Oscar’s on the night train

Bon voyage to jazz great Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson

I only saw him once live, opening the show the first time I saw Buddy Rich, so he was instrumental in my intro to live jazz.

Apparently he came to jazz through listening to Benny Goodman – same for me, it was hearing ‘Sing Sing Sing’ and the drumming of Gene Krupa that got me hooked.

I remember seeing Martin Amis at a book reading in 1997 and him describing how he had written the whole of his eponymous novel listening to ‘Night Train’.

So all abooaaard to the Big Jam in the sky – where he can hook up again with his Montreal high school pal, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, a regular at Ronnie’s in his latter years with fantastic young bands (including the superb Stockton Helbing on drums who I had the honour of meeting there on a boys’ night out with my step-dad and younger brother), Maynard Ferguson who took an earlier train last year.

Godspeed, Oscar…

Now on the subject of jazz things passing, I’ve just watched a charming documentary on BBC4 about the sad demise of the Hammersmith Palais. I was only in it once but according to ‘Last Man in Hammersmith Palais‘ (specifically, a music promoter called John Curd) it was one of the best nights ever. It was 1980. I went to see The Clash. It was the first outing for my middle class black bondage trousers. It was with Nick Golson (who I’ve recently reconnected with thanks to David Baddiel, Nick’s an archaeologist now apparently) and Simon Hollins (who I’ve no idea where or what he is though I did bump into his younger brother Johnny a few years back at some publisher’s do). We pogoed. We heard ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ – probably the best Clash song – right there in the Palais. At the end of the gig Paul Simonon chucked his towel into the crowd and I went home with a piece of it, presumably infused with the sweat and tears of the great man. It lived under my bed as a relic of The Greatest Era in Music History for a good while but probably got lost in a move. Or maybe it still lurks above my head right now in a box in the attic. The Clash only ever played two nights at the Palais.

Ian Dury mentions the Palais in the first verse of his wonderful ‘Reasons to be Cheerful part 3’, sandwiched between the Bolshoi Ballet and boats. This blog ultimately has its roots in that song as Simple Pleasures part 1 was a list of reasons to be cheerful.

Summer, Buddy Holly, the working folly,
Good golly Miss Molly and boats.
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet,
Jump back in the alley and nanny goats.

The Palais de Danse started as a dance and music venue in 1919 taking over from a roller skating rink. The first stuff played there was some new fangled import from the States called ‘Jass’. The last gig there was The Fall on 1st April 2007 – a day when the fools triumphed. It’s an office block now. But deep below in that West London soil lurks dance, romance, energy, punk, roots reggae, spirit, love, youth, cultural mix, sex, laughter, London pride, simple pleasures and jazz.

the clash
Oscar Peterson photo – courtesy of Tom Marcello

7 comments so far

  1. ArkAngel on

    from Simon on 28 December, 2007:

    I can remember that Clash gig like it was yesterday. Definitely one of the best gigs ever. We ended up right near the front. We sat with 2 of Stiff Little Fingers on the tube to the gig – or maybe that was another time. I went to the Palais a few times one way or another. My eldest (now 19) and her mates are into all that kind of music so I bore them to death with tales of the Clash, Banshees, Undertones, Buzzcocks etc.

    Anyway, I’m working for the clampdown now as a cconsultant. Still listening to the music though.

    Simon H

  2. ArkAngel on

    How wonderful to hear from you – great thing this internet. Were you also at the Stiff Little Fingers ‘Hanx’ gig? I can remember Nick being there and Johnny (JG) Taylor (now a history teacher). That was also a cracker, fortunately preserved on that record.

    My enfants terribles are a bit younger than yours so I’m still working on them as far as the inculcation with great music of that era is concerned, that era when you still had great melodies, like White Riot and Pretty Vacant. Wasn’t it you who brought that single on the SS Uganda to the Baltic, when we shared the Mungo Park dorm with a bunch of skinheads from Romford who introduced us to the delights of AC/DC (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap)? Ah, those were the days!

  3. Tom Marcello on

    That’s my photo of Oscar Peterson (Rochester, N.Y. 1977). I’m glad you like it.


    Tom Marcello

  4. ArkAngel on

    Pretty much the same year I started going to gigs which were predominantly in punk territory (with a smattering of jazz thanks to my jazz drummer step-dad). I found your photo second hand (hence no credit) but have fixed that now and really appreciate your indulgence. What makes it for me is that trickle of sweat from his avuncular hair and the intensity around the eye. Beautiful image, for which many thanks.

  5. […] that says a lot in itself – where’s the magic and colour of names like The Music Machine, The Palais, The Electric Ballroom, The Marquee?). I think the O2 is very well done and there’s a place […]

  6. Michael Tim on

    I love your site!

  7. […] my love of Music – it’s where I first saw The Clash, one of the most exciting musical experiences of my life. Down the other end of Camden High Street […]

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