Growing up with music
D, what did your parents do?
dad was a sign writer, an interior decorator and a musician, a very good
pianist. A jazz pianist, he ran his own band.
H and his band! From Yorkshire. He was a lovely kind, a real softy and a lovely
man. But in those days he just worked, so he’d be working every day. He became
foreman of the paint shop at Marshall’s airport in Cambridge. That was so that
he could avoid going into the war, getting called-up, because he wouldn’t have
been able to be in the army ….
So, if you’re foreman of a paint shop,
why does that mean you didn’t go ?
was born in April 1939 and the war started in September 1939 and I was born in
a flat in Romford High Street and so my parents when the war started said, oh
we can’t stay here, and my mum took me up to her sister in Blackpool and
deposited me there and – I don’t know what my mum did, but I was with my auntie
from when I was a baby and then my dad was searching round the country trying
to find a job, which would be a war-protected job. He got this job at
Marshall’s airport painting the deckles and the camouflage on aeroplanes
Did you have siblings?
sister, but my sister was born after we – because my dad took the job and when
he got the job we took lodgings in Cambridge, and my mum moved down and so we
were in lodgings for a while in the centre of Cambridge. My parents were able
to buy a little cottage in Trumpington and we were there for a short time when
my mum had my sister. I think – oh dear, it’s a deep personal thing – because
people used to go into hospital to have their babies, so my mum was going to go
into hospital, packed her little case, and she was going to be away for three
or four days, something like that, and I was left with the next-door
How old were you then?
or four. I must have been four. And I
will never ever forget the symbolism! There were my next-door neighbours, on
the doorstep the milkman would leave two pints of milk, which was their normal
order, and a little half pint of milk for me. And that stayed with me all my
life as a kind of symbol of isolation and loneliness. Because my mum had left
me when I was a baby – and I am so sensitive about that sort of thing – and she
did it again.
It stays with us, consciously or
unconsciously. So can you remember what
you thought of your sister when she came back?
was horrible! (Laughter) But she was, truly, a miserable baby. She
cried and cried and cried and she used to hold her breath and have a blue fit.
And I can remember, my mum would deny it and I can remember my mum in
desperation sticking the baby’s head under the cold tap to shock her out of it.
She would go “Haa..” (breathing-in
sound). And that is something that has really marked me.
that’s what my dad did. He was working as foreman of the paint shop and
signwriting and doing gigs. And of course during the war and after the war
there were lots and lots of servicemen everywhere, on bases, RAF camps and so
on. So he was out doing gigs all the time.
was a piano player. It was a good band. So I was brought up with music. I was
taught piano – I started going to lessons when I was seven.
Did you take grades?
And did you enjoy it?
The kids were all out playing and I had to do my piano practice every day. It
started off with half an hour and then it became an hour. Playing bloody
Tchaikovsky, I really didn’t want to know. I did it because I was a good boy
and I did what my parents wanted. But I am glad I did it because … I hated
had to do these exams – sweat pouring off you …
How I became an apprentice stone carver
So when you left school, what was your
was apprenticed to a stone carver.
And how old were you then?
As I came to the end of my school days, I had always … In Cambridge there is
Heffers bookshop, they used to have exhibitions above the bookshop and there
was about that time… Kettles Yard, which is beautiful. Gaudier-Brzeska …
This guy Ede had started this place. Well, I was brought up on that stuff and
so all I wanted to do … I can remember I would be on my bike cycling in from
Trumpington to go to school and I’d see something, snow, sunset, an aeroplane
going across the sun or something like that and I always thought, oh, when I
get into art class I’ll paint that. I thought everybody felt like that. Just a
kid, well, that’s what you do, you draw it – you paint it. So that’s what I was
interested in and I really thought that I would be a rich and famous painter by
the time I was thirty. That was my ambition.
Would you have liked to go to art school
I was going to go, that was the intention and then just towards the end of my
schooldays it all went abstract, you know, the influence of Picasso, and I
didn’t understand it at all. I loved all the English painters, Stanley Spencer,
John Bratby, all those figurative painters. In the lovely tradition of English
painting and that’s where I was at. When this all went abstract, I couldn’t
tell the difference between a good piece of abstract and a bad piece of
abstract! If I’d gone to art school, I’d have been a charlatan. I can’t do it.
it would really worry me. So I was worried, and then my careers adviser – well,
there wasn’t careers advice in those days, you had an interview with the Head,
who more or less told you what to do – the head and the deputy head said, “You’ll
never make a living out of being an artist, don’t be silly. If you want to do
that sort of thing go and do teacher training, become a teacher.” Teachers
always advise you to be a teacher!
used to go over to the art building when I wasn’t doing maths, or I wasn’t
doing French (because I got thrown out of those classes), so I’d be in the art
class several times a week, doing ceramics, pottery, modelling, painting,
drawing and in fact there was a moment when I realised that I was doing
something sort of fairly original, because one winter’s day I was cycling in
and I noticed how on a snowy day it can be very very grey, so when it is a very
grey light you get a grey sky and everything else looks grey. Kind of
washed-out colours. So the grey road, the grey houses and the grey sky, and the
only way you can really distinguish what is going on is with the snow lying on
the roofs and on the ledges of the buildings and on the tops of the trees and
that picks everything out from the grey.
I just went to school and got a piece of big grey sugar-paper and just painted
white. Sketched it out lightly with a pencil and painted just using white on
the grey paper. And you get a scene. You can see everything, the form is given
by the white. And so you read everything else into the picture. So I happily
did this, not thinking anything about it, and the next week when I went in
there were all these grey sugar papers with white and the art master had got
everyone to do the same thing. It had been my idea. That made me think, oh,
well maybe I am slightly different, there must be something going on. That was
the first time I had any indication of a kind of creative way of looking at
used to see my art master struggling to try and keep discipline and I thought
“I don’t want to be a teacher. How terrible.” So I was stuck. The other thing
was, in those days if you went to art school you were either going to get to be
a teacher or you were going to do what in those days was called “commercial
art”. Doing adverts and so on.
it wasn’t really a formalised thing at that time. There wasn’t TV, we didn’t
have radio advertising, didn’t have television. We did have TV but it was very
limited, there weren’t any commercials at that time, it was just the BBC. So
the advertising industry was very very young at that time. It was just newspaper
advertising, very few magazines, not long after the war. So I didn’t know what to do. And then my dad,
being a sign writer had got a job teaching sign writing at Cambridge City
College, the art school was part of the college. So he did the painting and
decorating department, he was teaching apprentice sign writers to sign write.
He was fantastic. He did graining and marbling. He could take a plaster column
and turn it literally into a given kind of marble. He knew all the marbles. He
was a very clever guy. So anyway, he was teaching night school and he had heard
that a sculptor who was teaching sculpture at the art school was looking for an
apprentice. So he told me about it and we contacted this guy D Kindersley, and
so towards the end of my schooldays my dad and I went out there. I took some
studies from my art work at school and I got the job.
went out to this place, it was about five miles out of Cambridge. And there was
this big big lovely traditional thatched barn – huge – and at one end there was
a little studio space and there were three or four guys sitting in this (sound of chiselling stone) doing mainly
lettering. And I thought, “Oh, heaven!” What an opportunity.
I became an apprentice stone carver.
Working for an internationally known
And how long were you apprenticed for?
the apprenticeship was five years. But then – I took the job and went on
holiday and came back and started. I had to have to cycle five miles in the
morning out to the studio and I was sweeping up, making the tea, sorting the
chisels out, sharpening chisels, rubbing down stone, all that kind of stuff.
Were you happy enough to do all that
I wasn’t. I began to get really really pissed off. I wanted to be creative. So there
was a point when I got really fed up, and my governor got really fed up with me
because at that time I’d already started playing double bass, instead of piano,
and I was going out doing jazz gigs with the University jazz band and drinking
and going off on gigs on American bases and getting back at one o’clock in the
morning. Two o'clock in the morning! Not getting up in the morning. I was always late.
And a five mile cycle ride! Did you get
Do you remember how much you got paid?
pounds twelve and sixpence, that was the
rate for an apprentice.
Were you expected to give your parents
any of that or not?
was, yeah, my mum and dad expected me to shell out. But I never did, I used to
say, “oh, I’ll pay you next week.”
always owed my mum lots of money. But actually relatively I was quite well-off,
because I was doing these gigs and I was getting paid in the evenings, and that
sort of thing.
So did they let you get your hands on a
chisel in the end? You stuck out the five years?
and then I became an assistant for a couple of years. So I was with him for
So you did that for seven years, so that
takes you up to twenty two.
A lesson in lettering
And what work did you do then? You said
lettering, stones and things?
D Kindersley had been apprenticed to a guy called Eric Gill. Eric Gill was a
name, a sculptor. So as a kid I didn’t know that this guy was … and then I
began to learn that, oh I’m working for an internationally renowned letter
carver. So I am part of that Gill school of lettering, which is why I respond
as I do to the quality of the work. I am in that tradition. But that was just
luck, really. His family were very very aristocratic. His father, or
grandfather, was Governor of the Bank of England. They were related to the
Bowes Lyons. So there was all that side of the family. And he wanted to be a
stone carver, he wanted to be a sculptor. And he got work with Gill and with a
stone carving group in London and so he had been apprenticed to Gill and then
he moved to Cambridge and started. I think he moved to Cambridge because it was
a good opportunity, there was work there.
I got really really enthusiastic about the whole thing, once I’d started
to do it properly.
And he thought you were good? Did he
give you some good…?
it ended up that I used to work there until nine or ten o'clock at night, when
I wasn’t doing a gig I’d be there. Will
Carter is like an artist printer, a designer printer with his own press. The
two of them had got together to design, well they designed Klang, which is a typeface
designed it together. But Kindersley designed the Kindersley street name
alphabet; nearly all the street names you see are in this alphabet. It was
designed specifically so that you could read it easily sideways on. When you
look down, very important.
was actually in the drawing office designing something or other, when Will
Carter and D Kindersley put their …
They had a thing like a wood board, like a game of scrabble. You know,
how you stand letters up, like that, only bigger. And they had got the letters
in separate bits of card and they were sticking the bits of card up on this ledge
and putting them all together and seeing whether the spacing … The spacing is
the most important part of lettering. You can have a really beautiful design
and face, but if it is badly spaced it will look awful. You can have a pretty
badly designed letter form but if the spacing is really good it will look ok.
Spacing is so crucial that we use space to indicate the end of one word and the
beginning of the next. So if the space between the letters isn’t fairly well
balanced you wouldn’t be able to read the letters. It shows how crucial it is.
So it is an absolute art, the spacing of lettering.
there they were, trying to find a system that they could impose on this street
name alphabet, so that unskilled people could lay them out. They would be
stamped out of aluminium, painted black, and the spacing would be ok. So there
they were working on this by putting them up so you had the letter on a piece
of card with space on either side of it that would combine so that it was
nicely spaced. They were doing this and trimming little bits off the card, all
trial and error. I had been really interested in photography from a very early
age. I had my own darkroom, I had built my own enlarger, you know with lenses
and stuff. So I knew a lot about photography and I looked at them doing this, and
I thought, “I can design a machine that will read the letters”. They were
explaining that they thought what they were doing was taking the mass of the
blackness of the letter and apportioning a proportion of white in and around
the letter that made a standard colour. A sort of greyness that would be the
right mix all the way along. Logically that was what they were doing. So I
thought, well, I can build a machine to read
that. Because all you do is: you have a long box, you have a light at
the end of the box, you divide it in the middle, you have two light cells -in
those days they were selenium light cells – the selenium gives off an electrical
charge when light falls on it, it’s a quality of selenium. So you have two selenium cells at the other
end of the box, and then a carriage where you can put the letter in and you
could find the centre of the letter by moving it over the dividing thing, so
you get a balance between the two selenium cells, and you could also have
shutters that come in and apportion the white space round the letters.
That’s very clever then …
it’s relatively simple. So I designed this thing and made a little drawing and
showed it Kindersley, (we used to call him DK). I showed it to DK and he went “Fantastic.
That’s brilliant! Can you make it?” I said, “Yeah, of course.” I’d been top in engineering at school. So I
said, of course. He said, “Take time off, go and get the materials, build
it!” So that was it. I built this very
first spacing machine. So then there we were having the letters reproduced on
clear cell and having the letters reading the whole alphabet and apportioning
them in that way. And doing that we discovered that the result was crap! And it
wasn’t to do with apportioning white space with black letter – that wasn’t what was going on when you space
letters really well.
so we began to be a real research team, trying to find out what is going on
when you do that. And in the end it turned out to be, very simple actually, it
turned out to be what you’re doing – you’re making judgements about balance. (Drawing.) So if you have a letter and
another letter there, in the middle – you see these measurements are not the
same. What’s happening is … I’ve drawn L O V … I’ll put an E on the end, so
it’s LOVE. So when you look at these letters you imagine them so it is on a
seesaw, a fulcrum underneath, with the L one side, the V the other side and the
O in the middle. What you do is, you move that O around until it … so it is
about the balance between the masses. And you go then to the next three letters
and you get that balance, and that balance … and that’s when things look
right. When you think about it, of course that’s what’s happening. We live in
gravity and so the centre of gravity of things is crucially important,
especially in the built environment. And these letters were originally designed
by Greek calligraphers working with the classic Roman letters and everything is
architectural. Those letters are architectural, and they are to do with
balance! So you’re getting a lesson here!
I am getting a lesson. So did you
That’s incredible. And that’s what
everybody today does?
they don’t in fact. And if you look at computer-generated – all our lettering
now is computer generated – the spacing has gone out of the window completely.
So did that not become part of training?
You see, now, the students are still interested in spacing, those that get
involved in it. But many of them don’t take much notice, so you have countless
examples of relatively poor spacing. If you look at that word “lottery”, the
Lott” is very open and this is tight. If you were hand drawing that you
wouldn’t do that. It looks like “lot” and then “ery”. So, “f u n” this is
tight, and that loosens up again … but that’s because they’ve given more or
less the same space between the projecting parts of each letter rather than
Now we know why it is so easy on the eye
when it is done properly.
it is like a proper composition. You’re actually composing with mark and space.
So someone like me doesn’t know why some
letters look so lovely and others don’t.
And we are surrounded by examples of really bad spacing.
when I was an apprentice and I was cycling to work through Cambridge all, the
way through, and up, I would be passing all this bad lettering on shop fronts
and lorries and such. And I got so that it was just stressing me. There is a
time when I would get really distressed by it. so I had to learn how to
actually ignore bad lettering – to survive.
learned how to do that, and now I only notice good lettering. (Laughs.) I say, “oh, that’s really
nicely spaced”. It’s like visual noise and visual music.
I built that machine and we did all our research and then we went on and on and
on. And this is why I was working until ten o'clock at night trying to crack
this whole thing about what we are doing. What is this spacing, what is it what
we are doing? On and on and on ….
So you and DK were quite equals?
he was always the governor. But even after I’d left he used to write to me
about the issues and I’d write back to him. I built three machines ultimately,
getting more and more refined, but they were all based on the photographic
principles of light and reading like that. But after I left, computers began to
take over and so eventually there was a computer equivalent and it was just
apportioned, digital reading. But that spacing system was utilised by what they
called “Letraset” transfer lettering. You used to rub down … I don’t know if
you ever noticed, but on Letraset, underneath the letters there were a couple
of little dots or dashes showing the space that you had to give to the letters
so as long as you matched those up you would get fairly good spacing. This was
so that people who weren’t skilled could place it reasonably well. It wasn’t
perfect but it was much closer, and that was my spacing system. Of course, I
don’t get any credit for that because I was an apprentice. I was working for my
No copyright on that!
What did you do after that spell? Did
you leave after six years? (Seven)
happened was. I was working as self employed. Once I came out of my
apprenticeship the structure was I was self employed. When we were doing
carving jobs and such I would give DK a price for my work …
Into the sixties music scene – Anglia
Were you still using his barn?
But I meant that I was relatively free and he didn’t have to worry about tax
and Paye and that sort of stuff. By that time I’d also become a pretty good
jazz bass player, so I was doing all these gigs and I sometimes used to fall
asleep at work, because I’d been up half the night. I used to travel up to
Norwich to do little jazz gigs. There was a jazz club here. Orford Cellars (Orford Yard?). Yeah, I think the Cellars
are still there. It was the jazz club
When did that go up to? There was a big
woman … I can’t remember what she was called.
hair. Anna! Black Anna! I played for Black Anna.
Did you play in lots of different bands
at that time.
I was doing the jazz club and the pianist was a guy called Peter Fenn, Pete
Fenn. He was the music director of Anglia Television. I had done a few gigs for
his band and one night he just said, “You do read, don’t you D?” And I said,
“Yeah” – reading music. He said, “Would you fancy doing some television work?”
And I said, “Yeah, great.” I think I was 21, 22 at the time. So he said, “Well,
you do need to do an audition. I can’t just risk you …” Because in those days
television was all live. There wasn’t any video tape recording, VTR. I said OK
and he booked me in for an audition. So I went back home … my dad was a
musician and knew all the musicians. So I went to a retired band leader and
borrowed his pad, they call it, which is a pad of loose music. All the dance
band things, the jazz numbers and all that. And I just practiced and practiced.
This was going to be in a fortnight’s time. Every day I just practiced and
practiced. It was sight reading – to try and get my sight reading up. And I
think I got a good bit better over the two weeks. And then, get in the car,
drive up to Norwich to this audition in Anglia Television. So I did the
audition and I did quite well with most of the music that Pete gave me. But
there was one number, I’ll never forget, that was Peggy Lee’s “Fever”.
That’s difficult timing …
Fever’s no problem. But it went through every key. It went a semi-tone up each
time. There’s twelve keys. Sight reading in G flat. E flat, C flat is really
hard to sight read. Awful! Particularly on double bass. Pete said, “Well, OK,
but you did mess up on that one.” I said, “Pete, I’ve never played anything in
C flat!” so he said, he was really nice, he said, “Well, I tell you what, just
do one …” it’s a big risk, live television. He said, “Come and do one, and
see how you do.” And as I said, there was no VTR, but we did have sound tape recording. So we recorded
You did know what you were going to play
on the show? Although it was live, you had known what you are going to play.
You could have done “Fever” if you’d rehearsed it?
In television in those days, it would take
hours and hours to do a show. So if you are doing a half-hour show it’s all
day, so you turn up in the morning, set your instruments up, get packed up,
then there’s all the cables to sort out, the scenery, and then we’d have a
rehearsal with the band, go through all the material. Meanwhile the cameras are
working out how they are going to move. Because cameras in those days used to
be huge …
And you didn’t know the other members of
So we did the show in the evening and then we would all go to the green room
afterwards for little drinkiepoos, and then listen to the tape, on good
speakers. And I did OK, and I listened and I didn’t hear any wrong notes and
neither did anyone else and so Pete said, OK, let’s see how you do next week.
And I went back to Cambridge thinking … must get my intonation better and
using a bow and I really really pushed it.
What was the show called?
first show was, there was a singer and it was a full half-hour of music. What
was his name? He was a really really good singer.
Was that every week? And did you start
with one week, and then the next ..?
it ended up I was doing all the double bass playing for all the music for
Anglia Television. And in those days, television, the new commercial
television, was just a licence to print money, because the politicians had
worked out, you know the rate, the tax, that sort of thing, assuming that they
knew what they were doing. But in fact, commercial television was huge. The
advertisers were throwing money at it. and the television companies could make
so much money. We musicians were getting paid vast amounts.
Can you remember how much you got?
do know that I could earn £15 a week as a skilled stone carver. That was the
rate. It was like a builder’s rate. And you could run a family on fifteen quid
a week. That was a fair wage in those days. And I could travel up to Norwich to
Anglia TV, work for the afternoon doing some sessions and earn £15. So some
weeks I would come up here three times a week and so I was earning so much money,
I could change my car every year.
And that’s 1962-63?
sixties. I left school in 1955. Everything was beginning to expand. You never
had it so good. All that stuff. I was brought up with that idea that everything
was growing, everything was getting bigger and bigger.
So did you keep up these two jobs, doing
both until the very end?
happened was, I had this lovely little blue A40, Austin A40, which was like a
mini Estate car and I used to tie my double bass on the roof rack and drive up.
One day I turned up at Dales Barn, the workshop, with the bass tied on top and
I was chipping away all morning and it came to lunchtime and I’d got a gig in
television and I said, “OK, see you guys,” and I went out, climbed into my car
and Kindersley came out and he said, “Oh, D, can I have a word with you?” and
he said “Look, I am afraid you’re going to have to do one thing or the other.
You can either do the stone carving or the music. You can’t do both. It’s not
possible.” So I said, “Oh well, …”
said, “Give it a few days to make your mind up.” So I said, “I don’t need a
couple of days to make my mind up, the decision’s already taken and I’m going
to do the music.” And got in the car and drove off. So that was it. I thought,
“Well, that’s blown it …”
that was it, I drove off. I thought, “oh that’s it, I’ve blown it.” I’d got the
music work and that was OK. I fixed up appointments in London with book
publishers, book jacket design, went to Heal’s furniture, wood carving and so
on. And in just one day in London I got a whole series of commissions. I took
examples of my work, came back, and thought, “Well, that’s OK, I’ll just work
The dream house
that time I’d got married. A tiny little house, twelve and sixpence a week
rent, in Ainsworth Street in Cambridge. I’d married this lovely girl Anne, an
Art School student. So she was still going to Art School while I was
apprenticed. I think I’d come out of my apprenticeship by then. So I thought I
was ok, and within two weeks DK had rung me up and said, “Oh D, I wonder, could
you come and see me?” He’d just got too much work on. And offered me my job
So you did that as well as the London
fact I dropped the London commissions, because I was quite happy doing what I
was doing. And as I was working in Anglia Television, I used to drive back
after the gigs through the countryside some of the time. So I would drive from
Norwich south, through the south part of Norfolk and at that time, farm
machinery was developing – the sixties. So people were losing their jobs on the
farms. The machines were getting bigger and bigger and less and less work. Now
you can run a farm with two guys when in those days you needed half a dozen. So
the housing in the countryside – you couldn’t sell houses in the countryside,
everybody wanted to live in town. So you could pick up houses for … all sorts
of housing. There were these lovely old buildings. Also at that time, mortgage
companies would not mortgage anything older than 1930 something. You couldn’t
get a mortgage for anything older than
1930 something. So you had to have lots of money, if you wanted a big
old pile you had to have lots of money. So those things were really really
cheap. So I used to drive back looking for houses. And then my young wife and I
would come out at the weekend and have a look round. So we went all round
Bunwell and Carleton Rode and all these little tiny villages.
came across several houses that were round about a thousand pounds each and
they were lovely – thatched cottages with wells in the garden, all that you
know. I came across this house, Limetree House in Aslacton, that had been empty
for four years. It was completely overgrown but it was a listed Georgian
building with a double-hip roof. You know, like a doll’s house. Red brick. With
an acre of ground. With a well in the back garden. Six lime trees along the
front, it’s own drive. It had been empty for so long that the “FOR SALE” had
fallen down and was in the overgrown grass. So I looked at the number and rang
the agents and discovered who the owner was. There was a woman who owned it. I
made an appointment to go and see her an I discovered that she had borrowed the
money from the National Westminster Bank to buy this house, thinking that she
was going to live there, and had changed her mind and put it on the market.
She’d bought it for £1,200. She lived on the coast somewhere. I thought, “Oh,
right, OK.” I hadn’t got any money, but
I thought … because I was with Nat West Bank – the National Westminster Bank
as it was – in Cambridge. I transferred my bank account from Cambridge to
Norwich branch, and rang my bank manager (you could do that in those days!)
rang the bank manager and said “Can I make an appointment to see you?” Made an
appointment to see him because I knew that she’d borrowed the money from this
branch. So I went to see the guy and I said, “Look, I know that she borrowed
the money from you to buy this house. She can’t sell it and she’s an old lady and
she’s not going to be able to pay you back until she does sell it. And I’m a
young man, making lots of money, much more sensible to lend it to me.”
he went “Yeah, OK”! I hadn’t got any money – I managed to get it for 750 quid.
Would you believe it, £750!
used to come up at the weekends and decorate it. Mind you it had one cold tap.
One electricity plug. It had electric light. But very very basic. Outside
privy, in the garden, no bathroom, no loos, so I had to bury the bucket every
And was your wife as excited about it as
We were full of it!
And did you move in properly there?
How long did you live there for?
years. We bought the house and did great.
Read on in Part II. ..Full time music – dance bands and pop
music. The Tempos.