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10/30/11

Humph @ Oxford St.: Shake It and Break It



Following an interview with Lyttelton (my first and possibly worst), I took his suggestion and dropped my equipment off at Mack's Restaurant, spent the rest of the day checking out record stores, including the big HMV on Oxford Street. I returned to the club at seven o’clock, an hour before the band was to start, and did a quick, ad-lib setup. Placing my microphone on its stand in front of the raised platform, I found a spot for my tape recorder behind George Hopkinson's drums, and winged it. The tapes are unbalanced and a bit on the crude side, but they could have come out far worse considering that this was my first attempt at recording live music, that I was unable to make a balance test, and that my vu meter was just a so-called "magic eye" (you have to be up in age to remember those things; they were commonly used as tuning indicators on radios) .


This was my first time seeing the Lyttelton Club in action, I had only been there once, earlier in the day when it was Mack's Restaurant and I had lunch with Humph and his manager, Lyn Dutton. I guess I was expecting something akin to the Storyville Club, my new Danish hangout, so I was surprised when the doors opened and an odd assortment of people began to fill the large room. Young men wearing derbys and tight pin-striped suits with vests, young cigar-smoking girls with hair down to their waists, wearing one-piece black corduroy outfits. George Melly would conduct two of them in a bizarre dance a couple of days later, as I describe here. This crowd was very different from the one I knew in Copenhagen. pale, sickly looking people with enormous noses, sweaters that reached down to their knees and naked, dirty feet. This is not how I am remembering it sixty years later, it's how I wrote it down some sixty years ago.

The "Magic Eye"
I surprised me to see that no alcoholic beverages were served, not even near beer—this would be unthinkable in Denmark. There was a counter at each end of the room was one could purchase a rather brutal cup of English coffee, soft drinks, and hideous little, overly sweet cup cakes in various pastel colors.

I struck up a chat with Molly, who worked the counter nearest the entrance. She wasted no time telling me that she was in her eighties, which I found to be curiously refreshing, considering the environment. Molly knew the name of every musician who wandered in, which instrument he played and whose style he assimilated. She was equally well versed when it came to the British royal family and pointed with great pride to an ugly little greenish lump of pastry that, she said, with obvious pride, had recently been dubbed the “Elizabeth” cake. I had to tell her all about myself and how I had come from Denmark to record the Lyttelton band. I finally managed to get away, and as I was about to disappear into the crowd, Molly shouted, “You can be proud of your Queen Wilhelmina”. 
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Before I knew it, Lyttelton stomped off, the band began to play, that little green eye winked at me, and the odd people began moving to the music, a weird, detached sort of dance in which partners never touched each other and people remained in their place, as if treading water. I remember that evening and, indeed, the days that followed, more clearly than I do this time last year. I have described elsewhere much of what took place during the next few days, when I missed my boat train at Liverpool Street Station, so here's a link to that.


And here is another number from that evening, "Shake It and Break It"


3 comments:

  1. Humph - Shake It and Break It - Thank you for that Chris, and for "Chicago Buzz" a few days ago. Humph recorded in the concert hall and obviously in the studio but I think this is the first time that recordings have turned from his old home territory at 100 Oxford Street. Amazing that such great stuff should be turning up even now. Talk about the Dead Sea Scrolls - except of course that this music remains wonderfully alive! Thanks again.

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  2. That's interesting, John, it never occurred to me that other recordings of the band at 100 Oxford Street might not exist. It's a minor miracle that I still have the tapes, and a major one that they haven't disintegrated. I found two more, one with the band plus Archie Sempel, and one with Neva Raphaello backed by pianist Mike McKenzie's trio, with Humph joining in.

    There should be more, but that's all I have come across, so far. I'm glad you like them.

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  3. Yes, you were quite right to be surprised at my statement Chris, on rather quieter reflection I recall that there is (at least) one other recording made by Humph at the 100 Club; "Jimmy Rushing with Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band - A NIGHT IN OXFORD STREET", issued on CD on Upbeat URCD 186 and recorded on September 11th, 1957. But your stuff is pretty darn rare and, like your blogspot, very enjoyable. Cheers.

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