80 SINCLAIR ROAD LONDON W.14
Certain addresses have become part of the London jazz legend.
There was a house in Fawley Road, NW6 known in the early 60s as “Fallabout Road”. Humphrey Lyttleton commented that, if you ever managed to gain access to the premises before 2pm, you would be greeted with the sight of various bodies still in gig suits sprawled on sofas and armchairs snoring away with mouths wide open – reminiscent for Humph of a William Hogarth 18th century cartoon.
80 Sinclair Road, a large terraced 5 storey house in a road tucked away behind Olympia, backing on to a railway line and just below Shepherd’s Bush did not have the same air of drunken debauchery about it but was home to a number of musicians who kept late hours after work during which a large number of “jazz cigarettes” were manufactured and consumed.
In late Summer 1968, I was desperately looking for somewhere to stay while I embarked on a (short lived) course at London University. In the end, having bent the ear of my jazz acquaintances, I was told there might be a room going at No.80.
Indeed I was hospitably taken in by the tenant of the basement flat, a wonderful character called Noel Norris – first a drummer, subsequently a trumpeter in soul bands and later touring with Sandie Shaw. Apart from his musicianship, Noel was above all about the wittiest man I have ever met. Shy and sensitive, kind and generous but supremely funny. I shared the basement with him for two years or more.
This was all 50 years ago of course and sadly I have lost contact with Noel. I hope he’s still alive (he’d be about 80 now) and, if anyone has any news of him, please please let me know!
But whu don’t I give you a conducted tour of the rest of the establishment………………………
In the isolated splendour of his penthouse apartment (pokey top floor flat, more like) then lived the independent-minded Australian altoist Ray Warleigh.
Below him were, as I recall, a quiet reclusive very sweet classical pianist called Tom and, opposite him, a foul-mouthed drunken -- but also very sweet - Aussie amateur tenor player called Barry (what else?) Barry had a beaten up yellow Vauxhall Victor car which, when he had exhausted all other sources of funds, he sold me for £30. Everybody in the house said I was mad but it actually did me remarkable service. I even drove it on the sands on a holiday in France.
Down another floor and meet the Pyne brothers – the talented duo from Bridlington. Mick of course was the great pianist with the Tubby Hayes quartet. Chris, the elder, had also started on piano but taught himself (!) the trombone and became a leading jazz and session musician on that instrument.
Mick’s living room with quality upright piano became the scene of many jams and rehearsals. I remember Freddie Hubbard turning up for a blow and getting into a ridiculous argument over the changes to Dolphin Dance. “THAT AIN’T DOLPHIN DANCE!” “YES IT IS” “NO IT AIN’T” and so on. Unfortunately Freddie was unable to explain what he thought Mick was doing wrong and the composer Herbie Hancock wasn’t on hand. Oh well………..
Mick had two cats, Gypsy and Bruno. Gypsy was a nervous black specimen who spent his time fleeing, peeing and hiding. Bruno was an imperturbable huge ginger manx. One day, Noel and I caught sight of an enormous orange blob flashing past the window. Bruno had fallen off the balcony and plunged two floors. Happily, being such a laid-back character, he was entirely unharmed.
And so to the ground floor, occupied from well before my arrival until the present day by bassist supreme Ron Matthewson, then at the height of his powers, now sadly no longer playing but sole surviving tenant of our era (indeed, as sitting tenant, he was later able to buy his groundfloor flat).
It was to Ron’s front room that we most often repaired when we returned from our various gigs of the evening. We listened to sounds of course but, as the night wore on and we got more and more stoned, Ron could occasionally be persuaded to remove his glass eye, place it on the turntable and set it in circular slow motion at 16rpm. This was the ultimate buzz for those still alert enough to track the eye on its revolving path………….
In the 1960s, Sinclair Road and number 80 itself were quite run down. I reckon almost all the houses had been carved up into cheap bedsits. A Frenchman owned No.80 and Noel dreaded his weekly visits in person to collect the rent in cash. There were two Italian transport cafés in a neighbouring street where we would get a solid meal before setting off for wherever we were playing. I favoured “Tony’s” – Ron preferred the “Five Star”. Once a week a paraffin wagon would announce its presence in the road and we would fill up our jerry cans. Central heating? No chance! We relied on our paraffin heaters in winter.
Inevitably, Sinclair Road has since become gentrified.The Frenchman sold out to a property company and “apartments” up and down the road have been renovated, modernized and flogged on long leases at inflated prices to wealthy yuppies.
This blog has been an unashamed exercise in nostalgia and I realise it’s no good hankering after the shabbier London we knew and loved (where you could drive around and park with no hassle).
For me, the greatest single thing about moving into No.80 was that it got me heard by Ron Mathewson and Mick Pyne and recommended for the Tubby Hayes quartet.
Cheers and God bless for that, Ron! I doubt if you’ll ever move, matey, but if you did you’d make a fortune. And why not, eh?