I got into music quite late, getting my first record player at 21. By then I was into jazz having been introduced to The Diskery at its original Hurst Street location by a school friend. He was into blues and folk and I also listened to folk – later I would be a regular at the Grey Cock Folk Club as well as going to London to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s club and getting involved with Charles Parker and recording interviews with Yorkshire miners that were used in Banner Theatre’s first production Collier Laddie.
And it was a slight folk connection that got me interested in jazz. I heard a folk group, possibly The Spinners, doing a version of Kansas City complete with one of them on a comb. Unlikely I know but this piqued my interest so I started listening to jazz on the radio and when I got the record player I knew where to go to get my first vinyl. It was Morris Hunting himself at The Diskery who helped me choose those first three records.
Louis Armstrong’s West End Blues was Morris’ top pick so I got Louis’ His Greatest Years Volume 4 which also had other classics like Weather Bird. Second pick was Piano Jazz Volume 1 with Pine Top Smith, Montana Taylor, Romeo Nelson, Cow Cow Davenport and Speckled Red and top Barrel House and Boogie Woogie. I still have those two, the only one I sold (back to the Diskery) as a Bob Brookmeyer/Clark Terry Quintet recording which I think I found too mainstream later when I’d gone deeper into bop hard-bop and the rest.
I’d trained as an electrical engineer but political and cultural interests led me to co-found Grapevine and later Broadside magazines in the 70s and this, in turn, led me to design, writing and photography and a career running design and communications agencies.
Jazz in Birmingham was Trad with occasional visits from US tours and stars in the late 60s and early 70s. And Grapevine’s jazz column was run by trad-inclined Tony Schramm. But we started getting records sent so I got to start reviewing. Another school friend had moved to London and with him, I’d go see The Brotherhood of Breath in its original incarnation.
The scene started to change when Birmingham Jazz launched in 1976 and I saw people like Abdullah Ibrahim and Johnny Griffin. Although by the late 70s I was taking photographs professionally, for some reason I didn’t often photograph jazz apart from a handful of occasions including Ian Carr’s Nucleus.
It wasn’t until 2012 when I got more involved in the scene as more than a gig-goer and listener. After Jazzlines hived off from Birmingham Jazz that year I joined the BJ board until 2018. During this time I started to take regular gig pictures and also started to shoot gigs other than the Birmingham Jazz ones making friends with many musicians, promoters and other photographers.
With Peter Bacon and all the main promoters in Birmingham, we started the Jazz in Birmingham bi-monthly printed guide to gigs in the area using pictures from my archive and from Garry Corbett. I started going to the Jazz research meetings at Birmingham City University and I’m just finishing a project with Dr Pedro Cravinho photographing and interviewing Birmingham jazz musicians about how they make a living. We presented at the Rhythm Changes Conference in April 2019, have a submission to a journal underway and an exhibition planned.
I stopped running my agency in 2015 and am focussed on growing old disgracefully and not using the “R” word. I feel as busy as ever and as well as the jazz photography I am continuing to run Self Portrait sessions including shooting seven-session for the 50th Anniversary of Telford in 2018. The Handsworth Self Portrait project I ran with Derek Bishton and John Reardon in 1979 had a retrospective exhibition at the Mac Birmingham in March-June 2019 and I curated a related show for Multistory’s Blast! Photo Festival which ran at Wednesbury Art Gallery in June 2019.
I’m an occasional reviewer for London Jazz News and have also contributed pictures to other people’s features and reviews. I’ve shot publicity photos for Pigfoot, Ivo Neame, Trish Clowes and others. And now you’ll find me on here too.