Wednesday 19 December 2018

George Webb, Ian Christie

Central to the 'trad boom' of postwar Britain, influential jazz musicians Webb and Christie, both self-taught, continued to inspire down the decades in various guises

TWO influential jazz musicians with connections to Humphrey Lyttelton died recently.

The first, George Webb, who died on March 10 aged 92, is universally acknowledged to be the father of the postwar traditional jazz revival in Britain.

The movement Webb created, which grew steadily in the late Forties, led directly to the "trad boom" of the late Fifties and early Sixties.

George Horace Webb was born in Camberwell, south London, on October 8, 1917, the son of a music-hall artiste. His earliest memories were of his father and uncle (the "Brothers Webb") rehearsing. The family later moved to Belvedere, Kent, and Webb took a job at the Vickers Armstrong armaments factory in nearby Dartford. When war broke out in 1939, he was already a skilled machine-gun fitter and thus exempt from the call-up.

A keen jazz enthusiast and self-taught amateur pianist, Webb helped organise entertainment in the factory canteen and, in 1940, began assembling a band.

In 1941 the band acquired a name: "George Webb's Dixielanders", and a regular place to play -- the downstairs bar of the Red Barn pub in nearby Barnehurst.

Their music sounded alien, even barbaric, to ears brought up on crooners and English dance bands. But the word gradually spread, and over the next six years jazz devotees converged upon their unlikely suburban stage. One such visitor was Humphrey Lyttelton. He sat in with the Dixielanders and was soon invited to become a permanent member. The band had features in the music press, occasional radio broadcasts, and even recordings.

In 1948, with its members scattering in search of employment, the Dixielanders folded and Webb joined Lyttelton's newly-formed band as pianist.

In 1951, observing the growing popularity of revivalist jazz, Webb thought it a good moment to branch out into promoting jazz events. The most successful of these were the Sunday night sessions at the Shakespeare Hotel in Woolwich.

Webb barely touched the piano during these years, but returned to playing in the early-Seventies. He toured Europe as accompanist to the singer Jo Starr and, in 1973, briefly formed a new version of the Dixielanders. In 1974 he took the tenancy of a pub at Stansted, Essex.

In 1985 Webb gave up his tenancy and moved back to Belvedere, close to the scene of his early triumphs. In 1998 he took a prominent role in the celebrations of Humphrey Lyttelton's half-century as a bandleader. He continued to play occasionally until the end of his long life and was due to appear, in May, at a show to celebrate the 70th anniversary of his first venture in band leading.

George Webb's wife died before him. He is survived by his daughter.

Meanwhile Ian Christie, who died on January 19 aged 82, formed with his brother Keith the Christie Brothers Stompers, one of the bands that fed the growing enthusiasm for "trad jazz" of the Fifties.

With Ian playing clarinet and Keith trombone, the Stompers was a hard-driving outfit, first featuring Ken Colyer's cornet and later Dicky Hawdon's trumpet.

The band made a notable disc, You Always Hurt the One You Love, with I'm so Glad on the B-side. But it was clear that something (rock-'n'-roll) would supersede it, and the band broke up when Keith's interests led him away from Dixieland to join the modernist Johnny Dankworth; as a result the brothers were known as "Christies Ancient and Modern".

Ian moved on to Alex Welsh's band then joined Mick Mulligan, with whom he did much of his best work.

When the declining fortunes of "trad" led Mulligan to give up in 1962, Christie started writing for the magazine Lilliput, whose last editor, Richard Bennett, moved to The Sunday Telegraph, where he asked Christie to write record and concert reviews.

For the next 26 years Christie was at home in the boozy environment of Fleet Street pubs, writing features while covering theatre, television and, particularly, films.

The son of a piano tuner who played banjo, Ian Christie was born in Blackpool on June 2, 1927. He largely taught himself to play the clarinet, and left school to train as an electrician before doing National Service in the Royal Air Force.

Afterwards he took a photography course and moved to London, where Keith had joined Humphrey Lyttelton's band.

One of Lyttleton's innovations was a line-up with two clarinets, in which the lyrical Ian Christie proved particularly effective in duets with the louder Wally Fawkes.

In 1949 the band invited Bechet to play at a concert in London and recorded with him despite a legal ban on American musicians performing in Britain.

After giving up journalism in 1990, Christie concentrated on jazz again. His tone was likened to the woody, rough timbre of Louis Armstrong's sideman Ed Hall when he recorded the album That's the Blues, Old Man (1982) with Fawkes.

He also recorded Turned Out Nice Again with his own quartet, and played with Graham Tayar's Crouch End AllStars, proving as poignant as ever in blues and ballads even when suffering in his last months from Parkinson's.

He nevertheless retained his sharp humour, and wrote new words to Summertime, renamed Zimmertime.

Ian Christie was married three times, first to Jeanne Howe (with whom he had a daughter) then to Sarah Llewellyn (with whom he had another daughter) and finally to Belinda Francis.

Sunday Independent

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