Selection: Just Goofin’
Joe Harriott (as) Pete Blannin (b) Tony Kinsey (d) Bill Le Sage (p,vib) Bob Efford (ts)Recorded London, May 16, 1957
There is a gibbet in the Tower of London reserved for anyone saying this, but there is only very small circle of British jazz musicians who could hold their own among the American elite players, including Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Dizzy Reece, and .. um..er you know, well, I said a small circle – three is quite small, perhaps Don Rendell and Tommy Whittle at a push. Not to say there were not many good British artists but personal nostalgia is not a good enough reason to elevate artists to that coveted first division. (It took the Brit pop invasion – Beatles to Bowie, and some, to scale the heights) .
One thing British jazz does succeed at, and that is, in being extraordinarily expensive vintage vinyl. Don Rendell, Ian Carr and Joe Harriott command eye-watering prices that make some Blue Note 1500 series warhorse records series look positively cheap, especially once you have converted the GB pounds into US dollars.
Fine as these records are, it is impossible to equate these sorts of prices with musical quality. (LJC, there is a man in a beefeater outfit at the front door. He’s asking after you) Columbia EMI pressings are quite good, and as British recordings, sourced from the original tape and not a copy, but nothing out of the ordinary. It has to be the incurable nostalgia some carry for their youthful rites of passage, in combination with scarcity, that drives the sky-high prices of vintage British Jazz records.
Enter the world of The Flamingo…
The Flamingo must be a light that burns bright in the memories of some British Jazz enthusiasts. (And possibly also a few n’ere-do-wells with a middle nickname and a few years unexplained absence in their employment history). The club opened in 1952 to provide a luxury centre for high quality jazz in comfortable surroundings; with gentlemen visitors expected to wear a tie (and I expect some other clothes too). Tony Kinsey was resident leader for several years, with various small groups and many star names, including Joe Harriott, Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, Bill Le Sage and Tommy Pollard, some of the musicians featured on this recording.
By the early Sixties, more in keeping with a new Soho address, the Flamingo gradually changed into “an intimidating place where gangsters, pimps and prostitutes hung out, and fighting among customers was not unusual” (says Wiki) It was a fight at The Flamingo that eventually uncovered what was to become known as the Profumo Affair and ultimately, the downfall of the Government of the day.
By 1963 The Flamingo was a centre of mod sub-culture, where fans and musicians of both jazz and R&B music would congregate to compare haircuts. By the mid-Sixties The Flamingo became the venue for a who’s who of British R&B, but closed its doors finally in 1967. In the mid-Sixties I would have been spotted a little further down Wardour Street at number 90, queuing to get into The Marquee club.
As a result of having the wrong sort of upbringing and the wrong sort of haircut, I had never been to the Flamingo and never owned a Joe Harriott record. I would not have, until I came across this Tony Kinsey Flamingo session at a reasonable price, as it is not in top-notch condition, but then neither am I. There’s a touch of hypocrisy insisting a sixty year old (record) is in perfect condition. Few of us would pass that test ourselves. A little bit of British Jazz history. On reading some of the comments on those blogs about the Flamingo, you can see where those record prices come from.
Vinyl: Decca LK 4207 on Decca’s own label, mono
The cover photo of the session at the Flamingo is a good example of the Holiday Snap School of Photography. The album “leader” Tony Kinsey is tucked away where you can hardly see him, but at least he is following house rules by wearing a tie (though I’m not sure everyone else is). Harriott is marking time waiting for his turn to solo, and you do get a good look at the interesting wall panelling of the Flamingo club, sure to be of interest to interior decorator jazz fans. To be charitable, a British understatement.
Dusty grooves, and a few grubby pawprints, I must have shot the vinyl before rather than after washing. The Decca matrix gives us a new engineer’s initial – “A” – one Guy Fletcher, not known to me and not the usual jazz duty engineer “B” Ron Mason. The label is Decca itself rather than one of the jazz sub-labels Decca used to release American recordings under license (London Records), and the audio hype declares it to be a “Full Frequency Range Recording” – a statement of the obvious, as if you might otherwise prefer a partial frequency range recording. Good British engineering principle – baffle them with science.
Back up to West London again, this time with the reluctant Mrs LJC in tow. She amused herself looking through the rock and pop LPs, pausing to exclaim “I used to have this one!” every few minutes, while I got on with the serious business of digging the jazz shelf. Coming up to the counter with some nice Dolphy Enja’s, the Kinsey/Harriott had just come in, and after a little research confirmed a reasonable price expectation, added to the small treasure pile to go home with. Nothing spectacular, but such is the record collectors lot. Some times something remarkable turns up, most times there are a few things of moderate interest, and some days there is absolutely nothing at all, and you go home empty handed. That’s as good as it gets, collecting for normals.