Memories of Clem Avery
All the talk about trumpets last week reminded me of an old family friend by the name of Clem Avery. There’s a very nice tribute to Clem on a website run by guitarist Roly Veitch (whence I got the photographs).
Clem, who passed away in November 2008, was a very close friend of my father who died just a year earlier in 2007. They had known each other since at least the early 60s and had played music together on many occasions (Clem on trumpet and, in later years, bass and my father on drums). That they remained good friends for such a long time is a bit surprising since at one point Clem actually sacked my Dad from his band for being too heavy-handed on the cymbals. Having heard my father play on a few occasions I think Clem probably had a point. But Clem wasn’t the sort of person you could really fall out with for long, and their friendship survived this musical falling-out.
We did try to get Clem to come to my Dad’s funeral but he couldn’t make it. I think it was because he was already suffering from the cancer that would eventually take him.
Roly’s web tribute mentions a long-term residency at the Golden Lion pub in Winlaton during the 70s and 80s in which my Dad (real name Alan) is mentioned under his nickname “Chas”. I heard the band play there on a couple of occasions and they were really good, the presence of Roly Veitch’s (electric) jazz guitar giving them a refreshingly different sound to many other traditional bands.
I can’t add much to Roly’s piece other than to endorse what he wrote about Clem. Firstly that he was a very accomplished musician who had a far better technique than many much more famous trumpeters. His style was very firmly based on that of Bunk Johnson, though he appreciated good music of many other kinds. As well as playing the jazz that he loved, he also worked as a music teacher and, from time to time, as a session musician. I even saw him on The Tube once (the TV programme, not the London Underground)! When he played trumpet his eyebrows had a tendency to move up and down in coordination. When they were at maximum elevation he looked a lot like Stan Laurel (at least in younger years before he grew a beard). Here is an old picture that makes that comparison a bit easier to imagine:
What I remember most about Clem, however, was just that he was an extraordinarily nice man. He was tall and rather thin with a thoughtful disposition, a wonderfully laid back attitude to life and a fine dry sense of humour. He was very knowledgeable about many things besides music too. I often sat talking with him in my Dad’s shop in Benwell (where Clem worked on a part-time basis for a while). History (especially local history) was a speciality of his and he was never short of stories to tell.Follow @telescoper