TUNES IN THE KEY OF B3

This article first appeared in the Camden New Journal.

Joey DeFrancesco is very young to be a jazz legend. But legend he is. Mention the Hammond B3 organ to any jazz fan and three names will come up – Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith, who put the sound at the centre of soul-jazz in the 50s and 60s, and Mr D. “Well,” Joey says from home in the US, “I started young, that’s why people think of me alongside Jimmy or Jack. But I’m only 51,” he mock protests.

More music from the master of the B3

Starting young is right. He was four when he started playing the organ, nine by the time he could reach the foot pedals, although he was already playing in clubs alongside his musician father. He was such a keyboard prodigy that by 17 he was in Miles Davis’ band. Like many people who heard that husky voice on the line summoning them to New York, he thought it was friends spoofing him. “I must have hung up on him four times.”

But eventually he went to that terrifying audition where Miles pointed to the piano and said: “Play something for me.” So he did and he was in the group (this being the late eighties Tutu era). I asked if Miles had given him any advice. “Yeah. I was playing a solo one night and he wondered over and said: ‘Leave some holes.'” Miles being the master of space in a solo.

Joey had to leave, though. “I had done my own record by then and Columbia wanted me to go on the road to promote it. Miles was mad at first, but he understood.”

That first album and his subsequent ones, plus a punishing touring schedule, meant that Joey brought the Hammond back front and centre after a few years in the jazz doldrums. “There were some people who thought I was the first to play it in jazz. It was Fats Waller back in the early 40s who was the first in with Jitterbug Waltz! But it was sort of phased out for a while. You had synthesizers, which are way more portable, then bands like Weather Report with a very different sound, which I love, and rock bands had gone towards the piano. But the Hammond was still there. All I did was remind people how great it sounds.”

On his latest album – his 39thMore Music, Joey demonstrates he is more than just a keyboard whizz. He also plays trumpet and sax. Well. “When I was with Miles I was playing trumpet in secret. He was Miles, you know? But I played him one of his lines one day and he said: You sound like me. Do it again. So, I did and he said:Iit was better the first time. But he was very encouraging. He gave me some of his mouthpieces and a couple of Harmon mutes. I still miss him, man. The best times were when we weren’t on stage, just hangin’ out.” The trumpet is a hard mistress, but seeing Joey playing Hammond with one hand and trumpet with the other a few years ago, I couldn’t help thinking – that’s almost Miles I’m hearing, jamming from the after-life.

Joey’s new band, which features a second keyboard player/guitarist, which frees him to take sax solos, that again are remarkably adept considering he has only been playing a few years, will be at Ronnie Scott’s in a few weeks. Don’t worry, his obvious affection for other instruments will not overshadow what he is best known for – expect plenty of funky, gospely, soulful and swinging organ. In others words, the classic, compelling sound of a B3 in full flight.

 Joey DeFrancesco plays four shows at Ronnie Scott’s on 27th/28th July: see https://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/

KIND OF BLUE NOTE

There is a horrible neologism that I came across in a newspaper recently. In the article the term “premiumisation” was applied to scotch whiskey – it describes the process of rebranding/hyping a product to make it “investible” and “collectable”. Something very similar is happening in the world of jazz, specifically in the world of LPs. It began with coloured vinyl editions, which are nearly always promoted as limited, collectable and attract a few quid extra over and above their monochrome siblings. I fell for this for a while – I have clear, yellow, red, orange, blue and even camouflaged discs. I stopped going colour-crazy when a record company executive assured me that adding pigment can affect sound quality and longevity of the album.

       The other route to “premiumisation” is the re-mastered special edition. This is spiralling to quite frightening heights – there was a recent version of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, announced with typical fervour: Definitive handmade limited run reissue Ultra High Quality Record! 33 1/3 RPM LP release limited to 25,000 copies. Mastered directly from the original 3-Track master tapes by Bernie Grundman. Pressed at Quality Record Pressings using Clarity Vinyl® on a manual Finebilt press. Cost for all this? Around £150. I’m sure it’s a wonderful artefact but I already have six versions of that record, including one on cassette. I surprised myself by resisting it.

       Less eye-wateringly expensive is the Blue Note Tone Poet series, supervised by Joe “Tone Poet” Harley, and put out to celebrate 80 years of the label. These are  “all-analogue, mastered-from-the-original-master-tape 180g audiophile vinyl reissues in deluxe gatefold packaging. Mastered by Kevin Gray (Cohearent Audio) and vinyl manufactured at Record Technology Incorporated (RTI)” . The latter is considered one of the best pressing plants in the world. Artists getting the Tone Poet treatment include Herbie Hancock, Grant Green, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Dexter Gordon and many others.

       Again, they are beautifully done, but are they worth the £10 premium they attract (they usually retail at £31-34) over a regular LP? After all, over the years I have been seduced by claims of superior sound quality by Japanese-only Blue Note editions (or maybe it was the obi strip – that band of paper that wraps around the cover) and “Cadre Rouge Audiophile” featuring Direct Metal Mastering and French pressing. Do I need more tweaks?

McCoy Tyner

       One of the most recent batches of Tone Poets included McCoy Tyner’s splendid Expansions, which features the great Woody Shaw on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor, Gary Bartz on alto and, unusually, clarinet, and bassist Ron Carter on an unexpected cello. It encompasses fast and furious modal jazz with the septet firing on all cylinders, Matthew Halsall-like Far Eastern tones and a piano/cello ballad. It was indeed an expansion of Tyner’s regular soundscape. I happen to have a 75th Anniversary re-issue of this, so I bought a Tone Poet one to compare and contrast.

       I don’t have a particularly high-end audio system. At its heart is a vintage Quad and 1970s Japanese Micro-Seiki deck with SME arm which is maintained by Audio Gold in Crouch End (it was where I  traded a still-boxed CD player for it years ago, back when you couldn’t give record decks away). So not audiophile perhaps, but I do know its sound very well and thought I should be able to detect any differences/improvements in the new pressing.

       And I could. A more sonorous piano here, a richer woodier bass sound there, crisper horns in one or two places. But, I realised, paying such close attention and constantly repeating sections not only gave me a headache, but it also spoiled my enjoyment. I was like one of those oenophiles who can wax lyrical about the component parts of a wine without pausing to enjoy the whole (the same is true of some coffee drinkers I know).  I’m assured that the superior quality is best appreciated through headphones, but as that isn’t how I like to consume music, it’s a moot point. So, would I rush out to replace an album I already had with a Tone Poet version? No, probably not. But….

The great Lee Morgan

       And it is quite an interesting “but”. One of the welcome aspects about these re-issues is that Mr Poet hasn’t gone for the big ticket albums. So, no Sidewinder by Lee Morgan, but the more obscure Cornbread, no Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock, but The Prisoner and so on. Also Joe Harley has embraced other labels that were or are now in the Blue Note stable. So for instance, I have a Tone Poet of Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, which was on the originally on the Stateside label, and a recent release, Katanga! by Curtis Amy and Dupree Bolton, which was on Pacific Jazz.

       The latter is a fascinating album, because it highlights just how brilliant a trumpeter Dupree Bolton was, blistering fast yet astonishing accurate, with a hairs-up-on-the-back-of the-neck high-speed stratospheric excursions and brilliant tone. Bolton only made two real appearances on disc (Katanga! and The Fox by Harold Land, also recommended), frequently disappearing into the fog of drug addiction and subsequently prison. There isn’t space here to tell his whole tragic story of wasted talent, but if you are interested seek out Granta 69 (“The Assassin”). It includes a piece about Bolton by Richard Williams called Gifted, which is as fine and as moving a piece of jazz writing as you’ll find.

            So, given the quality and heft of the physical record, the heavy card used for the covers and, sometimes, the inserts with essays (as with Katanga!), I certainly would buy a Tone Poet if it was an album new to me or I only had it on CD and wanted an actual LP. Forthcoming releases for 2021 include Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan, Wayne Shorter, Joe Pass, Stanley Turrentine, Sonny Red and  more Grant Green, all new to me. I’ve got my extra tenners ready.

BOWLING UP

Exactly fifty years ago last weekend I caught a bus from my semi-squat in Catford to Crystal Palace and joined the crowd of long-haired, patchouli-scented hippies streaming into the park to witness the first ever rock Garden Party. The Crystal Palace Bowl with its distinctive hemi-spherical stage (think a dinky version of the Hollywood Bowl) overlooking a small lake had opened in 1961, but up to that point it had only hosted classical music. That day, headliners Pink Floyd were to usher in the dawn of a new age (but then everything was a New Age back then) with amplifiers, inflatables, dope and semi-nude people frolicking in the water in front of the stage.

I had already seen the band several times by that point, including the Azimuth Co-ordinator tour  – it was a joystick that controlled a quadrophonic sound system, allowing panning from speaker to speaker – at the Liverpool Empire. Although in the pantheon of PF gigs, that palls in comparison to the one my friend, writer Jonathan Futrell, witnessed: -Syd Barrett-era Floyd and Jimi Hendrix at the Albert Hall – it was a hard act to follow.

 Indeed, I was slightly underwhelmed by the band that day, not helped by being damp and cold (the weather was capricious in the extreme, much like this May) and the lengthy wait for them to set up. Atom Heart Mother without the orchestra didn’t carry the same punch as on the album, and although they did play one unfamiliar work – The Return of the Son of Nothing, later to become Echoes – most of the set was the familiar workhorses from the live disc of Ummagumma. Plus the inflatable octopus that was meant to rise majestically from the lake was a damp squib.

The ill-fated octopus

 I was mainly there for Mountain, a band featuring plus-sized guitarist Leslie West and bassist Felix Pappalardi (later to be shot dead by his wife Gail), a key figure in several Cream recordings. I don’t recall that much of their performance apart from Jack Bruce’s Theme for An Imaginary Western, their big hit Mississippi Queen and the long coda to a gloriously extended Nantucket Sleighride – later the theme for TV’s Weekend World. To my surprise, Rod Stewart, in a pink corduroy suit, and The Faces put on a fantastically rumbustious, amiable and crowd-pleasing set although, I have to admit, I wasn’t quite sure who he was. But I was young then. And wise enough to go back to the bowl a few more times, because it was – and will be again – one of London’s great outdoor venues.

The subsequent Garden Parties featured the likes of Elton John, Roxy Music, Yes, Jimmy Cliff, Ian Dury, Santana and, er, Vera Lynn. The most famous gig was probably Bob Marley and the Wailers, when capacity was increased from 15,000 to 25,000 and Jonathan Futrell (then a writer for Black Echoes) waded into the lake, stood on a milk crate and snapped an iconic photograph of the singer that now hangs in the Bob Marley Home & Museum in Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica.

The original stage fell into disrepair and was replaced by a more angular (and now rusty) steel one in 1997 but that too became dilapidated. The final, small-scale concerts took place around 2009. Recently, however, a successful crowdfunding campaign (match-funded by the Mayor) has raised enough money to rebuild/refurbish the stage and bring back live music to the Bowl. In the meantime, a temporary structure will be floated onto the lake and used until the new permanent structure is complete. First up in this re-birth is the South Facing Festival (southfacingfestival.com), a month-long series of concerts with The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Cymande, Soul II Soul, Sleaford Mods and the English National Opera. There is also a healthy smattering of jazz on offer and I’ll be writing more about that and the festival in the new Kind of Jazz column in the Camden New Journal over the coming weeks.

GI JIM CROW

The news of the scandal about the lack of recognition for Black and Asian soldiers who died serving the “Empire” in WW1 made me think back on the initial reaction to a book of mine. Over a decade ago now, I pigeonholed a senior editor at a major publishing house about an idea for a novel. One I had completed in draft. He listened to my pitch, which was based on true events, and gave his verdict. ‘Does anyone really care about a bunch of executed criminal GIs, some of whom might have been hanged by mistake?’

Well, it turns out I did and do, because I am still writing that book. The fact that the GIs in my book were Black and Hispanic means the story is still relevant with a chilling modern resonance to crime and punishment here and in the USA.

The basic facts are these. When US troops poured into the UK in preparation for D-Day, they were subject to the Visiting Forces Act (1942), which allowed the US military to conduct courts martial on British soil and gave some immunity to our allies from British law. One anomaly was that rape was a capital crime for US servicemen, although it was not under domestic law.

The execution of GIs in the UK inspired the novel The Dirty Dozen

There were 19 executions of GIs in England. Most were hanged; two were killed by musketry, as the US Army quaintly called a firing squad. Of the 19, nine were convicted of murder, six of rape, and three of both. Eleven of the 19 executed were African-American, with three others of Latin-American or Mexican-American heritage. None was higher than a corporal, with most privates. No white American was executed for rape. When the black soldiers were sentenced to a custodial sentence for rape, it tended to be twice the length of the equivalent incarceration for a white man. Several were condemned to mental institutions indefinitely. Jim Crow definitely came over with the US army.

The hangings were carried out at Shepton Mallet prison in Somerset, familiar from the opening of The Dirty Dozen, where Lee Marvin offers the condemned men a way to cheat the hangman. The hangman, incidentally, was Tom Pierrepoint, who (if you’ll pardon the terrible pun) taught the ropes there to his more infamous nephew, Albert.

There were some US soldiers who had a narrow escape. Leroy Henry, for example, was convicted of rape and sentenced to death. Although he admitted having sex with the woman, he claimed she denounced him when she asked for £2 instead of the usual £1 for her services and he refused. He avoided the noose because a petition of 33,000 locals found its way to General Eisenhower. He not only commuted the sentence but dismissed the entire case, leaving Henry to walk free and return to his unit.

The execution block at Shepton Mallet

Researching the book uncovered (for me) plenty of other examples of how Black soldiers were treated differently, both before and after the war, including the case of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion. A segregated unit (Black gunners, white officers) it played a crucial role in covering the retreating US forces at the Battle of the Bulge and in defending Bastogne with their howitzers.  When the Germans first broke through, some of the unit’s positions were overrun and some taken prisoner. Eleven African-Americans managed to escape and hide out. They were sheltered by locals but were betrayed by a Nazi sympathizer and handed over to the Waffen SS. At 7am on December 17th, 1944, the German troops drove the eleven deep into the Wereth forest, tortured them – including cutting off fingers and driving over them with army vehicles – and executed them. Whereas the 84 white soldiers massacred by the Waffen SS at Malmedy on the same day were the subject of an investigation and a trial of the perpetrators after the war, the eleven were written out of history until 2017, when Congress finally recognised as the victims of a war crime.

So what of the original novel inspired by all this? Well, I have recently re-worked and updated it (which I have been doing periodically for ten years). It concerns the discovery of a GI ‘s skeleton in a field in Wiltshire, the local police response, and the US investigators brought in to examine the body. It is called Beyond the Bones and it has a tag line that seems to fit with the recent news about those WW1 soldiers. In war, as so often in peace, Black lives don’t always matter.

Let’s hope it finds a more sympathetic editor this time.

Hero, smuggler, mercenary, adventurer: the real Zumbach

 

Almost five years ago now I was asked to appraise a movie script that told the story of the Polish pilots who had fought in the RAF during the Battle of Britain and beyond. I knew the vague outline of the story: the Polish flyers were overwhelmed by the better equipped Luftwaffe on home turf, escaped to France to continue the fight and, when France capitulated, made their way to England, where, despite their abilities, they were left to cool their heels. Only in the darkest hour of the Battle of Britain were they finally unleashed on the Germans, and proved themselves formidable opponents. In fact, 303 Squadron, the first of the “foreign” RAF units, became the highest scoring squadron in the Battle of Britain, although the British public, who in 1940 feted and idolised the Poles, and the government turned out to have very short memories once peace came.

The script told the story well enough, although I had one significant reservation. The squadron featured never existed and characters were amalgams of real people. Now that might have worked with a story like 633 Squadron, where everything apart from the Mosquitoes is fictitious, but this was a slice of history important to both the British and the Poles. My instinct was that there must be enough real stories around the actual 303 Squadron and the individuals in it to carry a movie. That’s when I discovered Jan Zumbach.

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Of wealthy Swiss-Polish heritage, Zumbach’s life story was enough to fill several movies. The version of the script that eventually got made only tells the story of Zumbach – played in the new film Hurricane by Game of Thrones actor Iwan Rheon – when he and his fellow Poles were fighting in the skies over England. But there is so much more.

Born not far from Warsaw in 1915, Zumbach’s love for flying was ignited at the age of thirteen when the Polish Air Force put on an acrobatic display close to his sleepy hometown. His mother disapproved of his subsequent ambition to fly, so he enlisted in the army and then requested a transfer to the Air Force. At the age of 23 he was flying (antiquated) PZL fighters in the 111th Squadron and war was coming.

Infuriatingly for him, on the eve on the German invasion in September 1939, Zumbach broke a leg when his plane somersaulted during a night landing after clipping a truck parked across the runway. Hors de combat as Poland crumbled, he made his way to Romania and then to France, where he saw some action, before finally making his way to England, specifically a glum Blackpool.

There, weeks passed in a fug of boredom before, in July 1940, it was announced that a Polish squadron (albeit with British and Canadian commanding officers) was to be formed at RAF Northolt. There was more frustration, however, as the Poles had to endure English lessons and get used to RAF jargon (such as “Angels” for height) as well as conversion to thinking in miles per hour, feet and gallons, before they were allowed to fire a shot in their simmering anger at what was happening to their homeland.

Flying Hurricanes, rather than the more glamorous Spitfires, the Poles nevertheless proved to be tenacious fighters and were often considered positively reckless by their RAF counterparts. In No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland’s Forces in WWII, author Kenneth K. Kosdan states: “Faced with spent ammunition or malfunctioning guns, Polish pilots [in the Battle of Britain] were known to ram enemy bombers, chew off wing tips or tails with their propellers, or maneuver their planes on top of the Germans and physically force them into the ground or English Channel.”

Zumbach himself was awarded eight kills and one probable between August 2 (when 303 became operational) and Oct 31, 1940 (the accepted end of the Battle of Britain). Like many of the Poles, who were often older and more mature than their RAF counterparts, he also found he scored highly with British women, as he revealed in his rather unreliable memoir On Wings of War (credited to “Jean Zumbach”).

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“There was a thick notebook by the bed… it was X’s private diary, a detailed account, with critical commentary, of her love affairs. Even my limited English vocabulary was equal to this kind of subject matter, especially with the clues provided by the names of several members of my squadron. X had awarded them high marks, in contrast to her rather disparaging assessment of her fellow countrymen. By my rapid reckoning, her survey was based on a sample of approximately thirty. Sample thirty-one was delighted when she demonstrated how much her studies had taught here.”

Zumbach, later a Wing Commander, went on to lead 303 Squadron, but it was his post-war activities that set him apart. He, like other Poles who had served the Allies, had reasons to be disappointed in his treatment after VE Day. Thanks to the British government’s desire to appease Stalin, the Polish armed forces were not allowed to march in the Victory Parade in 1948 (some pilots were invited, but refused in solidarity with their banned comrades). And because he wouldn’t take part in any of the resettlement schemes for Poles, Zumbach claims in his memoirs that he was given three days to leave the country he had risked his life for. He reasserted his Swiss identity, gained a passport, and moved to Paris, his sense of justice tainted by the ungrateful attitude of the British authorities.

In the immediate post-war years an enterprising and amoral Zumbach used his newly-formed Flyaway charter company to smuggle diamonds, cigarettes, Swiss watches, gold and people (the latter to Israel) and even, in shades of The Third Man, penicillin (although at least the stuff he transported was genuine). By the late 1950s, however, he had gone more or less legit, running a restaurant and a nightclub in Paris and, as he put it, “getting fat”. Then, in 1962, war came calling again.

The offer was from President Moïse Tshombe of Katanga, which had ceded from the Congo, to put together the fledging country’s airforce, under the cover of an airline known as Air Katanga. It turned out to be a murky, messy and brutal conflict, with Zumbach’s rag-tag of an airforce providing ground support as Katanga battled Congolese and UN troops. Zumbach carried out more than sixty raids, but, outgunned by the UN, which eventually deployed SAAB jets, and out of pocket because of Tshombe’s bounced cheques, he returned to France, where he dealt in second-hand planes. But Africa wasn’t quite finished with him.

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Iwan Rheon as Zumbach

It was another secessionist state that brought him back. In 1967 the Republic of Biafra broke away from Nigeria. War broke out between the Federal Government and the new state in July of that year. One of Biafra’s representative contacted Zumbach and asked if he could find them a bomber. He paid $25,000 for a mothballed Douglas B-26, which he sold on for $80,000 – only later did he find out the middleman charged Biafra £320,000. Zumbach was persuaded to deliver the plane in person and, eventually, to oversee it re-conversion to a bomber, complete with shark’s teeth on the nose like the famous Flying Tiger’s Kittyhawks.

Going by the name “John Brown”, he flew bombing missions for the new Biafran airforce (basically Zumbach and some trainees), destroying several aircraft and a helicopter on the ground, as well as killing a senior Nigerian army commander. This even though most of the “bombs” he used were improvised exploding cooking pots. The Sunday Times picked up the story:

“The first round in the soggy, bogged down civil war of Nigeria has gone to the secessionists of Biafra [thanks to] their judicious or lucky use of their one B-26 bomber.”

But again, Zumbach was on the wrong side and Biafra lost the war and tipped into a horrendous famine. He returned to France and wrote his memoirs and, rumour had it, his dealings in planes and sometimes weapons. His explanation for his colourful life? “Trouble comes naturally to some men, while soft living feels like a hair shirt.”

Jan Zumbach died in 3 January 1986, aged 70, in somewhat mysterious circumstances. The investigation into his death was closed by order of the French authorities without explanation. Maybe “trouble” had finally caught up with him. He was buried at Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland, a hero of 303 Squadron, home at last.

 

Hurricane, co-written by Robert Ryan and directed by BAFTA award winner David Blair, is released on September 7th. Some scenes in the film were shot at the splendidly atmospheric Battle of Britain Bunker (battleofbritainbunker.co.uk) in Uxbridge, which is open to visitors seven days a week and where a Hurricane in Polish RAF colours guards the entrance.

That’s Not A Tiger Tank!

I have heard or read a few things lately questioning the accuracy of war movies. On Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage a member of GCHQ claimed that The Imitation Game (the Benedict Cumberbatch film about Bletchley Park and Enigma) got two things absolutely right: there was a Second World War and Turing’s first name was Alan. In The Times today bestselling historian Antony Beevor, discussing the Arnhem movie A Bridge Too Far, said: “All those war movies are dodgy in some way.”

This is of interest to me because, as the co-writer of the new WW2 film Hurricane, about the Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain and beyond, I am well aware of the compromises with history that have to be made. Let me start by saying the broad brushstrokes of the narrative are absolutely true to life, that in summer 1940 the RAF did reluctantly allow a Polish squadron, 303, to be formed which, flying Mk 1 Hurricanes and not the pin-up Spitfire, managed to chalk up more victories than any other squadron in the Battle of Britain. And that they – in fact all the Polish armed forces – were treated very badly after the war.

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However, some of the details do play a little fast and loose with the facts. There is a scene with gun cameras on 303 Squadron’s planes, when I am fairly sure they weren’t fitted until after the BoB. But gun camera footage always seems very real and visceral on screen, so in they went. The party at the Dorchester celebrating the Poles and their achievements, similarly, did not happen until after the main air battles of 1940 were done, but it was a decent shorthand to show how the Poles were feted by British society at the start of war. The hostess for that party was actually American, but I felt the introduction of a US character without explanation would be confusing.

Although the main players such as Jan Zumbach (Iwan Rheon), Witold “Cobra” Urbanowicz (Marcin Dorociński), Czech flyer Josef Frantisek (Krystof Hádek) and Canadian Johnny Kent (Milo Gibson) were historical figures, some of the supporting characters are fictitious.

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The real 303 (Jan Zumbach, far right) with squadron mascot

One is designed to show the strain of constant air combat suffered by the over-worked pilots (including relying on Benzedrine to stay awake) and he is an amalgam of several individuals (not all of them Polish). Another is a Jewish character (who actually had a larger role in the original script). Although there were no Jewish pilots in 303, there were in some of the RAF’s other Polish squadrons. It seemed OK to move one across.

As in the movie, Josef Frantisek was a lone wolf who went off hunting solo, much to the annoyance of his colleagues. He died when, for reasons unknown, he flew into a hillside – not, having run out of fuel, the White Cliffs of Dover as in the film. But it does look a lot more dramatic.

The two main WAAF women, led by Stefanie Martini, are actually a fusion of four real individuals, with stories based on their memories as young girls thrust into the highly regimented, repressive world of the RAF. The plotting scenes, by the way, were filmed at the Battle of Britain Bunker in Uxbridge, which is a remarkable time capsule. It is open to the public and well worth a visit.

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You might think the Poles’ success with the British women is exaggerated, but there is a persistent story that some RAF pilots sewed “Poland” patches on their tunics and spoke cod-Polish in clubs and bars to try and get some of the attention the foreigners were enjoying. (Sadly, those scenes got cut from the film.)

There are other instances of artistic licence. Appalled by the rag-tag appearance of his new recruits, Squadron Leader Kellett orders uniforms from his tailor, Gieves & Co (as actually happened). When the van turns up, Gieves’ address on the side is given as No 1 Savile Row. In fact, it was Hawkes that were at that address during WW2. Gieves & Hawkes didn’t shack up together at No. 1 until 1974. But the address on the van serves to show how much money Kellett had laid out of his own pocket. Appearances mattered as much to the RAF as the ability to shoot down Germans.

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There is a scene when Zumbach uses his wing to play snooker with an ME-109, ramming the side and sending it crashing to earth. Unlikely? Maybe. Originally I had Zumbach lowering his plane on top of the stricken ME-109, forcing it lower and lower until it clipped the trees. But there is historical basis for these close encounters. In No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland’s Forces in WWII, author Kenneth K. Kosdan states: “Faced with spent ammunition or malfunctioning guns, Polish pilots [in the Battle of Britain] were known to ram enemy bombers, chew off wing tips or tails with their propellers, or maneuver their planes on top of the Germans and physically force them into the ground or English Channel.”

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Marcin Dorociński as “Cobra”

Having been one of those who shout things like “That’s not a Tiger tank!” at the screen for most of my life, I fully expect and probably deserve  lots of flak about the above and more. But, after my experience with Hurricane, I now agree with Antony Beevor, who said in The Times: “You can nitpick your way through them for all the historical inaccuracies, but the trouble is that the needs of the movie industry and the needs of history are totally incompatible.”

And there rests the defence.

 

 * Hurricane is released on September 7th in cinemas and on digital platforms

Double Exposure

 

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Music, particularly jazz music, and photography have long enjoyed a healthy symbiotic relationship. Think of the evocative photographs of Herman Leonard, the bassist and snapper Milt Hinton or William Caxton, images of clubs, patrons and players so powerful you can almost smell the cigarette smoke, hear the splash of a cymbal, the tinkle of highball glasses.

The two art forms have something else in common – a powerful sense of their own history. Everyone who is serious about jazz studies the masters, be it the fiendishly mathematical complexity of Charlie Parker’s be-bop or the lyricism of Bill Evans’ piano. Photographers, too, are drawn back to the great practitioners of the art, the Robert Capas, Lee Millers and Bert Hardys, analyzing and sometimes imitating, until, like musicians, they find their own style.

I recently spoke to drum legend Billy Cobham, whose CV should just say “played with everyone who is anyone in jazz and beyond”, about his lifelong love of the photograph.

“I started shooting seriously in the army, back in ’64. That was my secondary military occupation, after drumming instructor. Then, when I left the army I never really stopped. I did my first album cover for Blue Note, for Horace’s Serenade to a Soul Sister in 1968.” Which meant he was following in the f-stops of Francis Wolff, another legend who shot many of the iconic Blue Note covers. “Absolutely I was. Big shoes to fill. I also did work with Count Basie and Gil Evans.”

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For many years Billy shot with a classic Leica M3, especially while on the road. “With the Mahavishnu Orchestra,” says Billy, “we were touring for two years solid. I’d always get up early the day of a show and I’d walk round town with my camera and I’d be alone. When you are in band doing that many gigs, you are with the guys 24/7 and you need some space. Going out with my Leica helped me gather my wits, my feelings, about how I felt about me that day.’ Not everyone in the band shared his commitment. “John McLaughlin, I think he just used a compact camera for snapshots, while I was there with my Leica with a 150-280mm zoom with all the bells and whistles and he’d look at me like I was out to lunch.”

I first saw Billy Cobham with that band, at an open-air concert at Crystal Palace Bowl. I had never heard or seen anything like it. The guy in white with the twin-necked guitar, he was good, but the drummer was something else. Finding out about him led me to Larry Coryell and then back to Miles Davis and beyond. Billy Cobham sparked my interest in jazz. “So it’s my fault?” he laughs when I tell him this. I also followed his post-Mahavishnu work, including the seminal Spectrum album and his later bands, which sometimes included a young trumpeter from the UK called Guy Barker.

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Billy still takes plenty of photographs, but these days he has embraced pixels. “I made the switch four or five years ago. I’ve retired my M3 and shoot with an M8 or, especially for documentaries like my recent Art of the Rhythm Section Retreat in Arizona, an S Typ 007. Everything I used to do in the darkroom, I can do in the camera now. And I don’t feel like I’ve been sniffing airplane glue for five hours.”

He thinks that photography has a way of enhancing his music . “For me, taking a photograph is like capturing an instant in my life, like a single “cel” in an animation, a frozen moment of my time of this earth. What it also does, it takes my primary mind away from what I am always thinking musically, and gives that part of my brain a rest for a minute while I do something visual. I’m still being creative, but in a different way. Then, when I come back to the music, it has more meaning.”

Billy wouldn’t be drawn on a favourite image, not even given a this-is-the-one-I’d-save-from-a-burning-house challenge. “I’m still exploring,” he insists. Which is true of his music, as you can experience when Billy plays Ronnie Scott’s with the Guy Barker Big Band  from June 25-30th (www.ronniescotts.co.uk).

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From last time at the club… but much the same killer band

I have worked with Guy on the narrative of some of his large-scale compositions and Billy and the Big Band will probably play Guy’s brilliant arrangement of Stratus from the Spectrum album. You’ll recognise the dynamite drum motif, because it was sampled for Massive Attack’s Safe From Harm, which became the title of a novel I co-wrote (as R J Bailey). How many degrees of separation is that?

 

 

First Look

The first “teaser” trailer for the Hurricane, the film about Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain, which I co-write, is out on You Tube. If you wonder why there is an “American” voice all over it, it is because one of the senior officers in 303 Squadron was Johnny Kent, a Canadian, and he is played in the film by Milo Gibson, Mel’s son, below.

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Also in the movie is the famous Polish actor Marcin Dorociński, as Witold “Cobra” Urbanowicz.

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The film is due out before the end of the year.

COMING SOON…

The next Sam Wylde thriller, Nobody Gets Hurt, is out in January. Her nemesis in it has a particularly complex backstory, involving the IRA, ETA and MI5. So, as a companion piece, there is this, available as a free download on the rjbaileybooks.com blog and here sometime in the New Year. Sam isn’t actually in it, apart from a few asides, but it details just how the baddie in NGH got quite so bad.

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Hurricane: Jan Zumbach

This photograph shows actor Iwan Rheon of Marvel’s Inhumans, Misfits, Riviera and another world-conquering mega-series whose name has slipped my mind. As the shoulder flash suggests, he is in character as a pilot in the RAF’s 303 Squadron, formed during the Battle of Britain. He plays Jan Zumbach, who flew in the mostly all-Polish 303 (he was actually of Swiss descent, but wrote that he was “Polish by upbringing and a Pole at heart”). To begin with the senior officers were British or Canadian, but later in the war Zumbach would become squadron leader of 303.

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The film this still is taken from, Hurricane, tells the story of the Polish involvement in the Battle of Britain, how, as the highest scoring squadron in the RAF, with the most enemy kills, they were celebrated and feted, before, at war’s end, being abandoned and vilified. There was a shocking survey in 1946 that suggested the majority of the British public thought the Poles should go home. Once there, the returnees who had helped the Allies to victory  were shunned, imprisoned and in some cases executed because the Stalinist puppet government thought they had been tainted by their time in the West. In his autobiography On Wings of War (subtitled My Life as a Pilot Adventurer) Zumbach claimed he was given just three days to pack up and leave this country after serving it for six years, even though he was technically a Swiss citizen. As he wrote: “Some of my comrades went back [to Poland].. at first they were given a hero’s welcome. Within a year they were in prison on charges of spying for the British.”

Jan Zumbach didn’t make that mistake. He became a diamond smuggler, running gems by air, out of Paris and Geneva and into Antwerp, feeding the dealers whose stocks had been depleted by war. He also traded in sterling bank notes, most of which were excellent forgeries by the Nazis. Eventually he went on to fly for rebel air forces (often he was the air force, operating a single plane) in Congo and Biafra, before dying mysteriously in Paris in 1986, aged 70. There are discrepancies in some of his accounts in On Wings of War, but even if half of it is true, his was a remarkable life. Sadly, although I tried with earlier drafts of the screenplay, there simply wasn’t enough room in the movie Hurricane to tell the full story of Jan Zumbach. Maybe next time.

  • Hurricane is filming at the moment. It is scheduled for release in the latter half of 2018.