Colin H on Researching Music History
Not everything is on the internet, but likewise not everything you might be looking for in period sources might be where you would expect to find it. I thought Afterworders might be interested in this little glimpse of how a rich vein of research can be opened up by a single line of print in an obscure source.
The moral of this tale is twofold: (a) sourcing and perusing period print sources is crucial; (b) there are times when period print sources can trump the retrospective interview recollections of period participants. (The caveat being that, very occasionally, the opposite of point (b) is the case – where period print evidence is inaccurate.)
When I was researching Big Pete Deuchar for my first John McLaughlin book ‘Bathed in Lightning’ (Jawbone, 2014) – Pete’s trad jazz outfit the Professors of Ragtime having been John’s first band – I lacked the time to delve fully into the tale, and so it occupied only a few paragraphs in that book, essentially supplying a means for John to get from Tyneside to London. When I was subsequently working on the companion volume ‘Echoes from Then’ (self-published, 2017) I spent time using the print resources at the British Library, National Jazz Archive and BBC Written Records, plus my own collection of vintage music journals, to pin down the adventures of the Professors of Ragtime, as far as was possible: September 1959 – June 1960.
I also interviewed a number of people who had worked with Big Pete, though in later bands during the 60s, including two members of Douggie Richford’s London Jazzmen (with whom Pete served from July 1961– December 1962, recording two singles for Parlophone). The more I researched, the clearer it was that the fellow had a story worth telling, aside from the McLaughlin episode.
Is there a point to this? Yes…
A few days ago, from eBay, I purchased a copy of the October 1961 issue of Canadian jazz magazine ‘Coda’. Despite being Canadian, it always had a couple of pages of news from the British jazz scene. I have many issues post 1965, but the early 60s ones are very rare, certainly outside of North America (where eBay postage to the UK is prohibitive). So, I bought this one for a fiver on the off-chance that it might have something of interest in it. And it did.
Underneath a few lines about the Douggie Richford band forming (though without giving personnel), there was this:
‘Trombonist Bobby Mickleburgh has formed his own group again and has Keith Jenkins (tpt), Pete Deuchar (bjo), Brian Jones (bs), Ron Darby (dr) and a clarinettist still to be fixed (Teddy Layton has been standing in on many dates). The band is known as the Confederates and they are all dressed in the uniform of the American Confederate Southern Army. Decca are rushing their first disc out and already they have a TV date, a week in variety and a season in Oslo lined up.’
Back in Britain, in its 27 July 1961 issue, ‘Melody Maker’ had reported Richford’s band debuting in Coventry with this line-up: Doug (cl), Trevor Jones (tr), Eric Dalby (trom), Pete Deuchar (banjo), Tony Goffe (bs), Kenny Harrison (dr).
The Confederates’ first disc, ‘Battle Hymn’, was released on Decca in October ‘61 with their second, ‘Brigitte Bardot’, in November. Douggie Richford’s London Jazzmen, meanwhile, had their first disc ‘Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay’ recorded in November and released in early ’62.
Both bands were gigging around the country and the Confederates were being heavily hyped, with several TV appearances – their first single was played on ‘Juke Box Jury’ (16/10/61) and there were appearances on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ (9/9/61) and the ‘Morecambe & Wise Show’ (19/10/61).
Confirming this hard-sell, ‘Jazz News’ could report in their 25 October issue:
‘The Decca Record Company is back in the jazz business. Following its signing of the Confederates Jazz Band, and its release of a single to coincide with the band’s debut, comes the news that an ‘all-out drive’ will accompany the band’s next single release on November 3rd. ‘Brigitte Bardot’ backed by ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’. Said Ray Horricks of Decca: ‘We have been looking for and listening to talent for some time, but we couldn’t hear what we thought was what we wanted. The Company has great faith in the Confederates. We feel the band could become one of the two or three important bands in the country.’’
The curious thing is that my previous research, scouring both ‘Jazz News’ and ‘Melody Maker’, hadn’t revealed that Deuchar was in any other band during his time with Richford – indeed, it would have been almost unheard of in that era for players to have divided loyalties: there was so much work available on the trad jazz scene that you committed to one band at a time.
I went back and looked again through relevant copies of the British magazine ‘Jazz News’ (thankfully, the 1961 issues are available digitally now on the National Jazz Archive’s website – I have most of the 1962–63 issues, but previous ones are scarcer) and, no, sure enough, there is no mention of the Confederates’ personnel bar leader Bobby Mickleburgh – which is odd in itself, as the personnel of bands was regularly reported.
So, my point is this: an entire and very fruitful new avenue of research was opened up solely on the basis of one paragraph in a very rare Canadian magazine, which I bought purely pragmatically (they don’t come up for sale often, and I could spare a fiver when this one did – being sold from the UK, hence no ridiculous p&p).
I had previously interviewed the two members of the Richford band still with us, Bill Hales (who had quickly replaced original member Eric Dalby on trombone) and Toni Goffe, who were there during Deuchar’s tenure, and neither had mentioned this Confederates conundrum. A new email exchange with Bill shed no new light on the matter. He was as baffled as I was.
Bill dig some Googling of his own and found that Paul Sealey had played banjo on the November 61 Confederates single ‘Brigitte Bardot’, implying that Deuchar must have left by then. (As an aside, Sealey would replace Deuchar in Richford’s band in December 1962. But this is complicated enough already…)
Could the writer in ‘Coda’ have got confused? Maybe mixed up part of Richford’s band (mentioned in the previous paragraph after all) with Mickleburgh’s? Remarkably, the internet was able to provide an answer. A search for the “Confederates Jazz Band” led to a second-hand dealer who had a Confederates sheet music ‘album’ for sale (naturally, I’ve bought it) and sure enough, there in the photo on the cover is Big Pete Deuchar. No doubt about it. Bill hales was as surprised as I was.
I’m waiting to hear back from Toni Goffe, who was in the Richford line-up with Pete in autumn ’61 when all this was going on. Perhaps he can dredge up some insight into the matter. If not, it remains another bit of maverick behaviour from a fellow who made a career of it, Big Pete Deuchar – and it adds at least one more record to his slender canon, the first Confederates 45 ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’.
The ‘Morecambe & Wise: Two of a Kind’ episode with the Confederates survives. I’ve ordered a copy on DVD. It may well prove to be the only extant moving image of Big Pete in his heyday. Or maybe it will feature someone entirely different on banjo and another layer of mystery will be added.