The Tommy Sampson Reunion
See also The Great Escapade in The Scotsman
| For the younger generation
many of these names may mean nothing, but these were, and in many cases,
still are, the musicians who formed the backbone of the great British jazz
and entertainment industry over the past sixty years. This was the reunion
to celebrate the great Tommy Sampson band of 1947 to 1949. Tommy travelled
down from Edinburgh to be with us all again. I went over from Spain. Wild
horses could not have kept me away. It's
the greatest profession in the world, and that night proved it, beyond any
Talk about nostalgia! There were about two hundred of us in London's Coda Club that night. Most of us had played with Tommy's band at one time or another, for it was a band that you had to have played with, if you know what I mean. Most of us went through all the other great British bands together after it folded.
It went off well. Stan Reynolds organised the whole thing and it was certainly an occasion not to be missed. We had not seen Tommy since his band broke up back in 1949. (See Ron's Pages and The Great Big Bands for details of that great band. You'll find most of the musicians mentioned in there - but don't go there yet! For now just read on.)
We started off in the pub opposite, to get a little taste before going in. I helped Tommy McQuater across the busy Holborn road. I hadn't seen Tom since 1966. He's 87 now and uses a walking stick. He hasn't lost any of the qualities that have always endeared him to me, and he still drinks whisky.
There were only a few of us sitting down in there at first, and I found myself next to someone I swear I had never seen before in my life. He looked at me and said, 'The last time we played together was in Monte Carlo with Geraldo.'
'Oh, I don't think so,' I replied. 'Who are you, then?'
'Dougie Cooper,' he said. I jumped up and embraced him. The memories came flooding back. I'd been away too long. At that moment I realised just how much I had missed all my old friends and colleagues over the past forty years.
Dougie was Tommy Sampson's drummer when I joined the band and he was magnificent. Later on we worked together with Geraldo for a few months and then I never saw him again. When I'd stared at him for a while some of his old features began to emerge. He'd been only 18 at the time and now he was 71. Yep! It was Dougie all right, and he was in great shape.
Johnny Gray came in just then. He still has the enormous handlebar moustache that was his trademark (he used to give away cardboard replicas for the people in the dance halls to wear) and he looked pretty good to me. Johnny is from my home town, although we never met there. He was already playing with Ted Heath while I was still at school, everybody's hero. John's 81 now. I guess we two, with tenorist Pete Warner, who turned up later, were Coventry's proud contribution to Britain's big band jazz scene.
The pub was filling up. Eddie Taylor came in with Pete Blannin. Just behind them were Ian Hamer, Alan Skidmore and George Bradley. I'd only just seen George down in Benidorm while he was there on holiday, and I'd recently stayed the night at Ian's place in Brighton, when I went down to see him and Jo Hunterfirst time I'd seen Jo for forty-five yearsso it wasn't so much of a shock. Then Bob Adams came in, wearing a beard. I say that because every time I see Bob he is either clean-shaven or has a jet black Groucho Marx moustache.
Bob and I usually phone one other after the Formula One races and complain bitterly about them. In the good old days we went to several F1 races, when Fangio, Moss and Hawthorne were driving, and quite regularly to Brand's Hatch. We worked together with Geraldo and Jack Parnell's television orchestra before I went to work in Germany and he moved down to Johannesburg to conduct a large show orchestra.
I was now surrounded by musicians of all description, many of whom had trouble recognising their old mates. Most of them seemed to know who I was, but I found myself having to do the introductions for many of them.
'Who's this, then?' I demanded, jumping up and down with glee beside Dougie Cooper. Like me, nobody recognised him at first. When Charlie Payne came in I didn't know who he was, either. Charlie joined on lead alto in June 1948 and did the BAOR tour of Italy and Germany with the band.
Then I had a hell of a shock when Mike Senn walked into the pub because I thought he had died many years ago. When I told him that he had a shock, too. That called for another embrace. Boy! Was I glad to see everybody!
Funny thing is that these guys live within a radius of only a few miles of one another and never meet. And here's me, away in Europe for forty years, and I'm doing the introductions. I noticed the same thing at a Kenton Reunion in Daventry a couple of years ago, when Vic Ash didn't recognise Bill Russo. Bill just stood there while Vic danced around in embarrassment, trying to remember who he was. We'd both played in Bill's London Jazz Orchestra back in 1962.
Seeing all those lovely people made me really homesick for the good old days. These were all musicians from the big band era, sadly, some of the very few who'd survived it.
Once we'd moved over into the Coda Club it got hectic. We began to mingle. I really don't know how we managed it, but I guess that everybody eventually met everyone else. We'd all played with one another at some time in the past.
Tommy Sampson didn't know who I was at first. I just went up and stood in front of him. He was probably overwhelmed at seeing everybody again, but he just stared at me. I gave him a moment, then I told him. Then he jumped on me! Put his arms around me. He hugged me so hard I felt my ribs crack.
Only a handful of the people there actually played in the original Sampson band of 1947. A couple didn't turn up that night. Joe Temperley wanted to come, but he works in the States now and he couldn't get away. Sammy Stokes, on bass in those glorious days, was too ill to come. I'm afraid that a lot of the other guys have either moved abroad or passed away. Alan Davey, Tommy's second alto player, was over from New York to attend an exhibition of his paintings, but he was too busy to attend the reunion. After most of the members of the first band moved on, many to the Ted Heath band, there were different guys there practically every time we took the stand.
George Hunter was also missing from this reunion. George, the original lead alto in the band, a brilliant player who went on to play baritone sax in Ted Heath's band, had previously been reported in many international newspapers as having been killed in an automobile accident in the USA. In fact he was living in Bishop's Stortford, near London, and had no idea of his own violent demise. We learned of the error with great relief, as I'm sure he did. He would have enjoyed the evening immensely.
Later in the evening Stan Reynolds made a little speech and presented Tommy with a crystal trumpet as a token of the love and appreciation we all feel for him.
Johnny Edwards was there, and we went way back to
the Squadronaires, Jack Parnell and Ted Heath bands. Johnny was also on
first trombone in Bill Russo's London Jazz Orchestra. Terry Walsh, who'd
played guitar and sung with the Sampson band for
its entire existence, was there with his brother, and so was Henry MacKenzie,
another member of the original line-up. Rosemary Squires was there, too,
as beautiful as ever. She had sung with the band on the ENSA tour it made
in Germany, and on many of the broadcasts.
Harry Gold came in, the oldest present at 94. When I worked in Britain I never had anything to do with the Dixieland scene, so I'd never met Harry before. After I retired to Spain I worked for a while with a small group in Benidorm run by the London trombonist Mike Smith. He had bought a whole stack of Harry's arrangements and we played them. They were very good indeed, and some of them were quite tricky to play. When I told Harry that we were playing some of his music down in Spain he said, 'Why?'
Both Rosemary Squires and Gracie Cole looked marvellous. I swear that Gracie's husband, trombonist Bill Geldard, has not changed since I first met him in the Squadronaires in the 1950s. Either he looked old then, or looks young now - whatever. Talk about dignified!
Jackie Armstrong came up and shook my hand with both hands! He really looked pleased to see me. Jackie, Tom McQuater. Jimmy Wilson and I are the only ones left out of that great brass section of Jack Parnell's television orchestra of the 1950s. Tom McQuater, Basil Jones and I were the regular trumpets, and sometimes Freddy Clayton, Derrick Abbott or Stan Roderick came in to make up the four.
Those guys were all my heroes, even before I began playing the trumpet. Jackie was on bass trombone in a section boasting Harry Roche, Laddy Busby and George Chisholm. It was one hell of a good brass team. The great Jimmy Wilson was in the club that night. He was a member of Tommy's band, too, and worked a lot in the Parnell trombone section later on.
Paul Eshelby entertained us later in the evening, on flugelhorn, in a little group with Don Innes on piano, Tom McQuater Jr., bass and Jerry Boyce on drums. A really beautiful player.
At the end everything went into reverse, with us all shaking hands again and embracing our goodbyes. Tommy, Stan Reynolds, Dougie Cooper, Russell Moore, Colin Campbell, Johnny and Eric Keating went along the road with me to an Italian spaghetti joint and we ate and drank and talked some more. Johnny joined Tommy's band on trombone while we were playing up in the Eldorado Ballroom in Leith in 1948. He wrote some marvellous arrangements that captured the style of the band perfectly.
We talked it up until it grew late. But it's never enough, and you can't always say what you wanted to. My heart has been filled with big, warm thoughts for these people for many a year. How can you tell hardened musicians that you love them? How could I go up to Tommy Sampson and tell him that he is the man to whom I owe everything? That he encouraged and helped me so much in those early days of my career that I could never put a foot wrong afterwards? Of course I couldn't. But I reckon he knew what I was feeling when I looked at him, all the same.
When we parted Tommy told me that he was proud of what I had achieved. That will keep me going for another fifty years.
The photographs were taken by Helle Sampson and Ian Hamer
Copyright © 2001 Jazz Professional. All Rights Reserved