Brian Hills


Born 1937 in Kingston, London, moved to Eastbourne spent early life there, moved to Brighton about 1970. First instrument was harmonica, became fairly proficient, still own a few. Took up clarinet approx. 1953 (after 3 months, was told "if you press this little key at the back, you get a whole load of different notes, but higher") and suddenly found I had an upper register as well! (Albert system) changed to Boehm system 1955, studied recordings of Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Noone, Barney Bigard etc. gave up clarinet - took up banjo - after 6 months, gave up banjo. And so back to clarinet. Started to learn chords on spanish guitar, added alto-sax approx. 1962. 1955-1960 in Royal Air Force - 'Mike King's Jazz Band' - Germany, (started collecting 78rpm jazz/ragtime records and windup gramophones) first band - 1961 'The Original Mojo Rhythm Kings' played regularly at the 'Dewdrop' Inn, South St. Eastbourne. Did 'Tiger Rag' with the band for TV talent contest, think it was the TV company at Portsmouth or around there,(forget the actual name). 'Eagle Jazzband' - also in Eastbourne. - bought a baritone sax - many excursions to Hastings to hear (and hope to sit in with) the excellent Dolphin Jazz Band performing at the Market Hall, George St. A founder member of 'Expedient Marching Band'. The line-up was: Pete Treger cnt, Pete Kitcher tpt, Tony Pike clt, myself alto, Ted Owen Eb clt, Johnny Griffiths Eb horn, Tex ? tbn, Derek ? tbn, John Boyatt sousa, Peter Davies snare drm, Alan Whitmore Bass drm, Roy Martin flag bearer. 'Five Jazz Hounds' with Pete Treger cnt, John Collinson pno, myself alto, John Griffiths bass, Alan Whitmore dms, sometimes with Bill Cole sousa, Tony Pyke clt, Mike Pointon tmb. Played with the 'Jazz Caverners' (founded by Brian Towers of the now disbanded Dolphin Jazz Band )with Pete Kitcher on Cnt. 1962 'Indiana Jazz Orchestra' with 'Megs' (Mike Etherington) on Cnt. recorded an EP - (Tuxedo Rag/Gone Daddy Blues/Forty & Tight/She's Forty With Me). First professional band: on the road full time with 1963 'Original Downtown Syncopators' replacing Bob Gordon-Walker, who was about to disappear to work in the States. The lineup was : Dave Davies cnt, Barry Dunning tmb, myself clt/alt, Ron Geesin pno, Geoff Daley dms. I have Ron to thank for suggesting me as a replacement for Bob, and I was delighted of course. This five piece band attempted to emulate the Original Dixieland Jazz Band with good success, and travelled about in a delapidated Bedford bus (a real piece of art deco!), complete with fitted beds,band uniform wardrobe,calor gas heating, kitchen sink, mickey mouse wallpaper,the lot! Ron Geesin's bed was above the water tank,and I can remember the green mold on his pillow! We regularly had to brush rust flakes from our bedsheets which fell from the roof! And - we had a flea epidemic and had to destroy all the bedding. One night, having completed a gig in Manchester, we drove in a really thick pea-souper fog trying to find a car park - and eventually found what we thought was ideal, and divested ourselves of our band uniforms (dj's) and bedded down for the night. In the morning we were awakened by the sound of terrible banging on the side of the bus! Pulling back the curtains, we found had parked in an open square, and a grand parade was starting up, complete with bagpipes, horses, sea cadets, and allsorts. The police wanted us to move our wreck of a bus elsewhere, obviously. So we drove away, still in our pyjamas, through the thronged crowds and shopping centres. In Crawley, met Billy Jones, the pianist who played with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band when they came to England in 1920. As far as I remember, Billy Jones was in Crawley to take part in a Pathe Pictorial film about the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and featuring a performance of the ODS. This was just prior to my joining the band. 1964 - Joined 'Spencers Washboard Kings', did radio broadcasts, recorded singles on Rayrick,Parlophone, and Polydor labels plus an LP on 'Davjon' label. Carl Spencer took over outstanding gigs from the now disbanded Original Downtown Syncopators.1965 - A typical gig was Saturday 6th - Eel Pie Island - supporting Monty Sunshine Band. Pay for this was 8.00 at this time. [About this time I visited a music shop in Eastbourne, run by Addie Norris, called the 'Ocklynge Music Shop', in which one could find all manner of second-hand instruments. In fact my first clarinet was bought here, an Albert system for nine pounds, the trumpet I was after was ten pounds at the time, for the sake of a pound I may have become a trumpet player! Anyway, just as I was about to leave I noticed a small jar near the door containing some small flutes and/or fifes. Sorting through produced what could only be a 'Hot Fountain Pen', inscribed Keith Prowse Ltd, London, complete with mouthpiece and single screw ligature! What a find! Would you believe it, it was left in a tenor sax case which was lost en route to a London gig!dammit! (update - 2008 - found another, and a 'goofus' !) Much touring in Denmark,Sweden,Germany and Belgium followed. Met Ben Webster in Copenhagen, (along with his manager) at the 'WineGarden' jazzclub. We were performing 'Dicty Blues' at the time, with myself doing the Coleman Hawkins tenor solo, when Carl Spencer prodded me and said in my ear - "Ben Webster has just walked in!" - (that gave me the jitters!) In the interval we descended on Ben and were treated to a few tales of being on the road with the Fletcher Henderson band in the thirties. One tale I remember -(Ben W.) "We were in a hurry to get to the next town - travelling in the band coach. I was sitting next to Kaiser Marshall, the driver shouted - "The brakes have gone!", someone else shouted "Turn the bus on it's side!, Kaiser Marshall shouted "Oh! shit - Oh! shit", and we all dived on the floor!". Champion Jack Dupree in Brussels (Pol's Bar) sitting in with the Washboard Kings, and at the '100 Club' in Oxford street, London. Both Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball had kind words to say about the Washboard Kings after we played supporting sessions with them, also at '100 Club'. Ron McKay enjoyed playing washboard with the band occasionally. 1969 - 'Patrick Samson Set' in Turin, Italy for some months. Television Series with Bob Kerr and others concerning american presidents, where we performed jazzy versions of their campaign songs - hosted by Cliff Michelmore. A founder member of 'Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band'. Went semi-pro again... 1973 'Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra' based in Brighton recorded four LP's. Great residency at Shoreham Airport Bar. 1986 'Original Society Syncopators' with 'Megs' Etherington, 'Blue Rhythm Kings' with Malcolm Walton leading, 'Alabamy Bounders' with John Morphew on Bass Sax, 'Rio Grande Hot Tango Orchestra' with Malcolm Walton, 'Honeysuckle Hotshots' with George Walker. 1990 'Panama Jazz Band' in Brighton, handed over to 'Jumping' Jack Gilbert. Finally found and purchased Buescher bass sax! 'Southern Syncopated Orchestra'. Current Bands: 'Spencer's Nighthawks' - 8 piece band based near Hastings (recreation of Spencers Washboard Kings), 'Vintage Hot Five' based in Brighton - classic jazz + mild humour. Harry Gold sat in with us 14 Mar 1999 at 'Maxims' winebar in South Street, Eastbourne gig, interesting bass sax duet ensued! (during all of this time (approx. 47 years), of course,much depping, and odd gigs etc. in between main bands.) Currently gigging at various times with George Walker, Alan Sokell, John Muxlow Mike Etherington, Alan Kennington, Johnny Fruscht, Andy Woon, Dave Davies 'Mountainous' Maurice Dennis, and many other fine chaps.

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