Remembering Our Wonderful Friend, Bob Thomas, Jazz Trumpeter, 1931 – 2016

 

Jazz&Jazz Fine Art Print of Bob Thomas. The poem was aimed at keeping live jazz in the village pub.

Jazz&Jazz Fine Art Print of Bob Thomas. The poem was aimed at keeping live jazz in the village pub. It reads: Jazz on the Island, Jazz in the Inn, Lemsford’s own Satchmo On trumpet in full swing. Fans take the long view, Dismissive of the short, Backing the Thomcats With total support.


It is with a such heavy hearts that Ginny and I have to tell the jazz world about the
passing of jazz trumpeter, Bob Thomas, aged 86.

Bob&Hazel

Happy Days! Bob and Hazel at a Lemsford Village Christmas Party in 2009.

I have a very special place in my heart for Bob and Hazel. We were neighbours in Lemsford village for years until Ginny and I moved away in 2013. I’m so glad that I visited them just four weeks ago. Bob wasn’t too well then but I spent an hour reminiscing with him and he brightened up considerably.

I supported Bob when he strove to keep jazz live and alive at The Long and Short Arm public house in Lemsford, now so many years ago, and have featured him and his band, Bob Thomas & The Thomcats, several times on Jazz&Jazz (links below).

Bob Thomas & The Thomcats with Clare Gray at The Long Arm and Short Arm

Bob Thomas & The Thomcats with Clare Gray in the good days at The Long Arm and Short Arm

I have so much to thank Bob for because he acted as my mentor when I got back into jazz over a decade ago. I spent long hours with him in his home on the banks of The River Lea in Lemsford and at “The Old Orchard”, our own home in the village, catching up on the jazz scene. He was a wealth of knowledge.

Plus he had a heart of gold and huge community spirit, playing with his beloved Thomcats at Lemsford Village fundraising events, at the Lemsford Village fete as well as mixing in with the villagers during the annual river bank clearances, even with waders in the River Lea.

Bob & The Thomcat's playing at Lemsford's Jazz On The Island fund raising event.

Bob & The Thomcat’s playing at Lemsford’s Jazz On The Island fund raising event.

Pranks in the River Colne, (left to right) Philip. me and Bob during a Lemsford river bank clearance.

Pranks in the River Lea, (left to right) Philip. me and Bob during a Lemsford river bank clearance.

When jazz came to an end at The Long & Short Arm, Bob and I went to The Peartree Jazz Club in Welwyn Garden City run by Brian Smith (Smiffy) and then, until Bob’s health deteriorated, we switched to Smiffy’s Lemsford Jazz Club.

Back in 2009 I painted Bob’s portrait on trumpet. It was all part of our campaign to keep live jazz in Lemsford. So it was a happy day for Bob when jazz did return to the village at Lemsford Jazz Club.

To cap it all, Ginny schemed with Bob to organise a very special treat for my 70th Birthday Party. Smiffy and my close jazz friend Roger Pout had lured me away to the Long & Short Arm for a celebratory drink. When we got back to “The Old Orchard” the house was filled with family, villagers and jazz friends – PLUS Bob and two of his musicians set up in the lounge alongside my father’s piano (a piano which Bob tuned, by the way) to provide top rate entertainment.

L/R: Bob Thomas of Bob Thomas and The Thomcats, Peter Butler, Acker Bilk, Brian Smith of Welwyn Garden City's Peartree Jazz Club

Bob, Smiffy and myself with Acker in happier days.

I had just been reading Topix Stars item “23 Legendary Stars Who Tragically Died in 2016” when Hazel telephoned me with the sad news. Add Bob’s name to that number.

Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz

More Jazz&Jazz Features in memory of  Bob

“Spotlight on Bob Thomas of Thomcat Fame”

“An Interview with Bob Thomas”

“Bob Thomas & The Thomcats”

“Reminiscing about Terry Lightfoot” by Bob Thomas

“Remembering Pat Halcox” by Bob Thomas

Spotlight on Bob Thomas of Thomcat Fame

Jazz Portrait of Bob Thomas on Trumpet

I painted this acrylic jazz portrait of Bob Thomas, Lemsford’s very own village “Satchmo”, in support of a campaign to keep jazz live in “The Long Arm & Short Arm”, one of the village’s pubs where Bob’s band, Bob Thomas & The Thomcats, played regularly along
with other bands.

But sadly it was to no avail and, as is so often the case these days, the pub ditched live jazz in favour of canned music and discos.

Fine Art Print of the Jazz Portrait of Bob Thomas of Thomcat Fame.

Bob Thomas of  Thomcat Fame
Jazz on the Island,
Jazz in the Inn,
Lemsford’s own Satchmo
On trumpet in full swing.
Fans take the long view,
Dismissive of the short,
Backing the Thomcats
With total support.

Fine Art Giclée Prints of this portrait are available, with or without my descriptive poem. Simply email: peter@jazzandjazz.com to place your order and help support jazz.

 Read more about Bob Thomas & The Thomcats and my interview Bob Thomas.

Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz

An Interview with Bob Thomas of Thomcat Fame

Bob Thomas was born in 1931 in Clerkenwell, London, within the sound of Bow Bells. He had three brothers and two sisters. The Thomas’s were a highly talented musical family, so it wasn’t long before Bob became proficient both on piano and piano accordion. Encouraged by his father, Charles, who played the concertina when not on duty as a London bus driver, Bob was soon emulating his three older brothers, Ron, Arthur and Charles on keyboard before honing his musical skills on bugle and drums in local The Boys Brigade band.

During the Christmas break I was privileged to interview Bob about his lifelong love of jazz but I hadn’t anticipated the depths we would delve.


Peter Butler:
 Bob, would you say your father and brothers had a love for jazz?

Bob Thomas: Definitely. Each of them had their own accordions. The house was full of them along with a piano! Later I became a piano tuner and remain so for friends to this day. We also had a gramophone and a large collection of jazz records which I was forbidden to touch. But when I was home alone I simply couldn’t resist them. It was my brother Ron who really got me involved in jazz. I enjoy all types of music but from those early days jazz topped the bill.

Peter's acrylic portrait of Bob

BT: I was principle drummer with the Boys Brigade Band but I played bugle with them too. Then I joined the Mission Band with the local church and they performed their own rendition of “While we were marching through Georgia”. That’s when I got hooked on trumpet. Later Acker Bilk made that number into one of his hit records.

PB: So you have wonderful memories of those early days?

BT: Indeed I do! And especially of taking the pledge!

PB: Taking the pledge?

BT: Yes! Whilst with the Mission Band I pledged never to touch a drop of the hard stuff! And then I became a jazz musician! Imagine that! But then, I was only thirteen at the time.

PB: And after that?

BT: I got my call up papers in 1949 and joined the Army. After a spell at Aldershot I was stationed at Folkestone in Kent.

PB: Did jazz take a back seat during your army years?

BT: Far from it. I met up with a new soul mate – Titch Large, a trumpet player from Liverpool, also stationed in Folkestone. We hit all the local jazz spots together and especially Sunday Jazz at the Leas Cliff Hall where the Jan Ralfini Big Band starred. Titch Large played with The Blue Magnolia Jazz Band in Liverpool.

PB: And that’s when you took up the trumpet in earnest?

BT: Yes, thereabouts. Jerry Salisbury, Acker Bilk’s bass player, sold me my first trumpet. To tell the truth, it was a bit the worse for wear as, in a rush, he had bashed it on a London bus stop! In the late 1950s I played along with my brother Ron at The Black Cat in Mornington Crescent.

After that Pat Halcox, Chris Barber’s trumpeter, gave me private tuition. That was a huge privilege. He even sold me a trumpet and not just any old trumpet. It was a Doc Severinson Getson trumpet! But tragically it was stolen. I foolishly left it in my car outside the now demolished Wagon & Horses pub on the old A1 just outside London Colney in Hertfordshire. But I still have the mouthpiece!

PB: So you have brushed shoulders with the greats?

BT: Career wise, jazz has been a sideline, but a hugely important sideline in my life. After leaving the army I went into the motor trade and was fortunate enough to have my own garages in Mornington Crescent, Camden Town and then in Potters Bar. All of these locations were hotbeds of jazz. Stars such as Terry and Paddy Lightfoot and Acker Bilk were neighbours of mine in Potters Bar, as were Tucker Finlayson and John Richardson, Acker’s bass player and drummer. So I became their “garage man” and hence formed strong associations.

PB: As an aside how would you rate, for instance, Terry Lightfoot and Acker Bilk alongside Ken Colyer?

Above and above left: Promotional flyer designed and produced by Jazz&Jazz for Bob Thomas & The Thomcats.

BT: All jazz greats, but perhaps Ken Colyer was more a jazz purist. Then again, Terry and Acker are just as much purists in their own right and have probably done and still are doing more to keep jazz alive.

PB: Which bands did you play with?

BT: I joined The New Eureka Jazz Band in Walthamstow when I lived in Potters Bar and played trumpet alongside Tony Weston on reeds, Pete McCullough on trombone, Dave Ufland, drums, and Mike Farrell on bass and banjo.

I also have wonderful memories of playing with The Salisbury Stompers in Barnet for seven years when in was led by Bernie Tyrrell of wry humour and Jazz Guide fame. Bernie on drums, Pete McCullough on trombone, Jimmy Hurd on reeds, John Softly on banjo, Nobby Clark on bass and Shirley Longhurst, vocals. I recall one gig when during the interval I mistakenly used the ladies’ loo and got trapped in the cubicle by a couple of ladies directly outside chatting about lingerie. I heard the band strike up and dashed out with a curt “excuse me”. “Where’ve you  been?” hissed Pete McCullough. I told him and he promptly seized the mike and announced to the fans “Bob’s been dallying with two damsels in the ladies’ loo!” Or words to that effect! Happy days!

In the early 1960s I formed the Crescent City Jazz Band in Potters Bar with Martin Cole on banjo, Dave Maber on bass, Julian Greatrex on reeds and Dave Ufland on drums.

PB: But a lot of those old jazz venues and pubs have gone now, including The Salisbury in Barnet, The Red Lion in Hatfield and The Cherrytree in Welwyn Garden City. A few years ago you decided to do something about this decline.

The Thomcats at The Long & The Short Arm, December 2008

BT: Yes, in 2000 I formed Bob Thomas and The Thomcats along with Richard Sharp who played bass. Richard later moved to Dover in Kent. The Thomcats played at regular venues including O’Neil’s Irish Club in Luton, Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire and Brocket Hall Golf Club when Lord McLaurin (formerly Chairman of Tescos and of The England and Wales Cricket Board) was president. The band also played weekly gigs at The Long and The Short Arm pub in Lemsford Village just outside Welwyn Garden City but sadly, as with so many other pubs, they no longer stage jazz. You painted my portrait on trumpet at The Long and Short in an endeavour to help keep jazz going in the pub.

PB: But the Thomcats are still performing?

The Thomcats at Jazz on the Island, June 2011

BT: Yes indeed, and we have a number of gigs lined up for 2012 including The Hertfordshire County Show at Redbourn in June, Jazz on The Island for Hertfordshire Action on Disability in Lemsford Village also in June, and a Sunday Lunchtime Jazz function on at Peterborough Conservative Club. Last year we played at The Hatfield House Craft Fair, The Shuttleworth Collection in Old Warden, Biggleswade, and at The Knebworth Festival and in all likelihood will do so again this year. We’ve also been booked for a wedding in September but although we do jazz parades at funerals, we’d prefer them to be very few and far between.

And who knows, perhaps we’ll be booked for a gig at the latest Welwyn Garden City venue, The Peartree Monday Jazz Club. Or even, dare I say, at a jazz revival at The Long and Short.

PB: Thanks, Bob. I want to end with something about your adventures on the Thames River Boats in the 1970s

BT: Great days, not to be missed. I played trumpet on the Bray boats, the Windsor boats and Maidenhead Steam Navigation Company boats, mostly with Len’s Seattle Six alongside Len himself on banjo, Clive Barton on trombone, Dave Maber on bass, Dave Ufland on drums and Tony Cam on reeds. Tony was the nephew of Sydney Cam who designed the Hurricane fighter plane.

Tony Cam on clarinet, Len Chambers, leader of Len's Seattle Six, on banjo, Bob Thomas on trumpet and Pete McCullough on trombone at a Barnet Jazz Festival.

Len Chambers was a great friend and passed on to me his huge catalogued collection of jazz records which I now have securely stashed away. The photo is of me on trumpet along with Tony Cam on clarinet, Len on banjo and Pete McCullough on trombone, It was taken at a Barnet Jazz Festival.

On another occasion at The Christopher in Eaton during the Windsor Festival, Lonnie Donegan’s daugther took the mike from me and performed a wonderful rendition of ‘Tin Roof Blues’.

But the most dramatic show was with Sam Weller’s band on the Maidenhead Steam Navigation boat, The Belle, when the entire canopy collapsed on the musicians. But the band played on. That’s jazz!

You can find out more about Bob Thomas and The Thomcats on Jazz&Jazz by clicking on the following link: http://www.jazzandjazz.com/2011/04/bob-thomas-the-thomcats/ . Or you can telephone Bob on 01707 373227 or email him at: r.thomas227@btinternet.com


Bob Thomas & The Thomcats

"Bob Thomas on Trumpet" Acrylic jazz portrait commission by Peter M Butler.

I chose Hertfordshire based Bob Thomas & The Thomcats amongst the first group of bands to feature on JazzandJazz.com not only because Bob is a good friend who lives in the same village as me, but because he has a jazz pedigree reaching way back.

Bob purchased a trumpet from Pat Halcox, Chris Barber’s trumpeter, who gave him private lessons. To this day Bob laments the theft of that trumpet from his car, especially as it was a Doc Severinson. In those early days Bob played with a number of top bands and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Acker Bilk and Terry Lightfoot. He featured regularly on Thames jazz cruises at Windsor and Maidenhead, mainly with Len’s Seattle Six band. The tales he has to tell about those cruises are classics.

Bob Thomas, trumpet, Tim Curtis, sousaphone, and Gordon Rushden, trombone, at a gig at The Long Arm & Short Arm in Lemsford, Hertfordshire. (Jazz Photo by P.M.Butler)

Bob recently celebrated his 80th birthday and like so many jazz musicians he is still going strong. He formed The Thomcats in 2000 since when they have entertained thousands with the pizzazz, rhythm and harmony of their “happy jazz”.

Their repertoire swings along to very best of New Orleans and Trad Jazz through to contemporary favourites. Their numbers include masterpieces by great composers and performers such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington – plus compositions by George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

My wife and I are pleased to have produced a brochure and flyer for The Thomcats using a selection of my jazz photographs taken as reference material for my jazz portraits of Bob on trumpet, his drummer Pat, banjo player Roger and Tim on sousaphone.

You can reach Bob by email at: r.thomas227@btinternet.com

Download the PDF brochure: Bob Thomas & The Thomcats

Hand signed, fine art prints of my Art & Verse jazz portrait of Bob Thomas can be purchased in two sizes:

A4 (297x210mm) £29.00
A3 (420x297mm) £39.00

A Certificate of Authenticity is issued with each print. If you would like to purchase a print or an original acrylic portrait or to commission a portrait, please email me at: peter@jazzandjazz.com


 

Jazz&Jazz Sends Season’s Greetings for 2018/19

Echoes of Christmas Past
in Lemsford Village

Jazz in The Long Arm & The Short Arm, 2011.

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An Interview with Acker

 

acker-interview-photo

David’s photo of Acker taken during the interview.

In 2004 David Ellis interviewed Acker Bilk at the Chester Gateway Theatre. David asked me if I would like to feature the interview on Jazz&Jazz. You bet I would, David! I’m honoured.

At the time David was writing freelance theatre previews and reviews. Acker was down to earth, warm and friendly and David didn’t feel at all anxious interviewing him before his concert.

David Ellis

David Ellis

David asked Acker if he played any other instruments. Acker replied he was only interested in the clarinet. As a youngster he started to learn the piano but was put off when he had to stay in on Saturday mornings to practice scales instead of getting out with his mates.

Acker told David it came as a complete surprise when he was awarded the MBE. He jokingly referred to it as being a Member of the Bristol Empire. He also spoke about his interest in painting landscapes in oils – “a good way to relax”. An artiste and an artist!

David’s Interview with Acker edited by Peter Davies

Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz

Acker Bilk Presented with Special APPJAG Award at the Houses of Parliament

Meeting Acker at Wyllotts Theatre, Potters Bar, May, 2012

L/R: Bob Thomas of Bob Thomas and The Thomcats, Peter Butler, Acker Bilk, Brian Smith of Welwyn Garden City's Peartree Jazz Club

L/R: Bob Thomas of Bob Thomas and The Tomcats (sadly now also departed), Peter Butler, Acker Bilk, Brian Smith of Lemsford Jazz Club

Lemsford Jazz Club Revisits the Music of Johnny Dodds and the 1920s with The Frog Island Jazz Band

Lemsford Jazz Club fans were swept along on a tide of nostalgia back to the 1920s and 30s by The Frog Island Jazz Band on Sunday, 1st May.

 John Whitehead, Trumpet; John Jeans, Trombone; Jim Hurd, Clarinet; Chris Marchant, Drums; Keith Durston, Piano; Brian Lawrence, Banjo; Rob Fullalove, Tuba.

The band and fans were saddened when Brian Smith (Smiffy) announced the passing of Bob Thomas, who, with his Thomcats, did so much for jazz, especially in Lemsford, over many, many years. His close friend, Clarinetist Jim Hurd was stunned by the news:
“To me Bob always seemed indestructible!”

The Frog Islanders were one of Bob’s favourite bands. Just perhaps he didn’t miss out on the session! After all he was always a free spirit!

Remembering Our Wonderful Friend, Bob Thomas, Jazz Trumpeter, 1930 – 2016

Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz

(YouTube © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz)

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