Monday, 30 July 2012

Alan's Got No Cross To Bear Part 1

Andy Hamilton will go down in the history books for being a jazz legend, for his role in Bearwood Jazz and for being one cool dude. 

We wanted to find out more about the great man so with the help of Phil Musgrave we contacted Alan Cross who played a huge role in Andy’s life to find out more.

Alan had so many stories to tell us about Andy that we’ve decided to split the interview into 3 different parts. 
Over to you Alan....
How did you become Andy Hamilton’s manager and how long did you manage him for? 

I was never really Andys manager, it was much more that I helped him.

It started at Ladywood School where I was Head of PE and Andy lived across the road and sent 7 of his children to the school, there were 2 there when I started in 1973 and 5 more came in the next few years so I got to know him and the family well. When Andy went into his coma in 1985, we all thought he was gone but one day I was told he had come out of the coma and wanted to see me. So I went to the QE and he grabbed my arm and told me the extraordinary story of his vision of of seeing Errol Flynn dancing on the deck of his yacht The Zaca, to a song – Silvershine – that Andy had not played or thought about since leaving Jamaica in 49. He said that while Flynn ( who had been dead for 26 years) was dancing on the deck he pointed at Andy and said “Andy, Keep Playing That Song”.

Andy said he then came out of the coma with the song in his head and had phoned Sam Brown – his piano player – and that he was going to teach the song to his band and he wanted me to organise a gig for him. Something I had never done in my life !

So a couple of months later when he had recovered we organised a gig at The Junction in Harborne, which went well and the landlord asked Andy if he wanted to come and play regularly and Andy pointed at me and said “ I will if he does” I said yes and it all started from there.

What was Andy like to manage? 

Wonderful and impossible. Andy had been organising gigs since he was a kid back in Jamaica and since arriving in Birmingham in 49 had played in just about every venue in the city so he was teaching me how to do it. He knew every trick in the book and one of his favourite sayings was “ No ! It don’t go like that !” and he would then explain how things could be done properly. He knew so much more than I did and was quite insistent that things were done properly. He taught me how to make flyers, where to get them printed and places to take them, how to set up a venue, how to get more money for gigs, he also taught me how to compere shows “ Just go out there and preach man. Baptise them!”

Andy must have told you some amazing stories.  Do you have a favourite which you would like to share with the readers of welovebearwood?

Andy was a great West Indies cricket fan, he played a lot as a very young boy and saw an England team play in Jamaica in 1929 when his school were given the day off to go and watch. When he came to Birmingham he would always organise nights out when the West Indies came as hundreds of West Indians would come and stay in the city and he did this every time they came on tour, one night at The Bear about 6 of them turned up

He told me the story of how in the 50’s he was blamed for them nearly losing a Test Match they should have won.

In 1957 the West Indies came to Edgbaston to play England, the match started on a Thursday and was scheduled to finish on Tuesday with Sunday as a rest day. Andy had organised nights out on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  On the first day England were bowled out for 186 with Sonny Ramadhin taking 7-46. The West Indies batted most of Friday and Saturday with Collie Smith, a fellow Jamaican, scoring a brilliant 161 and the West Indies scored a huge 474.

Andy’s gigs were packed with very happy West Indians, the players who came along were bought many drinks by happy fans and stayed till the early hours. On the Monday and Tuesday England batted again and scored 583 – 4 declared against a tired looking West Indies attack and on the Tuesday the West Indies just about hung on for a draw at 72 – 7.

“They all blamed me” said Andy !

It was a very sad day in Bearwood when Andy passed away (3.06.12).  The concert at the Symphony Hall and the Blue Notes performance at Mostly Jazz were both fitting tributes to the great man. 

What will you miss most about him and what do you think the legacy of Andy Hamilton is?

I miss a very dear friend who had been such an important part of my life for over 25 years, hardly a day went by without a phone call and there was always something to look forward to as we planned the next gig or he would tell me about a new young player he had found.

His legacy is huge, beyond description, almost everybody who came into contact with Andy since he came to Birmingham in 1949 has a story about how he organised a great night out, gave them a chance to play, booked their band or it was where they met their partner, played at their wedding, taught them how to play and then play better, became like a father too them, gave them good advice.

His immediate legacy is The Notebenders Big Band which he set up in about 2004 and are doing really well.

Coming soon in Part 2....all about Bearwood Jazz and how Frank Sinatra’s(yes you heard right.....FRANK SINATRA!) trumpeter played Dirty Betts (now sadly being slowly demolished on Hagley Road)

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