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Derek and Pam Watson of the Dunmow Jazz Club and Wickham Bishops Jazz Club. Promoting since 1958.
Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.
So you started in Dunmow originally did you?
I did, yes.
Had you done any promotion before Dunmow?
No, Dunmow was my first event.
When was that?
Probably the early 60’s.
Where was that?
That was in the village hall at Dunmow. The village hall is quite big at Dunmow. It's more than a village hall.
So just tell me about it.
Well I met my wife at Dunmow and we ended up getting married there. I took her to a dance and the dance’s used to be good and run by the council, but after a period of time the numbers dropped right off and one of my wife’s friends said to me “Derek, I reckon you'd make a better job of it than what the council do”. I was earning £8 a week, my Pam was earning £4 a week and we booked the bands and we put coaches on and such like and we packed the hall. We were turning people away. Anyway, we carried on running dances, bringing the London bands down and that sort of thing, but I'd always liked Jazz, going back to the days of Freddy Randall and Humph Lyttelton and the Cooks Ferry and places like that. I said to Pam, “I’m going to run Jazz”, and she said to me “Do you know what you're doing?” and I said “I don't know until I've done it!” The first band I ever used was a band called Eric Silk. He was based at the club in Leytonstone.
What was the club in Leytonstone?
It was Trad Jazz and…
Do you know where it was?
It was above Burton’s tailor shop, it was upstairs. Anyway, the night went well and that’s the most money I ever made in my life. We made £22 profit!
Flipping heck, in the early 60’s as well!
Yes, and from that we carried on. That’s how I really got into Jazz. At the time it was the in-thing wasn't it, and as you know 55 years later I'm still doing it.
You say you had Eric Silk, so how did you progress from there?
From there I went into the big time with Terry Lightfoot, Monty Sunshine, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and people used to travel from miles around. We used to get some students come up from Portsmouth every time and it was definitely the in-place to go. Henry Red Allen came over here, he was here for a month, and there’s only four Saturdays in a month and they are the prime nights aren’t they, and Jack Higgins who ran the Davidson Agency, he put Henry Red in the Dome at Brighton, the Silver Slipper at Nottingham and one of the London venues and he put him in Wickham Bishops, which shows what his opinion of us was.
And you were getting around 200 people there?
Had more than that. I reckon we've had 400 in that hall. It’s like a football crowd, it was shoulder to shoulder. Nobody sat down. We used to run coaches, well a double decker bus from Chelmsford, a coach from Braintree, another coach from Saffron Walden and we did that for a number of years until I moved to Wickham Bishops, and it was time for me to retire.
When did you move to Wickham Bishops?
I lived in Wickham Bishops for 41 years, I've been up here for 3, that’s got to be just on 50 years ago.
What, when you moved the club from Dunmow to Wickham Bishops?
Well, we packed up for 8 years.
You did Dunmow for 18 years?
No we did Dunmow probably for about 20 or so, then we moved to Wickham Bishops and I said to Pam “We’ve had enough” you know, we had a family. We didn't do anything for about 8 years, went into retirement. My son was working up at this festival and he bumped into Terry Lightfoot. He introduced himself to Terry and he said “You know my Mum and Dad’”and Terry said “Yes” and he came home and said “Terry Lightfoot says you should start again”, so I said “Alright, I will do one in the village hall” and 25 odd years later I'm still doing it!
The Police Hall is it called?
No the Foakes Hall was Dunmow, Wickham Bishops is the village hall.
I've got a news-clipping here from 1964 that says about the Dutch Swing College Band, so tell me a bit about that.
Well the Dutch Swing College Band is a band that used to come over here and tour and probably one of the most popular bands on the scene. In fact, I'm sure they was. We had them several times at Dunmow. We used to run once every three weeks there and as I said big people, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Dutch Swing College Band and Terry Lightfoot, Monty Sunshine, you know. We ran that for probably about 25 years.
Did you? And this new venue. Is it smaller?
About the same, Wickham Bishops hall is a big hall, I don't know if you've seen it, it's a new hall and it’s about the same size as the Foakes Hall in Dunmow.
When would you think that you did that Terry Lightfoot gig in Wickham Bishops?
Wickham Bishops would have been roughly 24 years ago.
So that would have been 1990?
Yes, probably round about then.
And that kick started you up again?
Yes, I didn't intend to do…I said to Pete, my son, “Pete I've been there, I've done it” and he kept on, so I said “Alright, I'll do one but I'm going to do it in the village hall” which was the old village hall, and we were sold out weeks beforehand and obviously I thought “Hang on a minute, we'll keep it going!”
I suppose from your point of view as well, that was not only a labour of love it would have given you another regular income as well.
Yes it did, exactly what you’re saying, I mean…
No shame in making a profit is there.
No point in not making a profit.
You'd be surprised the amount of people though that do see it all as, you know, as long as you break even that's alright, but there's a lot of effort goes into promoting.
I mean, I'm working now all the time on leaflets and that sort of thing, and advertising. I earn my money.
Yeah that’s right, and rightly so. So what stand out concerts have you had at Wickham Bishops since you started again 24 years ago?
Well we've had Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Terry Lightfoot, Monty Sunshine, Pete Allen, The Muggsy Band – that’s Alan Gresty, and you know, I think we’ve done all of the bands that are on the scene, bands that I think are worthwhile, put it like that. We’ve got to maintain a standard. Well, according to the band boys it’s one of the best clubs in the country. Sean Moyses come over from Holland with Rod Mason's band. They did a tour of the country and Sean said to me “This is the best crowd we've ever played to”. I don't let people talk when the music’s on, because people pay to listen to the music, not somebody else chatting.
So they don’t dance there?
No, they haven’t got room.
Oh! They do like a dance don't they! Are you strictly New Orleans or do you go wider than that?
New Orleans and Dixieland. I'm not into mainstream a great deal. We tend to make it Dixieland. Obviously the crowd that come grew up in that era didn't they and…
Are there any young people coming through?
Well when you say young, I suppose we get some there in their 50's and that. The only thing that’s going to beat me is the age group.
True, true. Well I mean, you're doing incredible to get around 200 at each of your events, you know. The 200 mark is quite a staggering amount of people isn't it.
I get people come down from Ely. Regular, on the front row, right in the same seat.
Do you? Blimey, Ely from here must be 70 miles?
I should think so. I lived up that way, it's got to be that.
Well, they’re going to travel aren't they if you’re one of the main clubs in the country.
But the Bamber was as well. Pete Allen comes up from the West Country, drives up and drives back again.
So were you not particularly a Jazz fan that much before you started the club in Dunmow?
Well Jazz was just coming in, at the Cooks Ferry and Wood Green and places like that.
Fishmonger’s Arms yes. And that was just coming in and the thing was that people used to go to dances then didn’t they? The girls would dress up and the fellows would press their suits, but then Humph Lyttelton was one of my big favourites in the early days, Freddy Randall probably just as much. But that is when it swung to the Trad boom.
It was enormous wasn't it, the Trad boom.
Yes, some wonderful times.
Getting in the charts as well wasn’t it?
Yes, I mean every town had a Jazz club didn't it. Chelmsford, Dunmow, every town around had a Jazz club, Brentwood.
Who was running the Chelmsford Jazz Club in those days, in the 50’s.
I can tell you, a fellow called Peter. He used to run Elm Park as well. Claude Sporran his name was that ran Chelmsford at one time.
Was that in the 50’s?
That would have been the same time as I was running, in the early 60’s. It was in a hall above the Odeon. That was on the Monday night.
Right. Was that every Monday?
Every Monday. In those days clubs used to run every week didn’t they.
Was yours every week, in Dunmow?
No, once every three weeks because I had other things to do besides that.
Did you see what was going on in Chelmsford as being competition to you?
Because it’s only about 10 miles from here isn't it.
Yes, but we used to pull the big crowds, as you can see.
Well yes, I know.
I mean we were only kids, Pam and I.
Did you run it together, you and Pam?
Yes. She was 50% of the success, without a doubt.
So finally Derek, I understand you've been promoting from 1957 right through to present day, just with an 8 year gap. It's said that in all that time you just had two failures which was an outrageous run to go that long without…what were those two failures then?
Me going into retirement was one!
Oh I see! I wouldn’t call that a failure!
I went into retirement and I did make it known I was going to pack it up again and I'm still doing it.
What was the other failure?
Again, it was me talking about going into retirement when Pam died.
Oh right, you didn't want to do that. I suppose since then you could say you’ve had a third one with the snow. Recently was it?
That was recently.
That was a failure not of your making.
That’s right, in 55 years I've only ever had problems with the weather three times.
Especially being out in the countryside like you are, treacherous.
Like I said, we get people down from Ely, I mean Alan Bradley, he lives in Lincolnshire and he got there to play. I phoned him up and I said “Are you going to make it Alan?” and he said, “I've never not got to a gig in my life”.
That’s really interesting. Tthat’s lovely. So you say you run an event once a year.
Yes, and I shall be running one this August Bank Holiday Monday with the Joe Loss Band, appealing to a different crowd. That, without a doubt, will pack the hall.
Is that is Cressing Temple?
No, that’s in Wickham Bishops Hall. Cressing Temple was a big place with two great big barns hundreds of years old and we did several events over there. Chris Barber did one, Kenny Ball did one, Pete Allen did one and we pulled 1,000 people in. It was an all-day event, August Bank Holiday. The weather was normally good and I have given a lot of money to the Little Haven Children’s Hospice and I am now doing one in the Village Hall with the Joe Loss Band and the money from that will go to Farleigh Hospice. I will not take any money at all for that because my Pam was involved with Farleigh Hospice, and yes we’ve done several over the years. I'm proud of raising, probably, £10,000.
Amazing. It makes a difference.
I lean very much to supporting Farleigh Hospice, obviously for personal reasons.
You told me a really amazing Johnny Dankworth story earlier.
This was in the Corn Exchange, Chelmsford. He married Cleo Laine on the Wednesday and my friend who ran a dance band did the first half of the night and Johnny Dankworth came down with a 16-piece band and did the second half. As I say, that was a once only in the Corn Exchange in Chelmsford.
It was just after they got married as well.
Well a few days.
I bet they got a massive cheer!
You said they were £160 didn't you?
£165. I can tell you now what I paid bands going back. As you see on that receipt, £100 for the Dutch College Swing Band band. 1964. And £75 to the agency as I remember.
How many people would you say were in that concert at the Corn Exchange?
I think about 700 and something.
That's amazing. Was that a one off, did you do anything else at the Corn Exhange?
I put Sid Phillips in there, Eric Delaney, Johnny Dankworth, but Chelmsford was a hard town to make it pay. I don't know why, but it was a hard town. I mean Sid Phillips was £115, Eric Delaney was £115, I've got a good memory for money. But some of the band boys that come to Wickham Bishops, they’re travelling, they've got to come all the way from the West Country. A bloke’s not going to come all that way for less than £200.
No of course they're not, no.
I mean some promoters are greedy, others screw them down but in the end it’s “Oh no forget it”, you know.