to frequently run into each other racing down Market Street or crossing Deansgate, to get to the Black Lion.
Don soon decided to form a band of his own at the Park Hotel, Wigan, with the massive, impressive name “Don Bridgewood’s Original Superior Band”, named after a New Orleans marching band. In this band, Don could decide regarding musical policy and play Jazz that was 'fun', rather than a 'struggle' to play. His point of view made sound sense; Jazz is meant to be enjoyed and fun to play, although it is sometimes a lament on sad times, such as now. The line-up for the Original Superior Band in 1960, was: Don Bridgewood (dms/ldr); Joe Whitehead (bjo); Dave Parr (d/bs); Barry Ashcroft (pno); Ron Pratt (clt) and Noel Blundell (tpt).
Don and I lost contact for many years after that, only meeting occasionally in 1966-68 at Keith Pendlebury's Whaley Bridge Sunday sessions or at the Black Lion on Sundays when I was with the Zenith Six and Marcia. However, by now, Don was a seasoned journalist, who was largely writing for the Angling Times, having earlier written for Motor-Cycle magazine. He was a keen motor-cyclist and very quickly had mastered Technical Writing skills while very young, in order to write for this magazine. He was a keen Dockers Union man, too (the son of a docker), and was an Old Testament expert.
Don and Ruth later ran a 'fishing' pub. in Lincolnshire. He was still writing for the Angling Times at age 78, and playing New Orleans Jazz around Bentham, Lancs. At Bentham, he frequently argued with local churchgoers regarding the Old Testament, invariably winning! Don's later career will be better known to other writers to these tributes.
Amidst the sombre ambience of Don's passing, please allow me to recall something from happier times. Some time around 1967 or '68, I was playing with Keith Pendlebury's Trio and Marcia McConnell (not yet Mrs. Pendlebury), at the Railway Hotel, Whaley Bridge, on regular Sunday sessions. The Landlord was an ex-USAAF Burtonwood Air Base pilot. I think he was called "Geoff". Moe Green was on drums, with his bright red braces from New Orleans, Geoff Ford was on double-bass. Don walked in after a fishing session with three fellow anglers. Don told us a very amusing story. They had left a pub. in Derbyshire a couple of hours earlier, where there was a local "lush" helping himself to any drinks that lay on the bar unattended. Don said that one of his friends opened his tackle-box where he had stored some river crayfish caught during the afternoon. His friend dropped two live crayfish into the lush's full pint-glass (now made up of the dregs of several glasses). Don and his friends watched in amazement as the lush's nose and chin were repeatedly attacked by the captive crayfish's pincers. They said that he was scratched and was bleeding, but didn't notice a thing and just went on drinking! There was a rumour circulating about the crayfish being arrested on a charge of being 'drunk and disorderly'. No proof was ever found, though.
May he rest in the Peace of the Lord.
5th August 2015
21/07/15 - I met up with Don & John in the Olde John O'Gaunt, Lancaster in January 2007 where I took the above photograph. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with them and listening to them chatting over old times.
Back in the 50's, Don
and a group of friends,
including Frank Cholerton and Roy Bower used to meet in the
rec. with a wind-up portable gramophone playing things like
Danny Kaye, the Andrews Sisters and, with Don getting into
THE MUSIC, Bunk Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller.
As a result he bought a washboard and waited for Roy Bower
to come out of the army in 1952-53.
Information extracted from Don's own account here which he wrote on 12th April 2007
We first met Don over 35 years ago when my wife Janet and I relocated to Bentham. He was playing drums with a local group in Bentham at the time. We found him a very welcoming, helpful and friendly person, and have remained close friends with him and his wife Ruth ever since.
During 1998 Don was a founder member of "The Bentham Recorded Jazz Society", which still exists with a greatly reduced patronage.
He will be sadly missed by all of his many friends in bentham and the surrounding areas.
I Went to The Black Lion in Chapel Street Salford , Manchester, in 1958 when I was 18, I had just begun my course at Manchester College of Art , where me and my friends had formed a Skiffle group with Tony Almond on Banjo.
Since the age of 7, I had been away at Convent Girls Boarding Schools, so the Manchester Art College and music happenings were a very big life change for me.,! I listened to John Mayall in the lecture theatre at lunchtimes. My girlfriend and I went to The Black Lion one Saturday night to see The Southside Stompers. Pauline Seaton was singing with the Band. I sat in and sang 'Cakewalking Babies Back Home' After that, the Band hired me as their regular singer, Don Bridgewood was the Drummer. Of course! We learned the music by meeting up at someone's house and listening to the originals. And we played every Sat night in the upper room. I still have a membership card. My parents were a bit shocked, I think my Father came once, but felt better when the Manchester Intelligencia came , Brian Redhead , from The Guardian, and of course Chris Lee would review us for the Manchester Evening News.
In 1959 The Southside Stompers and myself made an L P for Barry's Record Rendezvous . We recorded in an empty Free Trade Hall with one microphone dangling from the ceiling. I had to sing standing in the front row of the stalls facing the band on stage. I have it here in Sweden - it sounds very authentic! I met my husband , Vic Lord, while singing one Sat night at The Black Lion. He came with his friend, Pete Armstrong, who was a Trombonist and at Leeds University. Soon after that Vic went into the army to do his National Service. We married in 1961. Great Memories, I used to go there on my Scooter from our house in Mere, Cheshire!!
R I P Don Bridgewood