JOHN "ED" FISH, OF "THE SAINTS JAZZ BAND" HAS LEFT US
Written by Joe Silmon-Monerri ("Joe Silmon")
Photographs by the late 'John Metcalfe', supplied by Joe Silmon.
News Item 02/02/08 - Mart Rodger writes, "Hi Fred, Just to let you know that Ed Fish - John to some - passed away yesterday. Many will remember him playing with The Saints Jazz Band. He was a great Boogie Woogie exponent and was with The Saints at The Royal Festival Hall Jazz Concert when Princess Elizabeth attended. I first heard Ed and the Saints Jazz Band at the Grosvenor Hotel, Deansgate where they held their Saturday Jazz Club nights. In more recent times - still a good few years ago - Ed was in the rhythm section of the Deep Sea Jazz Band who played at the Norfolk Arms, Marple Bridge on Friday nights. In the last few months we have lost a number of great pianists which makes me think we should be very proud of the reputation in the North West for its contribution to British Jazz".
Another sad day for British Jazz, in general, and for the Manchester Jazz scene, in particular. John ("Ed") Fish (born in 1927) is the latest among our friends and colleagues to have left us. He died on Friday, 1st February 2008. Our thoughts are with his family and with his many close friends, whose circles spread over the five continents.
Ed's first band was almost at the forefront of the New Jazz Revival of the 1940s. Our spanking brand-new local Jazz scene, was kicked off in the area, by at least, 1942 or 1943, by Harry Giltrap (guitar/banjo) and Eric Lister (clarinet/vocals). Between them, they formed the Delta Rhythm Kings (around 1943) and the Smoky City Stompers by 1946. But, although the DRK began recording in 1946, these two early bands of the New Jazz Revival didn't begin to play concerts at the rhythm clubs, or Jazz appreciation circles until 1947-48. Youngsters such as Derek Atkins (cornet), Derek "Mo" Mosedale (clarinet) were among some of the first wave on the scene in 1946-48. Among the second wave, shortly afterwards, there were youngsters such as Ed. Fish (piano), Alan Radcliffe (clarinet), Mike McNama (trpt-cornet). They had all been encouraged and influenced to buy instruments and learn to play them, through broadcasts of small combo Jazz on the wireless, on records and in films, plus their visits to the local Jazz appreciation circles and rhythm clubs.
There were also - in person - musicians with their instruments over from the USA and Canada, who had fought alongside our forces, entertaining us during WW2, whenever possible between air-raids and later. Some stayed back to entertain and teach us. And so youngsters like "Ed." Fish, as he seems to have preferred to be called, at least on the Jazz scene, began to form Jazz bands of their own, from among friends at school or from work.
John "Ed" Fish started his Jazz career at Ashton-under-Lyne in 1948, after the usual build-up that precedes such occupations; school pals learning instruments, playing together and daring themselves to form a band. Ed. became a founder member of a local band called The Storyville Jazz Band, along with Mike McNama (trumpet), Alan Radcliffe (clarinet) and Ron "Slim" Simpson (trombone), with John "Ed" Fish (piano). It is not clear nowadays who all the other founder members of this band were.
The short-lived Storyville Jazz Band [not to be confused with a Bury-based band of 1959 - the Storyville Jazzmen], which also took its name from the famous New Orleans district, was set up in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1948. The band broke up the same year, but when its members regrouped under another name, with some new personnel, plus a lot of dedication and rehearsals, it soon clearly had the makings of one of Britain's finest, most popular and admired Jazz bands - The Saints Jazz Band - established in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1949. Ed. had landed on his feet! The band would shortly be in line for many recordings with leading labels, including Parlophone, EMI, etc., and winning coveted awards, all richly deserved, as well as an assured place in the annals of local, national, and much later international Jazz. It was a band that was much written about. Like Derek Atkins Dixielanders, the Saints were not in the New Orleans mould, but sounded more like the Condon bands - with a quality always of the highest order and a distinctive overall, personal style that really made the boys shine.
To add to the already vortex-like confusion regarding styles, for young Jazzers to adopt in the Manchester area, there was the rich plethora of music all around us, in recordings and in broadcasts, which had all emanated from the same roots back in time. We had, during the Second World War, and shortly afterwards, among other styles, been treated to a great deal of small group and big-band Jazz, Swing and Boogie-Woogie on records, and in war propaganda films. John "Ed" Fish, of The Saints Jazz Band, delighted audiences with his endless Boogie-Woogie solos. "Honky-Tonk Train Blues" immediately springs to mind. Ed. became a local expert in this craft, while playing in a band that played mostly "Nicksieland".
Ed's artistry in the 8-to-the-bar medium of Boogie-Woogie, shone through, though, and even a goodly number of purists turned a 'deaf ear' and forgave him, when he played in this distinctly non-New Orleans, but rocking, style. Many, purists included, have even been known to clamour for "more!" But he was also an ace at Ragtime, a medium that the purists found even more acceptable.
The Apex Jazz Band, established in 1950, was another early band that soon made its mark in the City. It was started by Barrie Quilliam, when he was only 15 years old. It then became one of Alan Jackson's bands. The Apex took the place of the Saints J/B at the Thatched House, Cross St., next to the old Manchester Evening News building. This was not because the Saints had been dropped, but because the band - now [in 1952] extremely popular both locally and nationwide with recordings under their belt - moved to bigger and more lavish premises at the Grosvenor Hotel in Lower Deansgate, where Ed. shone with even greater brilliance in his two main, favourite styles.
In 1951, Ed. must have been a very proud man. He played with the band at London's Festival Hall in the presence of H. R. H. Princess Elizabeth, our future and still present Queen. Around that time, the boys recorded for Parlophone. Their Manager was the well-known impresario Paddy McKiernan, of "Bodega Restaurant" and "Jazz Unlimited" fame. The band was transported to gigs in a chauffeur-driven converted Rolls-Royce hearse; only the best for our lads! And so, Ed. performed in many a Jazz session at the Bodega, the Manchester Sports Guild, Frascati's Restaurant, Oxford Road, the King's Hall, Belle Vue, the Free Trade Hall, Onward Hall, etc., often attracting centre-stage audience appeal through his remarkably versatile and well received musical talents. Ed. was, from the start, a star in his own right. However, he also considered himself very much a member of the "team"; and it was a great team. I am sure that his many colleagues in Liverpool's Merseysippi Jazz Band - which has always been more or less "twinned" with The Saints, will miss him too.
By 1952, the band's personnel was: Alan Radcliffe (clarinet), Mike McNama (trumpet), Ron "Slim" Simpson/Reg. Peyton (trombone), Ed. Fish (piano), John Mills (drums), Jim Lolley (banjo) and Tom Gregory (bass). The long-serving Fred Fydler replaced Reg. Payton (trombone) in 1952.
The success of this band seemed to be rooted in its stickability. Regular rehearsals, the desire to play to the nth degree of precision, without making the band sound stilted or ragged. The lineup remained fairly rock-steady for almost a decade. Ed. was always there, as if tethered to the band by invisible apron strings. He saw many changes in personnel from approximately 1956, which must have been hard to accept. But he wanted no part in any other band. Ed. had "SAINTS" axially imprinted down the length of his spine, like a stick of Blackpool Rock. In 1956, ace double bassist Tom Gregory, a stalwart element in the Saints' very tight rhythm section [none of them would buy a round of drinks!!!], left, being almost immediately replaced by a man who wasn't even a bassist at first. Reg. Kenworthy was a dance-band pianist who had heard that the band needed a bass player. Reg. acquired a bass; Tom Gregory briefed him on the basics and in less than three months, Reg. was ready to roll, becoming as stickable as Ed. until the band capitulated in the early 80s.
For a while, Ed. and the boys remained in their element. Then in 1959, Mike McNama stopped playing. Bob Connell took over but left in 1961, being replaced by the great Desmond "Dizzy" Burton, and for several months by the equally excellent Barry Dixon, during which time the band recorded "Roses of Piccardy". Drummer John Mills died in 1960, and was replaced by Merton Kaufman - who emigrated to Canada in 1962. Jim Lolley,(bjo/gtr) was replaced by another long-stayer, Jim Ashe. Between 1963 and 1980 Merton's replacement of long standing was Denis Grundy. In 1980, my old friend and one-time ex-drummer of the 60s, Mike Carnie , took over from Denis. At about the same time another of my oldest and kindest friends, vibrant, vivacious vocalist Julie Flynn, joined the band acting as "commere" - a task at which she has always excelled. Between the 1970s and 80s, the lineup of the band was in a state of flux, but Ed. was still as reliable as ever, along with the enduring Reg. Kenworthy, Denis and Mike. Brilliant trumpeters Doug Whaley and Denis Gilmore took turns to lead the front line in the 1970s. Reedmen continued to help out, alternately, but always keeping the music alive and vibrant. Randy Colville replaced Al. Radcliffe in 1974-75. Dave Mott and myself (Joe Silmon) took turns on reeds throughout the remainder of the 70s. and early 80s. Rod Hopton, who had replaced Fred Fydler in 1962 was still with the band until the end, in 1983. Rod Hopton's wonderful and extensive article on the band can be seen on this site under Jazz Extras
After the demise of the great Saints Jazz Band in the early 80s, and I can still recall Ed's three or four age-old chord books - which he religiously carried with him to every gig - the ever-popular pianist John "Ed" Fish continued to play in several local Jazz bands, and usually in or near his old home ground, Ashton, Stalybridge, etc. He was an integral member of Deep Sea Jazz Band based at the Norfolk Arms, Marple Bridge, until the 90s. The Manchester Jazz scene has lost a fine exemplar of piano-playing and a friend to thousands. With the help of Fred Burnett and his great website, I join those of you who are still around, in offering my condolences to Ed's family and friends.
Let's give him a good old Manchester Jazz scene veteran's send-off! Meanwhile, bye Ed.!
Joe Silmon-Monerri ("Joe Silmon")
(Reg Kenworthy died on 28th Jan 2013 - FB)
Just read Mart Rodgers piece about Ed Fish and would like to add that Ed was featured as a guest with the band many times at the Station Tavern in Huddersfield especially when Humphrey
Lyttelton was also a guest. Ed was a fine pianist.
Best regards - John Meehan (Savannah Jazz)