Defining Moments

Yet another legacy post today folks, this one from March 2008 – almost exactly 13 years ago! It’s a subject upon which I reflect regularly, particularly when driving to do a day’s teaching in school. I’ve been doing that journey for 22 years now, and I still occasionally get an almost overwhelming feeling of how responsible it is – in some small way, I guess I’m shaping young lives. It’s why I strive to be the best teacher I’m capable of being. That’s another story for another day though. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my first ever reflection on Defining Moments.

Welcome back folks after far too long a break.  Here I am, another year older and closer to the grave.

As a result of reading some excellent biographical writing recently by Alan Bennett the playwright and Michael Simkins the actor (and brother of oft-mentioned saxist Geoff) I thought I’d have a bash at writing about ‘defining moments’ in this entry.  These are events in one’s life that seem to shape the way you feel about things or approach things for the rest of your  days.  Interesting, personal, and highly blogworthy stuff I thought.

Everyone has their own ‘defining moments’ but today’s hectic pace of life doesn’t offer us much chance to reflect on them, so we often don’t realise they were defining moments until years later.  Thank goodness for out-of-town gigs and the long drives thereto!

I suppose my first tale begins at a family wedding (my mum’s cousin I think) when I was a young kid.  This would’ve been in the late 1960s and at the tail end of the era when people booked ‘busking’ bands for wedding gigs.  It’s probably worth adding here that ‘busking’ doesn’t mean they had an upturned hat in front of them, they just didn’t use formal written arrangements.   Anyway, there I was at the wedding doing what kids at weddings do best, i.e. skidding across the polished floor on my knees and ruining the smartest outfit my mum could find for me.  (It wasn’t much fun at the age of six going to a wedding dressed as a Japanese Admiral…)

Anyway, I digress:  the defining moment came when the band struck up.  I’d heard my father playing standards on piano at home in a kind of quasi-stride pub pianist style complete with ‘lucky dip’ left hand.  Now my dad was the sax-playing band leader and, while the other kids continued to practise their skidding, I sat cross-legged on the front of the stage mesmerised by what was unfolding in front of me, and there I stayed for the remainder of the evening.  The more I think about it, that’s when the mould was cast.

A defining moment in the life of anyone of my generation must surely be the purchase of the first long-playing record.  I’m sure we all had 7” singles of novelty pop songs that our parents had bought us, but getting that first 12” disc with your own money made you feel like you’d arrived.  I actually can’t remember buying my first LP – I think I may have bought it aged about 13 from a classmate at school – but the memory of it is so vivid that if I close my eyes I could almost reach out and touch it.

The record was a compilation of Chuck Berry songs entitled ‘Motorvatin’, and the cover bore a front-on view of a bright red early 1950s Cadillac.  The music, to me, was so exciting, and the fact that my dad thought it ‘primitive shit’ made it more exciting still. (Teenage rebellion was alive and kicking!)  The damage was done, and I became a fanatical disciple of rock and roll, with this record along with the music from the film American Graffiti providing the soundtrack to most of my teenage life.  The photo above gives you an idea of what my teenage years were all about.  That’s me on the right aged about 19.

That my contemporaries were listening to the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin merely strengthened my resolve to listen to (by then) 20 year old music, and I’ve never felt a need to conform since.

Almost thirty years on as a member of ‘The Rhythm Riot Kings of Rhythm’ I’ve been lucky enough to share a bandstand with some of the people I spent all that time listening to in my teens, and you know what?  It’s as exciting as you’d imagine!  As my chum and colleague Johnny Day says, ‘You can take the boy out of rock & roll, but you can’t take the rock & roll out of the boy’.

There’s a neat coda to the Chuck Berry thing:  By the time I was 15 or 16 I found myself at school in what’s probably best described as a no-hopers’ class for English lit – I achieved the lofty grade of ‘unclassified’ in my O-level.  This ‘leper colony’ comprised all the villains, psychopaths, under-achievers (me), and misfits (me) of my year, who were too hard, thick, lazy, or just plain bewildered to be interested in Shakespeare or poetry.  We were put in the charge of a huge rugby playing Welshman called Guy Tyler, an enthusiastic teacher who, frankly, didn’t deserve us.  His voice projection would have been the envy of many a thespian, and, as he was prone to occasional apoplectic outbursts of volcanic magnitude, winding the poor man up became something of a sport.

One day we ambled into our English lit lesson and one of the boys (a villain I think) had a guitar.  “I’ll take that thank you” roared Mr Tyler and we all expected him to add “collect it from the staffroom after school”.  But no, he took the guitar out of its soft case, and after a perfunctory tuning launched into Chuck Berry’s ‘Nadine’.  We sat in stunned silence, and when he finished he said “and that, boys, is poetry”.  Maybe that’s the defining moment when I subconsciously decided I’d like to teach.  *more about eccentric teachers in a subsequent blog

Incidentally, I did an interview on BBC Radio Berkshire just before Christmas (real Alan Partridge stuff) and ‘Nadine’ just happened to be one of the three ‘Desert Island Discs’ they asked me to bring in with me.

Lawks! I’ve written loads already and I haven’t even left school yet…

Is ‘defining moments’ a subject worth pursuing?  (or just a lexicographer’s whim?)  You decide folks; leave us a comment.

I’ll close briefly then with a real defining moment: Getting your first car.  I often think this is the singularly most liberating experience of a young person’s life.  It’s the first time you have a space that’s truly yours, and the independence to go anywhere the amount of fuel in your tank allows.    The world, as they say, is your ‘person who liberally peppers their conversation with yiddish words’.

My first car which I bought in June of 1980 was a Ford Anglia.  I just had to have a car with tail-fins, and that’s all my budget would stretch to.  (Although I was on the highest paid apprenticeship in the country, I’d also by that time developed a penchant for drinking.)  I payed £150 for the car and almost as much again to insure it for six months.  I remember the obnoxious insurance clerk gleefully laughing in my face when he quoted the premium and saw my ashen look of incredulous disbelief.  I hope he got really bad piles or something in later life.

I could go on (and on, and on) but this piece is too long already.  Funny how easy it is to talk about yourself!

To Autumn

Another ‘legacy’ post this time folks, this one from September 2007.  I can’t believe I’ve been keeping a blog on and off for more than 10 years.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Well tempus fugit as they say;  it’s that time of year again and I’ve made my return to the halls of learning.  This year summer’s lease has indeed had all too short a date, and to continue the literary theme, I reckon we’ve well and truly entered the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.  For many writers and lyricists though it’s a time about which to get decidedly prosaic.

Aside from the Shakespeare and Keats quotes, there are many songs about Autumn:  Autumn in New York, ‘Tis Autumn, and of course Autumn Leaves, the English lyric for which Johnny Mercer wrote in no time flat apparently.  Thinking about it, there are plenty of songs about the other seasons too, Spring is Here, It Might as Well Be Spring, and Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most are examples that ‘spring’ immediately to mind.  Maybe it’s merely an indication of our fascination with the changing seasons.

By the way, how many girl singers does it take to sing ‘Autumn Leaves’?

All of them it would appear…..

To digress for a while, I’ve decided that the fact that I’m on first name terms with all the staff at my local greasy spoon speaks volumes about the quality of my diet at present.  I was walking to the caff for my traditional ‘cholesterol surprise’ a couple of weekends ago and as I aimlessly kicked shiny windfall conkers along the pavement, I was reminded of the sort of ‘poor man’s conkers’ we used to play at school.

There was a sycamore tree in the school yard and at this time of year we played a game like conkers but using those funny helicopter type sycamore seeds.  You had to hold the seed between forefinger and thumb and try to chop your opponent’s seed in half.  Naturally these games had the advantage of not taking as long as conkers, and you didn’t run the risk of excruciating injury to your knuckles caused by an over- enthusiastic miss by your opponent.  I’m sure there were people at my school who deliberately aimed for your hand instead of your conker, but then again, my school seemed to attract quite a few sadistic bastards. And that was just the staff!

I got to thinking that conkers were a tangible sign that summer was over.  Now no sooner had that thought passed when I heard the reassuring thwack of leather on willow, and it occurred to me that the real sign that we’re on the long haul to Christmas is the council taking down the cricket nets in my local park.

This talk of autumn and cricket has reminded me of a rather poignant scenario that Brighton saxophonist Geoff Simkins once described to me.  Picture the scene, it’s the last county game of the season at Hove and the ‘crowd’ is made up of a few stalwart Sussex supporters getting their final day’s cricket in for the year.  Most of these stalwarts it has to be said are gents who have seen more than their fair share of cricket seasons

During the tea interval, the news vendor comes round with the evening paper.  “Argus” is his street cry, although I like to imagine that it’s toned down somewhat and is not exactly a cry inside a cricket ground.  As he sells papers to the old boys, he bids them farewell with a cheery “see you next season then.”   As you observe this scene and think of the harsh winter ahead, you know that for some of the spectators it’s actually “Goodbye” and they’re not going to make it to next season.  Terribly sad.  Always gets me that one.

Oh dear, this has started a stream of consciousness, so to close here are three further things:

Firstly a picture of a sign I saw in a tiny back street near the river in Twickenham.  I don’t know if it’s a facsimile or a restored original, but I love it anyway.

Secondly, I was once taken into the pavilion at Lord’s cricket ground by a musician I know who’s a member.  As we sat watching the cricket in the afternoon sun he turned to me and said  “I’m getting on a bit but I’m not ready to turn my toes up yet.  When I do though, I’d quite like to go by falling asleep sat up here in the afternoon sun with a jug of ale in my hand and a cat on my lap.”  Seems like the perfect death to me.

And finally…..I was cricket mad when I was a kid and always listened to the test match commentary on the radio.  This was in the 1970s when streaking at sporting events became a short-lived trend.  I well remember on one particular afternoon John Arlott’s gruff Hampshire accent declaring “And there’s a streaker on the pitch.”   Always the greatest of cricket commentators and the master of understatement, as the streaker was being led away by two burly policemen (presumably one had employed the standard procedure of removing his helmet to cover the streaker’s private parts) Arlott wryly observed, “And I think he’s seen his last cricket for today.”

Ok folks don’t be bashful, – please do leave a comment.  It’s often the catalyst for the next blog entry.

 Until the next time…


Hello folks, here is another ‘legacy’ post (from February 2011) that I was prompted to resurrect by something I read recently.  I never thought this column would turn into a book review, but do rush out and read Chris Boardman’s Biography.  It’s called ‘Triumphs and Turbulence’, and strikes me as one of those rare biogs that is as interesting to the layman as it is to the expert.  In it, Boardman describes perfectly what this post is all about.

‘…as any schoolboy will tell you, there’s something about a situation where mirth is absolutely forbidden that renders even the tiniest spark of it especially dangerous; and once the fire is lit, the flames spread.’


The picture here sums up without words what I love about being a musician.  Here you see Roy Eldridge and Lester Young cracking up in a dressing room  This was probably some time in the 1950s, but it could just as easily be today.  Of course, in some situations laughter is inappropriate.  Unfortunately, laughter is no respecter of such situations!

I’ve mentioned many times before in these jottings that no word exists in our language to describe the phenomenon whereby something becomes twice as funny if you’re in a situation where you’re not supposed to laugh.

‘Corpsing’ as it’s known in the trade has caught out many an actor/musician/announcer, as the recorded examples here show. The term comes from when an actor was having to play dead and the rest of the cast would try  to make the corpse laugh.  Here’s something from James Naughtie to whet your appetite.  I think this qualifies both as a Spoonerism and a Freudian slip, but that’s not what I personally find funny; no it’s hearing him struggle on up to the handover to the newsreader that kills me.  Check out the first minute or so – corpsing at its best.

As an inveterate giggler I can vouch for how excruciating this can be.  I well remember being the only musician visible to the audience of the ‘pit’ band during a school production of ‘Grease’ some years ago.  It was a combined staff and students band and, since the two sax parts were pretty boring, by the second night my chum who was playing the other sax was doing his level best to get me going.

During some dialogue, I silently pointed out to my colleague that the sixth form boy on bass guitar had his left forefinger knuckle deep up his hooter.  We started to giggle and things deteriorated from there.  We had to play a short passage between scenes and the bassist was taken by surprise when the MD gave the upbeat.  He whipped his finger out of his nose to play and as we launched into the ‘vamp ‘til ready’ we noticed his finger was still connected to his proboscis by a thick string of snot.  This was mucus of the highest quality.  Never before had I seen such elasticity!

I was, of course, helpless with mirth but unable to make a sound as the next monologue had already started.  I fought it and fought it.  I ended up purple-faced with my head between my knees and sweat dripping off my chin.  My chum was no help whatsoever. He leant across to me and whispered “Cookie, there’s a gag coming up in the script.  Wait ‘til the audience laughs and let it all out in one go.”  Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the gag.  Very embarrassing, but such pleasurable pain!

And here are a couple of my favourites.  If you’re ever feeling down in the dumps, listen to these.  I guarantee you’ll be smiling afterwards.

…and on to tv. This remains the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, but not for the obvious reason – watch the patient in the dentist’s chair!

Until the next time…

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Old Photos

Welcome back folks – I’ve spent a fair bit of time recently sorting out my old mum’s pad. It’s one of those awful but necessary tasks that really engenders mixed feelings, (a bit like watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your brand new car). On the one hand it’s a veritable treasure trove of memories and on the other, well… my chum who talked of ‘items with a huge dollop of sentiment hindering their disposal’ described it beautifully.

Which brings me to the melancholy clown in the old photo at the head of this piece. This was something I unearthed in the process of sorting through stuff. The event was Chelsea Village Fair and the date must have been the summer of 1970 – pre-1971 anyway – because first prize in the kids’ fancy-dress competition (which I won) was ten shillings. My overarching memory of the day though was the stench of the red-painted Ping-Pong ball nose. Maybe my mum should have entered me for the competition under the pseudonym Isaiah Kite… Also interesting to see that my lifelong love affair with ice cream was already in full bloom.

How the Chelsea News reported our victory!!

Thanks to my mum’s inventive costumes, my cousins and I even made it into the local paper.

Now, this is where the treasure trove bit really starts. The Good Lady – being a purveyor of such goods – was rather taken with the backing paper of the photo’s frame and, on peeling it back, revealed this time-capsule note.

My writing’s less legible now!



We recently saw this in the window of a local premises. It looks really interesting and is a much more positive use for the building than it’s former function as a place you went to pay parking fines.

I love the photo bottom left of Trevor Bayliss, a long-time resident of Eel Pie Island. He looks every bit the inventor in this photo, but what I really admire him for is as a life-saver. His most famous invention is the wind-up radio, the introduction of which enabled people in remote areas of Africa to receive public information broadcasts about preventing the spread of AIDS. I seem to remember my dad telling me that when he first went to a gig on Eel Pie Island you had to be pulled across on a chain raft.

The photo of a young Mick Jagger brings us full circle in that, about the time I was born, he shared a famously squalid flat with Keith Richards and Brian Jones in the rough end of Chelsea (yes, it did have a rough end in those days). This den of sin was just ten doors down from the house in which I grew up. Apparently they weren’t the best of neighbours…

This old photo really fascinates me in that the band were able to sit in the middle of the road. It’s now the main one-way artery from Earls Court, down through Chelsea and on to the Embankment. Funny what you notice in a kid’s world – the most evocative things for me in this shot are the lamp-post and the railings; fifty years on, they feel like a pipe and slippers.

Until the next time…

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Annus Horribillus

For reasons which will become apparent from the below, I haven’t felt much like posting new blog posts recently, BUT, I’m back once again. As I’ve had so much positive feedback about my earlier posts, I’ve decided to post an occasional ‘legacy’ post (don’t you just hate modern parlance?), the first of which should appear at the same time as this post.


Annus Horribillis: not a clinical term for my unsavoury rear-end, but a Latin phrase to describe what I’ve just experienced – a totally shit year. I can’t begin to tell you how much I looked forward to New Year’s Day 2017.

It wasn’t without its lighter moments though and, in keeping with the title of this piece, I did, during the course of 2016, have to suffer the indignity of my first ever prostate exam. The ‘examiner’ was an earnest young GP who had never met me before. He must have thought I put up too little in the way of protest and asked “Do you know how I do it?” I said, “I do, but shouldn’t we at least go out to dinner first or something?” Well, he must have been even more naïve than I thought because he laughed out loud at my witty retort…

…then he violated me. Actually, to be fair, it probably wasn’t the ideal start to his week either.


In fact, the first half of 2016 went really quite well – I lost loads of weight, got fitter than I’ve ever been, cycled up a mountain for the first time and worked regularly with the excellent band of Andy Fairweather Low. He really is a fantastic songwriter, guitarist and singer and on top of that a really interesting guy – a former national-level tennis player I discovered over dinner one night. What’s nicer still is that I’ve never got the merest whiff of big-time from him.

It wasn’t until August that it all went rather pear-shaped. The month started well with my riding the Ride London Surrey 100 cyclo-sportive in 5h43s. Oh how I wish I hadn’t stopped for a wee – I’d have broken 5 hours and averaged 20mph if I hadn’t.


The following weekend my dear old mum was taken ill and eventually succumbed to a massive heart attack while she was in A&E. The treatment she received was second to none from everybody involved; paramedics, doctors and nurses; I really can’t praise them enough. She had reached the ripe old age of 86 and was totally active and self-sufficient up until the day she died. Now, what’s become apparent to me subsequently was that my mum had acquired skills in addition to the more obvious day-to-day ones, namely:

  • an ability never to throw anything away that might, just might come in handy one day. The fact that she’d long forgotten where she had hoarded these things seemed not to matter. Suffice it to say that I’ll soon be on first-name terms with the operatives at my local municipal tip.
  • an ability to fit a disproportionately large amount of furniture into a very modestly sized flat. No, really, it should be a game on the Krypton Factor or something.
  • an inability to resist buying in bulk anything she perceived to be a bargain. I don’t think I’ll be buying myself any washing liquid in a long time. It’s a shame I don’t wear Marks and Spencer’s ladies’ clothes too… I mean, I do wear ladies clothes but M&S isn’t my outfitter of choice.

Yup, losing your mum is a heart-breaking experience, finding out subsequently that her life savings will be going straight to the tax man is a harsh coup de grace.


A week later I was on a skills-development session with my cycling club and, it would appear, I hadn’t developed one of the skills. On a particularly technical bend I ‘lost’ my front wheel and crashed heavily. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I know I was travelling at 23mph when I hit the deck. My shoulder was in enough of a mess that I was whisked through A&E in no time flat and then the problems started. It pains me to say it, but it seems to me that if you’re not actually knocking at death’s door, the NHS is completely broken. I was operated on the next day (see pics at top and below) and told I could go home afterwards. Well, it’s a good job I refused to go home because they had to give me morphine in the night. It strikes me the system expects your relatives to look after you on the wards; the nursing staff certainly don’t appear to have the time to do it. It’s all a bit third-world if you ask me. The last straw for me was when someone refused to spread the butter on my toast because “it wasn’t her job”. What happened to compassion eh? It wasn’t like I’d asked her to wipe my annus horribillis was it?

Yes, it does set off airport metal detectors.


THEN… having got back into the swing of working after a frustrating six-week convalescence, someone put a brick through the tailgate window of my car and nicked a rucksack containing my laptop. What a drag! It was only because of my injury that it wasn’t slung over my shoulder.  Despite the expense and hassle of getting the screen and computer replaced, I feel quite smug that I’d backed-up my data the preceding day, and quite relieved that the sort of criminal for whom a brick is the tool of choice is not interested in identity theft. (I’ve just looked in the mirror and it’s definitely still me).

THEN… in early December I went to do a gig in a rather posh ski resort in the French Alps. It sounded like a dream gig until we were told it was for the lighting of the Christmas tree lights in the town square and that we’d be playing on an outdoor stage. Well, the temperature was about minus four when we played. If it wasn’t bad enough being outside in that weather clad in light stage clothes, to do it holding 16lbs of brass made it feel like my very life-force was being sucked out of my body via my fingertips.

Christmas tree – Megève town square

This was followed by a very stressful hour-long argument the following day at Geneva airport trying to get my beloved Conn Crossbar into the aircraft cabin. We were eventually given the ultimatum whereby we either put the saxes in the hold at a cost of £65 each, or buy a seat for them at a cost of €408 each!! We opted for the cheaper option and then arrived on board to find a 200-seat aircraft with only 50 passengers on its itinerary. This was a display of jobsworthery like I’ve never before experienced.

I could go on, believe me, I could go on but I’m 1000 words in now.  Right, normal light-hearted service will be resumed soon, and don’t forget that ‘legacy’ post. Do please leave a comment – it’s often the catalyst for the next post.

Until the next time…

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And They Said Romance Was Dead

Here, then, is the first in an occasional series of ‘legacy’ posts – this one from almost exactly eight years ago.  Of note in the photo is me on the left in my usual photographic position of ‘extreme stage-right, just out of any light’ and the now-very-famous Imelda May on the right of the shot. Oh, and Parky.

Monday 19th January 2009

“And they said romance was dead”.  That’s what I often find myself saying, with more than a hint of irony, on finishing pouring my heart out playing a tender ballad.  The reason for my cynicism?  Well, despite the fact that ballad playing is probably the facet of my playing of which I’m most proud, it’s usually greeted with the sort of desultory ripple of applause normally reserved for two leg-byes at Leicester on a wet Tuesday afternoon.

Apt perhaps that I should use a picture of Michael Parkinson dancing to Blue Harlem, because his cricketing prowess once kept one Geoffrey Boycott out of the Barnsley cricket team.  Anyway the relevance of dancing will become apparent later on.

I know I’ve posted recently, but I really have to relate this tale to anyone that will listen. – Regular readers may remember that I was asked to play at the funeral of Dick Charlesworth a while ago and I have to say that, despite the sad circumstances, it turned out to be a most joyous occasion, with the New Orleans style band leading the hearse to the church, at which it was standing room only.  Loads of people came out of houses and shops and lined the route.  A popular chap indeed.  (See ‘A Breed Apart 2’ – link below)

Dick had a long-standing residency in his local pub.  The residency continues with John Barnes replacing Dick, and last week I was asked to appear as a guest front-line player (in lieu of JB who was away) with the house rhythm section.  The audience at this particular pub has always struck me as having a rather high average age and, having seen the same faces in the same seats, it would seem it isn’t very transient.

I arrived just in the nick of time and noticed an elderly couple sat very close to the bandstand.  I also noticed that the male half of the couple was poised with pen and paper to write down the tune titles we played.  Having seen this rather ‘anorakish’ behaviour in the past (even to the extent where the punter awards star ratings to the various players on the bandstand) I decided the situation warranted mischief.

By a stroke of good fortune, we’d kicked off with ‘There Is No Greater Love’, which I announced as ‘The Cheese Song’.  Game on, I actually started to choose tunes whose names could be suitably disguised.  We therefore played ‘East of the Currant’ (East of the Sun), ‘The Touch of Your Staffords’ (The Touch of Your Lips), ‘Bike Up The Strand’ (Strike Up The Band), and ‘I Won’t Chance A Stand With A Goat Like You’ (I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You).

Now, the whole point of this little piece is this:  when we played ‘Ghost of a Chance’, the elderly couple got up and danced right in front of us.  They held each other close and gently swayed with the music.  It was very different from the strenuous terpsichorean displays I’m used to seeing in jive clubs.  They were in their own little world as they smooched in front of the band, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they had a crowded pub watching their every move.

I have to say I found it all very touching and when we finished the tune I was able to say without any irony whatsoever “And they said romance was dead”.  The lady turned to me, winked, and said “Not with us it’s not!”

Click here for ‘A Breed Apart 2’

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Until the next time…

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Ghosts of London Past



Another little photo-journal this time folks, and apologies if it’s somewhat ‘bitty’ but there is a thread running through it.

I did a Chas & Dave gig just before Christmas at The Hammersmith Apollo. This venue will always be, for me, Hammersmith Odeon. In it’s heyday, this 3,500 seat auditorium was a single-screen cinema. That’s probably a hard concept for a younger reader to comprehend, but in pre-tv times, that’s how popular the cinema was. I used to go to Saturday morning pictures at Hammersmith Odeon, where they used to show us ancient 1930s films of Flash Gordon starring Buster Crabbe (what a great name), and you know what? We lapped it up!

The Appollo’s dressing rooms are, as you would expect, very well-appointed but the corridors are not modernised and they consequently exude history – many of my musical heroes appeared here. I was particularly struck by a very old, hand-painted sign that declared ‘Dressing rooms must be vacated by 12 midnight’. Of course, in those days, things were expected to last, and sign-writing was a thriving trade. More about painted signs later.


There was until recently, close to the halls of learning at which I teach, an horologist’s shop. The place intrigued me as it had a real old-world air about it. It was very obviously a specialist shop with presumably no passing trade and this was borne out by the fact that you had to ring the bell to get in. That’s ultimately what prevented me from going in to browse. It’s also probably a good thing in that it prevented me from buying a vintage watch I don’t need. I felt a strange sense of sadness to see this shop go, but that was nothing compared to the sadness I felt when it became… you guessed it… an estate agent’s. This glorious relic, however, still hangs outside.

The memory lingers on
The memory lingers on

I love the way the building’s function is worked into its appearance.  Here’s another example I spotted just round the corner from home.  This building was presumably built by the Eldridge named – and one would hope he didn’t intend to move house at all.

Eldridge Builder


It strikes me that buildings in general used to be aesthetic as well as functional; a good example is this beautiful art nouveau balustrade I saw whilst gigging in the Park Lane Hotel (which, confusingly, is actually on Piccadilly). If you ever get the chance to see the ballroom there, take it – it’s spectacular, and one of my favourite rooms in London.


This is a detail from a shop in Sheen that’s now part of a small take-away pizza chain. Too bad their corporate identity required this to be painted all-over in green paint. When I was a kid it was a fish and chip shop and I remember my  grandfather stifling a grin whilst trying to convince me that the proprietor used to spit in the cooking oil to see if it was hot enough to start his evening’s frying.

Chip shop detail
Chip shop detail


My previous post spoke of my early-morning cycling sorties, and I’ve spotted a few interesting things whilst out on daybreak rides; firstly, this garage.


I’m fairly certain it must be a facsimile, but you never know…


Back to earlier business; in fact, a couple of ‘ghost signs’. These hand-painted signs probably became redundant decades ago but they survive and are the ‘Ghosts of London Past’ that this post’s title describes. Maybe they were covered with more modern advertising hoardings at some point. This one I saw in Richmond:

Richmond sign

…and this one in Twickenham. It’s obviously advertising some long-gone eatery, and I’m intrigued by what an ‘invalid speciality’ might be. Any ideas?   And no gags about raspberry ripple ice-cream please.


These signs piqued my interest and, just as I suspected, there’s a website dedicated to them.  It’s called and it’s jolly interesting.

And finally.. also close to chez moi, another ghost of London past. I noticed these road ‘studs’ recently and, whilst I remember seeing these kinds of things when I was a young kid, by the time I started driving in 1980 they were pretty much extinct.  It just goes to show how infrequently the local council resurfaces the back streets of leafy suburbia.

Road Studs

Until the next time…

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The Walk of Shame



I found myself on a trio gig at a famous restaurant in St James’ at the weekend. This was one of those really pleasant gigs that come up from time to time where the music’s gratifying, the audience appreciative and the staff friendly. We were fed the most fantastic lemon sole in the break – fine dining indeed. I’m still talking about it nearly a week later.

Chatting over dinner, I reminded Sally, the pianist, that the first time our paths had crossed was when she used to be the ‘tame’ accompanist for the open mic night in my local pub. We used to go across to the boozer occasionally to witness this spectacle, and found it immensely entertaining – for all the wrong reasons…

At the time, the pub did little trade in the week until Friday night when the wannabe singers from the local adult institute jazz school would turn up en masse to display the fruits of their week’s labours. With their name duly added to the ‘bill’, the excitement would grow almost tangibly in these enthusiastic amateurs as their item approached the top of the list. Then, when their turn came, they would approach the podium, leadsheet quivering in sweaty hand. This was it – their five minutes of fame. They had planned this meticulously since last Friday night.

Well, as I’ve said, you can’t polish a turd, and many of these performances were hysterical (in every sense) and toe-curlingly, hilariously woeful. Another thing you can’t do is to weaken the resolve of a determined amateur enthusiast. So, with their music retrieved from the piano, and looking every bit like an opening batsman who’s just been bowled out for a duck, the defeated novice warblers would take the walk of shame across the pub and back to their seat. This they did full in the knowledge that next Friday they would put themselves through the self-same traumas and embark upon the same emotional roller-coaster ride.


I’ve taken to doing early-morning bike rides. I ride for about 40 minutes before breakfast at an easy pace, the science being that moderate exercise in a fasted state encourages the body to use fat as fuel rather than glycogen.

The easy pace means I’m in a kind of ‘look at that’ world rather than a ‘did you see that’ universe and have noticed lots of interesting phenomena, about which more in a subsequent post. Sunday sees me go out just a little later and take in a slightly longer loop. It’s during these Sunday rides that I observe people taking the more traditional walk of shame. This, I’m sure you understand, involves people returning home early on a Sunday morning still dressed in their Saturday night clothes having enjoyed a couple of hours of drunken ‘Egyptian PT’ with a relative stranger in leafy Suburbia.

Despite my having once seen a man at a bus stop in full evening dress, it’s ladies taking the walk of shame that seem to me to be much more readily identifiable. I don’t mean to sound remotely sexist here, it’s just that they often seem unable to stop themselves looking slightly furtive. Of course, the naughty schoolboy in me has begun to call a cheery “Morning!” to well-dressed ladies in Sunday-morning bus stops and, yes, some of them blush…    Some of them tell me to “Fuck off!”

Until the next time…

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A Salty Character


An odd subject for a new-year message, you might think – but stick with me, all will become clear.  In the meantime, some lovely, seasonal  music – sung by a very talented guy and written by Frank Loesser, whose wife, incidentally, was once referred to as ‘The evil of two Loessers’.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry (see Which Reminds Me… – one of my better efforts, I reckon), the news media seem to use the fallow period between Christmas and New Year to list the people of note who assumed room temperature during the course of the year. So, in keeping with the tradition, I’ll talk about someone who died… several years ago.

The Boston-born cornettist Ruby Braff was quite simply one of the finest players I ever saw. I heard him very late in his career when, despite poor health limiting his range somewhat, he remained a stunning improviser. I felt him to be a real musical inspiration in that he succeeded in what I strive to do – play in the style of players a generation older but remain fresh and interesting. It was Ruby’s off-stage, permanently irascible persona that really amused and intrigued me though. He was known by certain musicians with whom he’d worked as ‘Mr Hyde and Mr Hyde’ with good reason.

My chum once found himself taking a nightcap with Ruby and another visiting American jazzman. A third party came up in conversation and Jazzman 2 said, “I can’t stand him, in fact I hate him.” Ruby countered with “I hate him more than you do.”

In another ‘friend of a friend’ situation, a certain gig promoter’s name was mentioned. Apparently Ruby became quite animated and explained, “You know, Harry Edison used to say ‘You can’t polish a turd’, and I never really knew what he meant… until I met that guy!” Incidentally, I once used the ‘can’t polish a turd’ line to a studio engineer friend whose pithy retort was, “Nope – but I can roll it in glitter.”

And so to the story of my one and only meeting with Ruby Braff:

I’d been put on the guest-list at a popular Soho jazz venue by a bass player of my acquaintance. When I arrived, the manager was unnecessarily officious with me which, in hindsight, was possibly a consequence of his recently having found himself the subject of a Ruby tirade. Anyway, my chum introduced me to the American star by saying, “Ruby, this is Peter Cook – an alto player who shares his name with a famous British comic”.  This obviously went straight over Mr Braff’s head and he responded with a loud “Huh?” “You know, Ruby,” someone started to explain, “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore”.  At this he looked up at me, pointed accusingly and declared, “I hope you’re funnier than Dudley Moore; he never made me fucking laugh”.  “Nice to meet you too, Ruby”… was what I thought.  If I’d actually said it, he’d almost certainly have said “Mr Braff to you!” (he even made a record with that as the title).

Mr Braff to you

Ruby Braff’s obituary in The Guardian ended with the three words, ‘He never married’. Funny, that. Actually, his demeanour did have an amusing air about it, and when he played you could almost forgive him anything – honest!

And so to New Year…

Ruby Braff had just finished a New Year’s Eve gig when a punter approached him, thanked him for a lovely evening and wished him a happy new year. The ever-gracious Mr Braff responded with “Don’t tell me what sort of new year to have!”

I won’t, therefore, dare tell you what sort of new year to have, but I do hope you’ll be healthy and content in 2016.

Until the next time…


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The Return of Cookie (III)

Cookie in full flight. Photo: Martin Hart
Cookie in full flight.
Photo: Martin Hart

Well, it’s back, folks!

I’ve not posted a blog entry for more than a year now, and have been touched by the number of you that have told me you miss it. It’s hard to believe I’ve been keeping it since 2007. It’s my only artistic outlet outside of music and I’m tickled to death that people actually take the time to read it – attention spans aren’t what they were. If you don’t believe me, check out how short the shots are in contemporary TV dramas. Some of the camera-work makes me positively queasy.

As ever, my online absence has been down not to my having been away, but to Apple’s enthusiasm for ‘withdrawing support’ for certain products. This euphemistically-put pain-in-the-arse accounts for my love/hate feelings towards them (see One Bad Apple). I love the elegance of their hardware and the design of their software, but I hate being forced to continue to spend money with them just because I expect their superior products to carry on working (wasn’t that a film with Bernard Breslaw?). Yup, mixed feelings… like watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new car. (Not bad – two paragraphs in after a fifteen-month absence and I’ve got an antiquarian music hall gag in already).

This, then, may turn out to be a temporary home for my blog until I get round to rebuilding my main website. Who knows? If I can get the comments bit working it might be like the good old days. So, although you may be reading my stuff for the first time as a result of an invitation, do feel free to chip in your two penn’orth – it’s often the catalyst for the next post. The rest of you (you know who you are), don’t be strangers!

Ok folks, back soon; and in the meantime here’s a link to my old blog archive: click here