Saturday, May 14, 2011

For all the wrong reasons...

From a gig in the past near a ship with a mast to a barn and the troubles I knew.

There were crimes at the time in a town near mine and a trip to the calaboose too.


I often wondered why it is, that you remember some things, and not others. Perhaps - to put it into a modern context - it’s something like the bad sectors that develop on a hard drive. Maybe it’s a physical thing, maybe it’s about space, limited space. My gut feeling though, is that it’s more about priorities, significance, importance of the event or statistic. On the other hand, there have certainly been times when I have forgotten important stuff while remembering the trivial minutiae. It’s a bit of a puzzle that one.

Perhaps one of you brainier types will write in, with the benefit of your academic knowledge on matters of the mind, and put that one to rest for me. Meanwhile, there seems to be some appetite amongst you for matters related to, and stored within my cerebral hard drive.

While this isn’t - the much anticipated by some - jb autobiography, and I’m not sure it ever will be, it is going to be autobiographical in nature.

I thought this time I’d write about memory, stored memory, at least insofar as it revolves around the event we are ALL interested in, the gig, and the memories some of them hold for me personally.

Now I couldn’t put an exact number on it - I couldn’t find that in the memory bank - but I must by now have clocked-up gigs numbered in the low thousands since the dawn of my giglife in the distant 50's.

When I look back over the decades, I see that a few are firmly lodged at the front of the archive, as being especially memorable, historic, unforgettable, even notorious, while others, have left no trace or recollection whatsoever. Why is that? It’s as if some had been erased from the record.

I guess that in itself, isn’t so significant, I’m sure we all know that happens, it just seems to be the way we were designed.

However, whilst I can’t ascribe an exact chronology to the first three gigs I ever did, that detail does seem to be lost, I can remember all of them, almost as if they were yesterday. That’s 100%, and that surely is significant!

There is almost certainly no other set of three consecutive gigs in my lifetime, which - for whatever reason - could be considered especially memorable or outstandingly significant and permanently carved into my memory, and, as it turns out, mostly for all the wrong reasons!


Way, way, way back in the late fifties, I suddenly moved from being a amateur gigist, into semi-professionalism. The first gig in that category was above a pub in Stratford Broadway in east London. It was a Cockney wedding bash, very close to where the new Olympics of 2012 are to be held.

I remember it well. It was just me and my piano player pal Bernard Dessoy, just piano and drums. We were real novices.

{{I fondly recall in subsequent times how Bernie used to boast to his ‘day job’ workmates, and he told me about it, that the reason he was the top salesman for his then employer - an oil company - was because he had "esso" in the middle of his name!}}

I went on to do scores of gigs with Bernie over the years and this first one, was primarily memorable by dint of it’s early position in the litany that had then just begun. But perhaps it was also memorable because of our uncertainty, inexperience, and perhaps a bit of trepidation too.

It was for me, the beginnings of a very long journey, at the time, my having no idea that it had actually started, never mind where it might eventually end up. It was certainly memorable, for those reasons alone.

I had been booked through channels I had by then become aware of, which in those days amounted to a telephone network through which information was disseminated and exchanged between available musicians and vacant gig opportunities.

For the most part, the band’s with which I found this semi-pro work, weren’t usually a band as we would know it today. In other words 3/4/5 guys working together most of the time. Very often, you had never met some or all of the other band members. You would just turn-up and play pretty much the same stuff as the next band. Churning out what used to be called ‘standards’.

Being involved in music was perhaps even more precarious in those days than it is today, if that’s at all possible. It was more difficult to maintain an entity you could call a band, and hold it together for very long.
But of the gig, I recall the room that day, which was on a first floor and roughly what it looked like. I also remember the upright piano and a certain feeling of satisfaction in what I was doing. I can remember feeling appreciated. Yes, it was all so new and memorable, and jovial, not in any way sensational, at least not that one.


The next one, was a different kettle of fish altogether.

The pub was called ‘The Pride of the Isle’. The isle in question, being the Isle of Dogs. These days, that, for the benefit of those who don’t already know, is the loop shape which forms part of the river Thames that you can see on your tv screens, as the opening sequence to the ‘EastEnders’ soap opera begins to roll.

Back in my day, that area was usually referred to as Limehouse/Poplar, or just "the isle", whereas today it’s more usually known as Tower Hamlets/Docklands. I think the authorities would rather forget it’s past associations.

Now totally transformed, it’s currently the site of the huge Canary Wharf complex, one of London’s newest prestige business locations.

Just across the river today stands the o2 Arena, formerly known as the Millennium Dome, close to the magnificent tri-masted clipper the ‘Cutty Sark’ and in fact, the centre of the world, the Prime Meridian, zero degrees at the Greeenwich Observatory. Yes, the Isle has always been a major landmark but today, a very different one from the days of my youth.

I didn’t know it back in the day, least not at first, but the ‘Pride’, was notorious. Situated in what was at that time, one of the most seedy areas in the whole of Britain, if not downright dangerous. The word sleazy, is probably an understatement. I believe you could then get or do, anything you wanted there, at a price. At the heart of London’s docks, it was a truly sordid gateway to the world. The pub was featured in the film 'Sparrows can't sing' and can be seen in the link below:

Today of course, the docks have long gone in an easterly direction and it’s barely recognisable from the days of my youth.

You could find almost every nationality in ‘The Pride’. Dockers, sailors, mariners, seafarers, engineers, stevedores, everything to do with the sea, and some locals too, but few were entirely unconnected with the maritime world.

I have played in many pubs, many times, but I think I only did the ‘Pride’ a couple of times. Anyway, this one was a revelation. The other band members were new to me and I went on to work with all of them again many times subsequently. It was exceptionally packed out on the night I describe. It was ‘heaving’ in fact. It was also obvious that vast quantities of grog had been consumed by the time we hit the stage.

I soon learned that there was going to be a cabaret act, although I don’t think I quite knew what a cabaret was. I was still a teenager, and very green.

The cabaret act was a fan dancer. Today of course, a fan dancer would scarcely impress anyone, such is the nature of modern sexuality. But in the 50's it was a very different thing. A fan dancer basically being a naked lady dancing around a stage whilst covering the naughty bits with fans covered with huge ostrich feathers. The ‘bits’ only visible to anyone behind her, like a drummer!

The scene soon descended into a maelstrom of riotous and lecherous debauchery. I imagine anyone not suitably imbibed, may have viewed the events as quite disgraceful. It was as if I was in a 1920's speakeasy, but worse.

The raucous behaviour escalated into a crescendo which caused the - until that moment - plain clothed police officers who were present and unidentified, to leap into action and bring the hilarity to a sudden conclusion. It was a raid. Just as you all will have seen in Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic, ‘Some Like It Hot’.

Those were the days! I think the landlord was hauled before his local court to account for his house of ill repute, and the police did a sterling job of crushing the exuberance of the severely inebriated clientele. As I recall, there was no comeback for myself and the rest of the band, and I don’t know what happened to the dancer. But within a few months, the word was out that the ‘Pride’ was being closed down, and it finally met it’s end when it was demolished in the 60's.

So I could hardly forget that one!!


As for the third gig in this tale, it’s not so much that it was a sensational gig, certainly not in the ‘Pride’ sense. No, this was to be very tame, extremely so, but it remains memorable nonetheless and for entirely different reasons.

Even so, it’s not actually the gig itself which was so memorable, although I would probably have remembered it anyway as it was certainly unique, but as you will see, it has become memorable for associated subsequent events which have ensured it remains permanently anchored, not just in my personal mnemonic, but in historical infamy.

Those of you who return to these pages from time to time will know by now that I was born and brought up in and around Ilford, Essex, on the east side of London.

The ‘Ranch House Club’ was situated no more than about a mile from home. It was strangely, even incongruously located in the midst of a middle class housing area. How planning permission was ever granted for this is a mystery. Today I’m sure, it would have no chance. But, I’m talking about the end of the 50's here, and less than 15 years after the end of the second world war. I guess everything was much more relaxed, if not completely chaotic at the time.

The club was the brainchild of one Bob Patience. I don’t know where Bob came from or much about him really, but he was apparently an ex RAF pilot and I think at some stage, a timber merchant. The story goes that he had returned from a tour of the USA and Canada, with a burning desire to create a ‘club’ in the western ‘log cabin’ style.

In this Bob was successful. He seems to have been a successful man all round, but you couldn’t say he was lucky. He must have been a man of some resource too, to have accomplished his tour of north America and brought his log cabin dream to fruition, but his luck ran out, more than once.

I can’t remember how I got to hear about it, but I was of course very close by, and perhaps word of mouth had arrived.

Physically, the club was actually very well put together. Countless tons of timber had been shipped from north America if I recall correctly, along with further tonnage of wrinkly bark to finish off the impressive interior. It was virtually all timber.

I remember arriving to talk to the proprietor about a ‘band’ requirement at the club as the final nails were being hammered into the interior ‘logs’. Bob didn’t have a particularly clear idea about what he wanted musically, I guess he wasn’t particularly musical but he knew he wanted a band to play in his ‘calaboose’ (jail) located on what today might be called a mezzanine floor.

The deal was done and I and my ‘band’ (Bernie again, and his guitar player brother Ernie) got the gig. I remember playing maybe a handful of evenings. The series didn’t last too long and I don’t recall why or how it all ended as far as we were concerned.

Actually, it all seemed rather daft really because we were practically invisible to the clientele below who could only just get a glimpse of us if they bothered to strain their necks and looked upwards. The ‘calaboose’ was ridiculously small for the job also and ill conceived from a musical perspective, but what did we know? Bugger all.

It’s at this point, that I pause to divert to, and extol one of the great virtues of the internet, which at the best of times is both sinner and saint in all our lives. I want to refer you to my ‘Viking’ discovery of last year.

As in that case, I have again discovered footage of this actual club about which I speak, filmed just around the time of the events I describe. I think this is really quite astonishing. It certainly goes a long way towards dispelling the beliefs of the few remaining nay sayers who still believe I make all this stuff up! I never thought I would ever see the club again, not in my wildest dreams. [Link below]


The film presumably forms the basis of Bob’s launching publicity campaign. In those days of course, there was no Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. No Internet either, not even commercial radio or television as I recall. This then must have been shown at cinemas to promote the new business venture.

Today, it all looks a bit puerile and faintly amusing though I suspect it will in fact bring the hint of a smile to your lips. However, it probably wasn’t so bad back then and if you consider; that most of the country was still bathing in a pool of adulation and envy of America and it’s wealth and culture, long before any signs of antipathy towards our American cousins ever emerged; it is easier to comprehend.

As I recall, there was hardly a week that went by when a new western wasn’t screened at the local flea pit. The ‘cowboy’ for the most part, was still a much loved movie genre.

The movie, or should I say advert, clearly shows the club, Bob Patience, his brother, the calaboose and even sight of the middle class housing in some of the background shots. I’m truly amazed. It’s part of my youth, it was probably shot over fifty years ago, it carries the issue date 16/06/1958.

Well, all this adds up to quite a memorable gig. But this is not the real issue. There was a murder!

It all happened some time after we had been and gone from our engagement at the club. Not that same night, it was many weeks later. One night a fight had broken out in the car park outside.

It was the 23rd December 1960. The 50's had just ended. This was the era of the Teddy Boy, and the pedular fashion accessory which became known as the ‘winklepicker’ was widely popular with the Edwardites.

Although initially mis-reported by many as a kicking to death by winklepickers - a sure fire headline grabber if ever I heard one - it later emerged that the poor unfortunate Ronald Coomber had been stamped upon his throat by the said footwear as he lay injured on the ground. This was a major and shocking scandal in a mildly affluent and normally placid neighbourhood.

At this period, I wasn’t actually involved at the club any longer, but it is the reason the gig will probably remain at the front of my gig memories, and yes, for all the wrong reasons.

This wasn’t just fatal for Ronald Coomber, it spelt the end for the club too. I don’t remember precisely what happened thereafter, I had moved on, but the occurrence of such a grizzly crime in the neighbourhood was not going to be tolerated by the locals, and it wasn’t too long after, that the Ranch House bit the dust, as had the ‘Pride’ just before it. It was soon wiped from history and replaced with new housing on it’s foundations at the end of Ashurst Road. Someone today, is probably and unknowingly, dining or relaxing on the very spot where a man was done to death by winklepicker.

And there, might have ended a memorable, if grizzly story, were it not for a second murder!

Of course by that time, it could be argued that it was unrelated to my gig at the start of the Ranch House Club story, and so it was.

However, there is continuity, in that by then, the unfortunate Bob Patience, had to face a new drama, thereby re-establishing a tenuous link with my gig experience and so nevertheless, a contributory factor - and the principal one as it turned out - in the reasons why the Ranch House was and will sadly remain so memorable.

At the time, I had no idea what had subsequently happened to Bob Patience. It was soon all forgotten. But one day I had the tv news on, and the words "Bob Patience" leapt to my ears.

In a second, it was all rushing back to me. The hard drive was in overload.

Bob had moved on too. He was now in Braintree, further to the east of Ilford and the proprietor of a new and by then well established venture, The Barn Restaurant.

Events at The Barn, were to become known as ‘The Barn Murder’. Now famously lodged in the annals of British criminal history.

It started in the early hours of 5th November 1972. After lying in wait in fields adjacent to the restaurant for the moment to pounce, two miscreants broke through a window of Bob’s house - just yards from the restaurant. No-one was home. They awaited the return of the Patience family from their day’s work at the restaurant.

Eventually they did, and to cut a long story to a minimum, Bob’s wife Muriel sustained a fatal gunshot wound while he and his daughter Beverley were also shot but survived. The attackers had resolved that they would relieve Bob of the thousands of pounds they believed must be on the premises.

As it turned out, they escaped with just £900, hardly a fair price for a life, to be dispassionate for a moment. (It should also be mentioned that some reports put this figure at just £90, which if true, would make the crime even more appalling). Curiously though, the inept felons failed to make any attempt at disguise and so police were initially hopeful of a quick i.d. and arrest.

After some considerable confusion, the prime suspect was identified as one George Ince. For awhile, Ince was nowhere to be found, but soon made the decision to give himself up as he knew he was entirely unconnected with the crime.

The police didn’t see it the same way. Ince claimed to have had the perfect alibi in that he had spent the critical moments with his then mistress a Mrs Doris Grey. It later transpired that she was in fact the wife of the - at the time - jailed, Charlie Kray, also familiar to many by way of his better known twin siblings, Ronnie and Reggie.

There were lengthy proceedings and Ince had to endure no less than two trials, before he was proved beyond doubt to have been entirely innocent of the crime. However, he was not what you could easily describe as an innocent man. He was well known to the police and suspected of involvement in many events from riotous behaviour to bullion robbery. This knowledge, you could understand, would hardly have failed to cloud the judgement of some officials.

But the case of Ince’s innocence of the Barn murder was conclusively proved in due course and he was freed. The real villains turned out to be John Brook and Nicholas Johnson.

Police came upon Brook by a stroke of luck after he had apparently boasted of his involvement in the shooting to someone and his undoing was the possession of what was proved to be the fatal weapon. However, although he had the gun, it was not proven that it was he who had pulled the trigger. Then, in the end, a court found Brook was guilty of the murder and he was sentenced to three life terms in prison. Johnson was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in jail.

Doris, the former wife of Charlie Kray, and lover to the once suspected George Ince, won a divorce from her husband after his release from prison in 1974 and then went on to marry George Ince in 1977, just as The Stranglers were releasing ‘Rattus Norvegicus’. I don’t know what became of Bob.

Jet Black/14th May 2011