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Requiem for the Albion

In pensive mood: Jo Kimber, Mick Hamer and Al Nicholls taking a break after playing the first set of a gig at the Albion.

For more than nine years The Albion was the premier venue for afternoon jazz in Hove. All good things come to an end and The Albion was no exception to the rule. The year had already been tinged with sadness, with several seemingly permanent fixtures departing. In May the jazz sessions lost one of their stalwarts when Pat Turpin died. The wake, naturally enough, was held in the Albion and most of the regular musicians turned up to play. In August another regular Jo Hunter, who had been one of the best trumpet players in Britain, also died. Again the wake was held in the Albion. And again the pub was packed with musicians.

In the meantime Jeff Fisher, who had been the landlord of The Albion for 35 years, sold the pub. The afternoon jazz session continued under new management but on 31st December the pub closed for extensive refurbishment, leaving the jazz sessions without a home.

The final gig on 19 December was attended by a large crowd. A quartet, with George Levy on reeds and flute, Mick Hamer on piano, Nils Solberg on guitar and vocals and Gerry Higgins on double bass played the final gig. Among the sitters in were Lawrence Jones on piccolo and vocalists Jo Kimber and Juliette Devereau. For the final number on the final session Nils Solberg sung the Slim Gaillard favourite, Dunkin’ bagels.

Even if the Albion has gone the Monday afternoon jazz sessions continue. Since 23rd January the Paris House in Western Road has become the new venue for Jazz on a Monday Afternoon.


Jo Hunter’s wake

Jo's WakeDozens of the best musicians in Brighton came to the Albion yesterday to play at the wake of ace trumpeter Jo Hunter. They were some of Jo’s favourite musicians. It was Jo’s regular pub.

Jo Hunter was one of the pioneers of bebop in Britain. He played and recorded with Kenny Graham’s Afro-Cubists in the 1950s before joining the big bands of Roy Fox and Jack Parnell. Even in his 80s he was still playing fluently–always brim full of ideas and with an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz standards.

He stopped playing in public because of trouble with his teeth about two years ago but he was still active and a regular face in at the Albion’s jazz gigs, a music lover to the end. Jo died peacefully at home on 14th August at the age of 89.

Many of the musicians who worked with Jo over the years joined the jam session. Among the front line musicians were Andy Woon on his pocket trumpet, George Levy on clarinet, Mike Piggott on violin, Robin Watt on tenor, Tim Wade on trombone. The rhythm section included bassists Gerry Higgins, Dan Sheppard and Nick McGuigan, Piers Clark , Jason Henson and Nils Solberg on guitar while the drum stool was shared by Dan Breslaw and Brian Walkley, who first worked with Jo in the 1960s. Richard Holmes, Steve Ashworth and Mick Hamer took turns at the piano. Three vocalists completed the ever changing line-up: Juliet Devereaux, who sang Good Morning Heartache, one of Jo’s regular requests, Sara Oschlag and Rachel Bundy, who rounded off the session with My Foolish Heart.

Jack Honeyborne, who played piano with Jo on Kenny Graham’s 1951 recordings, sent his apologies. Jack, who is 88, couldn’t attend because he had an afternoon gig in London.

After the musicians packed up and the pub began to empty. Piers Clark and Jim Heath on banjo, began their own impromptu jam session entertaining the survivors before they went unsteadily into the bright sunshine in search of the nearest bus stop.

Jam for Pat

Pat's FuneralPat could not have wished for a better send-off. The cream of local jazz musicians turned up to jam for Pat at the Albion in Hove on Monday and celebrate the life of one of their most loyal fans.

Pat was someone who enjoyed life to the full and always seemed to have a twinkle in her eye. She was a keen jazz fan and a lover of Duke Ellington’s music. She was a regular face at the old Havana restaurant, before it closed, at the Six Bells at Chiddingly and the Albion’s afternoon sessions.

Even though she was nearly 87 she still made the twice-weekly trip to the Albion, come rain or come shine, to listen to her favourite music. She died of a heart attack three weeks to the day before her funeral. Typically she was all dressed up and ready to set off for the Monday afternoon session at the Albion. She never made it.

Her favourite tenor player, Al Nicholls and Nils Solberg on guitar provided the music at the funeral. It was an all-Ellington affair. They played the coffin in with Mood Indigo and finished the proceedings with Satin Doll, one of Pat’s most frequent requests. In between, the mourners listened to a recording by Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington of The star-crossed lovers, which was written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

Back at the Albion, Al and Nils were joined by Gerry Higgins, on bass and George Levy on clarinet, soon to be augmented by Andy Woon on pocket trumpet, Piers Clark on rhythm guitar and on piano Pete Godfrey, who is married to Pat’s niece Linda. Some of the Albion’s regular vocalists got up to sing with the band. Jo Kimber continued the Ellington theme with In a mellow tone and Juliet Devereaux sang Autumn Leaves.

It was a convivial afternoon where the musicians could do what they do best, talking, drinking and occasionally playing. Jeff, the Albion’s landlord kindly provided food for the wake.

For the final session Mick Hamer took over on piano and a seven-piece band assembled to play another version of Mood Indigo, with the front line providing some suitably ducal three-part harmony. Finally Annie Schutt sang Fine and Mellow, the blues that is always associated with Billie Holiday.

It was a very well-attended session and most of the regulars knew Pat well. The demands for an encore proved irresistible. And Nils restored a sense of the ridiculous with Slim Gaillard’s Flat foot floogie (with the floy floy).

Mandrake memories

31st March 2016

It was another toe-tapping session at the Albion as the Mandrake Heritage Trio rolled back the years and brought a slice of sleazy Soho to the genteel streets of Hove. mandrake cardBack in the swinging ’60s the legendary Mandrake was the West End musicians’ club of choice, a drop-in centre for musicians where they could drink after hours, swap stories and play jazz into the early hours of the morning. Three of the regular sitters-in at the Mandrake were tenor-player Dave Quincy, bassist Gerry Higgins and jazz pianist Mick Hamer. The three musicians–the Mandrake Heritage Trio–were reunited for the gig at the Albion, recreating the sounds of half a century ago with tunes like Stomping at the Savoy and How high the moon.

Al Nicholls: the man who put the “fun” in funeral

Al N_2Al Nicholls was once again in top form at The Albion. A couple of days before playing at The Albion he had played in the marching band at Cynthia Payne’s funeral in south London. Madam Cyn certainly had a splendid send-off. Not only was there Al and a jazz band but half a dozen actors dressed in police uniforms and as French maids also accompanied the hearse.  (You can find pictures of the event on the web.) The musicians, as Al was keen to point out, were not paid in kind–or post-dated luncheon vouchers.

The toe-tapping traditional jazz classic I’ve found a new baby was Al’s second number. It’s not one of Al’s regulars number but it got the dancers going. Just as it help to get Madam Cyn to the crem a couple of days before.



Snapped at the Griffin

Copyright: Richard Waldron--richardwaldron-art.com
In full flow: Mick Hamer and Denis Primett in the bar at the Griffin. Image copyright: Richard Waldron

One of the delights of working at gastro-pubs like the Griffin is that you never know quite who who is going to drop in. Sometimes it is musicians from the orchestra at nearby Glyndebourne, exchanging the dubious delights of their campsite for the warmth of the pub. Sometimes there are other artists. You learn to expect the unexpected.

In amongst the enthusiastic audience on Sunday was the noted artist and photographer Richard Waldron, who naturally had his camera with him and took this image of the musicians at work.  You can find out more about the work of this talented artist on his website: richardwaldron-art.com.

Albion debut for Terry Ede

terryedeA splendid debut from Terry Ede at the Albion, who was given a rapturous reception by an enthusiastic audience. Terry first worked with Mick 43 years ago at the Skyline Hotel, near London’s Heathrow Airport—although this makes him a comparative newcomer compared to the band’s bassist, Gerry Higgins, who first worked with Mick in January 1969.

Terry, who played clarinet and flute in addition to the tenor saxophone, featured a number of bossa novas in the session, including the lovely Carnaval, written by Luis Bonfa, and Anontio Carlos Jobim’s Wave.

As the audience numbers grew so did their enthusiasm. They were still shouting for more as the trio played the final number—Take the A Train.

The sound of surprise

mike piggott
Ace violinist Mike Piggott

Jazz violinist extraordinaire Mike Piggott was nominated for the British Jazz Awards in 2012—the jazz world’s equivalent of the Oscars. On Monday he joined the Mick Hamer trio for another swinging afternoon session at the Albion, in Hove. An enthusiastic crowd, who had gathered to listen to the gig, were rewarded by a virtuoso performance from Mike Piggott.

In the middle of the group’s second set a sound like a rifle shot startled the audience. It was the sound of Gerry Higgins’ bass. The bridge had suddenly collapsed. Without missing a beat Mike Piggot and Mick Hamer finished playing Besame Mucho and then played the next three numbers was a duo while Gerry reassembled and retuned the bass. For the bridge to collapse on a bass  is unusual, but not unknown. It once happened to the legendary American bassist Ray Brown on live television.

Once the trio was back in action local singer Juliet Devereaux joined the band for a couple of numbers.

Jo Kimber back at the Albion

Jo Kimber at the mike
Jo Kimber

Jo Kimber is always a popular turn at the Albion, Hove’s premier afternoon jazz spot. In among frequently requested favourites like the Fats Waller tune Ain’t Misbehaving there were also some new additions to the repertoire. As next day was 14th February My Funny Valentine got its yearly outing. And then there was something of an antidote, with the 1938 Rodgers and Hart tune This can’t be love. The crowd swelled throughout the afternoon and the Albion was agreeably crowded by the time Jo sang her final number Route Sixty-six.

Going for a song

Our drummer John Muxlow
John Muxlow—and drum

With John Muxlow back on drums the Terry Giles Sextet was once again fielding its regular line-up for the second gig of the year at Eastbourne’s Cavendish Hotel. As usual the band’s repertoire ranged from numbers dating from the First World War to far more modern tunes. The opening number was Fly me to the moon, which was written in 1954 and was first made famous by Frank Sinatra.

The sextet then celebrated the return of its regular drummer by allowing him to pay an extended solo introduction to Bei Mir Bist du Shon. People often think this is a German song, but it was actually written for a short-lived Yiddish musical. After the show folded the composer Sholom Secunda sold the song for $30—sharing the proceeds with the lyricist. He then watched in mortification as the song—kitted out with new English lyrics—became a massive hit for the Andrews Sisters.