George Kidd, who has died at the age of seventy-eight, was one of the Scottish jazz scene’s great characters as well as a musician whose trombone-playing abilities were admired by fellow musicians all over the world, if not always recognised by the wider public.
Although he was inspired by trombone heroes, the lyrical and bluesy Jack Teagarden from the swing school and New Orleans stylist Kid Ory, Kidd had his own way of phrasing and creating classy, memorable lines that enhanced any band or situation he worked in.
He was born in Glasgow to parents who had no real interest in music. His older brother, Stephen had taken up the clarinet after becoming smitten with jazz and perhaps recognising a quality in George that would make him an ideal player to anchor the frontline, he persuaded George to try the trombone in his early teens.
Within a couple of years George was playing in bands around Glasgow but aware of the precarious living that musicians could make, he qualified as an engineer and worked in the Harland & Wolfe shipyard by day, sometimes turning up sleepy-eyed after a late night club gig. On top of his musical aspirations, Kidd was also a useful footballer and might have turned professional had a serious knee injury, sustained while playing for Clydebank Juniors, not forced him to retire from the game prematurely.
In 1959, Rutherglen-born pianist and bass player George Penman formed his Jazzmen, with Roger Rae on trombone. Rae was a fine player and when an opportunity to join the Syd Lawrence Orchestra came up not long after he’d joined Penman’s band, he recommended George Kidd as his replacement. It was to be the beginning of a long, successful and at times fractious relationship between the two Georges.
Firstly, the band became very popular at a time before rock and pop bands took over the music scene. They appeared alongside well-known names of the trad jazz boom including Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and the Alex Welsh band, featured on radio and came to the attention of George Martin, who was label manager for Parlophone Records and about to become famous as the fifth Beatle.
The Penman band, which also included singer, banjo player and later all-round entertainer and TV and radio personality Alastair McDonald, made records including the now collectable Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream for Parlophone in the legendary Abbey Road studios. In 1962 they won the Scottish Band of the Year title and went on to win all the major trophies at the Northern Jazz Festival in Elgin.
By this time they had been joined by the teenaged singer Carol Delaney, who even at that time showed signs of being a major talent. She and George Kidd quickly became soulmates and when she turned seventeen they married. In the mid-1960s Carol took time off from singing to become a full-time mum to the couple’s three children. George continued to play with Penman, did freelance recording sessions and broadcasts and toured Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Canada.
Everyone who crossed paths with him acquired a story – or ten – about George, his hijinks and practical jokes such as the time he disappeared, apparently into thin air, on an early morning walk in London’s Piccadilly. Minutes later the bold George reappeared, waving cheerily from on high in the basket of a cherry picker that had been parked overnight and giving his companions palpitations.
He could also be the victim of practical jokes. An inveterate snorer, on tour George could keep his room-mate and half the neighbourhood awake. So a colleague recorded this nocturnal racket and in full David Attenborough in the undergrowth mode added commentaries about impending attacks with the frying pan he’d brought along. George slept on through it all and the “snore tape” acquired a status among musicians similar to the recordings of Buddy Rich’s colourful haranguing of his band.
Kidd’s hijinks didn’t always play well with Penman and long before Sir Alan Sugar made it his catchphrase George Kidd became used to George Penman saying, “You’re fired.” The Penman band PR latterly had it that Kidd had been fired three times but was always reinstated; Kidd’s daughter, Carol reckons the firings and reinstatements were much more numerous.
The reason Penman always welcomed Kidd back was that he was such a good player. Even after their marriage broke up, Carol Kidd, who by this time was an internationally recognised talent, would hire George when there was a chance to expand her backing trio and George featured on Carol’s 1987 album, Nice Work, in an ensemble that also included the late saxophonist and broadcaster Gordon Cruickshank.
Other singers, including the New Orleans songbird Lillian Boutte, with whom he appeared at Edinburgh Jazz Festival in 2011, also admired George’s work, possibly because, as a singer himself (Dr Jazz was a speciality), he knew how to accompany. Zurich-based trumpeter Bob Wallis was another admirer who invited George to tour Germany and Switzerland with his band regularly.
Kidd continued to play, with the Penman Jazzmen, who survived their leader’s death in 2009, and in other gigs including a residency at the Three Judges in Glasgow, until a stroke caused him to retire two years ago. He is survived by his long-time partner, Pat, and children Carol, Stephen and George from his marriage to Carol Kidd as well as four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He will be sorely missed.
George Kidd, musician, born April 24, 1939; died December 28, 2017.
From The Herald, January 8, 2018