Bob Clarke

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 playing Avalon with Tony Oreshko at 2007 Keswick Jazz Festival


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.

SohoString4DizDizleyA very young Bob Clark on Violin with Diz Disley right on Lead Guitar on Rhythm is likely Roy Plummer and another Unknown Session Guitarist


Bob Clarke (violin) back, Joe Venuti centre Grappelli right

Bob Clarke – Shipwright by Trade – was a superb Jazz Violinist who has rubbed shoulders with such Jazz Legends as Joe Venuti & 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 & Beirut as well as Venues all over Europe. Paris, he recollects, was always his favourite.  Bob played with the Tony Oreshko Trio for the 1st time at the 2006 Keswick Jazz Festival, and brought the house down with his fantastic playing!

Clarke & Denny Purssord have worked with Stephane Grappelli. They were members of the Soho String Sextet, a ‘Tribute’ to The Hot Club de France.


Bob Clarke with Johnny Mulgrew and his 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 2 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 & 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 Davison, Bass and Piano

The Hot Canary by Paul Nero

I read with interest your article relating to Bob Clarke & Hall Norman & Ladd.  I would just like to correct you in relation to the formation of the 3-some 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 Hall, Spike & 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 & Accordion) and Spike Milligan (Guitar). They met through the Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) programme during WW2 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.  Mulgrew died in about 1986, as ‘Peace Work’ (Spike’s Post War Memoir) was published in 1992, and in it Milligan stated that when Johnny Mulgrew died the Trio came to an end.  Reminiscent of “Gerry Lee & Len – The Crazy Musicians.” 3 Musician’s on Stage, one wearing a wig & false moustache plays the piano while the others play the Doublebass and the Violin. They play ‘Ziegenweisen‘. At one point the Piano player stands up and throws a piece of paper and the Doublebass player and then continues to play.

Clarke & Mulgrew were also members of the Bill Hall Trio then Hall, Norman & Ladd, the internationally renowned Mime, Music & Comedy Trio, originally created by Spike Milligan (1947). Notable Venues included: The Albert Hall; 100 Club; The Palladium; Victoria Palace; Ronnie Scott’s; The Crazy Horse Saloon Paris (10-yr record run); Las Vegas; World Cruise on the QE2; and The Kremlin!

Bob Clarke & Johhny Mulgrew in the Hall, Norman & Ladd Trio 1964

Bill Hall Trio – – morphed into a Tribute Group Hall, Norman & 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 1st guitar for 18/- 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 1st 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.  In June 1944, Spike was moved to an Officer’s Rest Camp south of Naples, where he joined a Dance Band. From there, he was posted to the newly formed Central Pool of Artists (CPA) at Vomera, near Naples, where he met Bill Hall and formed the Bill Hall Trio. There, he also met Gunner Harry Secombe.  After the War ended, the CPA changed its name to Combined Services Entertainment and Spike was offered Officer Status, wages & accommodation to continue performing with the Bill Hall Trio, which he did until 1947 when he met Michael Bentine and Peter Sellers and they formed, with Secombe, the Team that would become the Goons.

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 Hot 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, Johnny Mulgrew wears a flat Cap and looks miserable – lookout for his elastic string.

On 27th 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 & 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 to late 1940s. then they disbanded. As Spike said ‘we had to, – Reg died. – Well, I hope he did as they buried him’.

DennyPurssordBjoI’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 & Ladd aka Bobby Clarke violin, Denny Purssord guitar & Johnny Mulgrew bass. Denny’s funeral was held at Islington Crematorium.   Ros Glickman