Bad Penny… (Humph tribute, part two)

April 30, 2008 at 7:07 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, Uncategorized)

The late, great Humph had only one chart hit, ‘Bad Penny Blues’, a boogie-woogie number with pianist Johnny Parker, played as an afterthought at the end of a recording session in April 1956. Largely as a result of producer Joe Meek’s addition of artificial echo to the sound (something that Humph did not agree to and, on initial hearing, recoiled in horror from), the record became a British hit-parade success.

Here’s a later (1970’s, by the looks of it) reprise, with added coda:

Thanks for that to Byas’d Opinion.

Whilst we’re at it: thanks to Bruce for pointing out that I hadn’t made it clear that despite his aristocratic origins, Humph was a committed socialist throughout his adult life.

I also forgot to mention the wonderful (and true) story about Humph’s ancestor’s involvement with the Gun Powder Plot: the first Humphey Lyttelton was a leading conspirator in the plot to blow up Parliament. Humph commented: “He (the first Humphrey Lyttelton) was hanged, drawn and quartered at Guildford…the family was, naturally, terribly upset…not so much about the hanging, drawing and quarterting…but… GUILDFORD!”

By a remarkable coincidence, Humph’s early jazz sidekick, the clarinetist Wally “Trog” Fawkes, is a decendent of Guy Fawkes.

And, finally: given the title “Bad Penny”, this number simply must be dedicated to that multiple recidivist ignoramous of both jazz and Marxism, the man whose surname cannot be given because he’s such a threat to the British ruling class…  Mr John ‘G’!



  1. Dave said,

    Blimey, they don’t play boogie woogie like that any more, do they?

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Well, one or two people do, Dave: the original “Bad Penny” pianist, Johnny Parker was still alive and playing (in a pub – the Wenlock Arms – on a Sunday afternoon, near Old Street station), at least when I last saw him a couple of years ago. The pianist in the YouTube clip is not Parker, but (almost certainly) Mike Pyne, with Dave Green on bass and Tony Mann on drums (I’d guess).

    Other boogie-masters still around include Stan Greig (the drummer on the original “Bad Penny”, but a better pianist), Neville Dickie…oh yes, and some young kid who’s name escapes me, who used to appear on Ned Sherrin’s radio show. And there are still plenty of Yanks who can boogie-woogie in the great tradition: Eddie Higgins, for instance.

    By the way, it is said (but I can’t actually remember by whom) that the piano part on the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” was based upon Johnny Parker’s playing on “Bad Penny”. Anyone know the truth of this, or is it just one of those urban myths?

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Another true story that I forgot to include in either of my “Humph” pieces, but is worth noting here, if only as an example of jazz bigotry: when in 1953 Humph added Bruce Turner on alto sax to his band, in place of the traditional trombone, many fans were outraged, believing (wrongly) that the sax had no place in a “traditional” front line. When Bruce appeared with the band at Birmingham Town Hall a group of trad fanatics (rumoured to have been students from Birmingham University), unveiled a huge banner bearing the slogan “GO HOME DIRTY BOPPER”.

    The irony was that Bruce wasn’t really a “bopper” at all (though he did admire Charlie Parker), but modelled his style upon classic pre-war altoists like Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter and Pete Brown. But the bigots wouldn’t have known any of that: they just associated the sax with “modern” jazz. Poor Bruce, a highly sensitive man, was seriously upset by this incident and always afterwards felt slightly uneasy about visiting and playing in Brum.

    Still, the incident seems to have confirmed Humph’s determination to move away from “trad” and towards “mainstream”, in bold defiance of many of his existing fans.

  4. BRUCE said,

    I was going to say it could only happen in Birmingham but it happened in Manchester to Bob Dylan…

    Bruce Turner wasn’t strictly a bopper but he did have modernist tendencies. He studied in New York with founder of the ultra-cool ‘Cool School’ Lennie Tristano – along with Brit bassist Peter Ind. He was also reputed to be a fan of Stalin.

    Nevertheless… he was one of the people I first came across when I started to listen to live jazz seriously (at New Merlin’s Cave, just acrosx the road from where I lived in Clerkenell) so I owe this rather self-effacing owl-like character a musical debt if not a political one

  5. Brian Taylor said,

    Johnny Parker was brilliant when he played at The wenlock Arms. He was splendid especially when he manipulated the chatty crowd by playing quietly…he got their attention that way.
    He told me he wroye bad Penny Blues but as Humph paid for the session and owned the tape he got the royalties. Humph provided the job in the band. Iy only bacame an issue later when larger distriburion and international plays brought in more money. By that time it was a HL song..too late to claim. Johhny shrugged and played on..He certainly could have done wuth the royalties at that stage.
    He always gave his all at the Wenlock and never eveb when he had bad arthritis played badly. They still have pictures of him displayed on the walls. Nice memories!

  6. jim denham said,

    Nice thoughts about Johnny Parker, Brian.

    When I last saw Johnny it was at the Wenlock Arms about six or seven years ago and he arrived in one of those lethal little geriatric scooters. He looked very old and decrepit, but once seated at the piano, played with all the old brilliance.

    I also once heard a story about him and Princess Margaret…apparently he kept quiet about it for fear that what he’d done might have been a capital offence!

    Do they still have jazz at the Wenlock?

  7. Brian Taylor said,

    Jazz in The wenlock until 31st march 2012. It closes then no longer under the stewardship on Will williams who has supported the jazz fraternity and the idiom for the last 18 yeras.
    God save the Wenlock. Who knows what will happen in the future. Certainly there will not be the depth or knowledge and understanding shown over the past two decades.
    A lot of old Wenlockers are worried about what the future holds.
    Johnny is still fondly remembered and Bad Penny Blues is played frequently in there during the week, as is many other examples of the man’s talent. All in loving memory of a great performer and raconteur.

  8. Robin Carmody said,

    “Bad Penny Blues”, though not often acknowledged as such, is one of the key songs of the Suez moment, just as much as any of the obvious rock’n’roll hits; a symbolic announcement, by a man born to it, that the ruling culture of the British Empire was over. The fact that the Beatles channelled an Old Etonian’s remaking of black American music should be a wake-up call to those from similar backgrounds currently active in British pop; could any grime artist ever want, or need, to learn anything from *them*? To ask the question is to answer it …

  9. Jim Denham said,

    Terrible news about the Wenlock Arms, and all too typical of what seems to be happening to real, live jazz these days.

    I’ll always remember one particular Friday or Saturday evening there, about ten years ago. I wandered in, not knowing what to expect and was confronted by a band consisting of Johnny Parker (pno), Wally Fawkes (clt), John Wurr (clt and alto) and Diz Dizley (gtr). It was was one of the most enjoyable evenings of music I have ever experienced, and all the better for being unexpected. The band was joined in the course of the evening, by a pretty good Bosnian trumpet player, as I recall. Johnny and Diz are gone now, of course, and Wally is in semi-retirement. Even John Wurr (somewhat youunger than the others) has had to slow down following a heart attack and now lives down South somewhere. Lets hope thios kind of jazz finds a proper home somewhere in London.

    On the subject of ‘Bad Penny Blues’: I believe Johnny Parker’s piano was the model that Paul McCartney used when composing ‘Lady Madonna’: have a listen to confirm this.

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