Category Archives: Memoirs

Jazz record collecting with Tony Standish

Last week I was pleased to read a nice obituary of Tony Standish in The Age.  A leading importer of early jazz recordings to Australia, Tony died on 17 December 2016, aged 85. I actually didn’t know Tony very well, but I bought a lot of my favourite jazz records from him – often twice. The first time as vinyl LPs in the 1960s and the second time as CDs in the 1980s.

As a teenage schoolboy in the 1960s who didn’t enjoy school, I used to look forward to Saturday mornings when I would catch a train into the city and spend my weekly pocket money on a carefully selected LP record of early jazz music. There were really only two shops in Melbourne to buy these records – Bob Clemens in Little Collins Street and Tony Standish’s above Frank Traynor’s Folk and Jazz Club in Little Lonsdale Street.  Tony Standish was more likely to have the classic jazz recorded in the 1920s that I loved. In particular, I remember buying a box set of almost all the recordings of my favourite bandleader Fletcher Henderson , that was obtainable only from Tony Standish. Later on, I bought the same set of recordings on CD from Tony via mail order in the 1980s.

I think the main reason I didn’t get to know Tony was our age difference – he was in his 30s and I was a shy teenage trombone player. I was in awe of the older jazz musicians and collectors who also bought records from his shop, and so I felt inhibited in talking to them or to Tony himself. Nor did I go with them to the nearby Continental Hotel after Tony’s shop closed every Saturday lunchtime, because I was too young. Instead, I caught the train to Prahran, where I had my weekly trombone lesson with brass band cornetist Norman D’Ath.

Tony Standish facilitated the nucleus of my extensive collection of early jazz recordings, that I now draw upon to present my jazz radio programs on RPP FM and 3CR AM. I couldn’t have assembled this collection without him.

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Philip Opas QC

Philip Henry Napoleon Opas OBE QC was born in Melbourne on 24 February 1917 and died on 25 August 2008, aged 91. His antecedents were Portuguese and Jewish.  His accountant father Joseph Opas was the first to recommend to the Victoria Police that a special company squad of accountancy-trained men be set up to combat business fraud.

Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Opas’ schooling was cut short at the age of 15. Still a teenager, he was apprenticed to Roy Schilling as a law clerk and graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Laws. He enlisted with the RAAF in 1939 when the second world war broke out. Twelve months’ war service was permitted to count as six months’ articles, a rule under which Opas was the first lawyer in Australia to qualify. In 1942, while on leave from New Guinea, he was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Victoria as a barrister and solicitor. In 1946 after the war, he signed the Victorian Bar Roll and read with R.V Monahan (who was later appointed to the Supreme Court bench and became Sir Robert Monahan). Opas was a junior barrister for some fifteen years before taking silk in 1958. His practice was wide and varied, ranging from constitutional matters to local government.

In 1966, Opas became defence counsel to Ronald Ryan, in a lengthy and well-publicised murder trial that was to become the defining moment in Opas’ long career. Despite the tenacious defence of his client, Ryan was eventually found guilty and executed (the last person to be hanged in Victoria) in 1967. Shortly after, the Victorian Bar Ethics Committee recommended that Opas be struck off the Bar Roll for touting. Opas was represented at a public hearing by the late Richard E McGarvie, and acquitted. Disillusioned and dispirited, he left the Bar in 1968 and went to work with CRA, ConZinc Rio Tinto before returning to the Bar in 1972.

In 1973, Opas was appointed chairman of the Environment Protection Appeals Board, and later to the Town Planning Appeals Tribunal. He held a number of similar positions specialising in local government and planning during the 1980s before retiring in 1989.

I was a scientific officer with the Environment Protection Authority from 1972 until 1982, when I was promoted to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet as Senior Policy Adviser, Natural Resources. Whilst at the EPA, I and my scientific colleagues were initially dumbfounded and then appalled to observe Philip Opas QC, during a hearing of the Environment Protection Appeals Board, place a drop of crude oil in a beaker of water, drink it and then immediately declare that crude oil in water was not pollution. In fact, I thought his behaviour was moronic and unbelievably dismissive of scientific evidence. Perhaps he suffered from the common sense fallacy. Naturally, he got a lot of cheap tabloid publicity for this silly and irresponsible stunt.

Possibly as a result of this cheap publicity, he was later appointed the position of CEO of the City of Doncaster & Templestowe, a position for which he had almost no relevant qualifications or experience. In this case, the councillors of the City of Doncaster & Templestowe were the morons. Leaving aside whether Ronald Ryan was guilty of murder, Philip Opas QC should be admired for his tenacity in trying to save his client from being hanged. But in the non-legal aspects of his career, he appears to have been out of his depth.

Reference

The Victorian Bar Oral History <http://oralhistory.vicbar.com.au/opas_bio.asp&gt; Viewed 3 December 2016.

 

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Geoff Taylor: author, bomber pilot and sailor

by Tim Harding

Geoffrey (‘Squizzy’) Taylor was born in 1920 in England and came to Adelaide at the age of three. By the age of 14 he had won a cadetship and became the shipping reporter on the ‘Adelaide News’. He went to Brighton in Victoria at the age of 19 and joined Goldberg Advertising.

When World War II was declared he joined the RAAF in 1939 and became a Lancaster pilot with Bomber Command. After being shot down by German ace night fighter pilot Friedrich-Karl Müller in 1943, Geoff Taylor spent the rest of the war as a P.O.W. in the notorious Stalag IV-B Prison Camp, near Mühlberg in the Prussian Province of Saxony in Germany.

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Photographed on a local flight, Geoff Taylor’s bomber LM326 is seen here against a background of countryside east of Grantham.

Whilst sorting through some family photographs recently, my wife and I found this photograph of Geoff’s crashed bomber. The inscription on the back of the photograph reads: ‘Lancaster Mk.II Serial No. LM326, No. 207 Squadron, Bomber Command (EM-Z). Crashed near the village of Aerzen, near Hamelin, SW of Hannover on the night of 18.10.43.’

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Geoff was demobbed and returned to Australia in 1945, joining the “Age” as a reporter. His main interest was flying, and he also loved to sail. He was a member of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club from the end of the War to 1991. He was a good friend of my father, Bruce Harding, and was in the same yacht syndicate, the ‘Vallhalla’ (which means ‘home of the gods’). I admired and liked Geoff a lot.

Geoff Taylor loved to write and published 12 books including ‘Piece of Cake‘, (his autobiography) and a book for children.

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He completed the manuscript ‘Hours of Glory’ of a biography of the young South Australian aviator Charles James (“Jimmy”) Melrose (1913-1936) which was not published. It was awarded the Inaugural Alan Marshall Award for the best unpublished manuscript. He suffered a severe stroke in 1991 and died at an East Brighton nursing home on 19 December 1992. His widow Mrs A. Taylor donated his papers relating to his research and book about “Jimmy” Melrose to the Mortlock Library in 1993.

Source:

Melbourne suburban newspaper article: “Farewell to a man of many talents after a life of adventure” c. December 1992.

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The Battles of Leyte Gulf and Surigao Strait – an eyewitness account

‘The Battle of Leyte Gulf, formerly known as the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in historyIt was fought in waters of the Leyte Gulf, near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon, from 23–26 October 1944, between combined American and Australian forces and the Imperial Japanese Navy.

On 20 October, United States troops led by General Douglas Macarthur invaded the island of Leyte as part of a strategy aimed at isolating Japan from the countries it had occupied in Southeast Asia, and in particular depriving its forces and industry of vital oil supplies.

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) mobilized nearly all of its remaining major naval vessels in an attempt to defeat the Allied invasion but was repulsed by the U.S. Navy’s 3rd and 7th Fleets. The IJN failed to achieve its objective, suffered very heavy losses, and never sailed to battle in comparable force thereafter. The majority of its surviving heavy ships, deprived of fuel, remained in their bases for the rest of the Pacific War.

The battle consisted of four separate engagements between the opposing forces: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar, as well as other actions. It was the first battle in which Japanese aircraft carried out organized kamikaze attacks. By the time of the battle, Japan had fewer aircraft than the Allied forces had sea vessels, demonstrating the difference in power of the two sides at this point of the war.’ – from Wikipedia

The Battle of Surigao Strait

The following is a letter dated 16th November 1944 by my late father, Bruce Harding (then aged 20), who was an anti-aircraft gunner on the heavy Australian cruiser HMAS Shropshire.  It provides a gripping eye-witness account of the Battle of Surigao Strait from his vantage point on the upper deck of the ship.  The letter was taken back to Australia by a friend of my father’s who was going on leave, and so it escaped military censorship. The original of this letter has been offered to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

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HMAS Shropshire in action

16 November 1944

My Dear Family,

I had not intended to write in detail about our experiences of the last month, but today I received a letter from Mother threatening me with murder if I held my tongue on this subject.

Geoff Whitten will no doubt be able to deliver this to you, failing that he will post it on at the first opportunity. I doubt if this letter contains any ‘censorable information’ but if I were you I should not make any of it too public.

At the beginning of October we knew something was in the wind. The ship’s rumours or ‘buzzes’ as we call them are generally fairly correct despite the wild guesses frequently made. We knew we were to take part in the landings on Leyte Is. in the Central Phillipines.

In the early days of October, the mustering of the shipping was in full swing and the arrival of powerful naval units in our usually quiet harbour made our small ‘task force’ very insignificant. Up til this time, we had been the naval strength of this area. Every type of vessel from battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers to destroyers and landing craft were gathering and fueling and taking on stores, troops and equipment.

About 10 days before ‘D day’ we left our harbour with a large fleet and our small unit oiled [fueled] next day at another base, and in the afternoon stood outside while the invasion convoy steamed out to sea. I’ve marvelled at the immensity of the invasion fleets and Atlantic convoys but they were dwarfed by this one [300 ships in total].

Immediately the scores of ships and landing craft were clear of the harbour we took up our position in the lead and the destroyers provided a circle around the whole convoy as anti-submarine guards. Our pace was slow – painfully slow because we had a long journey and the smaller ships had to conserve oil. Fortunately, the weather was fine and the sea calm, although we often thought of the troops in the open barges at the mercy of the tropical sun. To travel a week in an open boat and then storm a beach and fight is no mean task.

Far in the rear of the convoy we could just see the aircraft carriers with their ‘guardian angels’ on deck ready to take off in an emergency. The long journey was uneventful except for the approach of an enemy reconnaissance plane which was shot down by one of our fighters unfortunately lost on his return journey to the carriers.

Two days prior to the landing we changed our dress from shorts and sandals to shirts and long trousers plus boots and socks. Very uncomfortable in the heat but a necessity when action is possible. Everyone on board was given a lecture on our job in the coming event; and with a large canvas map of the area we had a mindful view of the situation. On this day our minesweepers were to sweep the approaches to Leyte Gulf – a dangerous job as they were within easy range of the enemy’s air bases.

During these two days we were expecting an attack from land-based Japanese bombers but apparently the Nip didn’t know of our approach to his shores.

On Thursday night after supper we went to our action stations and slept at our guns and action positions, quite expecting a restless night but I heard nothing until four o’clock in the morning of the landing when we were given soup or coffee.

Since midnight those awake on watch on deck were keeping an eye on a mine caught on our port paravane which left a glistening wake near the ship’s side – too close for comfort. With the slight rolling motion of  the ship the mine surged towards the ship and then away from us at regular intervals – a few silent prayers were offered believe me!

Dawn broke with the convoy still stretched out for miles astern of us and enemy aircraft in the vicinity. A number of ships had reported mines swept up and were detailed off to destroy them in an outlying cove. As we swung at right angles to the course of the convoy, to rid ourselves of this uncomfortable little bundle of ours, the mine broke adrift and lay in the path of the oncoming fleet. We dropped a flare to denote its position making it easy for the other ships to avoid it.

In the meantime, we anti-aircraft crews were scanning the clear sky for a twin-engined Japanese bomber making his run towards us. He approached from the West and went the full length of the convoy with nearly every ship firing at him. The tracer ammunition presented a wonderful sight in the half light. How the Nip escaped so much flak I don’t know. I should advise his people to take a ticket in the Nippon lottery. He held his bombs for the aircraft carriers but they fell wide and he followed them into the sea.

In the meantime, the battleships had commenced their bombardment and we had taken up our preparatory position near them. Our fighters could be seen overhead waiting for aerial opposition. The battleships were laying down a particularly heavy barrage, and we were scanning the shoreline in the hope of getting a crack at opposing shore batteries, but for a while they wisely held fire. Our turn came with the completion of the heavy bombardment and the approach of the troops. For 3 hours we fired at specified targets with 8″ and 4″ guns, and we were pleased when the reports came through – “ammunition expended – none wasted”.

As you can imagine, by noon, we were all tired, dirty and soaked with perspiration, and all as deaf as door-nails. Dinner [lunch]  reminded me of our Sunday night high tea at home – a cup of tea in one hand, a sandwich in the other – no insults Mother!

The first wave of troops were on the beach, the rocket firing barges had done their job and were returning to a safe position in the gulf. Our naval dive bombers were in action coming down from a great height and worrying enemy shore installations. The going was tough ashore but a beach head was established by late afternoon and we were watching for troublesome shore batteries. We couldn’t understand the lack of enemy air activity but the answer came that night and we missed our beauty sleep.

Dawn broke with low flying Jap aircraft over the area carrying bombs and torpedos. It was just becoming light enough to see nearby shipping when one plane flying very low drew heavy fire from our force and flew between us and [HMAS] Australia about half a mile away. Although she was hit many times, the plane struck the foremast of the “Aussie” with her starboard wing and landed on her upper bridge in flames spraying petrol and explosives in all directions. The fire was under control within 20 minutes but many were injured [30 Australian navy personnel were killed, including the ship’s captain]. AA gunners over the whole area were busy and tracer shells could be seen everywhere.

That dawn began a very busy day for us – the Jap had his victims but we took the toll of his pilots. At one time we saw 50% of his planes making their final dive together. Two spiraled to Earth in flames. One slid down a steep hill a ball of fire and two others plopped into the sea near the landing beach like shot ducks.

For ten days until our fighters were established ashore the enemy airforce put all they had into a vain effort to wipe out the invaders. Of course we were given little respite and remained at our guns for all this time. The lads on deck didn’t go below and those between decks didn’t see daylight. During the lulls we slept. To me, my old army boots seemed the softest pillow I had ever had. Fortunately, the weather was fine although a couple of nights of wet weather spoilt our chances of sleep, and we were forced to sit up or walk around until daybreak.

During this period our job had reverted from bombardment support to defence against possible intrusion by enemy shipping. Things became more interesting when we were told that an enemy naval force was intending to enter our newly claimed harbour and we should contact them at midnight. That afternoon we fueled from a huge tanker sheltering from air attack in a smoke screen thrown out by our destroyers. The crew of the tanker startled us a bit by telling some of the lads that she had oiled [refueled] 3 ships since her arrival – we were the 4th. All 3 were now at the bottom [of the sea]. The same tanker was sunk by torpedo bombers that next morning.

At dusk, the fleet formed up in battle order. It was a powerful force but I think it best not to expose the actual strength [Ed: 6 battleships, 8 cruisers, 28 destroyers and 39 PT boats]. Shortly after midnight, our destroyers launched torpedo attacks on the enemy fleet and the fireworks started. An Aussie destroyer firing Australian-made ‘tin fish’ closed to short range and scored a direct hit. Our part seemed small compared with some of the huge guns in action, but it is believed that out of 30 broadsides we scored 21 hits on an enemy battleship [the Yamashiro] – a good job done by the lads below on the big guns. We members of the AA defence of the ship had an easy task but a grandstand view of the whole business. In the blackness of the night, the tracer shells showed up clearly and we could follow the bout. It was not until the unpleasant whine of shells over our ship was heard that we realised perhaps Nip will throw a few back. We counted only two close ones, but believe me we ducked! With a great flare the enemy ships caught fire one after the other and their return of fire gradually petered out – we knew we’d won.

Dawn revealed four columns of smoke coming from those ships still sinking. And a Jap destroyer, the only one still on top was faithfully standing by her doomed friends. No doubt she was picking up survivors and preparing to destroy any remnants of the lost force to prevent us taking information. No fewer than 4 destroyers and 2 cruisers brought their guns to bear on this bloke, and within 5 minutes the smoke cleared and he had followed the others to the bottom.

Of the survivors, only 3 accepted aid from us – the others preferred to remain in the water. Maybe they believed that we are cruel captors but I rather think that the majority held hopes of reaching shore some 4 or 5 miles away. I understand their courage didn’t last for long and many eagerly grasped lines thrown to them in the second offer of rescue.

The job done we returned to our patrol area and the ‘nuisance air raids’. We had many exciting incidents before our fighters took control of the air over us during which time many good lives were unfortunately lost.  One plane launched a torpedo in our direction at dusk one evening mistaking us for a moving target. I think the fact that we were stationary saved us from a smack in the ribs – some of the lads watched the track of the ‘tin fish’ cross our bows. Another Jap two-engined bomber came so close to us and flew directly across the ship in the moonlight at mast level that had I been on my toes I could have let him have my tin hat fair and square!

A typhoon prevalent in this area happened along to add to our discomfort and by gosh it blew!

As we stood out in the Gulf we saw very little of the natives. Some paddled out in primitive canoes and seemed eager to befriend us. Most spoke excellent English – one greeted us by saying ‘where have you been? We have waited long for this day’. I should say Jap treatment was harsh. The Jap money circulated was worthless and they held rolls of it in their hands begging for clothes. I believe in the southern part of the island the inhabitants reached the ships with no clothes and prepared to give anything they had for a pair of shorts or a shirt. Some of the young women were very attractive with dark wavy hair and naturally received most attention from the sailors.

As you know, a month showed the land forces in control of most of Leyte Island and our job was done. We need no longer ask ‘where will the Jap make his stand’. We only hold one small island of a large group and I should say we’ll fight for the rest of them. No only will we fight a race of hard fighters but we will fight a fanatical belief that to die is a victory won. [Letter ends here without sign off – was it the last page?]

 

 

 

 

 

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Grandfather Eric Harding – Military Medal Citation 1917

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A congratulatory card from Major-General Sir John Monash GCMG, KCB, VD., after whom my university is named.  Eric MM

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My ancestor’s entry in the Domesday Book 1086CE

The Domesday Book  is a manuscript record of the ‘Great Survey’ of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086CE by order of King William the Conqueror. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states:

‘While spending the Christmas time of 1085 in Gloucester, William had deep speech with his counsellors and sent men all over England to each shire to find out what or how much each landholder had in land and livestock and what it was worth.’

It was written in Medieval Latin, was highly abbreviated, and included some vernacular native terms without Latin equivalents. The survey’s main purpose was to determine what taxes had been owed during the reign of King Edward the Confessor. Here is an extract from the Somerset chapter of the Book regarding the land of St. Mary of Glastonbury.

Harding holds of the Abbot Crenomelle. He likewise held it at the time of King Edward and gelded for 12 hides [2800 acres]. The arable is 10 cascuates. Thereof in demesne are 6 hides, and there are 6 servants and 8 villanes and 2 bordars and 7 cottagers and 3 ploughs. There is a mill of 30 pence rent and 50 acres of meadow and 50 acres of pasture and 100 acreas of wood. It is worth 4 pounds. The land cannot be separated from the Church.’

I have a family tree going back from my name to 1480CE in the same area of Somerset. So it is reasonable to assume that this Harding referred to in the Domesday Book was one of my ancestors.

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Gigs From Hell

by Tim Harding

I was the leader and manager of the Australian Cotton Club Orchestra for 20 years from 1986 to 2006. (The band is still going, under different management). The Orchestra was a 12-piece big band (including a singer) playing jazz, swing and popular songs from the 1930s and 40s.

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During this time we played hundreds of gigs, mainly at high society functions in 5-star international hotels in the Melbourne CBD. 99% of the time we were well paid and treated, usually eating the same food as served to the guests in our own large dressing room etc. But there were a few gigs where we were not as well treated, and I think it may be cathartic to get them off my chest in this memoir.

One of the worst ones was for an AFL football club, where a couple of drunken players tried to sing with the band. One of them got up on stage, pushed our singer aside and insisted that we play some current pop song that we had never heard of. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and not a single club official tried to stop him. (I gather that these players are treated like gods and nobody ever says no to them, including women). We started playing one of our usual songs that the football player had never heard of, so he eventually staggered off stage and back to his table. To add injury to insult, the club wouldn’t pay us for about 3 months, and then only because we threatened legal action. After that particular gig from hell, we resolved never to play for a football club again. We were always previously engaged whenever a footy club rang us.

Another gig from hell was when we shared the bill with a cowboy on a horse. Yes, that’s right, he brought his horse inside the hotel and up the stairs to the ballroom where we were playing. He and his horse galloped towards us and leaped onto the temporary stage. Some of our quicker-witted musicians fled for their lives, whilst the rest of us stayed riveted to our seats in shock, with the horse prancing and rearing on the stage making us almost seasick with the rocking motion. I thought the stage was about to collapse!

The cowboy then reached into his saddle bags and handed out the musical parts for some country song that we had never heard of before, let alone seen the music for, or rehearsed. But being professional musicians (except for me) the band played it OK and the cowboy sang along with us, still seated on his horse. Then without a word of thanks or acknowledgement, the cowboy and his horse leaped off the stage and galloped around the guest tables at high speed. I was horrified that if even one drunken guest had got up from his table at the wrong time, he or she could have been trampled to death by this horse.

One gig not quite so bad was at a leading 5-star hotel where they tried to serve us stale sandwiches for dinner that had obviously been left over from lunch time. We sent them back to the kitchen saying they were unacceptable. The hotel refused to serve us a proper meal (which was in our contract with the booking agent) so we rang and ordered pizzas to be delivered from outside the hotel. Hopefully, the hotel management were embarrassed at the sight of pizza deliverers marching through the reception area and ballroom of the hotel. Needless to say, we refused to work at that hotel (or for the agent who booked us) again.

At other posh society functions we were occasionally approached by tipsy female opera singers who wanted to sing with the band. For the sake of both their reputations and ours, I tactfully tried to explain that our musical arrangements were in the wrong keys for their soprano voices, which was probably at least half true.

Earlier in our career, we played in various pubs in the suburbs of South Melbourne, Richmond and Hawthorn. Here we were paid less and received no meals or drinks, but we were playing up to 3 or 4 nights per week gradually improving our repertoire and becoming better known around town. Whilst we didn’t do ‘door deals’, staff collecting entry fees told me that plain-clothes policemen and women used to ‘flash their freddies’ and get in free. Publicans and bandleaders like me were happy to have police present in case there was any trouble. Although we would also get the occasional ‘dontcha know who I am?’ VIP who could easily afford the modest entry fee and was less welcome.

We often played with a female vocal trio named Rhapsody in Red, and their pianist also became our pianist. We recorded a CD album with them, although it was not our best one, in my view. Everything seemed to be going well until the girls suddenly demanded a much higher fee which priced themselves out of the market, and that was the end of that.

We didn’t have much trouble playing in pubs; although I do remember one muso who got out his trumpet and started playing along with us uninvited. If he had asked us, we might have let him take an ad lib solo or two (he said he couldn’t read music). One or two audience members asked me “Can’t youse play any rock ‘n roll?”. My usual answer was “Do you go to a French restaurant and order Chinese?”.

Another guy insisted that we play a tune that was not in our repertoire (unlike small groups, it is not possible for big bands to ‘fake’ a tune – the music needs to be pre-arranged). This guy would simply not take no for an answer, and he used to follow us around the pubs harassing me between sets (the pubs had no dressing rooms). Fortunately, some burly band members and sometimes audience members (but not the plain clothes police) realised what was happening, and used to stand between me and this guy for my protection. If it wasn’t for their help, I would have seriously thought about hiring a bodyguard because I suspected that my harasser ‘had a kangaroo loose in the top paddock’ as we say in Australia. (Police tell me that threats of violence should always be taken seriously).

We had the occasional gigs in pubs where the staff played Muzak over their PA whilst we were playing. I remember one where the publican turned the lights off (we are a reading big band). So we had to stop playing mid-tune until they turned the lights back on again. I don’t think that these minor incidents were malicious – just lack of attention to detail.

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The two billionaires

One night during the 1990s, my band the Australian Cotton Club Orchestra was playing at a posh society dinner dance at one of the 5-star international hotels in central Melbourne. After we had just finished a set and were taking a break, I looked down from the stage and there in front of me were two billionaires standing side by side. One of these two men is still alive so I won’t mention their names. Suffice to say that they were both well known in Melbourne society; and indeed, we had played at one of their mansions a few times. I recognised the other one from media images, although we had never met.

So what on Earth would they want to talk to me about? And why did they both want to talk to me together? One of them said: “We’ve just had a $10,000 bet on the name of that slow Duke Ellington tune you just played”. “Was it ‘Black and Tan Fantasy‘ or ‘The Mooche’?” This was a fair question because they are both dark and mysterious blues numbers in minor keys. I was actually quite impressed that they were at least partially familiar with Duke Ellington’s music.

As I recall, the answer I gave was ‘The Mooche’. So I had one smiling billionaire and the other a bit crestfallen. Needless to say, the winner didn’t give me a cut of his loot.

 

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I did but see her passing by…

In 1979/80 I was the Mayor of Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne now described as ‘one of the most hipster suburbs of the world’. (Back then, it was mainly a low-income area with a significant migrant population).

Like all Mayors, I received lots of invitations to various events and functions. One that particularly caught my eye was an invitation for me and my then partner to an evening reception for HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Phillip at the National Gallery of Victoria. You don’t get invitations like this every day so I accepted, mainly out of curiosity (my fellow councillors and I were nearly all republicans).

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At around 7.30pm on the night, we parked in the Gallery car park, flashed our invitation and proceeded to one of the big rooms of the Gallery lined with nineteenth century paintings. There we were served drinks and hors d’oevres by black tie waiters (we guests mainly wore lounge suits and evening gowns). In the crowd, I recognised some Members of Parliament and other Mayors, so I assume that the invitation list consisted of MPs, Mayors and Shire Presidents plus Supreme Court judges and top public officials such as the Chief Commissioner of Police. Including spouses and partners, this would amount to around 1000 people filling several big gallery rooms. There was a white line taped to the floor, where we were obviously supposed to stand when the Queen and Prince Phillip arrived.

People started forming up on this white line when they saw others doing so, indicating that the Queen had started her ‘procession’. After a few minutes we saw Her Majesty gliding slowly and silently towards us, with Prince Phillip walking the customary one step behind. She was wearing a lacy white evening gown with a blue diagonal sash, plus a diamond tiara and necklace (like the picture below). She was carrying a small bouquet of flowers, presumably so that nobody would try to shake hands with her. Prince Phillip was wearing a black tuxedo plus the smaller version of his medals. I was surprised that the lapels of his tuxedo were a bit crumpled – perhaps this tux was an old favourite.

Queen Elizabeth

The Queen was aged in her mid-fifties at this time, so her hair was a light brown colour under the diamond-studded tiara. She wore heavy white make-up, presumably for the media photographs, and was a little stouter than I had imagined. She didn’t nod and smile at everybody, presumably to avoid RSI of the neck and facial muscles. But at about every tenth person, she would pause, smile and say ‘Oh hello. Where are you from?’ ‘I’m the Shire President of Nar Nar Goon, Your Majesty’ was a typical reply. Then she would say ‘How nice. Where is that?’ ‘It’s near Koo Wee Rup’ came the helpful explanation.

Unfortunately or fortunately, I was not one of the lucky 100 out of 1000 she talked to. So within a couple of minutes, she was gone. I never saw her again. In the words of the poet Thomas Ford, ‘I did but see her passing by…’

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U.S.A. Classic Jazz 1987

by Tim Harding

(This article was published in Jazzline magazine, Vol 20 No. 3, Spring 1987)

In June of this year, I was lucky enough to realise a life-long ambition to visit the birthplaces of jazz which I have read so much about:  New Orleans, St Louis, Chicago and New York.  The aim was also to  make some business contacts  for  the Cotton  Club Orchestra and to do some musical shopping.

First stop was colourful, hilly old San Francisco, where I must honestly say I heard the best band I have  ever heard live – Don Neely’ s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra.   This is a fully professional 12 year old  11-piece outfit playing very authentic jazz and hot dance music from the 1920s and 30s . They have improved dramatically since their recordings of the 1970s and are now playing more hot stomping black jazz tunes by bands like the Missourians, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway.  Don was interested to know about the Cotton Club Orchestra in Melbourne and readily agreed to swap arrangements with us.

Turk Murphy had just died so there wasn ‘t much jazz  at  Fisherman’s Wharf, but I did arrange to visit the Alcatraz abode of that well-known jazz sponsor, Al Capone.

Next to New Orleans, and  the obligatory pilgrimage to that musical mecca , Preservation Hall.  Heard either Kid Sheik or Kid Thomas’s band (forget which ) and the Olympia Brass Band – both very predictable.  Unfortunately, the best jazz was to be found in the big city hotels like the New Orleans Hilton where the Placide Adams band and Banu Gibson’s  New Orleans Hot Jazz Orchestra have regular gigs.  Banu’s speciality is singing in 3-part harmony like the Boswell Sisters with trumpet and trombone.  Dave Sager, her young trombone player, is an absolute knock-out and the best I have heard live in this style.

Paid a very worthwhile visit to the Hogan Jazz Archives at Tulane University in  the leafy Garden District.  Here I met the curator , bass player Curt Jurde, who introduced me to the incredible collection of early sheet music there.  Came away with  photocopies of some 1923 King Oliver Creole Jazz Band charts and some  by Jelly Roll Morton’s 1926 Red Hot Peppers (yes, those guys actually played from written arrangements!)

Banu Gibson was also the hit of the 23rd Annual Classic Jazz and Ragtime Festival on a Mississippi  showboat in St Louis, which was reached after a fascinating train trip via Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois.  Other good bands included the Original Salty Dogs from Chicago,   the Hot Frogs Jumpin’ Jazz Band from Los Angeles,  the Hot Cotton Band from Memphis and the Jim Cullum Jazz Band  from  San Antonio.  (All these bands have recorded on the Stomp Off label).

But the highlight of the trip, after a brief stopover in Chicago, was the home of my favourite music – New York.  Its size, scale, diversity  and culture is breathtaking.  Heard Dizzy Gillespie, and Woody Allen’ s New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra at Michael’s Pub (on different nights) not far from my  hotel on West 55th Street.  Also heard Benny Carter (still playing well at 79), Ron Carter (no relation), and the 17-piece Mel Lewis Big Band at the Village Vanguard. The long-running Broadway show, 42nd Street, was an emotional, spectacular event, after having played the Times for a couple of years.

Visited Vince Giordano in Brooklyn, who heads a 10-piece 1920s band called Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.  Vince has a collection of about 20,000 early arrangements and also agreed to swap  them with the Cotton Club Orchestra.  I bought about 20 charts from him and he agreed to select a bass saxophone for the Cotton Club (saw four bass saxophones in one shop on 48th Street).  Also bought a very nice dentless brass-lacquered sousaphone, and the two instruments will soon be shipped out here together.

Toured Harlem one day with an African-American tour company (reputedly the only safe way to go there).  Visited the Apollo Theatre on 125th Street, Duke Ellington’s  5-storey house in Washington Heights, and stood  on the site of the former Cotton Club on Lenox Avenue.  Over lunch at a restaurant in Lenox Avenue, some African-American guys asked me why I was  interested in Harlem.  After explaining about black jazz and the  Cotton Club, they asked me how many aborigines I had in the band!

My overall impression was that, whilst the quality of jazz was understandably superior in the  USA,  Melbourne has enough bands to qualify for the title of one of the jazz capitals of the world.

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