The other day, in discussing a photograph of Tubby Hayes, I made the assertion that in jazz history – as in all retrospective studies – context is king. Indeed, even without resorting to cliches about zeitgeists, epochs and magical marriages of time, space, talent and opportunity, it’s impossible to ignore how so much of what Hayes and his colleagues achieved in their now distant heyday was made all the more significant for the time in which it was being made.
It’s easy nowadays, when the music is taught at degree-level, and is about as culturally threatening as, say, Michael McIntyre, to forget that being a modern jazz musician in the UK in the late Fifties/early Sixties – that rather grey seeming stretch of post-war British history that Philip Larkin magnificently codified in his poem Annus Mirabilis - was to be a rebel of the highest order. Kind of.
Yet if Modernism, such as it was, was made all the more exotic a choice of belief because it was surrounded by so much stale, outdated and austere thinking, it could never quite escape the environment it sought to reject. In fact, much of what it implicitly aimed to destroy – established hierarchies, old-fashioned practises, codes of conduct that had changed little since the end of the First World War – rather ironically helped sustain it. These things certainly helped to give it a familiar backdrop, simultaneously enhancing whatever modicum of rebellion Modernists could get away with while creating a cosiness to Brit-Bop that simply wasn’t there in its Stateside counterpart.
I’ve explored this theme in several articles published elsewhere, but one example will suffice as an exposition. I once wrote, rather dismissively in hindsight, how British Modern Jazz in these dull, pre-Beatles years was ‘more Blue Lamp than Blue Note’, an argument which can’t really be dismissed entirely out of hand given the cross-over between the nation’s boppers and contemporary English cinema (Stan Tracey chugging away on accordion on the soundtrack to Genevieve for instance; Jack Parnell actually doing the music to The Blue Lamp itself).
But what of the genuine ‘establishment’ itself, those so beautifully lampooned by the Boulting Brothers, the Goon Show and others of their ilk around this time; did this ever truly benefit the parochial jazz scene?
The answer is yes, it did, although it may take a deal of explaining in order for the point to become clear.
I remember reaching for proof of this a few years ago in another sleeve note*, looking for a link to unite Tubby Hayes, perhaps the most arch example of British post-war teenage self-motivation imaginable, to the ultimate establishment figure of the day, Harold Macmillan, UK Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963, whose own heyday coincides roughly with that of the Little Giant.
‘One,’ I wrote, ‘[was] a stiff-upper-lip, old school, English patrician...about as far from the hipster cool of modern jazz as can be imagined, the other the very epitome of British post-war modernism – fashion conscious, readily able to move with the sounds of the times, bursting with a self-made confidence that sat firmly at odds with the sometimes stultifying circumstances in which he was obliged to operate.’
So, I wondered, was there any possible connection? Did Edward H. and Harold M. have any point of contact, other than their convenient chronological overlapping? If passing through the same time, were they ever in the same place?
What I identified transpired to be something less direct and more oblique, arriving at the realisation that, were it not for certain aspects of the Macmillan governments tenure, then much of what survives of Hayes on privately recorded, or off-air, tapes might never exist.
‘Hayes’ career peak – a period that can be roughly outlined by the music he made between the formation of the Jazz Couriers and the disbanding of his famous “Mexican Green” quartet in early 1968 – fortuitously coincided with an upsurge in British post-war prosperity, the consumer boom that Macmillan had famously made manifest with his era-defining “never had it so good” speech of July 1957 and which would continue through the 1960’s under the “white heat” government of his successor Harold Wilson. Among the consumer success stories fuelled by a wider availability of hire-purchase agreements and general air of fiscal optimism were household electrical goods, comprising everything from washing machines to tape recorders. Sales of popular models of the latter manufactured by companies like Grundig, Elizabethan and Ferrograph increased substantially during the early 1960’s, enabling a particular kind of jazz enthusiast to flourish as never before – the amateur recordist, happy to document the goings on at his or her local jazz club for their own private delectation. At the time few could have foreseen how important this function was, but half a century later recordings such as these provide an especially vivid freeze-frame of music that otherwise would have simply become a faded memory.’
In some senses Hayes and Macmillan also shared a similar fate; both could be said to have been brought down by the ‘1960s’ - Macmillan by the scandals of Profumo and Ivanov and, more generally, by the satiric onslaught of Beyond The Fringe, Hayes by the fashions of Beatleism and a new generation of jazzmen that likewise seemed to pooh-pooh all he’d held dear.
However, what I didn’t know at the time I wrote those words (2014) was that there was evidence that placed Hayes and Macmillan in rather more direct contact, connecting them as I’d not previously thought imaginable. Specifically, there exists an account which definitively places them not only in the same era but in the same room.
Surprised? I certainly was, although as I was to learn the reasons for this unusual encounter are rather less bizarre than you might imagine.
* ‘Tubby Hayes - Without A Song’ (Acrobat Records)
All the right places
This remarkable occurrence happened in spring 1956 – some six months before Macmillan took office as premier, and when he was still Chancellor of the Exchequer in the government of Anthony Eden, a body shortly to be riven apart by the ‘Suez Crisis’, an event which perhaps more than any other was to shape much of Macmillan’s thinking once he came to power.
The occasion was the ‘society’ engagement party for Quentin Crewe, grandson of Lord Crewe, later to become a well-known columnist in the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail and the Sunday Mirror - and the man once credited with being the inventor of the modern restaurant review - and his American bride-to-be Miss Martha Sharp, held at Londonderry House in London’s Park Lane.
Crewe’s own story is remarkable in itself; overcoming childhood muscular dystrophy, he failed to let his physical condition dictate the course of his life, becoming a highly successful restaurateur, newspaper critic and author, publishing over a dozen books on subjects ranging from French cuisine to the Maharaja of Jaipur, before his death in 1998, aged 72.
He was also impeccably connected. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, his half-brother was none other than Terence O’Neill, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1963 to 1969 and he counted Macmillan – whom he thought ‘extremely generous’ but ‘world weary’ - as a close friend.
Small wonder then that Crewe’s engagement (a legendary seducer he was to marry three times in all, famously saying of his wives ‘there was so much that was agreeable about them that they can’t be considered disasters’) made news in all the right places.
The party was, however, more than somewhat unusual, its dress code – normally strictly observed in such circumstances – thrown seemingly to the wind, with various guests including Lord Thurso and O’Neill wearing anything from jeans (O’Neill) to a dinner jacket (Thurso).
Even more unusual was the entertainment on offer, provided by ‘Billy Kaye’s Aphrodisiacs’, a moveable feast of prominent local modern jazzmen including Phil Seamen, Dizzy Reece, Kenny Graham, Dave Goldberg and legendary UK bop founder Dennis Rose. Sitters in with this outfit included Vic Ash, Keith Christie, Tony Kinsey, Allan Ganley, Kenny Baker, Annie Ross, percussionist ‘Speedy’ Acquaye and, of course, Tubby Hayes. And for good measure, several members of the visiting Stan Kenton Orchestra (then on its debut UK tour), including baritone saxist Jack Nimitz, also added their contributions.
The reason we know all this is not because of the day’s polite court notices. No, it’s due to none other than the ‘Aphrodisiacs’ leader himself, Billy Kaye, a man who over a long and eventful life wore many hats, principal among them those of drummer and journalist.
Something of Kaye’s character can be judged from watching The Street, BBC-2’s evocative documentary film made in 1985 in which he and several of his former colleagues – Ronnie Scott, Hank Shaw, Tony Crombie, even comedian Bill Maynard – viewed vintage cine film shot by Dennis Rose in and around Soho in the very early 1950s.
Surrounded by so much wit, and looking rather remote behind grey stubble and an outsized fur coat, Kaye often appears out of the loop, never quite getting the better of Scott and co. as they rib his younger self. He watches with a weather eye, as if wary of too much scrutiny.
But he was no fool and, as with most outsiders, he made a canny observer of human behaviour. Indeed, in July 1956, Kaye launched the Soho and West Clarion, a weekly newspaper documenting events in and around the ‘naughty square mile’ which retailed for the sum of sixpence. That the paper began with a strong jazz bias was not all Kaye’s doing; after all the music was then highly popular and ever since anyone could remember it had been the soundtrack to Soho’s richly varied nightlife, an after-hours existence which mixed a heady cocktail of fun, felony and questionable sexual mores. Jazz, in particular the boundary-breaking blasts of bebop, made a perfect fit and whether you were a hooker, a hoofer or a bopper, making your own luck and living in the now, while imagining a better tomorrow, was all that counted. Kaye was no exception; if Soho – the community he and scores of other misfits called home – needed its own paper he was the man to do it. Simples.
It was also a dream that has left its mark sixty-five year later.
There exists today a quarterly magazine which runs under the heading of The Soho Clarion, run by the Soho Society, with an aim to capture the mood, personality and diversity of Soho today.
Much of what it covers directly echoes the kind of things featured in Billy Kaye’s original paper; indeed there’s even a regular advert for Frith Street’s famed ‘Bar Italia’, a coffee house which merited an enthusiastic feature (‘we dug it the most’) in Kaye’s first edition back in 1956.
Famous adopted sons and daughters of Soho are included too, much as they were back in Kaye’s day. In fact, with its recruitment of ‘celebrity’ contributors like George Melly The Soho and West Clarion was looking ahead to today, a time when all national papers pride themselves on having show business insiders ‘on staff.’
It’s not all plus ca change though. This first edition has ads for such period luxuries as ‘The Tony Crombie Orchestration Service’ and ‘Freddy Mills’ Chinese Restaurant’. Indeed, some things are close to unbelievable, including Kaye’s back page feature, an account of Quentin Crewe’s engagement party (under the headline ‘Strange Engagement’) that seems like something out of a story book, so far-fetched do its contents now sound.
Beneath a photo showing Tubby Hayes with fellow tenor player Harry Robbins – soon to be a founder member of Tony Crombie’s pioneering rock and roll band, The Rockets – and, seated at the piano, Dennis Rose, there is a colourful description of how ‘Mr. Harold Macmillan walked up a staircase and went apprehensively into the main ballroom’ to be confronted with a spectacle that unnerved him; gyrating dancers in hooped skirts, young beboppers blowing with wild abandon, youth seizing its moment; Mayfair going ‘modern’ with no questions asked; 1956’s equivalent of rave culture.
‘Wearing a pin-stripped suit and Old Etonian tie’ Macmillan remarked, ‘I feel I’m slightly over-dressed tonight. I should have come along in my skiing outfit.’
It’s the kind of line you can imagine Peter Cook delivering, wuffling away on stage in his bitingly accurate take-off of the premier in Beyond The Fringe. Only this time it’s not satire, it’s reality; a weird sort of reality, mind, but real all the same.
But then there was nothing at all ‘normal’ about this night, as Kaye’s breathless account makes clear. In fact, so outrageous did things become that the celebrations continued into following morning, Crewe’s fiancée being sent off on the boat train from Waterloo Station by Russ Henderson and his Trinidadian Steel Band , with sundry guests, playing a calypso of version of ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’.
‘The train took off’, Kaye observed. ‘So did everyone else.’
So there is it: proof-positive of Tubby Hayes – the skyrocketing prodigy of British modernism – and Harold Macmillan - Earl of Stockton, ‘Supermac’, presider over an age in which the UK was once more breasting ahead - in the same room, if not exactly dancing to the same tune, then certainly moved by the same unmistakable sense of seizing the here and now.
As they say these days, who knew?
Photo: off-piste: Harold Macmillan again minus his ski-suit