A true swinger in ev­ery sense

ONTHEROADWITH GE­ORGE MELLY By Digby Fair­weather JR Books, £14.99 RE­VIEWED BY JOHN NATHAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Books -

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

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