Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Legend of Blind Willie Dunn - Part One

Not so long ago, we looked at the life and career of blues singer Mary Johnson who was for a short time the wife of jazz guitarist Lonnie Johnson .

I`ve been meaning to spend more time on the works of Lonnie and his musical sidekick Eddie Lang , and the story of how the two gave birth (metaphorically speaking) to Blind Willie Dunn.

As real life keeps getting in the way, I`ve decided to do it in instalments.

It seems appropriate to start at the musical beginning.

Alonzo `Lonnie` Johnson came from a musical family of poor blacks. His father played the violin and his brother was pianist James `Steady Roll` Johnson. He is often quoted as saying that the family played at weddings, parties and the like. However,  jazz man Clarence Williams, whilst confirming that the whole family was musical, once stated that he used to see them playing on street corners.

Salvatore Massaro (Eddie Lang) also came from a musical background. His father was a maker of stringed musical instruments and he himself grew up admiring classical guitarist Segovia.

Both made their names as pioneers of the jazz guitar, but neither made their recording debut playing that instrument.

Lonnie`s first recording was made in 1925 as a member of Charlie Creath`s Jazz O Maniacs and the tune in question was called `Won`t Don`t Blues`. It can be found at www.redhotjazz.com/maniacs.html, and also it has been posted on You Tube by edmundusrex, who has a very impressive collection of tracks from the `20s available for your perusal. Lonnie provided violin and vocals on the track and I have to say it stands up pretty well.

Eddie/Sal `s first recording was as banjo player with Charlie Kerr`s Orchestra. The tracks concerned were  Good Morning Dearie and Silver Canoe and they were recorded during March 1923. Eddie recorded ten tracks with this band that year, always as banjo player.

I`ve not found any trace online of those first two tracks, but fortunately one of their other tracks from the same year , My Sweetie Went Away, has been posted on You Tube by someone using the name agesagomusic08 , and Eddie does appear on that track. For me personally, it`s pleasant enough but not touched with greatness.

Never a man to be pigeon-holed (he took up jazz and particularly jazz guitar at such an early stage that in fact the relevant pigeon-holes had not yet been invented!), Eddie was often to be found on recordings of light, fashionable jazz of the `fun but frothy` variety, even as he pursued a parallel career among some of the giants of the blues. But that`s another story....

The next exciting episode of The Legend of Blind Willie Dunn will follow in due course !


The Early Years of Eddie Lang/Sal Massaro                               

 I want to avoid too much clutter and detail, and particularly I don`t want to spend too much time on conjecture about matters that will probably never be resolved for certain. Equally, however, I don`t want to add to the confusion and misconceptions that prevail where Lang and Johnson are concerned.

For that reason, I`ll  just mention that, as I understand it, The Charlie Kerr Orchestra were sometimes referred to as Charlie Kerr`s L`Aiglon Orchestra or Charlie Kerr`s Leighton Orchestra, referring to venues where they performed, but were simply Charlie Kerr`s Orchestra for recording purposes.

I gather that in addition to his work with Kerr, Eddie spent part of 1923 in New Jersey with a group called Bert Eslow`s Band.

 In an interview at some point he stated that his first job as a professional musician was as a violinist at the L`Aiglon (Solo ? With a band ?) and that sometime afterwards he joined a band called the Chick Granese Trio. All of this seems to have been in Philadelphia, and apparently pre-dated his days with Kerr and Eslow by a couple of years.  

If anyone knows of any recordings of the Granese and Eslow bands, it would be interesting to know about that, but I suspect they never recorded.

His friend and fellow musician Joe Venuti has claimed that the two made their earliest recordings together in 1919, but this is not generally taken seriously. 

Terry Copeman - Mother`s Son - Maclean DuBois - 1989

In a sense, the story of Leicester man Terry Copeman is very typical of his time and place.

Born in the `20s, he spent the war working down the mines as a `Bevin Boy`, played piano in pubs and dreamed - much to his mother`s dismay - of being a Police Officer. Eventually he went in to engineering and ultimately set up his own small firm.

What is remarkable is that at the age of 24 he discovered by chance that he was adopted and embarked on an epic 26-year search for his natural mother, "building up his business by day, combing telephone directories and electoral rolls by night, pounding pavements and ringing doorbells at weekends and on holidays". In the course of his search he visited the castle home of a Scottish Clan Chief and encountered an Irish-American Policeman who appparently possessed "an uncanny gift for tracing missing people with a divining rod" !

When celebrities and others talk of their "journey" through life, spare a thought for Terry Copeman, an extraordinary man who truly could talk in those terms, but probably never would !

A copy of Terry`s book, which is now scarce, is to be found at 4319 in our listings.

Any questions, just ask.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Making Tracks

Should your taste run to railway history and railway memorabilia, these few items may be of interest ;  

A Fairclough`s The Story of Cornwall`s Railways is at 1940 in our listings.

At 1951, Philip A Stevens and others tell the story of Shackerstone Railway Society.

A copy of the 1972 Supplementary Operating Instructions for BR Eastern Region (Northern Area) is at number 4242.

And finally, at 4243 we have the BR Southern Region Supplement Number 2 to Electrified Lines Instructions.

Details to be found in our listings in the usual way, and if you have any questions, don`t hesitate to ask.

More About Books

I`ve not posted any book reviews for a while, simply because it stopped being fun.

Here are my comments on a few of the books I`ve read in the last few months ;

GYLES BRANDRETH - Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man`s Smile.

The idea - 19th century murders solved by Oscar Wilde - is genius, of course. Brandreth has come up with an ingenious plot and his grasp of historical detail seems impressive, as far as I can tell. His main shortcoming is that, while he can tell a story, he can`t conjure up an atmosphere. For this reason, while I`m glad I read Dead Man`s Smile, I`ve no real intention of reading any of the others.

MATT HART - The Black Sphinx

Mystery/Fantasy-type thing aimed at the younger reader. Set in a version of 19th century England, the story brings together mystery, murder, demons and Ancient Egyptian gods. I enjoyed it immensely, though no-one would now class me as a `younger reader` !

P G WODEHOUSE - Mr Mulliner Speaking

I was something of a Wodehouse buff as a youngster and I still like to indulge now and again. While I have nothing but affection for Jeeves and Wooster, Sally, Psmith, Uncle Fred, Monty Bodkin etc, I`m not so keen on the Mulliner books of short stories.

I presume they are among the writer`s earlier works, which do tend to be disappointing.  While there was the occasional pearl in the collection - there was one golf story I enjoyed very much - taken as a whole it was a bit low on laughs.

Some characters did seem to be prototypes of those encountered in the novels in a different guise. Roberta `Bobby` Wickham appears to be an early version of Stephanie `Stiffy` Byng, and Sidney McMurdo seems to be Roderick Spode. intrepid explorer Bashford Braddock also has Spode-like qualities.

JOHN TIMPSON - Paper Trail

This story of an inexperienced young man`s move from the big city to Norfolk to take up a post on a local newspaper was ex-BBC man Timpson`s first novel. An old-fashioned sort of story, but enjoyable. About three quarters of the way through I began to wonder if it was losing it`s way, but it was reprieved by a dramatic plot twist based on a real-life incident.  

That`s your lot for now.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Exploring Ethiopia in Eastwood

Historically, Ethiopia has had a  particular significance for many.

The reasons for this can vary. Certainly, the defeat of Italian invaders by the forces of the Emperor Menelik II at the Battle of Adowa in 1896 was treated as a matter of almost symbolic significance by many Jamaicans and African Americans, as was the country`s independence throughout the colonial period.

When Ethiopia was for a short time occupied, by Mussolini`s forces during World War Two, solidarity groups sprang up in various parts of the world. While the efforts of largely black organisations such as the Ethiopian World Federation are documented, it`s also true that Ethiopia`s exiled Emperor Haile Selassie toured many parts of the world to drum up support, including at least one visit to a factory in Nottingham.

During the 1980`s Ethiopia became unfortunately associated in the public mind with images of starvation and suffering.

I don`t know whether photographer Alan C Clayden FRPS gave much thought to the sensitivities around images of Ethiopia, but I would say he`s done a fine job.

Ethiopia`s historical heritage is well represented  in this display by images of rock-hewn churches and ruined castles, but images of hardship are also to be found here, as for that matter are outstanding representations of natural beauty, whether large scale (landscapes and sunsets) or more detailed (the tangled roots of an ancient banyan tree).

I`m not someone who can comment on photographic technique, but it seems to me that Mr C has assembled an exhibition that combines scenes of beauty with rather grittier material. For sure, it`s Ethiopia seen through the eyes of a westerner but I cannot see that he has any agenda other than to stress the variety of Ethiopian life.

The exhibition is currently at the Rainbow Gallery at Durban House Heritage Centre (admission £3)  and I believe it does have a couple more weeks to run.

Warmly recommended.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Elizabeth Cotten - Vastapol

I feel a musical interlude coming on, so here`s a track from You Tube which I heard for the first time only a few minutes ago, but which I consider to be a very fine thing indeed ;

Elizabeth Cotten - Vastapol/Vestapol, posted on You Tube by russelsheartinacage which you can find at ; www.youtube.com .

Pretty much the only the things I know about Elizabeth Cotten is that she was an African American ragtime guitarist and songwriter, born in the late 19th century and  best known for the song Freight Train.

Freight Train was popularised in the UK by skiffle groups who often took it at a very fast pace indeed. A quick return to the original, also on You Tube, show that it`s originator normally treated it as a slow, reflective number and that in fact it deals  with themes of mortality rather than being a jolly number about a train as most people probably imagine.

Years ago I briefly took a bit of an interest in ragtime and my recollection is that a lot of early ragtime composers like Scott Joplin actually intended most of their tunes to be played relatively slowly. Of course, all styles of music evolve, often in quite unexpected ways, but anyone who believes that fast playing and dazzling displays of technique are in keeping with the original spirit of the thing is sadly mistaken.

Anyone, that`s enough of that. Give the track a try, you might like it !

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Donovan Memorial (The Donovan Monument)

Situated in Marlpool Cemetery, Derbyshire, The Donovan Monument pays tribute to one Lardner Dionysius Donovan MD (unconnected with the similarly-named 19th century science writer AFAIK)  who died 22 August 1864 at the age of 30.

On one side of the monument we get the bare facts - name, age, date - together with a succinct statement "He went about doing good".

On another side, we get a fuller account ; "This monument was erected by public subscription as a token of gratitude towards and of esteem for Dr Donovan  and in recognition of his unwearying attention and kindness towards the suffering poor and of the faithful discharge of all his professional duties."

The monument is Grade II listed, a fitting tribute to a remarkable man. One could wish that the William Longdon monument in Ilkeston enjoyed equal protection (see `William Longdon of Cotmanhay`, this blog, 4 Dec 2010 !).

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Lads, Lasses and Canine Companions




 2179, 2669, 3017, 3815, 4271

Here are a few more from the stores here at Hoonaloon Books.

At 4260 we have Sgt Eric Walton`s From Hepthorne Lane to Rangoon and Back Again, the story of how a coal miner`s son from Clay Cross came to be present when the Japanese agreed a cease fire in Burma during World War Two.

Narvel Annable`s Lost Lad (4261) is one of a number of mystery novels set in Derbyshire from this Belper-based writer, who is also known for his non-fiction.

Wirksworth Creative Writers present more prose and poetry from the Peaks at number 4268. The local anthologies are often overlooked by potential book buyers. I never know why, as there often a few pearls to be discovered therein that you simply wouldn`t encounter elsewhere.

Lastly, at  2179, 2669, 3017, 3815 and 4271 we have Woolly Jumper by local author/broadcaster Dennis McCarthy and cartoonist Pete Dredge. This true story documents McCarthy`s relationship with his eccentric Irish Water Spaniel. A must for dog lovers everywhere. The copy pictured is number 4271 but all are in comparable condition.

Use the links provided for details of condition, price etc and if you have any questions, don`t hesitate to ask.

All the Best,

Nick & Ann-Marie

Hoonaloon Books

Monday, 8 August 2011

Nottingham Riverside Festival 2011

Mark Block and the Breezes
Shipstone Street Jazz Orchestra
Bestwood Black Diamonds Brass Band

I`ve visited Nottingham`s Riverside Festival more times than I care to remember but somehow I never get bored with it.

This year, we attended both the Saturday and the Sunday, but as it would be difficult to do justice to the whole, I`m just going to indulge in a couple of edited highlights.


Mark Block and the Breezes were the first band we saw IIRC, and very fine they were too. Billed as "jaunty acoustic pop" or something similar, they were actually from a folk music tradition. I`m far from being an expert on the subject of folk, but the ingredients were pretty obvious even to me - a touch of Dylan, a bit of traditional English folk but also a generous helping of energy and originality. This Mark geezer is an accomplished songwriter and his set struck a nice balance between covers (Mr Tambourine Man*, a couple of traditional songs and, rather surprisingly, George  Gershwin`s Summertime). If I had to pick a favourite tune from the set, I`d opt for In Too Deep, a Block original which seemed to strike a chord (no pun intended) with large parts of the crowd.

*One song from Mark`s set is already on You Tube, his version of Mr Tambourine Man. I must admit it`s  not one of my favourite songs at all, but you might want to check it out.


Shipstone Street, Basford Nottingham is home to The Lion, a venue which caters for drinkers of real ale and lovers of live music. When I lived in Nottingham I heard many great local bands there, and was curious to see if any members of said bands were to be found among the ranks of the SSJO. They weren`t, but that didn`t spoil my enjoyment of these fine exponents of big band and swing music, who I think I saw at last year`s Riverside as well.

 If I had a slight criticism, I would say the arrangements were sometimes a touch fussy for my taste, but that is just a personal thing and it did not spoil my enjoyment.

Part way through their set, they were joined by sassy songstress Sarah Simmonds. Sarah announced her arrival with a version of  Hey Big Spender, followed this with a very convincing rendition of  Why Don`t You Do Right and then a peerless cover of  Billie Holiday`s God Bless the Child.

Previous commitments meant that I didn`t get to see all of the SSJO`s set, but I`d happily see them again and warmly recommend that you do likewise if the opportunity presents itself.


 Bestwood Black Diamonds Brass Band , who appeared on the second day, get an honorary mention for continuing stoically in the face of adversity. 

Playing on the bandstand, they found themselves competing not only with sounds from fairground rides etc but also sounds of a novelty surf guitar band (I`m not making this up !) on the nearby festival stage. I think that current construction work to one side of the bandstand area, involving the removal of a great swathe of trees and shrubs, has inadvertently removed a natural barrier which had alleviated this problem in the past.

It was unfortunate that the Diamonds` set contained a number of  lengthy quiet passages, which frankly were completely drowned at times by sound from elsewhere, making it very difficult to comment on their performance. Their set was quite old-fashioned (songs from stage and screen followed by jaunty versions of tunes like Rule Britannia), in contrast with other brass bands I`ve seen (alright, I`ve only seen two others) , who often seem to include versions of rock and pop tunes. I had the impression the arrangements were quite adventurous, possibly even quirky, but it was really very difficult to judge.

Still, the band played on under circumstances that would have tested the patience of a saint, and you have to give them credit for that.


Yorkshire Bill`s Charitable Impulse

Yorkshire-based musician Bill Nelson, who celebrates 40 years in the music business this year,  is a keen supporter of cancer charity Sara`s Hope.

A representative of the charity, which provides holidays for children and young people with cancer and their families, approached Nelson asking for permssion to use some of his music on their site. He responded with a suggestion that he would write a tune to be used as a fundraiser by them, the result being a CD entitled Six Strings for Sara.

Subsequently, he has kept up the involvement, posting a new tune on his site regularly (once a year I think) which can be downloaded by fans, with proceeds going to the charity.

Bill`s 40-year-long career to date is well documented elsewhere, so I`ll content myself with posting a few images from his past to brighten things up. For what it`s worth, my favourite Nelson track is `Make the Music Magic` by Be Bop Deluxe, from their album `Modern Music`, but that`s just me.  If you wish to investigate further, he can be found at  www.billnelson.com .

As mentioned above, Sara`s Hope provide respite breaks for youngsters affected by cancer and their families. Speaking from personal experience, if you`ve ever had anyone close to you affected by cancer then you`ll know the enormous pressures it does create for everyone. If you want to know more, use this link ;  www.sarashopefoundation.co.uk .

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Let`s Talk About Trains

A number of train-related events are imminent , and I`m only too happy to share the details with the world, albeit in a rather hasty fashion.

During 13 - 14 August, The Midland Railex Exhibition will take place at Butterley in Derbyshire. Attractions will involve both model railways and heritage steam and diesel trains. The Golden Valley Narrow Guage Railway will also be in operation.

The Apedale Valley Light Railway Gala will be taking place on 10 - 11 Sept, with a theme of `Made in Staffordshire`., with train rides, mine tours, visiting locos, industrial displays, vintage cars and much more.

Details from Moseley Railway Trust at www.mrt.org.uk .

Lastly, During 9 - 29 August, by arrangement with the Arkwright Society, Wingfield Railway Group will be staging an exhibition at Cromford Mill, Derbyshire. Please note, this will be closed on Mondays with the exception of the 29 August Bank Holiday.

D H Lawrence Festival 2011

The 8th D H Lawrence Festival takes place in North Notts during 9 - 18 September this year.

Unfortunately, there is relatively little information online at present. However, enquiries can be directed to Broxtowe Borough Council and/or Durban House Heritage Centre.