Bob Clarke – Jazz Violinist
Bob Clarke Violin & Denny Purssord, Guitar with Bassist Johnny Mulgrew on the ‘Cadge’ in a “Tribute to Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt”
Bob and friends hanging out together at the Mandrake Club in Soho in the 50s and occasionally enjoying the company of Ava Gardner who dropped in to tip a few now and then.
Bob Clarke (violin) back, Joe Venuti centre Grappeli right
Bob Clarke – SHIPWRIGHT BY TRADE – is a superb jazz violinist who has rubbed shoulders with such jazz legends as Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli. His professional career began back in the early 1950s when he began playing the legendary Soho clubs, including The Cottage where Grappelli came to listen to him. Following a festival in Moscow in 1957, Bob joined a trio that toured literally world-wide, taking in Tokyo, Las Vegas, New York and Beirut as well as venues all over Europe. Paris, he recollects, was always his favourite. Bob played with the Tony Oreshko Trio for the first time at the 2006 Keswick Jazz Festival, and brought the house down with his fantastic playing!
Clarke and Purssord have worked with Stephane Grappelli. They were members of the Soho String Sextet, a ‘Tribute’ to The Hot Club de France and were also members of the Bill Hall Trio then Hall, Norman and Ladd, the internationally renowned mime, music and comedy trio, originally created by Spike Milligan. Notable venues include: The Albert Hall; 100 Club; The Palladium; Victoria Palace; Ronnie Scott’s; The Crazy Horse Saloon Paris (10 year record run); Las Vegas; World Cruise on the QE2; and The Kremlin!
Bob with Mulgrew and with Bass as a prop and Jannette Scott another starlet with Shirley Temple and young Laurie London
Bob’s professional career began in the early 1950′s when he was often to be found playing in the Soho clubs of that era. It was an environment that he enjoyed working in and eventually Bob went on to play in some of the iconic Soho jazz venues such as the Mandrake Club (Above) and Ronnie Scotts – at its original Gerard Street location. On one such gig, Stephane Grappelli happened to be in the audience and the two met and became friends, often dining together and no doubt discussing gypsy jazz at some length. In the late 50s he went to play in Moscow with the Denny Wright Trio and then went on to tour the world. Eventually Bob settled in Paris playing at many of the top venues including 10 years at the Crazy Horse. During his travels he associated with many legends and enjoyed a number of musical collaborations. On a trip to Las Vegas met both Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole. Bob also played on a number of occasions with Diz Disley and introduced Diz to Stephane Grappelli who in later years would work together. By 1977 Bob had now formed the Bob Clarke Ensemble and returned to England from Paris. The gigs quickly followed with a season’s contract at the Victoria Palace. Then in Silver Jubilee week they played the opening act at the London Palladium. Nowadays, Bob still ventures down to London to play and during the summer months was often be found at the Keswick Jazz Festival where he played to a loyal and appreciative audience.
Bob with Wild Bill Bavison, Bass and Piano
I read with interest your article relating to Bob Clarke and Hall Norman and Ladd. I would just like to correct you in relation to the formation of the threesome and, in particular, their preceding incarnation – The Bill Hall Trio. The groups were originally created by Bill Hall (my Grandma’s brother) – Spike was just a member of the Bill Hall Trio. Please find attached a clip of the Bill Hall Trio performing together featuring Bill, Spike and Johnny. Bill was, as I’m sure you’ll see, also an accomplished violinist. Kind regards, Rob
The Bill Hall Trio was a musical comedy act originally consisting of Bill Hall (violin), Johnny Mulgrew (Double Bass and Accordion) and Spike Milligan (Guitar). They met through the Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) programme during World War II and the trio continued in its original form until 1947/8. After Milligan left, the Bill Hall Trio obtained a new guitarist (who according to Mulgrew was like George Formby) and other new members whenever old members left or died. The group went on until the death (from Lung Cancer of Johnny Mulgrew in the 1980s. (Johnny Mulgrew died in about 1986, as Peace Work was published in 1992, and in it Milligan stated that when Johnny Mulgrew died 6 years ago, the trio came to an end.)
Bill Hall Trio
– morphed into a tribute group Hall, Norman and Ladd eventually. Bill Hall died from consumption; Johnny Mulgrew, who used to play bass with the Ambrose Octet before the war, he too died of lung cancer.
My mother bought my first guitar for 18 shillings from Len Stiles’ shop in Lewisham High Street. I was about 17. I didn’t know about the plectrum guitar. All guitars were Hawaiian to me. My mother, who was always one for saving money, said: “I’ll teach you to play.” She got hold of a knife and slid the blade up and down the strings, and that was my 1st lesson. – When we first heard Reinhardt everyone gave up. It was impossible. It still is. He had that personalised tone. He was influenced by Armstrong–but he had this remarkable tone and vibrato for a guitar player. He must have had wrists like an ox. He didn’t leave that vibrato out over the fast passages, either. A tremendous talent.
I’m sad to have to report that my old friend, Denny Purssord, jazz guitarist died last Saturday, 16th April 2011. It was because of the internet that I renewed contact with Denny after a long absence. He was much involved with the jazz scene in London’s West End in the 60s, but spent many years at the Crazy Horse in Paris with the act, Hall, Norman and Ladd aka Bobby Clarke violin, Denny Purssord guitar and Johnny Mulgrew bass. Denny’s funeral was held at Islington Crematorium. Ros Glickman
The Bill Hall Trio who, well, I was a good rhythm guitarist like Django’s brother. Seated one day at the guitar, I was weary and ill at ease. my fingers wandered idly over the ivory keys … (and bang, there goes another elephant). I was joined by a jazz violinist Bill Hall, then a jazz bassist Johnny Mulgrew; we became the hit of the Central Mediterranean Forces, nabbed by Gracie Fields to appear on VE night concert, Argentine Theatre, Rome – we are the hit of the show; we escape, before she can sing ‘Sing As We Go’. – We go. (Spike Milligan)
Bill Hall Trio comedy musicians video.
Probably filmed at Pathe Studios, London.
Various shots of the Bill Hall Trio, which includes Spike Milligan, playing a unique version of “The Canary” on violin, Johnny Mulgrew double bass and Spike on Gibson guitar. Bill looks to be dressed like an undertaker, Spike looks like a hillbilly with big false black beard, the other wears a flat cap and looks miserable – look out for his elastic string.
On 27 March 1947 Spike wrote to BBC Television asking for work. He said he had recently performed as a guitarist with the Bill Hall Trio at Alexandra Palace. He had now formed a guitar duo with Reg O’List, who had just performed at the Windmill Theatre.
Spike wrote: “We present a very colourful act in rhumba costume and our numbers comprise sambas, beguines, rhumbas etc. We feature the 2 guitars and the 2 voices.”
When Anne Lenner vocalist left the Savoy and Carol Gibbons she formed a short lasting trio comprising of Anne on vocals and 2 guitarists one called Reg O’List and the other being Spike Milligan. They did a tour of Germany in the middle/late 40s. then they disbanded. As Spike said ‘we had to, Reg died. – Well I hope he did as they buried him’.