THE BE-BOP KING OF HASTINGS
I want to say something this week about my close friend PETE BURDEN who died a couple of years ago.
This is not a biography, just a personal memoir, but I should mention that Pete was sent as a boy to Christ’s Hospital (the “Blue Coat” school) and that made his attitude to my eventual priesthood ambiguous.
You see, he had an austere and intimidating religious upbringing there and carried with him into adulthood a lingering irrational fear of hellfire. I hope he’s now chilling out in some hip celestial quintet……….
I had the delight of knowing Pete from right back in the mid-1960s when we were both part of a group of musicians who played at the Troubadour Café in Earl’s Court on Sunday afternoons. He cut a really cool, enigmatic figure in a suit and tie with shades and always seemed to be returning from a slightly dodgy trip to Denmark……. He would then go to ground, alternating between hallucinatory experiments and candle-gazing bouts of meditation.
One of the Troubadour circle was the late bassist John Hart who, amongst other eccentricities, would ask us in turn in a strangulated mad-professor voice “Are you really a human biggy?” From that point on, Pete and I would refer to each other as “Biggy” or “Biggs” and our almost daily (in the last 10 years or so) phone calls would start with “Morning Biggs”, ”Morning Biggs”.
I turned pro in 1968 and was proud to have Pete (along with Marc Charig on cornet and Jeff Clyne on bass) in the first quartet I led under my own name. The style was Ornette Coleman-ish and Pete played a fiery brand of far-out alto. (A broadcast track of this quartet is on the “music page” playlist.)
All through the intervening years, we continued to play together from time to time, at various venues in Hastings (including a weekly residency at “The Street” with Pete White and Roger Carey) and in Lewes and Brighton.
At the same time, especially since his mother died and he started living on his own, our friendship grew and a practice arose of my spending a day in Hastings every few weeks, which become highly ritualized:
· Rendezvous at the station at 11.30.
· Walk down to a café/bar called Pisarro’s for coffee and the first beer (“Vier” in Pete’s case)
· Followed by lunch at “The Muktah” Indian restaurant, where the architecture inside consists of a number of walled off booths. So the lunch and the venue together became for us The confessional in which I would “hear” Pete’s mock confessions in the booth.
· After a Madras chicken and Bombay potatoes, we would retire to his basement flat in Holmesdale Gardens and drink the afternoon away listening to our favourite jazz records – his beloved Sonny Stitt, my favourite Jackie McLean and many others. (At the time of his tragic pavement fall and entry into hospital in 2016, I was turning him on in a big way to another great be-bop altoist Sonny Red……………….
· Finally, we would rouse ourselves and he would see me off on the Brighton train in a haze of bonhomie
I still miss Pete terribly. He was so hip and so warm, so kind and so funny. When he was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia, he accepted his condition calmly and courageously and functioned consistently well on his medication.
For as long as we played together, he knocked me out. The sound he got from his horn (whichever – he was always debating whether to change his Selmer Mark VI for a King) was unique, plangent and somehow just right. His licks were so knowing, his phrasing and time were indelibly New York.
And Pete always took a solicitous interest in my musical life. “When’s your next gig?” “Uh-huh”, and then “How did it go last night?” he would regularly ask.
We made several recordings together and I have added two new tracks to the “music” page which nicely capture the beauty and knowingness of his style.