Coleridge Goode - a gig's a gig
Scots are proud of all the inventions we’ve given to the world: television, pneumatic tyres, tarmacadam. The list goes on.
We can even claim some input into the double bass pickup, although the man who actually came up with that idea only gleaned the information on how to produce it from his professors at Glasgow University. Coleridge Goode had left Glasgow by the time he decided he needed to amplify his bass.
Goode arrived in Glasgow from Jamaica in 1932 to study first at the Royal Technical College before going on to Glasgow University. He well remembers his initial impressions: the cobblestones that his taxi drove over on the way from Central Station to his digs in Cowcaddens, and the enormous buildings with holes in the walls that he would presently know to call closes.
Coming from Hope, near Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston, where the houses were all single-storey, Goode was taken aback and just a little intimidated by Glasgow’s tenements. But he soon settled into City Road, managed to avoid the razor gang fights that he was all too well aware of, and learned just to smile as children pointed to one of the then rare black faces on the city’s streets. He was also soon to disappoint his parents by foregoing the electrical engineering career he was studying for and falling in love with the music he heard on the radio he’d treated himself to: jazz.
"I’d never heard jazz before I arrived in Glasgow," he says. "I used to get back to my digs from lectures and tune into a jazz programme I’d discovered and think, I’d really like to play this stuff."
A classically trained violinist who grew up listening to his father playing Bach fugues as well as hymns on the local church organ, he tried adapting his violin technique but found that he just didn’t swing.
"I’d always liked the basslines in music, especially the ones that Bach wrote. So I decided to try to play the double bass instead," he says. "It was hard at first, a big difference from the violin. But I just kept practising until I felt good enough to play gigs."
Among the places to play in Glasgow in those pre-war years was the Queen Mary Club, where the bands playing at Green’s Playhouse would drop in for an after-hours session. By the time Goode had completed his degree in electronic engineering and moved to London in 1939, having held his own with the visiting professionals in Glasgow, he was ready to go full-time.
So began a career that found him playing alongside the US-bound pianist George Shearing in jazz violin wizard Stephane Grappelli’s group and becoming the first double bass player to play amplified on a BBC broadcast.
"I’d been playing the Caribbean Club in London and we kept having these drummers who played so loudly they would drown me out," he says. "Now, in those days, it was considered more important to feel the bass player’s presence rather than hear his every note but I decided there was no point strumming my fingers to the bone if I couldn’t hear myself. So I used the knowledge I’d gained in Glasgow and made myself a pickup. It was a boon, I can tell you."
Connections made in Glasgow also came in useful when he was looking for work in London. Trumpeter Johnny Claes, whom Goode had met while playing in a dancehall at Charing Cross, turned up at the Caribbean Club, recognised Goode and invited Goode to join his then very popular Clay Pigeons. Another meeting at the club almost didn’t go quite so well as Goode mistook a certain Django Reinhardt for a mountaineer.
"He was dressed up in all this gear and wearing these big boots and he borrowed our guitarist’s guitar," says Goode. "Django didn’t play borrowed guitars normally because he preferred a wider than usual neck, which fortunately our guitarist favoured too, and when he sat down to play, I knew who he was all right."
Goode went on to play with the Hot Club Quintet which Reinhardt and Grappelli re-formed in exile. He also played with the Ray Ellington Quartet which played the music in a pilot for a new radio show – The Goons – and was playing bass for fellow Jamaican, alto saxophonist Joe Harriott, when Harriott introduced free jazz and then his Indo-Jazz Fusions to Britain.
Also in Harriott’s band was drummer Phil Seamen, a tragic junkie but one of the all-time great characters of British jazz. Does Goode have a Phil Seamen story, I ask.
"Oh yes, we were playing a big concert in London, supporting Dave Brubeck, who was then having great success with Take Five," says Goode. "Phil hadn’t shown up, so we started without him. I remember Dave Brubeck standing watching from the wings when Phil appeared onstage, was immediately sick all over his drum kit and then played on as if nothing had happened."
Gigs since then haven’t always been quite so eventful but as he contemplates a rare return to Glasgow to play at the jazz festival Goode says that, at ninety-two, his compulsion to play jazz remains as strong as ever. It’s a matter of some pride that at the age of seventy-four he began a new Sunday afternoon residency at the King’s Head in Crouch End – and eighteen years on, although a recent wrist injury has meant him missing a couple of sessions, it still continues.
"It doesn’t have to be a big venue or a festival concert for me to enjoy myself," he says. "When I find someone I enjoy playing with, even if we’re just playing in a pub, it’s a joy."
From The Herald, June 28, 2007