Bill Bramwell –
Jazz Guitarist & Composer 1922~68
– composed, performed and recorded the original Scat laden Candid Camera theme tune – I’ve Got You Covered
One such colossus of the 1950s was the incomparable Bill Bramwell, bassist, banjo player, guitarist and raconteur par excellence.
Roger Bramwell was born on the 16th of July 1922 in Corwen, Merioneth, however at an early age he acquired the soubriquet ‘Bill’ and the name stuck, indeed he preferred it, as he would say, ‘Roger Bramwell? Would you? No thanks!’
Bill was conscripted into the RAF in 1942 and was immediately posted to Malta where he joined the Stations’ resident band and there gave guitar lessons to Nevil Skrimshire. Upon demob he departed for London and briefly joined the Freddie Randall band, shortly after he decamped, for the first of a number of occasions to play with the Reg Wale Combo, in between times working with Carlo Krahmer the bandleader and soon to be founder of the fondly remembered and much lamented Jazz recording company ‘Esquire’.
In 1947 Bill was one of 4 instrumentalists who were to receive the accolade ‘Young Musicians of the Year’. The other 3 members of this august quartet were… Humphrey Lyttleton, Derek Franklin, later of the Hedley Ward Trio, and Roy Foxley, who went on to record with Ken Colyer and many 50’s Jazz outfits. In recognition of his success on the 24th of January 1948, Bill alongside the bassist Bernie Woods became the first of many domestic Jazzmen to be recorded by Carlo Krahmer, playing and singing the old Jazzer ‘My Old Man’… ironically the recording was not released until a decade later.
Late in 1948 he was to leave for Cape Town for an 18-month residency… he returned to the UK in 1950 and was to rejoin Reg Wale’s band. Bill had a low boredom threshold and in 1951 he joined a cruise ship, travelling extensively and bizarrely for a fleeting period he was employed as a disc jockey in Honolulu. It was whilst in Honolulu he became interested in Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism. Upon his homecoming (1953) he would attend a number of psychoanalysis sessions. At great length Bill would with mounting absurdity recount that during his time on the couch his psychotherapist would feverishly knit. ( – was it a male we wonder).
Bill was short, rotund, bald and bespectacled, indeed he resembled everyone’s idea of a bank manager or stockbroker. His great charm lay betwixt the juxtaposition of his appearance and his true character; he could reduce his audience to hooting wrecks, laughing until it was too painful to bear any longer. During his time with Mick Mulligan he was nicknamed ‘Bumble Bee Fat’ (ZZZZzzzzaaaat)- in honour of the Blues singer Bumble Bee Slim. Bill married the daughter of a minor Devon notable and in 1956 and set up home in Hampstead.
In 1957 Bill Bramwell was to join Chas McDevitt (Bill in full flight with his inimitable ZZZzzzAaaT’s – Scat mode opposite – was that an Gibson L5 archtop guitar? – dig those retro mic’s) and with Chas he re-recorded ‘My Old Man’ for Oriole Records, (CB 1395) perhaps as a spoiler Carlo Krahmer finally issued his 1948 recording of the same tune (Starlite Records ST 45 004) As a direct result neither recording received the attention it deserved. If you are lucky to find it his solo and supporting singing scat are in perfect unison.
Filmed in October 1957. Line-up, Bill Bramwell, lead guitar, Chas McDevitt, lead vocal, Tony Kohn, vocals and rhythm – Hofner Senator guitar, Lennie Harrison, double bass, Marc Sharratt, washboard. Rare footage from the George Formby TV show.
Bills Gibson L-5 appears to have been modified from an acoustic with added single white PAF? pickup with large white surround. There may be a small volume control below the lower f-hole and a further hole above from perhaps a past Jack Socket position. The in use Jack appears to be plugged in on the lower bout side.
Its 1958 and Bill was off again, this time to Mick Mulligan and his Magnolia Jazz Band, where he stayed for 18 months, recording a number of sessions with Pye Records, where he recorded several songs with the band… notably the LP ‘Meet George Melly’ (NSPL 18424). After his sojourn with Mick, Bill was offered a job in the musical side of advertising. He composed a number of highly regarded jingles… some of which were recorded by George Melly. Bill continued to record and occasionally tour, becoming for a time the house guitarist with Oriole and sporadically recording with Mick Mulligan. Come 1960 and Bill was to achieve a place in the UK Record Charts… with his Decca recording of the scat and guitar with Piccolo accompaniment ‘Candid Camera’ theme. During the sixties he concentrated on composing and produced the soundtracks for a number of short films, notably the greatly praised 1965 short ‘Jemima and Johnny’ a film, which tackled the then taboo subject of racial discrimination.
Decca 45–F 11309, Bill Bramwell · Candid Camera Theme (7“), 1961 B/W Frederika – With Flautist & Altoist Johnny Scott on Piccolo – 1st published 1961
Bill’s guitar style is difficult to describe, his chord work was pithy and punchy in the manner of Django Reinhardt and his single string work is similarly inventive and incisive. His light tenor voice was extraordinary, his richly creative scat singing of both voicing what he played and a ‘comb & paper’ style ZIzzing Scat – perfectly complimenting his swinging guitar.
Bill was good, Bill was a superb, highly underrated session man, his greatest predicament was that he knew he was good… and he would tell you. He would come off stage stating ‘I was good tonight, bloody good’ … even on the occasion when he had not played to his usual lofty standards. Bill’s problem? he was an irredeemable and incorrigible alcoholic, and it was to become his downfall.
For on the 13th September 1968, at the early age of 46 at his Hampstead home Bill Bramwell was to die of a final massive stroke.
I never met Bill, I only know him through recordings and the stories of musicians… even given his many faults, and there were many, above all his humanity shone through… he may have annoyed and infuriated many, but in the end they all forgave him. All remember Bill with deep affection and respect. Bill never legally changed his name and he was interred under his birth name, Roger.
Bill in the Highlands protesting at what they have to put up with when bringing his skills to the hinterlands of Scotland. No – it is not a cold ‘ ‘ found abandoned in Glencoe (We didn’t have such food available then) but simply snow (gathered on Shirley Douglas‘ hot water bottle – snow can be a nasty surprise to some southerners.
Bill, Anthony David Kohn Vocals & Guitar, Manager Bill Varley Lennie Harrison – Bass, Lennie had played bass in Paris with Django Reindhart and Benny Carter. Shirley Douglas -Vocals and Chas McDevitt – Guitar, Vocals, Whistling and blankets. circa ‘57. Marc Sharratt – Washboard took the picture
Main Article by AlexB
After leaving Mick Mulligan, Bill rejoined the de Wolfe Agency were he concentrated on composition and writing copy for variously, advertisements, short films and promotional work, of which the Torbay recording is an example. Bill never seemed to stick around, he deputised at various times with Tony Coe, of Bruce Turner’s ‘Jump Band’ and several other top line musicians. He later went on to join a loosely connected cooperative of musicians, writers and other creative types, one of whose members was to become Madonna’s mother in law. (Guy Ritchie‘s mum) The group were quite successful and Bill’s input was ultimately greatly praised, he just missed out on a top award for the short film, ‘Jemima and Johnny‘. His personal coupe d’etat during the mid 60’s was the ‘jingle’ music he composed for the launch of the Ford Cortina. Bill also wrote humorous scripts for the South African comedian Garth Mead. He suffered a stroke in mid 1968 the final one in his home near Swiss Cottage, Hampstead. His widow, Jenifer later married Peter Winter-Hart and she now lives near Glastonbury.
I have footage of Bill Bramwell playing alongside Chas McDevitt and various commercial and private recordings, including airshots with Humphrey Lyttelton introducing him playing with the Jump Band. I also have a script written by Bill and some notes he made when he was touring. Diz Disley lost (or sold) Bill’s Selmer Maccaferri guitar. Mind, on a personal note I never got the tenner Diz borrowed from me in 1976.
Sausage me a Gregory! – alexb
It is rhyming slang of course,
Sausage and mash – cash
Gregory Peck – cheque
Disley was asking Alex to cash him a cheque.
This was in total contrast to an Irish musician who was touring at the same time, who always asked to get paid by cheque, “You can’t spend a cheque!” he used to mutter, it would seem that all too often his fees had disappeared by the time he got back to Cork, so having a cheque was a lot safer.
Reg Wale drummer and vibesman was in the army and was posted to Malta were he met guitarist Bill Bramwell and after demob, they teamed up with Bassist Bernie Woods and several other musicians to forge the Reg Wale Combo. They toured South Africa. I know little of Reg’s career other than a musician friend of mine said he ‘Had a pathalogical fear of becoming famous’ There is a YouTube recording of Reg playing ‘Fruity Flute’ The line up on the ‘Fruity Flute’ includes Johnny Scott on flute, and the drums were overdubbed later by Reg, additionally, he plays the vibes.
Bill Bramwell and Reg Wale were engaged, late 50’s by a Music Library (de Wolfe) to write incidental, advertising copy and jingles for advertisements. They went on to found their own losely structured agency. One of the founders was the mother of Madonna’s ex-husband, Guy Ritchie. Johnny Scott the flautist and composer was introduced by Bill and also worked with the company. The original Reg Wale Band was Bill Bramwell, Lennie Felix (piano), Bernie Woods and an unknown flautist. After the band returned to the UK, from South Africa it folded, Bill went to work on a cruise ship, Reg worked the London scene, mainly as a freelance drummer / vibraphonist.
Reg Wale was a ‘super session musician’ – a classically trained percussionist, and a vibraphonist of great ability. He enjoyed playing jazz and was engaged by Carlo Krahmer of the old ‘Esquire’ recording company. He was mostly unaccredited but did record several sessions under the Reg Wale Group /Combo
Bill on guitar, often supported Luis Alberto del Paraná (artistic name adapted in Mexico) who formed a band with Harpist Digno Garcia. This band was named “Trio Los Paraguayos” and by decree, 24 November 1953 the National government gives each one of them $3200 to distribute Paraguayan music in Europe in an “Official Cultural Mission“. Unfortunately the money was counterfeit In their subterfuge they were money launderers for the Paraguayan Government. They owed Bill money so they gave him a dodgy roll of dollars, which he, full of largesse, bought the company a round of drinks. Two days later the Gendarmarie arrived and grilled Bill for a number of hours before setting him free.