Ancient History

This is a new area on the site in which you can find out about the many bands that Mike has been involved with prior to the birth of 3 In A Bar. 
Please take notes as there will be a short test at the end of the series!

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part one


This was the very first band that Mike led whilst a pupil at the King Edward VII Upper School, in the Leicestershire market town of Melton Mowbray. It was here that he met lifelong friend and fellow jazz enthusiast Julian Meres, who was (and still is) an excellent clarinettist. The band was originally going to be called Eddie The Seventh's Blue Blowers (jazz aficionados will realise the significance!), but Jazz Incorporated was deemed a more suitable name for public consumption.

Here is the only known photo of this fine ensemble, in action at The Harboro' Hotel, Melton Mowbray, in March 1974. Technology fans will note the up-to-the minute cassette recorder on the table! Fashion fans will note the 1970s sartorial elegance!!

L-R: John Hunnisett (bass), Michael Antill (guitar), Julian Meres (clarinet), Mike Gray (tenor sax), Archie Robertson (occasional trombone).

Languages teacher Alec Johns played alto sax and the band played from arrangements that he and Mike wrote. The band were also fortunate to have the pianistic services of Brian Humpherson, who taught music at the neighbouring Sarson High School. (Brian has recently retired after a distinguished career in music education.)

These two tracks, dredged from Mike's vast archive, give a good idea of what the band was all about:

recorded 22/06/1974, Matrix Arts Festival, Oadby Beauchamp School, Leicester

recorded 27/06/1974, Barnstone Cement Works Social Club.

(Regular followers of 3 In A Bar will note that Mike's out-chorus arrangement on Take The A-Train has stood the test of time!)

Educational note:
In those days jazz education material was rare and hard to find, especially in rural Leicestershire. Here is the one and only lesson Mike had in playing jazz:

"I had learned all the notes on my saxophone and was trying to figure out how improvisation worked. A trumpet-playing friend who had lessons at school told me that his teacher would be able to help me so I wangled a couple of lessons with him. Mr Hill was a lovely old gentleman who had been all around the world with his music - he was particularly fond of telling us about the Nigerian Police band he had been in charge of!! 
He was enjoyed his jazz too, and was keen to give me a couple of tips. He wrote a couple of examples in the back of my Tune A Day book, which pointed me in the right direction.
This was how Julian and I did it in those days - we would hear something on a record, or read about how to do something, and then try to figure out how to use it in our playing. Most of the time we got it right!"

No mention of Mike or Julian amongst the famous alumni, unfortunately!

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part two 


"We were having a crafty fag in the school bogs between lessons when Julian said, 'There's a blues pianist playing at The Crown at the weekend, shall we go and have a look?'

So we went to The Crown. Inspection of both bars revealed that the place was packed with the usual clientele i.e. 4th and 5th Form underage drinkers. (More discerning 6th Form drinkers such as ourselves frequented The George, and later The Noel's Arms).
Stepping back out onto the pavement, I said, 'Are you sure you've got this right, JT?'
'Yes, let's go and have a look round the back.'
We entered the back yard of the pub, and, peering above the barrels and stacks of empties, spied two middle-aged musicians playing to nobody on the balcony which surrounded the yard. As the vibrant sound of boogie woogie drifted down, our impressionable young minds were magically transported to the New Orleans we had read about so much. Scaling the ricketty stairs, we cautiously approached the duo and introduced ourselves."

Thus began Mike and Julian's fruitful association with pianist Bob Kelly and drummer Dai Miller, resulting in the first incarnation of Kelly's Heroes. (The name was suggested by Bob's friend Alan, an expatriate Yorkshire teddy boy who was a 1950s rock & roll fanatic, but who never missed a Kelly's Heroes gig.)

The band appeared regularly at The Pickwick steakhouse in Melton Mowbray (once a fortnight for over a year, and this was a Saturday night too!) and also took part in a monthly Sunday lunchtime session at The Noel's Arms, where they would be joined by, amongst others, the well-respected Nottingham pianist Fred Pay and guitarist Adrian Burns.

Playing with Bob and Dai was a big contrast to playing with Jazz Incorporated. Instead of using written arrangements, Mike and Julian played the tunes from memory - and failing that, by ear! This gave them a very good grounding in the traditional way of playing, and also a huge stockpile of blues riffs to use at the slightest provocation. Bob's usual rehearsal procedure was to meet Mike and Julian in The White Hart for copious libation and then go on to play the gig. They knew that Bob had played with Ken Colyer, the leading light of the British Trad Jazz movement in the 1950s, but it wasn't until they read his obituary in The Independent that they realised what a pivotal figure he had been.

 Bob and Mike blow up a storm - Melton Mowbray, 21st May 1977

Dai Miller was a talented artist, who had retired from the London police to lead a very Bohemian existence in sleepy Melton Mowbray. Like Bob, he had a great love of jazz and blues and was only too pleased to oblige whenever Jazz Incorporated needed a drummer.
The only recordings of Julian, Mike and Bob playing together are a somewhat hybrid affair, taped at what became known as "The Infamous Scottish Wedding", on 23/03/1974 at The Harboro' Hotel, Melton Mowbray. The following tracks, especially Careless Love, give a good idea of how Kelly's Heroes sounded in full flight.

The first track is included to confirm the origin of the only known photo of Jazz Incorporated (see part one). Now not only can you look at it, you can also listen to it being taken while you are looking at it! For some reason, Bob played drums and sang on this number and Alec played piano.

Alec then reverted to drums for the rest of the evening.

N.B. The tracks from the original tape which either demonstrate how drunk everyone got or include Julian's "singing" (or both) have been omitted in the public interest.

Bob's wife Nancy was also a professional musician, having had a hit record "Freight Train" (as Nancy Whiskey) in 1957 with Chas McDevitt. Here she is in action with Fred Pay.

 Enjoy hearing Nancy and Bob together on this track from Nancy's "A Double Whiskey" LP (1976). 

"I feel very fortunate to have known Bob and Nancy. The musical experience and inspiration I gained from working with Bob set me up extremely well for my future exploits, and they were two very good friends whose company I enjoyed immensly."

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part three


Dave Miller (lead vocals); Chris Williams (guitar, vocals); John Case (bass guitar, vocals); Dave Greenfield (drums); Mike Gray (tenor sax)
Prestwich Catholic Club, Manchester, 24th July 1977

Towards the end of his first year as a chemistry student at Salford University Mike's life changed forever. Firstly, and most importantly, he met his future wife Jackie; he also made the acquaintance of guitarist Chris Williams (reading chemistry) and singer Dave Miller (reading civil engineering), both ardent speleologists.

Chris was the leader of the aptly named group Ale House and had gained wide experience on the Birmingham rock scene before moving to Salford. Mike, who had never played in a rock context, offered his services and subsequently spent two very enjoyable years with the band. At the time saxophones were rarely used in contemporary rock bands, and Chris often referred to Mike as "our secret weapon!"

Ale House had a broad repertoire ranging from 1950s rock & roll classics such as Eddie Cochran's C'mon Everybody, through The Drifters' On Broadway to current hits of the day like Bad Company's Can't Get Enough and Feel Like Makin' Love. On these tracks, recorded live at Salford University in 1975, two of the multitude of drummers who passed through the band's ranks can be heard; Mike Karaminos on Route 66 and I Shall Be Released, and Pete Houghton on the others. Chris takes lead vocal responsibility on Route 66.

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part four


Mike moved to Shropshire in 1977 to work as an industrial chemist at the British Sugar factory at Allscott, where he remained for 19 years ("You get less time for murder!").
Apart from when he sat in occasionally with local jazz bands in Shrewsbury, his saxophone stayed in its case. In 1980, however, he was overcome by the urge to get a band together again, which became known as Mike Gray's Jazz Incorporated.

The band's debut was at The Plough, Allscott, on 10th August 1980. Here is the first number they ever performed in public.

Mike Gray - soprano sax; Don Yerbury - clarinet; Ian Stokes - guitar; Bob Binnie - bass; Brian Dawson - drums.

Ian moved away from the area towards the end of the year and so the search was on for a suitable guitarist. Mike put an ad in the local music shop and in the Shropshire Star: 
'Jazz band seeks guitarist. Surely there must be a guitarist Telford who knows more than 3 chords. If you do, contact....' 
Shortly afterwards, Mike received a phone call from Pete Jameson:
"I know four chords."
"You've got the job!"

The band line-up eventually settled down to Mike (saxes), Don Yerbury (clarinet, tenor sax), Peter Jackson (trombone), Pete Jameson (guitar), Bob Binnie (bass) and Steve Price (drums). They played regularly at The Plough and at the British Sugar Sports & Social Club, and in May 1981 were the opening act for Max Collie's Rhythm Aces at Madeley Court Theatre, Telford.

(click image to enlarge)

Mike's old school chum Julian, who had been playing with a number of trad jazz bands in the Nottingham area since the old Jazz Incorporated days, paid a visit to Telford in 1982. He was keen to play with Mike again and so a session at Pete Jameson's local was hastily arranged, and fortunately recorded for posterity.

The Plough, Wellington, 28/05/1982. Julian Meres (tenor sax, also clarinet); Mike Gray (soprano sax); Peter Jackson (trombone); Pete Jameson (guitar) ... looks like Pete's going for a fifth chord! 

Spontaneous jazz improvisation at its best!

Mike Gray's Jazz Incorporated continued to perform around Shropshire until 1983, when trombonist Peter Jackson moved to Jersey. These 1981 performances show the band in its prime.

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part five


During the final days of Mike Gray's Jazz Incorporated, Mike and Pete Jameson went to audition for a new rock / rhythm & blues band being formed in Telford. The leader was vocalist Richard Bailey, who eventually assembled the following galaxy of stars: Nina & Elaine (backing vocals), Pete Jameson (guitar), Rob Brown a.k.a. Ribble (bass), Chris Jones (drums) and Mike Gray (alto sax).

Once the band's direction had been established Mike drafted in Mike Gray's Jazz Incorporated members Peter Jackson (trombone) and Rob Fenton (trumpet) to form a small horn section, for which he wrote the arrangements. When Peter emigrated to Jersey, Mike and Rob just had to play louder!

The band was originally going to be called* The Aardvarks, then The Batmen, but Richard finally settled on The Accelerators (this was how the literate members of the band heard it!), a name which came to be spelt by those in charge of publicity as....

Mike stayed with the band for about a year. Richard Bailey now fronts a band of the same name which frequently performs in Shropshire and the West Midlands, and, after a chance meeting with Mike last year, drummer Chris Jones has stood in for Gary on several recent 3 In A Bar gigs!

* Mike's suggestion, "Big R's Soul Band" was immediately vetoed by the leader for some reason.

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part six


After leaving The Excellorators, Mike thought long and hard about his next move. He had always enjoyed the music of Charlie Parker and 1940/50s bebop in general, but had never played in that style himself. He decided to have a go, although he felt that there would probably be little or no opportunity for such a band to perform in Shropshire given that the majority of bands in the area played traditional jazz. Misgivings aside, he was able to talk several musicians he knew into forming a band in which Mike would play alto sax and which was to be called Klactoveedsedstene, after the Charlie Parker tune of the same name (and which the band would never play!). 

Initial rehearsals (somewhere, a tape exists...) with Rob Fenton (trumpet), Don Yerbury (baritone sax), Pete Jameson (guitar), Trevor Shaw (bass) and Jeff Markham (drums), soon showed that Mike's idea was viable. Unfortunately, Jeff and Don had to drop out due to ill health but the band continued to rehearse as a quartet, which made its debut at The George & Dragon, Much Wenlock on 20 September 1984. 

After this first gig Rob, lured by fame and fortune, decided to leave the band to play with local rhythm & blues group Walk A Thin Line. Pete suggested a friend of his, guitarist Paul Hobbs, as a suitable replacement. Paul played on the band's second gig at the George & Dragon a fortnight later, having learnt the band's entire book by ear in the space of a week!

The band made the first of many appearances at The Old Fighting Cocks, Oakengates, in March 1985. Drummer Gary 'Bish' Cruise, whom Mike had heard playing with the Telford Youth Jazz Orchestra three years previously and had located by some adroit detective work, was enlisted for this gig and stayed with the band for the next twelve months or so. Here is a selection of tunes played that night - bebop lived!

A couple of months later, on a rare visit to Shrewsbury, Mike spotted a fading card in the window of Bratton's piano shop. It had been left there by Pete Fisher, an alto sax player seeking a jazz band. When Mike phoned Pete, it transpired that the card had been on display for over two years and that Pete had forgotten all about it. It was his lucky day - the quintet became a sextet and Mike reverted to tenor sax!

Klactoveedsedstene were the resident band at Telford Jazz Club for two years. Bish left the band in early 1986 to seek further fame and fortune with his former employer Wayne Tulsa, the local Elvis impersonator. He was replaced by Tony Small, who had been a semi-pro bass player in London before moving to Shropshire. Tony had, and no doubt still has, an amazing repertoire of hilarious ancedotes about his musical adventures in 1960s London. With the addition of Shropshire Youth Jazz Orchestra maestro John Mander on trumpet and flugelhorn the band attained its classic form.

Here are a selection of tracks from Klactoveedsedstene's demo cassette, all recorded live at The Old Fighting Cocks, Oakengates in late 1985 / early 1986, and digitally remastered from the original location recordings.

In May 1986 Julian Meres, now a radio producer with the BBC World Service, paid Mike a long overdue visit and sat in with the band at The Old Fighting Cocks. The theme of the evening was a retrospective look at Mike and Julian's musical exploits from the Jazz Incorporated / Kelly's Heroes days to the (then) present.

Mike has always encouraged up-and-coming young musicians to play in his bands. One of the earliest was Richard (Ricky) Ford, who played alto sax in the SYJO and was a regular member of Klactoveedsedstene during 1987-88. Here are a few tracks recorded at The Wheatsheaf, Soudley, during the Indian Summer of 1987.

(Trivia note: This performance of Moonlight In Vermont is based on Alec Johns' arrangement for Jazz Incorporated. Recycling at its best!)

Ricky went on to become a professor of computer viruses in Florida.
He is also a damned fine jazz flutist these days!

Klactoveedsedstene played 69 gigs in all; the first was on 20 September 1984, the final one was on 9 July 1989. These included an appearance at the first New Vic Jazz Festival at The New Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, in March 1987, and a support spot for the Pasadena Roof Orchestra at the Telford Show in September that same year. Not bad going for a band that Mike thought would be lucky to last six months!

"I knew we'd cracked it when we could steam through a creditable version of Ornithology after we'd all had four pints!" 

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part seven


Telford based soul band Mission Impossible was formed in September 1989, debuting to a capacity crowd at Oakengates Town Hall in December of that year. The band was made up of performers previously active in a variety of musical spheres, amongst them a former member of The Soul Party, a Shropshire band which toured the continent extensively during the late 1970s; three members of a popular local blues band; one of the county's foremost jazz saxophonists; a former student at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and former Young Musician of the Year; and an ex-member of the Shropshire Youth Jazz Orchestra. Their dynamic stage show consisted of classic soul and Tamla Motown songs peformed in their own inimitable style.

Jeff Mansell (lead vocals, keyboard); Malcolm Smallman (bass guitar, vocals).

Steve Bradley (guitar, vocals); Debbie Owen (vocals).

Dave Jones (drums)

Tony Poulter (tenor sax); Mike Gray (alto sax, arrangements); John Harrison (cornet, percussion); Adam Arrowsmith (trumpet); Colin Jones (trumpet); Louise Stopforth (trombone).

Mission impossible performed regularly at the Soul & Tamla Motown Nights presented at Oakengates Town Hall and gained a dedicated local following. In July 1990 the band appeared in the first Shropshire Festival of Talent at Shrewsbury Music Hall, in which they won the Best Band prize, and played at the Ludlow Jazz Festival later that same month.

The Mission Impossible demo tape was recorded at Clear Studio, Admaston in 26 hours, including final mixing. It accurately reflects the live sound of the band - except for a few small percussion overdubs, no extra parts were added to the band's usual arrangements.
Trivia note: Guitarist Steve Bradley is currently a member of the resurrected Excellorators (see Ancient History part 5).

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part eight


Wrockwardine Church Fete, 4 July 1992: Dominic Green (trumpet); Mike Gray (saxophones); Brian Jones (piano); Pete Jameson (guitar); Tony Small (drums).

Mike played with Mission Impossible for just over a year. During this time, and up to the formation of 3 In A Bar in 1993, he put together several ad hoc bands, which all went under the name of The Red Hot Pokers, for a variety of one-off gigs. These featured many of the musicians he had played with since moving to Telford. Pianist Brian Jones, soon to become a founder member of 3 In A Bar, was also a regular member of these ensembles.

(click to enlarge)

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part nine


One of Mike's many jobs is teaching woodwind at Market Drayton Musicland. Shortly after starting work there in 1999 he made himself known to the local trad band who performed regularly at The Stafford Court Hotel. He started to perform with The Hales Street Stompers at their monthly sessions and this was a golden opportunity for Mike to play many of the pieces which he had enjoyed listening to when he was first getting into jazz but had never played himself.

The line-up at the time was David Sherwood (cornet); Mike Schofield (clarinet); Tony Bowden (keyboard); Phil Turnbull (guitar); Nick Parry (banjo); Ray Lawrence (bass) and Mike Braund (drums and vocals). Eleanor Seabrook, widow of trombonist Tim Seabrook who founded the band, was also featured on vocals. Mike initially played tenor sax, soon bringing his other saxes, and very occasionally his clarinet, into play.

One of Nick Parry's friends, who had actually been a reviewer for the renowned jazz magazine Metronome, wrote this piece (unfortunately never destined for a wider audience - until now!) after hearing a tape of the gig from which the material on the first CD was drawn.

Of the original Stompers, Nick Parry sadly passed away last year and Mike Braund, Eleanor and Phil have given up performing due to poor health. The remaining Stompers, with new recruits Jim Pickford (banjo) and Roy Bickley (drums), now play regularly at The Red Lion, Market Drayton, with Mike on the mighty baritone saxophone.
Here they are at this fine venue on 23 March 2013, entertaining visitors from the Telford branch of CAMRA.

Long may they continue!

Trivia note: the name of the band reflects the fact that most of the original members lived on Great Hales Street in Market Drayton; unfortunately they felt that to call the band The Great Hales Street Stompers was somewhat immodest!


  1. What a history! A few names in there which are familiar to me. Evidence that great music and musicians stand the test of time (and that bad fashion and hair doesn't)
    Keep up the good work Mike

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