MY OLD FRIEND DICK


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DICK MORRISSEY was one of the nicest people I ever came across on the jazz scene.

Enthusiastic, honest, straightforward to the point of naivete, genuine and thoroughly modest though abundantly talented.

 I remember admiring his quartet (Harry South, Phil Bates, Phil Seamen  or Bill Eyden) at the old Ronnie’s in Gerard St. c.1963 whenever I could get there as a student.

 I first actually met him during the same period at a gig he was doing with a local rhythm section in a pub in Hildenborough, Kent. The amateur trumpet player had a Dizzy-style bent horn and, although he wasn’t very good, Dick was very encouraging to him. He was also very friendly to me when I introduced myself at the bar in the interval – generous with drinks (“Want a pint? Want a short to go with that?”) and with his blessing on my ambition to become a drummer.

 After I turned pro in 1968, I played with Dick on and off but not as often as I would have liked because I was busily occupied in the Tubby Hayes quartet. I do recall wryly that one night, Dick and I set off together for a gig in Acton and NOBODY, yes, NOBODY turned up so after half an hour we abandoned ship and headed for home– a first for both of us!

 Dick was keen to venture into jazz/rock in the style of the popular group Blood Sweat and Tears and was seduced into signing a contract with a rather ruthless agent/manager. Dick’s group – which included his close friend guitarist Terry Smith from the Bull’s Head and another saxophonist Dave Quincey – was named “If”. Dick wanted me in “If” but I wasn’t sure I wanted to play that style and wasn’t happy to sign the management contract so I pulled out. They did one tour of America but I don’t think they made any money and the band fizzled out.

Dick then teamed up with guitarist Jim Mullen to form the very popular fusion group “Morrisey-Mullen” but his heart was still in straight-ahead jazz and in the 1980s, he combined the fusion group with playing a series of jazz gigs in London and the South East with Jim (still today one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the country), the late Mike Carr on organ and myself.

 Dick also later reverted to a jazz quartet with “steam”piano. The regular drummer was a tasty player called Jim Hall who I believe was also from East Kent, and for whom I did a number of very enjoyable deps. The pianist was John Burch, a burly fun-loving Cedar Walton  disciple (he really went to town on the cadenza passages in Walton’s “The Holy Land” - I might put a recording of that up on the music page in due course). 

I remember lovely times with John Burch myself but his name will always conjure up for me one of Bobby Wellins’s legendary anecdotes. Bobby and John were accompanying an indifferent vocalist singing the Peggy Lee hit “Fever!” with its melodramatic shout followed by drum thud each chorus. First time round, Bobby made a distinctly audible farting sound at the drum thud and from then on John B would be anticipating the fart in the same place every chorus and would convulse in giggles of anticipation more and more bars in advance each time.  

My two fondest memories of Dick: 

A night at Ronnie’s when Mike Carr and I were doing the first set as a duo and Dick turned up and sat in. He was on fire and played the best I ever heard him – especially on Rollins’s “St.Thomas” (again, material for the music page). The dour and sarcastic Pete King (Ronnie’s business partner) appeared at the mike to announce us off and did so in terms of enthusiasm unheard of from him: That concludes the first set, ladies and gennlemen, a very fine stomping first set

 And finally my last letter from Dick (when he was dying of cancer at his sister’s house in Deal) which alluded to my Priesthood and his Catholic upbringing:

Dear Spike, hope things are good for you. I lurch along but at present I am out of pain. Dominus vobiscum. Love, Dick.

 

Spike Wells