PIT CHORUS

Interview with County Durham singer & songwriter Peter Lee Hammond.

The Queen, Margaret Thatcher and Paul McCartney walk into a bar in Easington mining town – sounds like an opening line of a joke but it’s a link to a song from deep down in the coal pits of the North East.

You might have heard of Easington, the town was used as the backdrop in the film Billy Elliott.

I asked the songwriter and ex-miner of 11 years, Pete Hammond, how did the single Living in a Mining Town come about ? Easington in County Durham used to hold a carnival every year to commemorate the mining community and I was asked to write a song in 1989. A lot of people got on board when they heard the rough version of the song and the Easington council committee wanted it to be made into a single for the town.

The song was originally recorded in The Studio in Hartlepool then mixed at Abbey Road studios in London. I went down and met Paul and Linda McCartney and was given a tour around the studio by Paul. He also showed me an easy way to play his song Blackbird.

Metro Radio, Radio Tees, Radio One and many others played the song and I done a few interviews for them.

The proceeds were to raise money for a local handicapped school, so they could get a hydro pool for the residents. The money from the song also went towards launching a music collective in the area for musicians. Many businesses donated money and it was supported by celebrities like Prince Charles, Her Royal Highness the Queen, Neil Kinnock MP and the Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher.

The Queen asked for a copy of the single to be sent to her and Maggie Thatcher sent me a signed photo of herself to auction and raise money. But no-one wanted to bid given the feelings the miners had for her, so I still have the photo at home.

Were you in a band then ? Yes at the time I was in a band called Just Us. I have won many song writing contests and awards over the years and cut album and cd’s. One prize for winning a contest was song writing lessons from the lead singer of the Strawbs, Dave Cousins, and guitarist Brian Willoughby.

What studio’s did you record in ? I recorded at Guardian Studios in Durham run by Terry Gavaghan. The studio was just in a normal street, it was two houses knocked together with no big sign saying recording studio, I thought I was at the wrong place at first until Terry answered the door.

What were your memories of the studio ? Terry was a great, down to earth kind of guy always made you feel at ease, which was good as it was my first time in a studio or recording a song for that matter. I remember the mixing room being very cramped full of equipment and a large mixing desk. But the session went smooth and the songs sounded great, Terry really knew what he was doing. We recorded three tracks there, Name on a Stone, Thomas Watson and I’m a Loner.

Terry was full of jokes and stories, one was that the studio was haunted by the ghost of a child that had been run over on the road outside the house. He also showed me a fur coat belonging to John Lennon, Terry said when he first started out he worked at Abbey Road studios, he let me take a piece of the lining and a clip of the fur as a keepsake. I have them in a frame at home.

Looking back what does the song mean to you ? The song gave the community a sense of pride when the single came out, I was very proud and honoured to have been asked to do this for the place where I was born and raised.

What are you doing now ? I still write songs and have over 1,000 up to now and record them on my own home studio. They can be heard on YouTube and my song writing Facebook page, you can find it by putting Hammy in the search bar.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020

 

 

 

 

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – snapshot of musician & teacher Jack Brymer (1915–2003)

A post last summer featured professional jazz musician Kathy Stobart (link below). The post highlighted her link from being born in South Shields to playing residencies in London, New York and Los Angeles to sharing a bill with Radiohead. But what about a link from South Shields to The Beatles via Dracula ?

A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend ‘Have you heard of Jack Brymer ? He used to live in South Shields. He was a famous musician’. I hadn’t come across the name so checked him out and was surprised to find he was a session musician who played on Hammer horror movie soundtracks starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I got a bigger surprise to find he appeared on The Beatles track A Day in the Life.

Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus pandemic the Local History library in South Shields is closed, and I would usually check details there, but this is what I’ve found using Ancestry, Musicians Gallery, and various BBC interviews and video clips on You Tube. Facts were checked as much as possible.

In 1911 John and Mary Brymer lived at 92 South Woodbine Street, South Shields. They had two children, then on 27th January 1915, John was born, later to be known as Jack. 

John senior was a house builder who played clarinet, and with no formal instruction, his young son attempted to play the wind instrument. Throughout his young life Jack appreciated listening to a wide range of musical styles from jazz to brass-bands. He later insisted that all these genres had been of great value to him professionally.

In a BBC interview he said ‘Playing the clarinet was a natural thing because after all I can’t remember not playing it. From the age of 5 I can’t remember life without the clarinet’.

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Jack trained as a teacher and joined the teaching staff at a school in Croydon. He taught the odd combination of physical education and musical appreciation. In his spare time he played in amateur musical ensembles.  

During the Second World War Jack served in the Royal Air Force. After basic training he was promoted to corporal as a physical training instructor.

After the war he returned to his teaching post, and in 1947 on the recommendation of professional musicians, Jack received a surprise telephone call from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra inviting him to audition. At first Jack thought it was one of his friends winding him up. But he went along and after playing, badly he recalled, a call came in next day – and a contract.

Throughout his career Jack enjoyed an interest in mainstream jazz and performed as a soloist with many of the leading British and American jazz players.

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He said ‘I don’t think musicians should just be musicians. I’m quite sure having a University degree in Physics is going to make you a better musician. You know more about life, it must make you a better musician. Admittedly academic knowledge is not the be all and end all but it must have a reflection on your whole outlook on life’.

He was a frequent broadcaster, both as a player and presenter, and made recordings of solo works with orchestras. He also played in both BBC and London Symphony Orchestra and was professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Military School of Music.

Now to the recording of A Day in the Life by The Beatles during January and February 1967. The song appeared on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and was recorded in Abbey Road Studio. I watched the music video for the song and there he was, at 13 seconds in, laughing with a colleague while putting his coat over a chair.

The song crescendo features forty musicians selected from the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. Producer George Martin said that Lennon requested ‘A tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something like the end of the world’.

Martin added ‘When I went into the studio the sight was unbelievable. The orchestra leader, David McCallum, was sitting there in a bright red false nose. He looked up at me through paper glasses. Every member of the orchestra had a funny hat on above the evening dress, and the total effect was completely weird’.

The recording for Jack was surely a highlight from a very distinguished career, did he think it would be one of The Beatles greatest songs and still listened to over 50 years later ?

To celebrate his 70th birthday the LSO paid Brymer tribute with a special concert, and another to mark his 75th at the Barbican Hall, London. He published two volumes of memoirs and a book about the clarinet. Sadly, Jack died at the age of 88 in Redhill, Surrey.

He didn’t do too bad for a builder’s son from South Shields, who had many day’s in his life to remember.

 Link to Kathy Stobart feature:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/06/25/all-that-jazz-snapshot-of-the-life-of-professional-musician-kathy-stobart-1925-2014/

 Gary Alikivi   March 2020