Communications Officer Elizabeth Charlesworth went to speak with 88 year old Stan Reynolds, a musician we're helping, to find out what his thoughts are on older people in society and the next generation of musicians.
Q: Is there such a thing as retirement for musicians?
I don’t think so. Well, there is but we don’t want to do it. And we won’t give in. All the guys here, my friends, we’ve been together since before the war, or just after the war, and we’re still friends. It’s amazing, you know, the trouble is now all we’re going to is funerals.
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I’m sitting underneath the Phoenix Theatre, at the Phoenix Artist’s club for this month’s Coda Club. People begin to fill the small bar filled with music memorabilia and the man I came here to see is busy discussing something with five others. The space is turned into a hive of activity and you suddenly forget that it’s 4pm on a Monday afternoon as you catch the gentle hum of each conversation. Ghosts of the great band leaders and music halls start to pervade the air and you begin to realise that you’re in the presence of musical greatness.
I came to speak to Stan Reynolds, a musician we’ve been helping, to mark UK Older People’s Day. The main aim for the day is to celebrate the achievements and contributions that older people make to our society and to challenge negative attitudes and outdated stereotypes.
I decided to start at the very beginning:
Me? I started playing when I was fourteen, on the road at fourteen and half probably. After the war, I joined a band called The Tommy Sampson Orchestra, which was a really up and coming band. Ted Heath was the big band in those days and that was the best, in my era. Ted rang me up and I got the job with him and stayed there three and a half years and then I left and I went with Rick Lewis to Spain. I came back and Ted offered me the job again so I re-joined his band for another three and a half/ four years. And then I went with Geraldo which was the biggest radio band of the time and I did a lot of work with Gerry and freelance, including the Judy Garland show. And then at the end I ran my own band. I did six tours with Tony Bennet and all the American acts that used to come over. I used to back them with a big orchestra; we did the first half and they did their act which was good fun. Then it all comes to a halt. I’m now 88, I’ve got to give it in. I couldn’t play anymore. I had to stop 10 years ago because I got cancer. I couldn’t practise every day because I was having seven day’s treatment so that was the end. Chops went, so I had to.
Trivia: Stan performed on the Beatles' 'White Album' on the track 'Martha My Dear' in 1968. The trumpet he played was sold in the Bonhams Beatles Memorabilia auction in 2012 for £3,125! According to Stan the instrument itself was worth around £30.
Stan may not be able to play anymore, but he’s still making music.
I’ve got a rehearsal band. Some of the players are semi pros, older guys and a couple of younger guys, but we’re doing the concert in the Court on Tuesday. I’m one of the band leaders. We once put two big bands on for charity which was great - two 17 piece bands. And that we enjoy but it’s hard going.
When my wife died someone came and said they were from Help Musicians UK and it was magic to me. They’ve been really wonderful to me. They’ve looked after me very well and all they did was actually wonderful. I can’t thank them enough. I really can’t.
Stan Reynolds, trumpeter
Are you a retired musician? We’re here for you.
Part of Stan’s passion for music comes from his affinity with the next generation. The image you may have of the old man saying “back in my day” does not exist here in the Coda Club and everyone shares the same sense of comradery with musicians past, present and future:
It’s terrible for them. I really feel terrible because they’re so much better players than we were. Wonderful players, the young guys. Really fantastic. Colleges are doing quite well but there are so many musicians. I could cry my eyes out because they’re not doing anything. I think, where do they go?
I also got to speak to another musician, former drummer Roy Holliday (two months Stan’s junior I’m told):
Back then we earned enough money as musicians to live. Now if you’re a gigging musician, you work a couple of nights a week and teach the rest of the time or something like that because there’s no money in it anymore. It’s much, much harder. The differential’s not there. We would work in a dance hall for £10, £12 a week, 6 nights. The average man in an office or a factory maybe earned £3 or £4 a week. Now they say that the national salary is about £400 a week, £20k a year. A good musician might get 2/ 3 gigs a week at £120. £360 – it’s not up to the national average. So that differential’s gone. You can’t live in the era of handmade suits, which we did.
What’s apparent from speaking to both Stan and Roy is that they aren’t just observers. They actively want to help musicians and share their experiences, which is why they are so passionate about the Coda Club. Stan was one of the founders of the club at the end of the war as he and a group of friends decided to establish a place for musicians to get together for a drink (which at that time was hard to come by) and chat before heading off to work in the night club and pit bands across the country. At its height, the club had 600 active members but the years have seen fewer and fewer numbers, as Roy explains:
I joined 20 odd years ago and we’ve met once a month on a Monday ever since but, because of our increasing age, our memberships going down. You know every month we come here and it’s “Oh, have you heard that so and so’s gone?” And we’re one less. Occasionally someone will come and say “my father used to be in the Coda Club and I’d like to come and talk to the guys and find out”. And all due respect to you, if you haven’t got a musical background you won’t be interested. But if you have, surely you’d like to know how it was or how it got to be like it is now. So this is what we’re about.
I feel that a lot of youngsters would like to know about it but they’re perhaps a little reticent, you know, they don’t know quite how to approach the situation. They don’t want to be patronising and say “you’re a nice old man” and that sort of thing.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m 88 years old and I’ve been in the business for 75 years. Yesterday I was at the national drum fair in Birmingham and the number of young people that came to me and said, “what was it like when you had to play every night?” or “what was it like when you used to do live broadcasts and go into the studio?” and they want to know while there are a few of us left to tell them.
As I wrap up my interview, more and more of the Coda Club musicians come to introduce themselves and I feel at a loss because I cannot sit and hear all of their incredible stories. I want to know who they all are, who they’ve performed with and what they’re doing now, but that would take considerably longer than a single Monday afternoon.
What I did find in that short amount of time was an incredible sense of comradery. These musicians are musicians for life and though physically they may not be able to gig like they used to, they continue to find ways to make music.
And part of that is their genuine concern and respect for working and future musicians. What I found in that small bar underneath the Phoenix Theatre was a wealth of resources that is currently untapped. Passing the torch is perhaps the wrong expression because these people show no signs of stopping. Instead, they want to share the warmth of their experience to help a generation that they know are struggling to make ends meet.
So, I urge any musician with a free afternoon on the last Monday of the month to pay a visit to the Coda Club and the incredible musicians that belong to it.
I’ll end with the first questions I asked Stan:
Q: Have you got any advice for young musicians just starting out?
Q: I’m sure your head’s saying that but your heart isn’t.
My heart definitely isn’t, no. I just wish them all the best with all they’re doing.
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