Nevil Skrimshire – Rhythm Guitarist 1923-2010
As befits a man who was one of the British jazz scene’s leading rhythm guitarists, Nevil Skrimshire’s presence was unobtrusive, but effective. In a succession of bands from those of Humphrey Lyttelton and Freddy Randall to Alex Welsh, Mick Mulligan and the Saints, “Skrim” seldom took solos, but his solid, reliable chords and rhythmic bounce were essential ingredients of the ensemble sound. The same background efficiency was true of Skrimshire’s work as a song plugger for EMI and later as Editor of Jazz Journal and a contributor to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
It was ironic therefore, that his natural propensity towards quiet caution made him responsible for the one major act for which he is remembered, apart from his distinguished jazz career. In 1963 Mick Jagger came to Skrimshire’s office at EMI with an early demo by a band which at that stage was called the “Rollin’ Stones”. Skrimshire saw nothing in it, and turned the act down, telling Jagger: “It would be fine, if only you could sing.” On hearing of the band’s rejection, Keith Richards is reputed to have burst into tears, but within a week or two the group had signed with Decca and went on to its subsequent fame and fortune. When criticised, Skrimshire always defended his decision, saying: “I couldn’t hear anything there at all. I was used to hearing people who could really sing well.”
Nevil Wadham Skrimshire was born in Beckenham, Kent, and was a contemporary at Dulwich College of the saxophonist Bruce Turner. Whereas Turner took up the clarinet at school and studied it assiduously, Skrimshire dabbled on the double bass and the drums before settling on the guitar. During the war he was stationed with the RAF in Malta, and there he worked on his guitar technique with the help of a fellow serviceman, Bill Bramwell, who went on to play at different times with many of the same jazz groups as Skrimshire himself. On leaving the air force, Skrimshire began playing around London with several local bands, before joining Lyttelton in 1948. He stayed for almost 2 years and appeared on many of Humph’s 1st records. His strong chord playing and clear sense of rhythm were particularly noticeable on the band’s most popular tunes at the Leicester Square Jazz Club such as Melancholy Blues and If You See Me Comin’.
Tony Kohn identifies the bassist as Les Rawlings who worked with Humph and Bruce Turners band and recorded with Skrim for Ken Colyer.
From 1950 onwards, Skrimshire played with most of the leading traditional jazz bands in and around London. He had a long association with Freddy Randall, and as a result of playing for Alex Welsh, made numerous records with George Melly, going on to work with the singer as a member of Mick Mulligan’s band. Because he was on the staff at EMI from 1955 until 1968, Skrimshire seldom recorded under his own name, which is why astute listeners were able to discern the characteristics of his playing on the many discs featuring a certain ‘Nigel Sinclair’.
As well as playing traditional and mainstream jazz, Skrimshire was fond of the hot club sound of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, and he was a frequent colleague of Grappelli’s erstwhile accompanist Diz Disley in various string groups. In the 1970s he took this a stage further, co-leading the group Swinging Strings with his fellow guitarist Ray Catling. As a musician, Skrimshire led a long career as a freelance, playing with many groups including the Anglo-American Alliance bands led by the cornetist Richard M. Sudhalter, and Brian White’s band Muggsy Remembered which revived the music of Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band.
Digby Fairweather on trumpet a terrific 9 piece band comprising Dave Gelly (tenor sax), John Altman (curved soprano sax), Bill Thompson (trumpet), Ken Shepherd, (trombone), Eddie Taylor (drums), Len Skeat, (bass), Dave Herridge (keyboards) and Nevil Skrimshire (guitar).
Skrimshire’s wife was the jazz writer and journalist Sally-Ann Worsfold, but he too had a successful career in jazz journalism. When the ownership of Jazz Journal passed from Novello to Pitman in the mid-1970s, Skrimshire became its Editor, until it was bought out by its subsequent proprietor Eddie Cook in the 1980s. He also wrote many liner notes to LPs and CDs, and contributed several biographies of his friends and colleagues in the British jazz scene to the 2 editions of the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
Skrimshire is survived by his son and a daughter.
Nevil’s wife Sally-Ann died, probably on 6th July 2011, at home in Rayleigh, Essex. Nothing suspicious, but subject to post-mortem. I had last seen her at the South Essex Jazz Record Society on Monday 27th June. Her daughter, Katriona, lives in Nottingham.
Discovering jazz at the age of 13 in 1960, during the trad boom, Sally-Ann has looked ever onward and upward since. Her first published article, a profile of Tony Coe, appeared in her school’s magazine. Since 1967 she has been a professional writer, regularly contributing to all the major specialist magazines: Jazz Journal, The Jazz Rag, Just Jazz, etc.
She has written numerous sleeve notes in addition to compiling CDs – the most recent of which include boxed sets of Cab Calloway and Bix Beiderbecke (JSP) and a double CD devoted to Frank Newton (Jasmine). She also compiled various entries for both editions of The New Grove Dictionary Of Jazz. Sally-Ann has researched, scripted and presented jazz programmes for local radio and in 1977 founded The South East Essex Jazz Records Society. Sally-Ann likes any kind of music with warmth, honesty and soul, but jazz remains her special love. She prefers to be described as a jazz commentator rather than a critic.
Katriona Skrimshire, – Thank you for the lovely warm tribute you paid to my late father, and the addition of the recent passing of my mother. Mums funeral is to be held at Southend Crematorium. In the smaller chapel. Thus 4th August 11.40am – wake to be held afterwards at 4 Grange Gardens, Rayleigh, Essex.
Nevil Skrimshire, jazz guitarist and journalist, was born on April 11, 1923. He died on February 24, 2010, aged 86
The early 1960s at Cooks Ferry Inn. Nevil Skrimshire (guitar), Harry Miller (drums), Ted Fawcett (bass) and Pat Mason (piano). ‘I forget the name of the instrument Lennie Felix is playing it had keys and he blew into it, and did he swing!’ (Mellotrone?)
From the late Forties on, Freddy Randall and his band played every Sunday night at the Cooks’ Ferry Inn in Edmonton, North London.
Even though this was an obscure place to hide his light, Randall’s fame spread throughout the country. The band’s music was Dixieland.
It was derived from the original Chicago-style jazz played by Muggsy Spanier and by Eddie Condon and his gang, and took account of the music of the Bob Crosby Orchestra. Ignoring the determination of most revivalist groups to let their music be dominated by the banjo, Randall used a rhythm guitar and often a tenor saxophone.
As a result his music was generally more sophisticated than that played by the other bands. His guitarist Neville Skrimshire approached Bruce Turner to join the Randall band and took Turner to the Sunday night session at Cooks’ Ferry Inn. “Sunday?” said Turner. “Won’t everyone be in church?” “In north London”, said Skrimshire, “there’s only one true God, and it’s Freddy Randall“.
Skrimshire with the Freddy Randall Band and 8 year old Brian Lang – Clarinet
The elegant Nevil Skrimshire (born 1923) was also everywhere. He seldom played a solo but he seemed to be everyone’s first choice as a rhythm guitarist. Bill Ashton told me quite recently that when he was gigging he thought Neville was the most reliable provider of a pulse he had ever played with. He had received lessons from Bill Bramwell. – He was part of the Ken Sykora Big 6 and the Bob Cort Skiffle group. He was sent for when a rock-steady beat was required and other guitarists in particular valued that. (Ken Sykora was the common denominator in both the above groups.) – Tony Kohn
Nevil Skrimshire – Feb 24, aged 86. Elegant 6-string jazz guitarist who rarely soloed but was a favourite addition to the rhythm sections of Humphrey Lyttelton, Mick Mulligan, John RT Davies and Diz Disley as well as a member of Bob Cort’s skiffle group. Recorded under the pseudonym Nigel Sinclair.
while working for EMI, where he turned down Mick Jagger’s application for a record contract, telling him: “It would be fine if you could sing“.
Nevil also recorded with Drummer Joe Daniels’s Hot Shots.
In the 1960‘s Harry Miller was a member of the Ferry Boat Jazzmen who played on Sunday lunchtimes at the Cook’s Ferry Inn at Edmonton, north London. This band had Nevil Skrimshire on guitar, Harry Miller on drums, Ted Fawcett bass, Alan Wickham trumpet, Dave Jones clarinet, Bert Murray trombone, Pat Mason on piano and Jack Jacobs alto/clarinet. Harry would sing on one or two numbers.
The Bob Cort Skiffle group was created by record label London FFRR, as a response to the growing craze of Skiffle. Legend has it that the bearded Bob (day job graphic artist) was discovered by a rep from the FFRR record label, while performing in a basement coffee bar in Chelsea. Bob was keen to ‘keep a good musical standard’, so for his group he drafted in established jazz musicians: George Jennings on bass, ‘Nigel Sinclair’ pseudonym for Neville Skrimshaw from the Saints Jazz Band on guitar, Bill Coyler or Viv Clambake on the washboards. Ken Sykora, who knew Bob from the jazz club scene and had occasionally accompanied him at gigs, made up the group on lead guitar. Within a short space of time in 1957, the group became the residents at the Royal Festival Hall Recital Rooms Sessions of Skiffle, topped the bill for 2 weeks at the Prince of Wales Theatre, played and recorded the famous theme for the 6.5 Special BBC TV, as well performing regularly on the show, and in June, recorded a live session in a pub, set by London FFRR, that was released as the LP ‘Ain’t it a Shame (To Sing Skiffle on a Sunday).