Archive for May 4, 2009

The Onions

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , on May 4, 2009 by telescoper

I’m not going to make excuses. This is a piece of pure nostalgia.

We had this old record in the house when I was a little kid. It was quite an innovation at the time. Most of the jazz records my dad had collected were on 10″ shellac discs to be played at 78rpm. This was a very limited format in that you could never get more than about 3 minutes on each side. They were also extremely fragile. Most of the ones we used to have ended up broken into pieces.

But when Humphrey Lyttelton’s band did a concert in 1954 at the then very new Royal Festival Hall in London, the Parlophone label decided to release four tracks on a vinyl EP (extended play). This allowed them to get a longer playing time but also meant that the actual discs  survived a bit longer than 78s used to.

I was born in 1963, about nine years after the record was released but I distinctly remember as a kid sitting in our house in Benwell with this record playing on our little gramophone. I never seemed to be able to shout “Onions” on the right beat in the little two-bar interval left for the purpose. But, then again, neither did many in the audience.

Humph himself (who died a year ago) does the announcement in that instantly recognizeable voice of his. The whole band plays wonderfully too, but I’d like to single out the clarinet of Wally Fawkes for special mention. In case  you didn’t know,  Wally Fawkes  is actually a pseudonym for the award-winning cartoonist Trog. Anyway, on this track he gives an object lesson in how to build a solo: starting off in the smoky lower register then gradually building up steam until just after 2 minutes in he steps on the gas, switches to the upper register and wails like  a banshee. He never plays anything very complicated and I must have heard that moment hundreds of times over the years but it still gives me a buzz!

They sure don’t make them like this any more.