Sketches For An American Songbook

A rough layout for the Southwestern Recorders website, posted here for the time being. Some weird recordings by me, some great award-winning images by John Cuneo. Mr Bojangles has been selected by the Society Of Illustrators for their next show, and three images are in the next Communication Arts Illustration Annual. So a round of applause for mr.c.  The opening illustration was not part of the series—it’s a sketchbook drawing of John’s—but it seemed so appropriate to the whole venture… By the way, John lives in Robbie Robertson’s old studio. When I first contacted John to ask him to do some drawings for the magazine I work on, our email conversations were almost entirely composed of Band-related song titles. John is off drawing the Masters golf tournament for Golf Digest, an amazingly prestigious gig. He will do a wonderful plaid-on-plaid job… Hope you find something you like, either visual or aural, in what follows. Best, mc.

Credits: Lovely mobile bass by Alan Nonweiler, loop drums, rest of basses and all vibes by me. Fine illustration, John C.

Credits: Loop drums, rest me, incuding undersea guitars and Martin travel guitar. Done for a Robbie Fulks “Diva Songs” competition. Which I entered too late. I was stunned to find that Robbie had never heard the original—I had assumed that you had to see Titanic by law in 1997. Love that shark fin/ship thing going on there.

Credits: Melodic bass by Mark Pringle, drum loop by Michael Blair, rest me, including fractured Wurlitzer. Wonderful umbrella.

Credits: All me, I’m afraid, in thrall to a distant Duane Eddy and a slapback rockabilly chorus. A moose? A deer? Who knows.

Credits: feedback and thunder loops, buzzy guitar, toy glockenspeil and vocal, me. Wonderful art again by John. Hey, thanks, John.

Dedicated to Bill and Bette.

[Bette and me, a photo of Ella & Louis, 1957. I was taught well. Photo by Bill]

Goin’ Home: The Ken Book

Goin’ Home was launched on Monday, December 6 at the 100 Club in London. It recently won a Parliamentary Jazz Award, presented at the House of Commons. The awards are made by over 100 jazz-loving members of the Houses of Parliament. See here:

You can download a sample chapter at the foot of this post.

“From cover to cover this is an impressive work. The excellence begins on the production side thanks to the imaginative and skillful work of Martin Colyer (Colyer’s nephew) and Dave Bann. If you have bought the Ladnier Book—Traveling Blues*, it will give you some idea of the standard achieved. This is no hagiography. The clue is in the title “The Uncompromising Life”; it unfolds the chronology of Colyer’s life from his earliest days, drawing on hundreds of musician’s and associate’s anecdotes and reminiscences along the way as it does so. There is a hilarious account by Ray Smith of Colyer’s sarcastic leg pulling of the interviewer for a German TV show.  A significant part of the input is from Colyer himself, his letters to brother Bill and others during his time in New Orleans are published in full for the first time. They paint a fascinating picture of New Orleans, at the time when the George Lewis tours across the USA were just getting underway. For these alone this would be an invaluable book. At moments his  writing slips into the poetic; “…like a piece of pretty embroidery, and those figures coming down the harmony, like a sweet young thing walking delicately down a flight of steps” (on hearing  Alphonse Picou play High Society).”
DOUG LANDAU, New Orleans Music

“This wonderful book may only appeal to a niche market, but it has to be a niche big enough to accommodate all those with any interest in Ken Colyer’s life and music. Mike Pointon and Ray Smith have put together a superb selection of interviews, written memories, letters and documents to tell the story of the Guv’nor’s life and to provide telling insights into his music. Editorialising is, deliberately, kept to a minimum; the reader must make the connection. So this is not a cosy book, but it is a delightful one. The secondary evidence is brilliantly assembled: a whole series of letters from Ken’s visit to New Orleans, for instance. Documents reproduced include the warrant for his arrest there in 1952, any number of fine cartoons by the likes of Trog and Disley and, most astonishingly, Valentine magazine’s Living Love Stories from March 1958, featuring ‘top stars of show business’, in this case Ken Colyer and Delphine. This is a cartoon strip with captions beginning, ‘I often noticed attractive Delphine as she danced with graceful abandon in the basement skiffle club where I played…’ Photographs are not only well chosen, but given high-quality reproduction: a double-pager of Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Ken at Club 51 is especially striking. The lay-out and design are imaginative and stylish, thanks to Martin Colyer. The book has everything: an appendix on key recordings, notes for Ken’s projected second book, even a CD that mixes in rare and unreleased tracks with old favourites like Isle of Capri. At £20 it is absurdly good value!”

“I think the book is outstanding—way beyond what I was expecting—and a credit to Ken and all of you who have done so much to keep his memory alive and safeguard his reputation. You have done both the man and his music proud.”

“I’m completely riveted by the Ken book. The chapters on N.O. and the first Jazzmen are fascinating: more schisms than British Trotskyism!”

“This book is a must for any Colyer fan, or anyone interested in our type of music, and an added bonus is the free CD: it contains 19 very good tracks of Ken with a selection of different line ups. The book itself is fantastic. I have not been able to put it down since I got it. As a long time member of the Colyer trust I received a complimentary copy, but if anyone is interested it is available on Amazon at £20.00, well worth the money.”

The lovely people at Word Magazine ran this spread on the book...

“My copy of the book arrived at the weekend. What a superb thing it is. Many congratulations and many thanks for all the work you put into it—everyone concerned has done the old boy proud.”

“I am writing to urge Just Jazz readers to buy the marvellous new biography of Ken Colyer which is now available and on sale. It is published by the Ken Colyer Trust and is a quite remarkable and exhilarating piece of work put together with thought, flair, energy and affection by Mike Pointon, Ray Smith and Martin Colyer. The book is a very attractive and accessible production, full of information, well written and researched with much delicious detail. It uses primary sources i.e. letters interviews and photographs, to tell the story of and evaluate Colyer’s life and times. It is also a history of New Orleans/traditional jazz in Britain.  It will be of huge interest to jazz fans, and important and essential reading for sociologists and historians of the fifties and sixties.”
JOHN KEEN, letter to Just Jazz

“Superbly edited, beautifully illustrated and rivetingly readable. I love the honesty, humour and variety of the interviewee comments (in itself an excellent idea because he was a complex man and this technique allows him to be seen from all angles).”

Terry Cryer's great photo of Ken listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe inspired artist John Cuneo's beautiful drawing

“This wonderful new book is an essential read for anyone with an interest in traditional jazz, skiffle or popular music of the 1950s. Both authors are musicians who worked and recorded with Colyer over the years. Mike Pointon is a gifted trombonist, writer and broadcaster and Ray Smith is a dazzlingly brilliant piano professor in the tradition laid down by such luminaries as Jelly Roll Morton. This is not a biography as such, more a life story told in the words of Ken himself and a multitude of musicians who knew and worked with him. There are contributions from Chris Barber, the late Monty Sunshine, the great Colin Bowden, Max Collie and a couple from myself. Of great interest to me were Ken’s own observances of some great recordings, such as the Bunk Johnson Brunswick’s, the George Lewis Climax session, the Jones/Collins Astoria Hot 8 etc. The book is illustrated with some wonderful photographs, including a super shot of the Guv’nor with Sister Rosetta Tharpe. If that were not enough, there is a 19 track CD containing many rare recordings by Ken. Make no mistake about it, this is the real thing.”

Some of the proof pages of the book with Rick Ball's corrections...

* I just want to say that even being mentioned in the same breath as Traveling Blues is an honour—seek it out, it’s something else. —Martin

Mike Pointon, Ray Smith, Martin Colyer, in front of Ken's plaque

This 368-page, large-format, lavishly produced, full-colour paperback is based on interviews with Ken Colyer himself and those closest to the controversial trumpeter, plus many previously unseen letters and photos from his influential pilgrimage to New Orleans. Colyer was the first British musician to risk playing and recording with black musicians there in the 1950s, when segregation ruled, and his intuitive rapport with such pioneers as George Lewis commanded their respect. As George Melly wrote: “Ken Colyer returned to Britain an heroic figure.”

Colyer’s unswerving devotion to New Orleans jazz dominated his music but—through his lifelong love of blues—Ken’s cellar club in the heart of London also featured such legendary American performers as Champion Jack Dupree and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as well as encouraging the careers of such major figures as Alexis Korner and the Rolling Stones. Bill Wyman wrote in Stone Alone: “On 22 September [1963] we ended our residency at the Ken Colyer Club at Studio 51 with incredible scenes. The place was solid with people… We willingly did encores to say farewell to a club that had been good to us.”

When he might have benefited from the short-lived ’60s “Trad Boom,” Colyer disdained such excesses, but many more commercially successful names including Chris Barber, Lonnie Donegan and Acker Bilk rose through the ranks of his bands. He also inspired a generation of younger European jazzmen before his death in France in 1988 after many years of ill-health. Colyer is revealed as a complex personality with a wry sense of humour whose early impoverished life influenced his misanthropic view of the world. As poet Philip Larkin wrote: “Colyer combines a robust public personality with the tenderest of instrumental tones.” Humphrey Lyttelton commented: “I think all musicians who worked with him—certainly in the traditional jazz field—and many outside it, respected Ken,” and pianist Pat Hawes remarked shrewdly: “There is for my mind a distinct link between the playing of Ken Colyer and Miles Davis.”

A slice of social history and a period of passion for an endangered style of music are documented in detail in Goin’ Home—also the title of Ken Colyer’s heartfelt song dedicated to New Orleans.

The book contains a free bonus CD, its nineteen tracks giving an overview of Colyer’s prolific recorded output. The CD includes several unissued rarities.

Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life & Music of Ken Colyer can be ordered from, through all good booksellers and online at Amazon. 368pp, full colour, softcover. ISBN number 978-0-956-29401 2

Download a sample chapter

Goin’ Home-Chapter One