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Roland Kirk and friends

Roland Kirk poster

I found this flyer the other day in a box of old stuff. It’s from 1963, and it reminds me of a few things. The first is that this Roland Kirk concert was in Nottingham and not in Leicester, as I wrote in an earlier piece (now corrected). The second is that his tour was organised by Ronnie Scott’s, where he had been performing. The third is that there were some interesting musicians to be seen and heard that night.

Stan Tracey was the house pianist at Ronnie’s, then still located in Gerrard Street, from 1960 to 1967, by which time it had moved to Frith Street. After a sticky patch in the ’70s he went on to a long and distinguished career as a composer and bandleader, leading to the award of an CBE in 2008, five years before his death at 86.

Malcolm Cecil was an excellent bassist (and early member of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated) who migrated to the USA, took an interest in synthesisers, and palled up with Bob Margouleff, a man of similar instincts. Together, as Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, they released Zero Time in 1971 before going on to provide the crucial synthesiser expertise on Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale, thus helping to shape the direction of music in the 1970s and beyond.

Johnny Butts was a very fine drummer who played with the Emcee Five in Newcastle (alongside Ian and Mike Carr) before moving to London and contributing to the groups of Ronnie Ross, Humphrey Lyttelton, Tony Coe, Dick Morrissey and Gordon Beck, and the Tubby Hayes Big Band. He died in a road accident in Bermuda in 1966, aged 25.

Brian Auger was a useful young bebop pianist with Tommy Whittle and others before switching to the Hammond organ in the year he made this tour with Kirk. In 1965 the Brian Auger Trinity was joined by Julie Driscoll, Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry to form the Steam Packet, a very fine live band who never had a proper recording session. The Driscoll/Auger version of “This Wheel’s on Fire”, a Bob Dylan/Rick Danko composition circulated on the original Basement Tapes publisher’s acetates, is on anyone’s list of great ’60 singles. Later Auger formed Oblivion Express and moved to California, where he still lives, aged 80.

Irish-born Rick Laird had left Australia for London in 1962 to study at the Guildhall School of Music and quickly became a first-choice bass player on the London scene, playing with many visiting Americans at the Scott Club. In 1966 he won a scholarship to the Berklee School in Boston, played with Buddy Rich’s big band, and switched to bass guitar. In 1971 he was recruited by John McLaughlin to help form the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with whom he toured and recorded. Later he toured with Stan Getz and Chick Corea. More recently he has taught bass and pursued a second career as a photographer.

Phil Kinorra was a 20-year-old drummer whose nom de batterie was made up, in a touching display of hero-worship, of bits of the names of three of London’s finest modern jazz drummers of the time: Phil Seaman, Tony Kinsey and Bobby Orr. His real name was Robert Anson, he was born in Nottingham (so this gig was a return home), and he also appeared alongside Graham Bond and Johnny Burch on Don Rendell’s wildly exciting 1963 Jazzland LP, Roarin’. In the mid-’60s he adopted a new identity and led a mod-soul band called Julian Covey and the Machine, who recorded “A Little Bit Hurt” for Island in 1967 and whose constantly shifting personnel included the organist Vincent Crane (later of Arthur Brown’s band and Atomic Rooster), the guitarists Jim Cregan, Dave Mason and John Morshead, the ill-fated bassist Cliff Barton and the definitely not ill-fated bassist John McVie, and the saxophonist and flautist Bob Downes. When psychedelia beckoned, Anson/Kinorra/Covey metamorphosed into Philamore Lincoln, writing “Temma Harbour”, recorded by Mary Hopkin as the second follow-up to “Those Were the Days” in 1969, and releasing The North Wind Blew South, an album of what would now be called Sunshine Pop, on Epic in 1970. He left the music business later in that decade and seems never to have returned.

Quite a lot of history for one tatty bit of paper, which I stuck up on my bedroom wall as a 16-year-old and then carried around from place to place, from one life to another, for almost six decades.

38 Comments Post a comment
  1. james murray #

    Just had this album on the deck this morning from 1965

    Jimmycuba

    April 22, 2020
  2. Bill Clifford #

    I was lucky enough to see Roland Kirk on several occasions. The first time was at Ronnie’s in Gerrard Street, so it must have been at about the same time as your flyer, and then several times in Frith St. plus playing with a big band one Sunday evening at the Marquee when it was in Poland St. Always gave a joyous performance, but still with a lot substance under flamboyance.

    April 22, 2020
  3. Charlie Seaward #

    A good example of the traditional use of the word “Provincial” and possibly worth a modest frame, Richard? Fascinating detail, as always.

    April 22, 2020
  4. Martin Newman #

    I was privileged to see Roland Kirk ,probably on the same tour, at a place on Haverstock Hill , North London.It may have been called The Country Club. ….not expensive or exclusive….the wealth of music we took for granted in the late 60s !!

    April 22, 2020
  5. I used to live in Nottingham (from 1999) but can’t picture that venue on Broad Street – is that where the Broadway Cinema now stands?

    April 22, 2020
  6. Lovely piece Richard. What a fabulous cluster of names with some stellar connections. One small local addendum. Nottingham’s Co-operative Educational Centre is now The Broadway Cinema. I remember promoting Garbarek Haden Gismonti there in the early 1980s.

    April 22, 2020
    • Daniel Shaw #

      That 80s concert would have been presented in collaboration with the great John Cumming, of Serious, who died way too young, a couple of weeks ago.

      June 3, 2020
  7. James Allen #

    I always wondered whether that was Phil Kinorra’s real name,now I know the truth!

    April 22, 2020
  8. John Atkins #

    An amusing tale, probably apocryphal, concerning the early days of Ronnie Scott’s when business was very slow has a customer phoning the club and asking Ronnie what time they opened, to which the reply was; “What time can you get here?”

    April 22, 2020
  9. Tim Adkin #

    Richard, delightful stuff. My first encounter with Roland Kirk, save for Jethro Tull’s cover of ‘Serenade to a Cuckoo’, was in early 1969 when he appeared on late night TV one Friday (i think it was on some BBC arts show that Angela Huth or Jacky Gillott introduced). I was a mere 13 year old (and in bed) but my old man was watching it and called me down with a ‘You’ve got to see this chap’ shout. I’ve loved Kirk ever since.

    Rick Laird, as various live bootlegs of Mahavishnu show, was very much the unsung hero of the band. I still recall your MM review of ‘Birds of Fire’ when you revised your opinion of them.

    Most intriguing is the stuff about Phil Kinorra. Whilst no Hopkin fan I always liked ‘Temma Harbour’ especially the use of percussion on it. I once heard Peter Clayton, he of blessed memory, once explain it was a judicious use of the timbales.

    Keep up the good work.

    April 22, 2020
  10. Mick Steels #

    The “Zero Time” album caused quite a stir when released on Herbie Mann’s Embryo label, the much maligned flautist was also down as producer.
    One perceptive critic even suggested no home should be without it….

    April 22, 2020
  11. Paul Crowe #

    Some wonderful information nuggets, Richard.

    April 22, 2020
  12. geoffn #

    Some celebrated names here, but how intriguing to learn about Phil Kinorra. One of his mentors, Tony Kinsey, is still with us and as far as I know is still playing and composing, with the Way Out West collective. Incredible to think that Kinsey worked with Billie Holiday, amongst many others. And good to see a mention in your piece of Bob Downes, another of British jazz’s great originals, who lives near Stuttgart these days.

    April 22, 2020
  13. Keith #

    Brilliant piece.

    April 22, 2020
  14. Pete Wingfield #

    Goodness me Richard, you still learn something every day. The very first time I was booked on a session was for the aforementioned Philamore Lincoln in 1969 – presumably a track for his Epic album that came out the following year. I remember nothing of it other than his name and the fact I got paid £9 (MU scale at the time). Had I known the mysterious Philamore was none other than Julian Covey – never mind his other aliases – I’d have quizzed him on the great “A Little Bit Hurt”!

    April 22, 2020
    • Great to hear from you, Pete. Meet Richard Barrowclough in the comment posted immediately below.

      April 22, 2020
  15. Richard Barrowclough #

    Another great article, thank you. It’s weird the stuff one carries around from place to place. As I type this, I’m looking at a poster I picked up for nothing in the late sixties from a small printers in Windsor, which specialised in ‘psychedelic’ posters (mine is purple). It advertises a series of gigs at the Nag’s Head Blues Loft in High Wycombe in June one year (I think it must have been ’68). On Friday 13th Jellybread were playing, (entry six shillings); on the 20th Steamhammer (6/6d); whilst on the 18th John Lee Hooker was on (nine shillings – I went that night), with Otis Spann on the 25th (ten bob). Sadly, I can’t remember anything about the night I went!

    April 22, 2020
    • Richard, meet Pete Wingfield of Jellybread in the comment immediately above yours.

      April 22, 2020
      • Richard Barrowclough #

        Serendipity eh? If only I’d known, I would have gone on Friday 13th, and no doubt have had a much more memorable evening, as well as saving three shillings.

        April 22, 2020
      • Pete Wingfield #

        Hi Richard B – Are you kidding? No, you definitely chose right to stump up nine bob for the legend that was John Lee. Ridiculous that we were charging as much as two-thirds of that five days earlier!

        April 22, 2020
  16. Graham Pogson #

    Stan Tracey had previously been awarded the OBE in 1986. He picked it up in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, and later that day his quartet played a typically brilliant gig in Cardiff. I asked him what he thought of the Palace, and his reply was “Big”.

    April 22, 2020
  17. Pete Wingfield #

    Sorry for the double post, but I do also have a first-hand Roland Kirk anecdote that you and others might enjoy. In the summer of ’68 I’d blagged a gap-year job working behind the counter of Bob Koester’s legendary Jazz Record Mart at 7 West Grand in Chicago. One quiet lunchtime, in comes an instantly recognisable Roland Kirk along with some heavy hangers-on. Blind since the age of two, he proceeds to flick thoughtfully through the racks of LPs. Arriving at the store’s comprehensive Blue Note section (mono 1st pressings at $3.99, stereo $4.99 – modern-day collectors eat your heart out), he picks out a Jimmy Smith and brandishes it at me.
    “Hey man”
    (nervously) “Yes, how may I help you?”
    “Is this a Blue Note album?”
    “Why yes, as a matter of fact it is – how on earth did you know?”
    “It’s that little bit thicker”.
    True story!

    April 22, 2020
    • Did you ask him if he knew who it was by? If it was “Back at the Chicken Shack” or “Home Cokkin'” it might have had a distinctive smell…

      April 22, 2020
      • Pete Wingfield #

        Equally so Freddie Roach’s “Mo’ Greens Please”!

        April 22, 2020
  18. daveheasman #

    I saw Kirk at the old Haverstock Hill Country Club in 1976 when it was Ginger Johnson’s Iroko Club for a short time. Very few white people there.

    April 22, 2020
  19. John Evans #

    I saw Kirk in the late 60s at Oxford Town Hall, where the council jobsworths insisted on a strict enforcement of their pre-planned closing time, despite the fact that the band was clearly in the mood to do a couple of encores. Infuriating!

    Malcolm Cecil was the bassist on the first jazz LP I ever bought: Wranglin’ by the Ernest Ranglin Trio, recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s (the drummer was Alan Ganley). It was Island ILP 909 (the label started numbering from 900), released in 1964 and never reissued on CD.

    April 23, 2020
    • John Blandford #

      I was one of the promoters of Roland’s Oxford Town Hall concert. We were used to running gigs in pub rooms but this was on a much larger scale than anything we had done before, and in truth the organisation was a bit ragged! But it was a great evening musically. And, as you say, a shame about the council jobsworths.

      April 23, 2020
  20. Pete Cottridge #

    I also saw John Lee Hooker at the Nag’s Head in High Wycombe and everybody on that poster. Used to go every week. Ron Watts used to let me and my mates in even though we were under-age. Saw Freddie King there and Johnny Shines. According to Ron’s autobiography ‘Hundred Watts’ Hooker came on late because he was asleep in the back of the car and nowone could wake him!

    April 23, 2020
  21. Thank you

    April 23, 2020
  22. Åge Petersen #

    Lovely writing! Thank you very much!!

    Åge Hedley Petersen

    Fra: thebluemoment.com [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] Sendt: 22. april 2020 15:17 Til: mp-ahp@stofanet.dk Emne: [New post] Roland Kirk and friends

    Richard Williams posted: ” I found this flyer the other day in a box of old stuff. It’s from 1963, and it reminds me of a few things. The first is that this Roland Kirk concert was in Nottingham and not in Leicester, as I wrote in an earlier piece (now corrected). The second is t”

    April 23, 2020
  23. Colin Harper #

    Wonderful stuff. I was fascinated with the Kinorra info – I knew he had three of those four names but don’t think I knew his *actual* name. I’d assumed that ‘Phil Kinorra’ must be some daft linguistic joke (like saying “****ing Norah” with an Essex accent). Clearly, I’d overthought it. He was also involved, as was Rick Laird, in a five-piece Brian Auger cabaret band at the Pigalle restaurant in London for three months in early 1964, along with Glenn Hughes on baritone sax and John McLaughlin on guitar – which must have been quite a sound. Wonder if he’s still with us, and where?

    If another McLaughlin tangent is acceptable, on the back of the mentions of John Lee Hooker in the comments, I’m always amazed to think that the very first Mahavishnu Orchestra shows (two weeks of them) were at a café in New York supporting John Lee Hooker. John H with more or less two chords, John McL with all the others. Wonder what John H made of it all?

    April 23, 2020
  24. Peter Hamshaw #

    I recall seeing Roland Kirk at Nottingham Playhouse theatre in 1967, when someone in the audience (now a good friend of mine) shouted “Play some chicken music”, this being a reference to the Mingus album Oh Yeah and the track Eat that Chicken. Years later I was talking talking to someone I’d known from my Clifton days in the late 1960s, and he recalled working backstage at the Playhouse that night and sharing a smoke with Mr Kirk. Happy days…

    April 23, 2020
  25. Chris Welch #

    Such a brilliant idea to bring a poster back to life and chronicle the life and times of all the parties involved. The ‘Roarin’ album with Phil Kinorra on drums was a revelation when it came out – no British modern jazz group had played with such zest and revolutionary spirit before, although the Jazz Couriers took some beating. I saw Graham and Don playing tunes off the album at the King Alfred, Catford in 1963-ish and think the mysterious Mr.Kinorra was on drums. I do remember a lady friend of Graham Bond giving me a dirty look when I said loudly to a friend at the bar, that he ‘even looked like Cannonball Adderley.’ It was meant as a compliment.

    April 24, 2020
  26. Couple of poems associated with Kirk that I used to perform, doing Poetry & Jazz with Mel Thorpe’s Nottingham-based four piece band. https://straight75nochaser.wordpress.com/2020/04/24/you-did-it-you-did-it-two-poems-for-roland-kirk/

    April 24, 2020
  27. GuitarSlinger #

    Ain’t it amazing the multitude names that can appear on a single piece of paper advertising one event from back in the day . Even more amazing how some of those names went on to great fame while others ( no doubt equally as talented ) faded into abject obscurity

    Equally amazing how some like Rick Laird can all but disappear off the radar … whilst some ( none on this list ) refuse to go away

    And Jeeze … Tonto’s Expanding HeadBand . Now there’s an album I haven’t thought about in decades . Time to dust that one off and giver er a spin

    April 25, 2020
  28. Dean Rudland #

    Richard, what an interesting piece and one that reminded of me of the time I met Malcolm Cecil, in the early 90s. I was in my early 20s and working for a label that was trying to do a deal on Gil Scott-Heron’s Arista catalogue and Malcolm was representing him. Malcolm had a transatlantic accent and short curly hair, and neither of me really knew who he was other than Malcolm who was representing Gil. So as the meeting concluded we asked him for his story, as to how he ended up managing Gil, and as he told us stories of National Service, Newcastle’s Club A Go-Go, Tonto and finally ‘oh and then we programmed Innervisions and Talking Book’ our jaws were hitting the floor.

    May 29, 2020

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