A true swinger in every sense
ONTHEROADWITH GEORGE MELLY By Digby Fairweather JR Books, £14.99 REVIEWED BY JOHN NATHAN
JAZZ SINGER GEORGE Melly was the antithesis of the nice Jewish boy. A bisexual sexual predator and a life-embracing cultural icon, he was the kind of rake that would have fitted well into the close circle of gay friends his mother Maud, an amateur actress, entertained at their imposing Victorian house in Liverpool.
Yet Jewish (halachically, at least) Melly was. And now, to add to Melly’s famously candid autobiographies, which are explicit enough to make a barmaid blush, and which caused his son Tom no small amount of embarrassment when he was a schoolboy (the poor chap also once walked in on his mother in flagrante with a boyfriend), is this honest and occasionally very funny memoir by bandleader and trumpeter Digby Fairweather.
It was Fairweather’s band, Half Dozen, which accompanied Melly on stage and on the road in the years before Melly’s death in July of this year.
For the previous 30 years, Melly had carved a career with John Chilton’s Feetwarmers and, before that, Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia band, which made Melly that rarest of things, a household jazz name. So when, in 2003, Chilton lost the appetite for touring, Fairweather, a Melly fan from childhood, eagerly stepped in.
The first few pages of Fairweather’s memoir has the whiff of hagiography about it. His musician friends are invariably described as “the talented”, “the brilliant” or “the wonderful”.
But when it comes to describing the hard graft of shlepping up and down the country with an occasionally incontinent, regularly blaspheming and utterly engrossing Melly in the backseat for company, Fairweather jettisons the courteous approach, while leaving no doubt that he never stopped loving or admiring his hero.
On that level, On the Road With George Melly is as illuminating about the frustrations of touring as it is about the larger than life and, now sadly dead, George Melly.
John Nathan is the JC theatre critic
Patched up: shy, retiring George