In 1960 I knew Gary Brooker quite well, as we both worked for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in Basildon. As far as I can recall, Gary was a trainee test technician and part of the company Test Engineering Department. He would have travelled from Southend to Basildon every day, with probably one day off a week for attendance at a local technical college. At the same time I was an Apprentice Instrument Maker and alternated my time between Thurrock Technical college and the factory spending approximately nine weeks in each.
The place where we probably first met would be the factory canteen where a lot of lads used to sit around at lunchtimes smoking rolled up cigarettes and talking about music and 'birds'. Gary was a very quiet and friendly character who was into rhythm and blues and talked about American musicians who were not known to many, as most of us only knew about Cliff Richard and the Shadows etc. My musical interest were a little different as I preferred Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, who were the fathers of the British R&B scene. That is where Gary and I shared as the inspiration for Johnny Kidd was some of those same musicians that absorbed Gary's interest.
At the same time there was another apprentice, Graham Bonney, who later shot to fame with a top twenty hit called Super Girl.
Although I saw Gary at work, I never mixed with him socially and the only other time I would talk to him would be when I bumped into him in the local music shops in Leigh on Sea (Hodges and Johnson) and in Southend where invariably he would be tinkling on a piano. As he was fairly accomplished the shop's owners would tolerate decent musicians like him playing their instruments as it demonstrated their merchandise to other customers who were strolling around their premises.
In those days the music shops around Leigh, Southend and Westcliff were the only venues where musicians would gather spend a couple of hours on a Saturday morning or afternoon chatting about music in general, gigs or lack of them, other musicians and, of course 'the birds'. Unfortunately the only time I saw Gary play at a gig was with Robin Trower somewhere on the sea front; probably at the Shades.
The Paramounts had local rivals in a band known as the Orioles led by a pianist called Mickey Jupp. Although I was only on nodding terms with Mickey I did see him play on a number of occasions, as his band had a regular spot at pub on the London Road. Mickey with his flame red main of hair would be very animated in his performances, playing early Jerry Lee Lewis numbers such as Breathless etc.
There is a story and I do not know if it is true however it goes as follows: it was alleged that one night Mickey and the boys, or maybe another band, were having a drink at the bar after a gig, laughing and talking about a future record contract when they were suddenly interrupted by an elderly gentleman who had obviously been listening to their conversation. He said "My son's in a rock and roll band and makes records". Then one of the band, who were by this time, in fits of laughter allegedly said 'Well who is that then dad?' (or something like that). The old man then replied 'He is playing for someone in a band called PJ Proby or something like that'. According to local myth the boys then quietened a little. If you can recall PJ Proby's first hit record 'Together' featured an absolutely blistering guitar solo. Only Mickey or one of the Orioles can substantiate or deny this story.
Gary told me two things before he left Marconi's to go professional with the Paramounts; the first was that he idolised Ray Charles and the second was advice to leave and turn professional as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the latter never happened. At that time I knew Gary I was an average drummer, heavily influenced by Gene Krupa, playing in a number of local bands including Tim Gentle and the Gentlemen, Jenny and the Playboys, The Blue Barons (ex David and the Embers) etc. doing gigs from the Peter Boat Pub, The Kursall, The Mecca Basildon to rock and jazz in Country Clubs. My drumming career was cut short at the age of 22 when I started to suffer from epilepsy and decided, after medical advice to switch to the guitar as the specialist considered that it would be less stressful.
After attempting to master three chords on an awful Spanish guitar I finally sold my Premier drum kit and bought a cherry red Gibson 335 guitar from Hodges and Johnson. Heavily influenced by blues guitarists BB King, Eric Clapton and of course Peter Green, I learnt by sitting in with a number of blues groups around Southend and Benfleet and graduated towards jazz listening to blues based jazz guitarists such as Kenny Burrell. I was determined to improve and finally – after advice from John Maskel, a local Basildon guitarist, who played with the National Youth jazz orchestra – I started having lessons from Derek Bailey, who was the leading free form jazz guitarist in the country but was also very good teacher of jazz techniques. It wasn't long before I decided to get in to his area of music and that was when I started playing with Southend's finest jazz drummer and percussionist Trevor Taylor. We were joined by [Paramount] Diz Derrick who was studying flute at the time and quickly formed a contemporary improvised music group, known as CIM, with singer Carolann Nichols and clarinettist Dave Long.
By 1973 Trevor, Diz and myself were playing in London Jazz Clubs such as Ronnie Scotts etc., who encouraged Free Form jazz. Ronnie opened his doors once a month to the Musicians' Co-operative organisation. Diz left after a few gigs and Trevor and I continued throughout the seventies and eighties playing and recording with many talented jazz musicians all over Europe. Family life then followed as, with a change of jobs, I moved to Portsmouth and my musical career was put on hold.
I recall that Diz did not liked to be pressed about his time with the Paramounts, especially as he spent many years on the road, and was no longer in the band when Gary Brooker et al recorded AWSoP as Procol Harum. However he did become an exceptional flute player.
Southend has a history of producing many fine musicians; Gary and Diz are two of them.
Now my sons are adults I am intending to return to the jazz scene, as some of my contemporaries are still alive and playing, although they are in their sixties. Just recently I saw on TV Gary Brooker playing in the 'Concert for George' and it is amazing for although he is slightly greyer and a little heavier from when we were apprentices at Marconi's, his voice remains that of that eighteen year-old apprentice when I first saw him with the Paramounts.
It would be good to meet up with him again but the odds are unlikely ...
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