ITYA Chapter 3

3.  My Damascus Road Experience

            Not long before I’d left Christ Church School, Gran’dad Bayliss had found an ancient wind-up gramophone in an old house which he was clearing.   The machine was made in the early part of the Twentieth Century, but was still in working order.

He gave it to me, and I still have its smell in my nostrils:  musty, slightly damp wood, and about-to-start-rusting metal.   Uncle Doug had greased its spring.   It had a big, blue-green horn and a heavyweight pick up in which I had to put the needles.   And it came with a small supply of gramophone-records, 78s made twenty, thirty and forty years earlier.

Its sound was enthralling!

I kept it in Dad’s shed in the garden and could hum, whistle and sing every part on every one of those records.   “The Whistler and his Dog” was my favourite, though I tried to become all snobby by saying I liked the two operatic records;  but I didn’t really.   “The Hungarian March” was good to my ears, though, and even Princess Anne’s wedding a few years back hasn’t stopped me liking that.

At The School, we had music lessons.   Ferdie Rust – the vicar or curate or something up at St. Peter’s – told us what was “good music”.   He played us excerpts of “good music” on a far posher gramophone than mine.   His was a huge, highly polished thing with a wooden horn ten times the size of my blue-green one.   He used wooden needles, too.   I accepted his musical opinions at that time because I knew no better.   But that changed very suddenly.

My cousin, Johnny Muir, had left school and was an apprentice-electrician.   He had money for the occasional evening out.   One of his favourite places of entertainment was a jazz-club, and he bought a couple of 78s.   He had nothing on which to play them, though.   My cousin, Dorothy Rowlands, had a gramophone in a polished cabinet on legs, but she wouldn’t let him use it.

So my now-battered machine was his target.   And his use of it changed my life.

“Listen to this,” he said, having commandeered my machine and more or less pushed me out of the way.

The record was new.   There wasn’t much hissing or scratches on it.   And it was “Muscat Rambles” by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five.

I listened.   I could do nothing else.   The ensemble playing gripped my ears.   I think I may have begun to tremble so earth-shattering was the moment.   Nothing would ever be the same.   As I write this, I can hear every note still!   And there was Louis’ cornet, stating his mastery and leadership.

I sort of inherited that record years later when Johnny died and still treasure it.

From the moment I heard it, I wanted to make music like Louis Daniel Satchmo Armstrong.   And I wanted to tell Ferdie Rust that his taste was far too narrow.

But it was the Devil’s Music still, and Wolverhampton Grammar School had an unwritten rule that its evil would never permeate the walls of the establishment.   Well, until four years later when jazz was becoming respectable because Humphrey Lyttleton was the son of the nobility.

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