Frank Parr: Jazzman, cricketer, raver…and legend

May 17, 2012 at 11:13 pm (booze, good people, jazz, Jim D, sport, whisky, wild man)

“I should inform you that he can be a grave social risk” Cyril Washbrook (about Frank Parr).

Frank Parr, hero to several of us associated with this blog, died on 8th May.

The Independent gave him a decent obit:

He would have been a wonderful breath of fresh air in English cricket in the 1950s, an entertainer with a bohemian streak, but it was not to be. Jazz and cricket did not make easy bedfellows, certainly not with a conventional man such as Cyril Washbrook in charge. On one occasion, at Oxford, Parr played his trombone in the dressing room, with a team-mate beating time with a stump: “Much to Washy’s disgust.” Washbrook’s vitriolic words, on the racial origins of jazz music, were never forgotten.

Parr was not bitter, though. He was too intelligent, too independent for that. “I’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” he would say. “I’ve made a living out of the two things I loved.”

Francis David Parr, cricketer and musician: born Wallasey 1 June 1928; died London 8 May 2012.

He learnt to be an athletic wicket-keeper when at Wallasey Grammar School and developed into an outstanding performer behind the stumps, playing for Lancashire from 1951-4.

Achieving 90 dismissals for his County, Frank impressed the England selectors as a mobile, effective ‘keeper and was chosen for the MCC at Lord’s in a Test trial. The Lancashire side was strong in the early 1950’s with a shared title in 1950 followed by top three placings in the Championship.

We’ve previously quoted the late George Melly on Frank (jazz trombonist and Lancashire wicket-keeper), but the following is just great:

“It might…appear extraordinary that, far from playing cricket for England, the following summer (1956 -JD) saw Frank touring with a jazz band. The reason had nothing to do with Frank’s wicket-keeping, but it had a lot to do with Frank. From what I can gather, although the ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’ labels have disappeared, the attitude of the cricketing establishment remains firmly entrenched. The professional cricketer is not just a man who plays cricket for money. He has a social role. He is expected to behave within certain defined limits. He can be a ‘rough diamond’, even ‘a bit of a character’, but he must know his place. If he smells of sweat, it must be fresh sweat. He must dress neatly and acceptably. His drinking must be under control. He must know when to say ‘sir’.

“Frank, we were soon to discover, had none of these qualifications. He was an extreme social risk, a complicated rebel whose world swarmed with demons and Jack O’Lanterns, and was treacherous with bogs and quicksands. He concealed a formidable and well-read intelligence behind a stylised oafishness. He used every weapon to alienate acceptance. Even within the jazz world, that natural refuge for the anti-social, Frank stood out as an exception. We never knew the reason for his quarrel with the captain of Lancashire, but after a month or two in his company we realised it must have been inevitable…

“Food and drink were the other weapons in Frank’s armoury. He was extremely limited in what he would eat for a start. Fried food, especially bacon and eggs, headed the list; then came cold meat and salad, and that was about the lot. Any other food, soup for instance or cheese, came under the heading of ‘pretentious bollocks’, but even in the case of food he did like, his attitude was decidedly odd. He would crouch over his plate, knife and fork at the ready in his clenched fists, and glare down at the harmless egg and inoffesive bacon, enunciating, as though it were part of some barbarous and sadistic ritual, the words ‘ I’ll murder it.’ What followed, a mixture of jabbing, tearing, stuffing, grinding and gulping, was a distressing spectacle.

“In relation to drink he was more victim than murderer. He drank either gin and tonic or whisky and, once past the point of no return, would throw doubles into himself with astonishing rapidity, banging the empty glass down on the counter and immediately ordering another with a prolonged hiss on the word ‘please’. He passed through the classic stages of drunkenness in record time, wild humour, self pity, and unconsciousness, all well-seasoned with the famous Parr grimaces. His actual fall had a monumental simplicity. One moment he was perpendicular, the next horizontal. The only warning we had of his collapse was that, just before it happened, Frank announced that he was ‘only fit for the human scrap heap’ and this allowed us time to move any glasses, tables, chairs or instruments out of the way.

“Frank’s spectacular raves didn’t stop him looking censorious when anyone else  was ‘going a bit’ – he used the same phrase for socks or drunkenness – but then we were all like that.

“If I think of him I can see certain gestures; his habit of rapidly shifting his cigarette around between his fingers, his slow tiger-like pacing, his manner of playing feet apart, body leaning stiffly backwards to balance the weight of his instrument.

“His music was aimed beyond his technique. Sometimes a very beautiful idea came off, more often you were aware of a beautiful idea which existed in Frank’s head. In an article on Mick (Mick Mulligan: Melly’s and Parr’s bandleader in the 1950′s -JD) in the Sunday Times, Frank was quoted as saying: ‘All jazzmen are kicking against something, and it comes out when they blow.”

“This was a remarkably open statement for Frank who, during a wagon discussion on our personal mental quirks and peculiarities, had once told us that he was the only normal person in the band.

“This gained him his nickname, ‘Mr Norm’, and any exceptionally Parr-like behaviour would provoke the conductor (ie: bandleader Mick Mulligan – JD) into saying: ‘Hello Frank. Feeling normal then?’”

George Melly – “Owning Up

RIP, Frank

3 Comments

  1. charliethechulo said,

    Obit in Graun by his step daughter, Fiona Dunbar:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/may/17/frank-parr-obituary

  2. Jim M. said,

    As one who has long aspired to gain the status of a grave social risk, and to whom the Byronesque epithet of mad, bad and dangerous to know seems high praise indeed, may I say how much I admire the cut of Mr Parr’s jib.
    As as been noted before, if you can’t be a good example then you might as well serve as a terrible warning!

    I suspect “Washy” and I would have struggled to get along!

  3. Friday mixtape: the nearness of you « Bob's Beats said,

    […] under good people: Jim on Frank Parr: Jazzman, cricketer, raver…and legend (“I should inform you that he can be a grave social risk” – Cyril Washbrook about Frank […]

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