Words/The Bulls Head at Barnes

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© Peter Morgan 2020


The Bulls Head at Barnes 

I spent a lot of my adolescence at this esteemed establishment, I suppose my jazz education began there. I guess also that my ability to drink beer was also nurtured at the same time. Years later when I got to play at the Bull myself it was really with no exaggeration a dream come true. It was always my ambition to play there, it meant more to me than anywhere else. Even playing at "Ronnie's" didn't have the same importance to me, the Bulls Head and the amazing music I saw there over the years made it my own Carnegie Hall.

It was Tony Lee and his trio who were the face of the Bull for many years and I followed them avidly. At that time I was very into that hard swinging bebop influenced mainstream thing and I thought Tony and his trio swung harder than anyone else and backed all the US visitors effortlessly. When I saw them it was usually Tony Archer on bass, a unique bassist with a very individual style and technique who played left handed. On drums (again usually) it was Martin Drew who went on to be Oscar Peterson's drummer.

I loved seeing the trio work with the fantastic British musicians around at the time, especially saxophone players Dick Morrisey and Don Weller. They all worked so well together, there was just a beautiful synergy between them. It was so exciting to see them together.

The other bands I saw most often were Barbara Thomson's "Paraphernalia" and her other band "Jubiaba", both amazing jazz rock ensembles. Both bands were unique and original, they were a mixture of players from different backgrounds and part of that fantastic UK prog/jazz/rock scene prevalent at that time. Bill Le Sage played vibes with Jubiaba, his playing seemed superhuman to me, because well, it was totally superhuman! Steve Cook played bass guitar a lot of the time, he was a great player and well ahead of his time. He played a super Hayman bass, which I of course coveted. I never got to own one and they are now very rare and collectable. I often wonder what happened to Steve.

The other big thing about the Bulls Head was the amount of fabulous American players we all saw there. In those days there was a constant flow of them, it was marvellous. Amazingly, it was all affordable even though I was a student. Thinking about it now it seems almost impossible to imagine.

Eventually I got to play there myself, not only that but play there with the Tony Lee trio. As I said earlier, a dream come true, even if by then the great days were over and I suppose so were Tony's.

I'll finish with "Barnes and Barnes at Barnes", the band led by saxophone and clarinet players Johnny Barnes and Alan Barnes (unrelated by the way), who had a residency for some time at the Bulls Head in, of course, Barnes. I had the good fortune to play there with them on one memorable occasion when I deputised for the regular bassist, Dave Green I think. It was a nice gig, but what made it so memorable was that the regular pianist was also unavailable and his deputy was the lovely pianist and good friend of mine ... Roger Barnes! So for one night only it was Barnes, Barnes and Barnes at Barnes.