Monday, November 30, 2009

Bill Usher: I drove the Graeme Bell coach (1952)

Bill Usher: I drove the Graeme Bell coach (1952) ( English) - Bill Usher: Ik reed de bus met Graeme Bell (1952) ( Nederlands)

90-years old coach driver contacts legendary Australian band leader.
BILL USHER: I drove the GRAEME BELL coach (1952)
Bill Usher - Hans Koert

This blog is founded to share our fascination and remembrances for jazz and jazz-related music. Bill Usher, now 90 years old, lives in Canada, and remembered that he was, in the 1950s, the driver of the Graeme Bell coach that had a one week concert tour along venues in England.

Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band (ca 1950)

Graeme Bell is a legendary Australian band leader and piano player who directed a popular dixieland band in the second half of the 20th Century. He is now in his 90s and stil lives in Australia and active in promoting his music. This year
a great 2CD was released with all his recorded compositions. You can learn more about that issue in:
Graeme Bell - all His Recorded Compositions. He visited Europe for the very first time in the late 1940s, where he and his band impressed at the World Youth Festival in Prague. He performed in the Leicester Square Jazz Club, where his concert was a tremendous success playing danceable music in a traditional jazz style with new "fresh" tunes without forgetting the old traditionals. His music was promoted as: a happy Aussie outdoor feeling. Due to these successes he returned to Europe and toured along English venues with his Australian Jazz Band featuring musicians like Roger Bell, Geoff Kitchen, Ade Monsbourgh, Pixie Roberts, Lou Silvereisen, Norman "Bud" Baker, Deryck "Kanga" Bentley and John Sangster.

Enjoy the traditional "Oh When The Saints" by Graeme Bell Australian Jazz Band ( London Febr. 1951)

Bill remembers one of those small tours in 1952, when he had to drove Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band along venues in England. He remembers this week very well and loved to share his cherished memories with Graeme Bell in Australia and the visitors of this Keep Swinging blog. film poster: The Clouded Yellow (1950)
My age is 90, Bill Usher starts; I have a fairly good long and short memory and can remember that short 7 day tour like it was yesterday. Thanks for you efforts to link me up with Graeme after so many years. As one gets older we tend to look back at the good old times. It was back in the 50's when I was very fortunate to be asked to drive the great Graeme Bell "Aussie" Jazz Band for a 7 day Tour of the UK. My late wife Doris was allowed to go with me and I shall never forget that lovely sunny Sunday morning when after loading band and luggage we set out for the 1st venue at the Montfort Hall, Leicester. At the start of the evening performance, I was in my element as Dixieland was and still is, my favourite music. So we travelled on next to Stockton on Tees, where in the afternoon we all went to see a movie, The Clouded Yellow, starred Trevor Howard, Jean Simmons and Anouk Aimee. I think, situate in parts in the Lake District of UK. Then for a beer in a local Pub before supper and show. Later on to Carlisle and then, as I was a Brit Tour Driver, took them through the Lake District and showed them the sights, having lots of fun on the way as they were a great lot of fellows.

Another 1951 Bell recording: Bullant Blues ( London, Juliy 1951)

What a crazy bunch these Aussie guys were, but as the hours went by, we began to love them, especially the music, our favourite kind. I wonder if you remember, Graeme, when we stopped in Carlisle and you had visited an army surplus store and purchased a suit of camouflage fatigues and came back to the coach wearing same. Later at a meal stop, you stayed in the coach, took off the cam suit, stuffed it with cushions etc; until it looked like some old tramp, so that when we returned it looked like some stranger had got in the coach, as it had a hat on and even a smokers pipe in it's mouth, at the time very funny to all of us.
Donald Peers
Next venue was Coronation Ballroom, Bellevue, Manchester. After the show we ate and then to our hotel, the Midland. It was like 4 walls and all the windows opened on to a kind of shaft. Later there was such a commotion from an upper level, windows sliding up and down and some "Idiot" shouting loudly, "Stop that noise up there", more sliding of windows more shouting etc; of course in the morning we found out that the perpetrator was Graeme himself.
Then we left for the Imperial Ballroom, Lancs. Then on the last night of the Tour at Oldham, Lancs. Jimmy Bell (no relation) he was your road manager; well he informed you that you were to be at the State Cinema, (largest Cinema in the UK) Kilburn, North London. by 2.30 pm. Sunday to rehearse for Donald Peers a singer, for an evening show. Your reply was "Who the h--- is Donald Peers" at that time he was #1 on the Music Halls. When we arrived at the State he wasn't there just his pianist, now you were really put out anyway. At that time my dear wife Doris and I had finished the tour with Australias greatest Jazz Band and reluctantly time to say goodbye, but the memories stayed with us all of these 58 years or so.

A copy of the photo ( without the signatures) ( Bill Haesler archive)
You gave me a signed photo by all the band members, but sad to say in moving it has been mislaid, if possible could you replace same. Although I can still see the faces in my minds eye. Sorry my computer skills are not the greatest, but I try. Great talking to you, Cobbers!! Bye for now and good health to all .
Bill Usher ( Canada)

During this same period Graeme Bell gave a concert with Big Bill Broonzy in Germany. Enjoy a footage of Big Bill from ca. 1953:

Thanks to Bill Haesler I can share with you the reply by Grame Bell, now 95 years old. He has no internet, so he phoned Bill:

He rang me just now to say how wonderful it was to have his memory jogged regarding almost 60-year-old humorous anecdotes from his busy and eventful and fun-filled musical career. He had quite forgotten about the camouflage fatigues and the window stories until prompted by your reminiscence. As he then admitted to me, this was way back in the band's wilder days when "we were all larrikans."; an Australian expression. Graeme certainly remembered the Donald Peers concert where he sat in the audience during the second half wondering about this (to him) unknown popular singer. Apparently the Bell band manager, the always enterprising Mel Langdon, spread a rumour that the band was going to accompany Donald Peers. Not true, but it helped bring in a few more customers. Graeme also recalls a fine young girl singer on the program, but not her name. According to Graeme, your mislaid/lost photograph of the band was the one with the band gathered around him, seated, looking at some music. Graeme said that he will try to locate a copy and autograph it for you, but unfortunately the other members of the band
can't as they are no longer with us. With best wishes to you from Graeme (and me). Very kind regards, Bill.

Thanks Bill Usher, Graeme Bell and Bill Haesler for sharing your remembrances!

Hans Koert

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Anonymous Bill H. said...

Dear Hans,
Wonderful, as always.
It always amazes me that you take the trouble to prepare and include rare videos and photographs in support of each blog.
I have posted all the emails to Graeme and I am currently discussing with a mutual friend how to show the actual blog to Graeme.
As you know he doesn't have internet access.
Perhaps we can take him to his local internet café.
Very kind regards,

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Dear Bill and Hans,

This snowy morning in Oshawa,Can; I went to my mailbox and was over the moon to see that I had received an Airmail letter personally from Graeme.At my age this meant a great deal to me to be able to stay in touch with the past.Graeme did say Bill that when I let him know that I had received hisletter he would look up some photos and send them on to me,but in the meantime that you would be sending me a copy of the one I had lost.Also he has put me more in the picture by telling me that you are Australias top Jazz Historian. and produced the last CD that he made.I am so glad that my family introduced me to the Comp; age last December at the age of 90.You, I am sure would have known of Freddy Randall another great Dixieland Band , well he was a local lad to me and in fact I have had the pleasure of drivinghis Band many times, then when my boss decided to retire my Coach from Tour service Freddy bought same.Unfortunately he is no longer with us, but one of the Greatsof the British Jazz scene of the late 40's and 50's and later after we left England.Once again thanks for the connection and may i wish you all the best wishes for the season. My great pleasure in talking and knowing you both.

Bill. ( Canada)

8:43 PM  

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