The Temperance Seven and Trad Mad

If only The Beatles hadn’t come along…

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In 1962 the BBC producer and broadcaster, Brian Mathew, wrote a book about the popularity of Traditional Jazz in Britain called Trad Mad, which was, and still is, a good read. Part way through the book Brian is convinced that ‘Trad’ jazz will be the sound of the 1960s, as Swing was the sound of the 1930s. What he hadn’t reckoned on was the arrival of The Beatles, who blew his theory about Trad into outer space.

It was bad timing on Brian and his publisher’s part, and in fairness to him, he realised quickly that The Beatles were something just a bit special and were going to make the 1960s their own; and he was at the forefront of ensuring they did so, with his radio programme on a Saturday morning featuring them time and again.

Trad Jazz didn’t go away of course, and its popularity continued, albeit in the background of popular music, with the occasional hit from Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and Chris Barber, oh, and The Temperance Seven, who influenced me hugely in my exploration of jazz.

I’d heard them in 1959, when they, as a group of either Oxford or Cambridge* students — can’t remember which — were playing a sort of military band-cum-ragtime mix that sounded rather odd, but strangely interesting. By 1961 they’d found a style that fitted in with the short-lived Trad craze.

It was a style that encompassed ragtime and the ODJB (The Original Dixieland Jass Band) before moving on to the jazz of the 1920s (a sort of pared down Paul Whiteman with hot solos) and the 1930s, up to the birth of Swing. In other-words they could be all things to every lover of Trad. They got a hit out of it too, ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ which had been a big hit for Rudy Vallee in 1930.

On the back of that hit (which was produced by George Martin, The Beatles producer) The Temperance Seven went on a UK tour, during which I managed to see them on the end of Southsea Pier in 1961.

Firstly, their presence on stage was very Edwardian: high collars and bow ties. Their language was rather Edwardian too, with references to drinking tea and cocoa; and not a smile to be seen. Great fun. It was when they started to play that I was completely bowled over (and there was the odd cricket reference too) by their extraordinary musicianship. These guys could blow, taking you back to whatever period they were in. It wasn’t pastiche either, but a real piece of musical time travel.

The band was fronted by Paul McDowell, who sang, slowly, with a very straight face and laconic voice. Most of the introductions, and explanations of each piece of music were given by the percussionist, Brian Innes, whose set of ‘traps’ — plus tubular bells — were certainly Edwardian; but what a brilliant timekeeper, and he never once sat down.

Some members of the band had rather splendid names too, such as Capt. Cephas Howard (trumpet), John Grieves Watson (banjo), Franklin D Paverty (Tuba), and not least Clifford de Bevan (piano). They were straight out of a John Buchan novel. The rest of the band members included an alto sax player, clarinettist , and a baritone/bass sax player. But how they could swing. I loved it.

Through that concert I discovered Duke Ellington (they played a lot of his stuff), Benny Goodman, and a whole raft of other musicians, through which I moved to others, all of which created a sound track for ours, and their lives.

Brian Mathew died in 2017.

  • They were, of course, Chelsea School of Art students…

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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