More Than You Know: Aug 1997

Like most musicians, I consider myself privileged and fortunate that I make a living playing the music I love. However, things are not always as rosy as it seems. The first job I had when I arrived in London in the late 1950’s was playing week-ends in a pub in Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill – working with a drummer from 8 till 11pm. Things were fine up to 10.30 – that was the cue for the drunken would-be Sinatras to appear. Never mind that we had played for two hours without even a ripple of applause – the last thirty minutes was theirs. They would sing the same old songs every time, and bring the house down. None of them knew the keys they sang in – it would always be “Nat’s key”, “Sinatra’s key” – or in one particular case it was “George’s key” ( Formby of course).

One guy had been singing the same three songs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for three months. I decided enough was enough, so one night as he stumbled onto the stage on cue and shouted “My Way”, I told him that we weren’t having any singers that night. He glared, mumbled something unrepeatable here and stormed back to the bar. At 11pm. we played our last number, the drummer started to pack up his kit and I was sat at the piano finishing off my pint when HE suddenly appeared, face crimson and an evil look in his eyes. Before I could say “Let There Be Love”, he landed me a right-hander, knocking me out cold. He sure did it “his way” and I never saw him again. They say you should never work with children and animals.

Many years later I secured a residency at a pub in Hendon – again with a drummer, and again the singing housewives and househusbands were in abundance. An Irishman (Sid) was employed by the pub to collect empty glasses during the evening. His wages were as much beer as he could drink. By 11pm. he was leg-less. The landlord always encouraged him to sing “Danny Boy” as the last number of the evening and maintained that without Sid’s vocal, the evening wouldn’t be complete. I decided to change this one night by closing the piano lid at 11pm. before Sid got his chance. Sid was gutted, the landlord was furious and I was sacked. “He’s part of the furniture – you’ve only been here three months” I was told. Three months too long I thought, as I wended my way back home down the North Circular. I later discovered that Sid had been there for nigh on 20 years collecting empties. He may still be there – singing “Danny Boy” – no doubt unaccompanied.

Being lovers of curry, Pat and myself visit our local Indian restaurant on a regular basis. Being a friendly lot, they get chatting about different things and after a couple of visits, they asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a jazz pianist. They didn’t understand, and I had to describe what jazz was, and what a piano looked like! The following week I handed them one of my solo piano cassettes and just as we were leaving, I heard it playing quietly in the background. It didn’t sound right, but as we were on our way out I didn’t think any more of it. The following week we walked in and the cassette was playing again. I had a quick word with the manager and said something was not right and could I have a look at the cassette. The tape had got twisted – it had been playing backwards all that week. They hadn’t detected anything was wrong and the staff had proudly been telling customers that “the performer was a regular visitor here”.

London’s “100 Club” has been a regular haunt for my trio for over 30 years. Roger Horton (the Proprietor) would call me on a regular basis for the trio to perform there. In the late 1960’s I had a record in the Top Twenty at the same time as Roger called me to do a trio job. I mentioned the fact that my recording had reached No.15 that week – thinking he might offer me a few quid more. “That should bring a few more customers in Nev” was his response and put the phone down. We are like lambs to the slaughter when it comes to working at the “100”. Must be something to do with Pat and Roger who are a pleasure to work for. Apart from Roger always having a good story to relate, the piano is always maintained to a high standard, although that hasn’t always been the case. I was present many years ago when Ralph Sutton was booked there to do three nights – solo piano. In the middle of his first number he turned round to the audience and enquired “Has anybody got an axe?”.

Neville Dickie – December 1999.