George Melly & John Chilton's Feetwarmers, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry - March 27th 1977 003
Pages 2 and 3 of a programme for a performance by George Melly and John Chilton's Feetwarmers, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, 1977. Page 2 concludes Chilton's discussion about his relationship with Melly. Likewise, page 3 features a profile of John Chilton by George Melly.
|Catalogue Reference Number||NJA/PRO/32|
|Title or Caption||John By George|
This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.
ï»¿Our paths rarely crossed in the 1950s, by then I had become a travelling musician occasionally, the band I was with would share a gig with Mick Mulligan's Band, sometimes we d meet up in a greasy spoon' transport cafÃ© where musicians broke their night-long journeys. George's cheerfulness always stood out, not in a distressing life-and-soul-of-the-party way. but with the kind of affability that seemed to be accorded to friend or stranger.
By the early 1960s George was doing a lot of compÃ©rinq and singing on radio shows. I played alongside him on several of these and was amazed how effortlessly and humorously he controlled the programmes, with the minimum of prepared notes or rehearsals. I had always known that he revered the classic blues singers, but on these shows I found out that his musical tastes and vocal talents spread over a much wider area of jazz than I had imagined
I was never put off by George's honest flamboyance and extrovert disposition, in those days he seemed to incense some peopleânone of the aggrieved, by the way, had ever met him Ex-agent Jim Godbolt in his recent book ''All This and 10' " admits to an initial apprehension at the way George conveyed the "theatricalism of the congenital show-off ", but he also says, "I soon discovered a very likeable, kind and intelligent man behind this flamboyant exterior.''
Twenty-five years, and a thousand shared gigs later I've seen no reason to alter my original assessment. George is the most genuine, tolerant and kindly fellow one could ever meet, his wit alone would make him a boon travelling companion. but when this is combined with the ability to converse brilliantly (never pedantically) on a vast range of subjects it is small wonder that we take on touring schedules that might destroy other bands. For Collin Bates, Chuck Smith, Barry Dillon and myself the journeys are never boring âthanks to George
But the real fun starts when we get to the gig. George's boundless enthusiasm for singing and talking to the people conveys itself easily to me and the rest of the band. Since January 1974 (when we resumed full-time touring), he has worked hard at his singing technique with impressive results, these days there's great warmth and control in his vocals. The variations in his announcements seem as limitless as ever.
George loves meeting, or re-meeting audiences, and would willingly work 465 dates a year if time allowed. Author Daniel Farson summarised the inspiration that George gets from a responsive crowd "Applause is as welcome as booze to George, and that is saying much. For the key to George is that he really does love people and their response, and not just the so-called 'beautiful people' but also the unattractive and unhibited and lonely."
I think I've only once seen George low with disappointment, that was when we received the news that there was to be no follow-up series for his television chat (and song) show. The show, called simply "George", was a victim of late-night television restrictions brought into force during the austerity power cuts of early 1974. Though the series was never seen in the sequence intended we are always being approached by people eager to talk about their memories of these remarkable programmes. The most often heard summary is "It was the only honest, intelligent chat show I've ever seen." I don't need persuasion to agree with them, and if ever I was in doubt that George is a world-class chat-show host I would only need to switch on television any weekend.
I suppose that most of George's audiences know that he's a world-respected authority on modern art, but few know that he often takes great trouble to act as a guide to anyone who wants introducing to the subject. As an interloper on these informal tours I've been amazed at the care and kindliness with which George handles the proceedings. One art teacher I know went along for the stroll and said it was the best lesson he'd ever had in his life. I suppose it's all part of George's givingâhe's the easiest handout in the world, and somehow he gives off vibrations that bring hard-luck story-tellers beaming in on him from a hundred yards range âthey never walk away empty handed.
I remember George riding for miles on his moped through torrential rain in order to present my wife with a birthday book signed for her by Jean Rhys, her favourite author. George had gone to immense trouble to get it signed and delivered. I often think he would give anything away except his last cigar. He's constantly doing good for many minorities and lost people, but never as a do gooder. I don't know where the amazing energy comes from. He remains the sturdiest raver of them all. After a 200-mile journey and two energetic concerts he'll often say to the band, "I hear there's a lively scene just around the corner that stays open until dawn." Usually we cry off, but George seldom does, yet he always makes the ten a.m. call looking robustly healthy.
Not that he ever goes in for many orthodox keep-fit routines. He's a pretty fair table-tennis player, and I have known him pull a one-armed bandit or two, but the only real sporting interest in his life is trout fishing. October 1st (the end of the season) is for George the second saddest day in the year, taking second place to December 25th. He detests Christmas, not from any Scrooge-like principles for sure, I think it's because he resents the cant that decrees you should only have one whoopee day a yearâfor George every day is Christmas (except one).
Surroundings never bother him, I've seen him eat cold tripe off a stall in Burslem with the same panache as he tackled a haute couture speciality in the Taverne Du Passage in Brussels. The only time he gets fidgety is when his only enemy, untidyness, becomes apparent. This aversion never applies to people's attire, anyone dressed in a potato sack will be as well received as the nattiest squire, no, it's the untidyness of rooms or ill-laid tables that really bugs G.M. At a meal out George often jumps up and begins re-arranging everyone's knives and forks into a symmetrical pattern. Cries of "Sit Down, You Old Queen" will not deter him, partly because he's been hetero for years (I think), mostly because no words could halt his passion of neat orderliness. Woe-betide any bearded man opposite him whose whiskers even momentarily harbour a crumb of cheeseâbefore the diner's hand has time to brush the particle away George is over the table dabbing away at the offending morsel.
As everyone in the band sported a beard at one time George was fairly mobile at meal times; however, he never complained. I suspect that very few things would upset him to the point of complaint. The only time he'd dig his heels in hard would be if anyone insisted that he conform. His easy going approach to the ways of the world is unshakable, highly personal, and alas, very rare. In an age that seems ready to be cajoled into accepting standardization of everything including personalities, it is my privilege and pleasure to work alongside a unique individual, Britain's first great jazz entertainer, George Melly.
JOHN â¢ BY GEORGE
On the road the pressures are considerable. Living out of suitcases, cheek by jowel, battered by late hours, rushed meals and generous punters who keep the booze flowing, personal relationships are constantly under stress. I consider myself extremely fortunate in sharing this life with the Feet-warmers; a diverse yet complimentary quartet, and particularly with their leader John Chilton.
John is not only a fine musician, not only a natural band leader, he is also a very complicated and fascinating human being. A jazz scholar of formidable erudition, he manages to wear his learning lightly. He is of the opinion that jazz is not only a unique form of expression, but fun as well. He transmits passionate enjoyment in exercising his craft. The music is the man. At the same time he is ferociously involved in standards. There is no coasting or faking under his watchful eye. No puritan; I can't imagine we could co-operate if he were; he is nevertheless fearless in the critical sense.
There are two Chiltons, the humorous good liver and the ferocious martinet, and one of the anxious joys of his company is never knowing when the former, the more common I'm relieved to say, will yield to the rare but terrifying appearance of the latter. His explosions, known to us all as 'purples', are brief, devastating, but usually fruitful. They are to do with the betrayal of standards and give pause for thought. You can shout back too, and they pass as quickly as a summer storm.
A mass of contradictions which nevertheless add up, John is a socialist and a dandy, a humourist and anecdotalist of genius, an accountant with the soul of a poet, a strategist and a satirist. I feel we complement each other, my slapdash approach is corrected by his painstaking planning of our shared performances, down to the last detail.
The test of friendship is pleasure in being with someone. For me to see John in his flamboyant hats and expensive shoes, is to experience anticipatory delight. His playing is fierce and tender, his being likewise. I am a happy man to approach the stage knowing that his trumpet is ready to back and inspire me.
George Melly, Britain's first great jazz entertainer, is equally at home in front of audiences of every age group and, more remarkably, very different tastes and life styles. Walking on, a whisky and a cigar in hand, wearing one of his outrageous suits and flamboyant hats he feels instantly at ease whether his audience are the exuberant alumni of a university or the cheerful patrons of a 1,000-seater cabaret club. He has triumphed in such varied settings as a giant rock festival and a famous West End night-club (where he played a record-breaking five week season).
What is the secret of this remarkable man? Writers and columnists have been trying to answer this question for the past three years, for it was in January 1974 that George decided to defy the rule that says middle age is the time to settle down and take it easy. Instead, he bounced back to a world of ceaseless touring and one-night stands, gleefully tackling a work schedule that would exhaust most performers half his age. This decision was deliberate. Comfort and ease were already his. His work as a critic of television and films for âThe Observer" had won him the "Critic of the Year" award; for fifteen years he had written the story-line
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