Hertford and New College Lane, 1979
I was living the university dream. It was late autumn. A Sunday evening. Soggy leaves muted clicking heels on the cobblestones of Radcliffe Square. Bicycles were everywhere, as were baggy jumpers losing battles with moths and age. Crumpets, or curling slices of toast, were held to electric bar fires in dimly orange rooms. The spires of Oxford presided over a gloomy world of delighted ennui. It was a betwixt-and-between time of suspended activity, not quite the weekend and not quite the week.
I was in my first term of embracing what felt like liberation. We were youth playing at being old people. I shudder at some of the memories, pipe smoking especially. I do remember buying Brasenose College sherry from Viv, the vampish, Dot-Cotton wonder who ran the buttery with a red-headed ferocity. It cost £1.40 a bottle, came with an ornate college label and, for all I know, had been syphoned out of a petrol pump.
The ambush that happened was to have a profound effect. There was a knock on the door of my room. I opened it and met Philip. Jet black hair and a dark, penetrating gaze. A second year linguist from Jesus College. He asked casually if I was a drummer. I said yes. With a drum kit? Yes. Would I like to play in a “melodic, European-jazz inspired” band? Again, I said yes. In the following pause, I offered him a glass of Brasenose sherry. I can’t remember if he added a fourth ‘yes’ to the conversation.
That’s how I joined the Philip Dodd Quartet, just before Christmas 1979. Our first performance was in the early Spring of 1980 in the Jesus College Music Room. (Our most recent was about three weeks ago to a garden party in Surrey.) We were completed by Graham Brough on double bass and, a year or so later, Paul Mason on saxophone.
The quartet was to play at a number of Oxford College Balls. It was a cunning way of avoiding paying for admission tickets. The band has played many more events since. These last nine years have seen us, amongst other venues, at the 606 Club in Lot’s Road, Chelsea, for an annual show, a vanity gig with good natured friends and fantastically loyal supporters. It is a tribute to both Phil’s persistence and the forgiving nature of jazz that we’re still at it nearly forty years after we began. In between times, he has gone on to be an editor, prolific author and conductor of some seminal rock interviews, producing definitive books about both Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones.
Back in 1979, I had my work cut out. Before the Phil Dodd Quartet, my first Oxford experience was to join a punchy pop band, led by the indefatigable Kevin Duncan. As lyricist, composer, conductor and publicist, he pushed us out into the student circuit with fantastic energy and a shiny leather jacket. With Mark Gibbon on bass and Rebecca Willis singing, we rejoiced under the name ‘The Inrage’. In the post-punk, Debbie Harry era, we were were certainly of our time.
The Inrage, 1980. Will Awdry, Rebecca Willis, Mark Gibbon, Kevin Duncan.
With these two guiding stars as my different musical homes, I also drummed for a succession of other bands and groups around the university. Even with only eight week terms, by the time I’d seen out three years, I’d played well over 100 times in venues that varied from pubs with beer sodden carpets to cloistered college halls and the new-ish Maison Francaise, with its fabulous acoustic. We supported Sade, Jo Jackson and Wilko Johnson. The Revillos (what was left of the previous Rezillos) clambered on to a stage in front of us at the Jesus College Ball. The drummer fell off both his stool and the stage and passed out. The bass player started a “Blues in F that lasts-two-and-half hours” before he sank to his knees and fell asleep. Playing a similar night at St Edmund Hall, two years later as dawn came up, I was with a seven piece funk band called Straight No Chaser. Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers flicked V signs at us for nicking his audience. Jean-Jaques Burnel, their bassist, just snarled. We felt rather pleased as three hundred smashed students demanded encore after encore .
Kevin asked me to record a few songs after we left university and the band changed and mutated. We continued gigging for several years. ‘Need that girl’ is a creation of its time (1985) but here captures the clarity of his voice and the energy of his songs, thrumming somewhere between Eighties pop lyric and deeper, more melodic composition. It was recorded in a garage in St Albans. Sally Imber sings too, along with my descant. All guitars and bass are Kevin Duncan. It’s a bit long, but in the two minute ‘outro’, he somehow found the timing, the anticipation and the grace to play a soaring solo precisely to match my pre-recorded drum thrashing. I’m still not quite sure how.
[Kevin went on to a stellar marketing career, writing more than twenty books, selling over 180,000 copies and being translated into forty languages. And he still writes about five songs a week. I’ll drum to that.]