Peter Kerr – Don’t Call Me Clyde!: Jazz Journey of a Sixties Stomper
(Oasis-WERP, 377pp., £9.99. Book Review by Chris Parker)
“The Caledonian kings of the Trad Boom” is how the Clyde Valley Stompers, the band (eventually) led by clarinettist Peter Kerr, are described in the publicity accompanying this, Kerr’s account of his life from his birth in Lossiemouth in 1940 to the (premature) end of his jazz career in 1964. It is an apt description: at the height of their fame, they recorded a chart-storming single, Peter and the Wolf, for George Martin in his pre-Beatles days, appeared in a movie with current pop idol idol Tommy Steele, provided the music for a Norman Wisdom film (then Britain’s most popular comedian), and appeared on all the top variety TV shows with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Morecambe and Wise and Danny Williams (of “Moon River” fame).
Beneath this apparently successful exterior, however, lurked bitter conflict, money (as always) at its root. Unlike their contemporary rivals, the Alex Welsh Band, the Stompers were not a co-operative unit, instead run by a triumvirate: former leader Ian Menzies (who bought the rights to the band name for £60), his wife and promoter Lyn Dutton. The actual bandmembers were merely paid employees, on a fixed wage, but (spoiler alert!) when Kerr asked to see the accounts, he was summarily fired and the band re-formed with entirely new personnel, only to collapse altogether a short time afterwards.
Kerr laces this all-too-familiar tale with all the wit and eye for the telling detail that one might expect from the best-selling author of a series of Mallorca-based travel books (Snowball Oranges et al.), so you don’t have to be a diehard jazz aficionado to enjoy it. In any case, the first half of the book is a wry account of Kerr’s childhood, schooldays and musical apprenticeship in Scottish pipe bands, and his descriptions of his first professional band’s sojourn in Germany and the financial problems involved in performing a gruelling series of gigs all over Scotland will appeal to anyone who’s ever tried to attain a long-cherished dream, musical or non-musical.
Both as a chronicle of a too frequently neglected period of UK pop music and as a moving personal story (heroine: childhood sweetheart, later wife, Ellie), Don’t Call Me Clyde! is as intensely readable as it is enjoyable.