Dud Clews Jazz Orchestra
by Pete Clemons
The Dud Clews Jazz Orchestra will forever be associated with Club Harlem. A regular jazz night, held weekly at the Mercers Arms, for almost ten years. Right from the off, and over time, the band steadily improved and were noted for the way they performed in a relaxed professional way. And during there time together there were very few changes in musical policy. The band's repertoire enlarged enormously but always came from the same musical sources. And they were the same famous bands whose recordings first inspired Dud Clews to form the orchestra back in 1962 and was still the source of most of the material when the band finally folded. The band even managed to record an album for local label 'Midland Sound Recordings' during 1968.
Sax player Mac Randle wrote the following tribute 'The young Coventry jazz trumpeter Dud Clews was determined to revive the exciting sounds of the 'big bands' of the twenties, like King Oliver and the Dixie Syncopators, Luis Russell, Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington that bridged the gap between the New Orleans & Chicago jazz bands and the later swing bands of the early thirties.
In 1963, after a long period of preparation and rehearsal, he opened the Club Harlem with the Dud Clews Jazz Orchestra. The band quickly progressed in repertoire and popularity but suddenly Dud was fatally injured in a motor accident. This was a terrible shock but almost spontaneously it was decided that the band must continue as best it could and Dud's parents were in agreement with the keeping of his name at the head of the venture, so the Dud Clews Jazz Orchestra continued.
Dud's fine Oliver-styled trumpet was greatly missed but the band recovered its composure and picked up again under the leadership of Derek Habberjam who at the time was switching from second trombone to superb tuba.
What typifies this band, capable handling of the material and retention of the idiom being taken as read, is the enthusiasm and good humour which is brilliantly captured in these recordings and which has never been surpassed by other bands since. Most of the arrangements were created and copied out by members of the orchestra plus the highly valued supporter and excellent arranger Peter Bright. The original few printed arrangements from the early days were still kept and played'.
During 1971 the orchestra held a special session at the Mercers Arms to celebrate the eight anniversary of the opening of Club Harlem. The Coventry Telegraph reported at the time 'One could not help wondering what factors had provided the continuity to convert what could have been a nine-day wonder into an eight year phenomenon'.
The Telegraph continued 'It is as difficult as it ever was to define the kind of people who comprise the audience. There is a hard core of jazz fans but the majority of people of every age group, occupation and degree of interest in the music, who come along every week because they like the atmosphere of Club Harlem'.
Of the band themselves only two members, who were present at the first rehearsal in 1962, and four who played at the first club session in November 1963, were still members of the band during 1971. Yet through all the changes in personnel and revolutions in popular music, the dated sounds of early Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Luis Russel still made those weekly audiences incredibly happy. And as far as Derek Habberjam and the Orchestra were concerned 'that alone justifies the hard work'.
The 1970s saw the bands reputation spread and so did their popularity. This brought them bookings and appearances outside of Coventry. But like all bands the inevitable happened, and The Dud Clews Jazz Orchestra finally folded. This was during 1981 when, unfortunately, Derek Habberjam upped sticks and left the area.
During the bands 18 years tenure, many band members came and went. It would be great to eventually fill this page with all names but a 1976 line up that played The Burnt Post contained the following personnel:
Brian Bates - Trumpet (Tpt)
Brian Wathen (Watty) - Trumpet (Tpt)
Terry Perry - Alto Sax (Alt)
Mac Randle - Tenor Sax (Ten), Clarinet (Clt), Soprano Sax (Sop), Alto Sax (Alt)
Ollie Dow - Tenor Sax (Ten), Clarinet (Clt)
Cliff Williams - Baritone Sax (Bari), Alto Sax (Alt)
Paul Munnery - Trombone (Tmb)
Fred Brownson - Piano
George Beach - Banjo
Derek Habberjam - Leader, Tuba
John Astle - Drums