Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Jazz percussionist discuss life as a musician

THE guest speaker at our twilight meeting on August 16 was internationally renowned percussionist and vibraphone player Alan Grahame

THE guest speaker at our twilight meeting on August 16 was internationally renowned percussionist and vibraphone player Alan Grahame.

Alan’s career spans six or more decades during which time he has played for such musical greats as Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Matt Munro, and Tom Jones.

He has also played several times in recent years with our own local jazz maestro Ken Fitt for our Rotary jazz nights, helping to raise charitable funds.

Members and guests at the well-attended meeting anticipated an interesting talk entitled “My Life as a Professional Musician” and they were not disappointed.

Alan explained that he was born in Cornwall and traced his childhood back to when his family moved to Dawlish when he was about five.

He recalled supporting his father on stage, even at this early age, in a few amateur comedy routines at local club venues.

Unfortunately, his father subsequently lost his business in Dawlish and the family then moved to Sutton in Surrey where Alan attended Sutton Grammar School.

He also became a St John Ambulance cadet and around this time attended tap dancing classes.

Music was his love, however, and with a group of friends he formed a band which played local clubs including one or two perhaps less reputable ones in Soho.

His first real break came when Ralph Sharon, who then had the leading jazz band in the country, invited him to join. However, there was scant money in payment and Alan moved on to be a member of the Jerry Allen Trio.

The trio started playing variety and for radio programmes such as Music While You Work.

This led to auditions for TV work, resulting in Alan playing on the Benny Hill Show, where he met his wife, who was a dancer on the show.

He also played on variety shows including the The Roy Castle Show, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise and The Val Doonican Show as well as Top of the Pops and Playschool.

He also played in the West End show Applause starring with Lauren Bacall.

Alan recalled several anecdotes from his wide-ranging career. For example, he recalled how Shirley Bassey was utterly professional and charismatic when on stage under the lights.

He also mentioned Ronnie Hazlehurst, the musical director for The Two Ronnies and Last of the Summer Wine.

Alan said he felt that nowadays recording studio work, as opposed to live music, was cold, pointing out that all recordings can be edited or adapted, unlike the live performances of his era.

Happily, however, his musical genes appear to have passed on to his daughter who plays lead alto saxophone for Jools Holland.

Club president Lionel Scott gave the vote of thanks for Alan’s most interesting insight into his career.

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