Some information about the instigator of
Unseen Rock Photos -
Dixie Dean came to photography after music. Fascinated by his uncle’s ukulele playing, he quickly became interested in learning about chords. So much so, that, by the end of his first decade, which was spent almost exclusively in that sunny suburb, New Malden, sort of languishing between Surbiton and Norbiton, he could bluff his way through a few ‘3-chord tricks’ a-la George Formby.
There followed a string of attempts to ‘master’ other instruments. The list is frightening – and so was the sound he managed to strangle out of most of them: banjo, guitar, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, saxophone, cello, bass, harmonica. What else is there?
Oh, yes. The first time he picked up a sousaphone was at Eel Pie Island Hotel, some say ‘back in the good ol’ days’. Others say, where the hell’s Eel Pie Island? Twickenham, is the answer, ask Pete Townshend. It was the place for live music in the 50’s and 60’s.
If Dixie’s memory serves him well, Brian Rutland’s Jazz band were playing there that night. When the band took its break, a pianist got up onto the stage and started playing blues and boogie-woogie. Dixie had had a fair amount of Vintage Merrydown Cider by then and saw the opportunity of extending his musical prowess on a completely different, and magnificently visual instrument - the said sousaphone that nestled on the stage while its owner was undoubtedly sampling the proud range of ales in the bar.
The fingering on a sousaphone, basically a curly tuba that’s easier to ‘wear’, is the same as a trumpet or cornet. The mouthpiece with the embrasure needed is something else! However, carefully watching the pianist’s left hand, Dixie somehow managed to squirt out something close to root notes.
As he scampered off stage before having to confront the big instrument’s owner, Dixie was approached by Alan Day, who declared himself to be a Baby Dodds-type drummer, and was asked if he would like to join The San Jacinto Jazz Band. Yes, was the obvious answer. Only one problem. He didn’t have a sousaphone.
The next day, in Soho’s Dansey Place, Dixie bought one. For £20! Cheap, even in the heady late 50’s. The reason being, it was in bits and had no mouthpiece tube. No problem. With the help of a soldering iron and some copper gas tubing, the sousaphone, a double Bb, was up and running for its inaugural rehearsal the following week-end at the aptly named San Jacinto Hall in Hanworth. It was actually a defunct church hall with a handsome pot-bellied stove that tended to hinder some of the wilder jivers when it was red hot.
Sadly, the hall was laid to rest in the 60’s, victim of the motor car. Its burial ground is beneath the Hanworth flyover which carries the A316 out of Richmond to the M3.
But the sousaphone lived on for several years. Indeed, when the foot bridge replaced the old chain-operated ferry connecting the Twickenham bank to Eel Pie Island, it marched across on Dixie’s shoulder with a New Orleans-inspired Brass Band along with Cy Laurie to celebrate the New Beginning.
Soon to come was another new beginning. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and good old British Rhythm and Blues.
But Jazz did not die off completely. In fact some of the bands from that era still strut their stuff. Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, Humphrey Littleton. Then there’s Johnny Dankworth and all those modern jazz boys.
After a couple of years, the San Jacinto Band folded – perhaps because its very traditionally strict leader 1; spotted Mac Mcgann, the banjoist, practising on a guitar, and 2; caught Dixie with a white plastic Grafton Alto saxophone. This Dixie had bought in homage to one of his heroes, Charlie Parker, who once played one. When the band folded, the musical world began to open up for Dixie. But by great fortune an acetate the San Jacinto Band cut in the hall has been discovered and rescued by Mac. ‘It’s very authentic,’ Mac says. ‘It could easily be Preservation Hall stuff.’ Will the real San Jacinto Band stand up, please!
Up at Oxford (helping to build the ring road, not studying for a PPE!) Dixie formed the Jericho Jazz Band, so named because that was the name of the pub where they played.
‘There were a lot of brains in that band,’ Dixie recalls. ‘I played trumpet.’ On drums was James Brow, who became Professor of Anthropology at Austin University, Texas. Reg James, the trombonist, became the City of Oxford’s Architect. Vincent Duggleby was on banjo before heading off to BBC radio and the Money Program.
But most notable of all, was Birtie the clarinettist, who, come rain or shine, out or in, winter or summer, wore shorts and sandals. His playing was also eccentric. If a clarinet has about 30 different combinations of places to put the fingers to make all its possible notes, Birtie (or Simeon de Franco, as he sometimes like to be called) would be sure to hit every one of them during the course of a number whatever key it was in. Dixie admits that he, himself, was a lousy trumpet player, just about capable of laying down a basic melody, forget anything else, especially a solo. But for Birtie, it seemed that every tune was one continuous solo, whether anyone else was playing or not. Discordant? Maybe, but you could never put your finger on why. The first note and the last note always seemed to be, well, right.
Birtie was plainly shaping up for more adventurous things each time he blew into his instrument. Proof? Several monumental concert performances later, a ‘Sir’ was added to his name, extending it to Sir Harrison Birtwhistle.
In Oxford, Dixie attempted to make his first film. A drama about a sailor returning to his home village only to find it decimated by nuclear war. There could be no sync sound because that cost money. Before too long there was no money left anyway, so, ‘The Wall’ as it was called, was aborted.
The most memorable moment for Dixie in Oxford was when Paul Foot smuggled the band into the Oxford Union up the fire escape stairs. The timing was crucial. A scout was to give the signal at the precise moment Harold Macmillan made his dignified entrance into the arena to address the Union. As he did so, the band rushed in playing ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ to loud applause and cheers. ‘Being at the back of the gallery,’ Dixie recounts. ‘We managed about a chorus and a half before we were ignominiously ushered out.’ A good laugh, though.
Before Dixie’s next venture into film making, he toured the German jazz clubs with various bands. But rhythm and blues was beginning to draw him in.
He answered an advert in the Melody Maker for a singer/bassist to join a Swiss Show Band. It was looking for someone who could sing the hits of the day. Dixie got the job and started with the band for a season at Liseberg, a pleasure park in Gothenburg, Sweden.
I Feel Good; Midnight Hour; Help!; Hey, You, Get Off Of My Cloud; I can’t Stop Loving you – soon the likes of these hits were issuing from Dixie’s lungs nightly in swish hotels and venues all across Europe.
It seemed that filming and photography were not to be. But not so. While in Sweden, Dixie acquired a Hasselblad camera. Gold dust! To be carried lovingly along with his Bolex (that’s a 16mm film camera, not a rude word).
In 1967, he grabbed the opportunity to travel to Norway’s Arctic Lofoten Islands to film the amazing spectacle of a million migrating puffins. The result of this venture lead to an introduction to one of the leading documentary film companies based in London, Allan King Associates, a.k.a. AKA.
It was now music’s turn to take back stage. Through his association with AKA, Dixie learnt the craft of professional documentary film making, privileged to work alongside master sight and sound technicians whose later list of credits and awards would fill your hard drive. Get Carter, The Killing Fields, Mona Lisa, Long Good Friday, The Shining, The Last Emperor, The Mission, full Metal Jacket, James Bond Movies, Batman Movies, Die Hard Movies, The Cotton Club,The English Patient, Closer, to name a few.
In 1969, AKA, with long serving World In Action experience, were engaged by Granada TV to crew The Rolling Stones free concert in Hyde Park. ‘Stones In The Park’ is still a classic rock documentary. Director John Sheppard played a great part in putting that together. Dixie had the good fortune to focus-pull for Mike Dodds on the front of stage tracking camera.
After that came a succession of rock and roll assignments for AKA. Marc Bolan and Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Faces, Rod Stewart, Santana, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson, The Who, the Beatles separately, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Dr. John, Stephen Stills and so on. But biggest of all was to have the amazing luck to work with the Rolling Stones on their pre-Sticky Fingers Tour of Europe in 1970. There was only one camera involved so it was never going to be a multi-camera shoot about the performances themselves. It seemed to be more a taste of life on the road, perhaps for the Stones’ own purposes. Dixie ended up in charge of sound most of the time as well as assisting cameraman Frank Simon as and when he needed it. ‘At some of the gigs the best place to base myself with the sound recorder was under Ian Stewart’s grand piano,’ Dixie remembers. ‘Stu was such an unassuming guy. Loved by everyone and sorely missed.’
With his Hasselblad and Nikon forever hanging round his neck, Dixie was sometimes ideally placed to get some great shots of The Stones at work. Although he travelled with them and stayed in the same hotels as them, Dixie however never encroached upon their privacy with his camera. An ‘Aardvark’ he was not!
The Stones were riding high in 1970. Some still think the Sticky Fingers album that the tour was promoting to be their best ever. Whoever would have thought that 35 years later they would still be riding high? And still knocking out some of the tracks from Sticky Fingers on their current world tour? A few changes in personnel, but Mick, Keith, and Charlie are still going strong, amply served by ‘newcomer’ Ronnie Wood and a host of fine back-up musicians.
Any tour with the Rolling Stones is going to throw up a host of memorable experiences. But, apart from dancing with Bianca at an end of gig party in Paris and being ‘excuse-me’d’ by Mick Jagger, Dixie’s favourite and most chuckle-worthy memory was the occasion when The Stones went for a meal at La Coupole, the famous brasserie on Montparnasse in Paris.
‘About fifteen of the band and crew were there,’ Dixie relates. ‘But Mick and Keith weren’t, probably because they wanted some peace and quiet and knew what a hassle it could become.’ Which of course it did. Apart from all the paparazzi snapping away irritatingly, a coach-load of Japanese tourists totally surrounded the table, gawking and pointing. ‘I was sitting opposite the lovely Jo Bergman - Mick’s secretary and tour ‘right arm’ along with Chip Monck - who tried to encourage them to leave the party in peace,’ Dixie goes on. ‘But they wouldn’t. They wanted to know “Wit wun Rick Dagger?” ‘
Clearly frustrated but maybe thinking it might be the quickest way to get rid of them, Jo pointed at Dixie. ‘That one,’ she told them with a sincere but mischievous nod. Immediately Dixie was put upon to sign 23 La Coupole menus in the name of Mick Jagger. ‘They obviously didn’t have a clue what Mick looked like,’ Dixie states the obvious, since at the time he had extremely long red hair and a walrus moustache which hid his lips completely!
If Mick is reading this, Dixie promises he has never ever signed another thing in his name.
In 1969, Dixie was working on a documentary about the life of John and Yoko, crewed by AKA. This production coincided with a film John and Yoko were making themselves in Lavenham, Suffolk, called ‘Apotheosis’ (photographed by Nick Knowland, another AKA associate) which featured a beautiful orange hot air balloon. Dixie captured some stunning still images of John and Yoko in their black cloaks standing in the balloon’s basket.
During the course of filming the documentary, Dixie was asked to ‘sit in’ for John in the back of John and Yoko’s white Rolls Royce for some early morning wide shots. ‘It had been snowing heavily and there was a thick blanket of white covering the countryside. It was dawn and John and Yoko were tucked up in bed, but the director didn’t want to lose the opportunity of filming the white Roller gliding through the pristine snow.’ So Dixie was called upon to body-double for John. ‘I felt far happier passing for John in a wide shot than for Mick Jagger in the flesh!’ Dixie rationalises.
In between his various documentary film assignments, Dixie kept his musical interests going with his old San Jacinto band friend Mac McGann. Mac had gone on to play with The Levi Breakers and Ralph McTell, and then later with his wife to be, the great, but sadly late, Dorris Henderson. He has now formed WardMcGann. Mac and Dixie started writing together, and through a contact with Steve Roberts, a BBC director, they performed some of their ecologically sensitive songs for Late Night Line-up, which that lovely lady ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’ Joan Bakewell used to present.
Steve Roberts went on to direct Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band front man Viv Stansall in his masterwork ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End’, which also starred Trevor Howard, before being head-hunted and upping moorings from Rochester, Kent, to Marina Del Rey in LaLa land.
While filming Stephen Stills and his band in rehearsal at Tittenhurst Park (the house where John Lennon used to live, the front entrance of which was used for Peter Blake’s Sgt. Pepper
Album cover) Dixie received a telephone call from Hughie Flint of John Mayall and Eric Clapton Bluesbreakers fame. Hugh was now playing drums in McGuinness Flint, a band that was riding high with critical acclaim and a couple of hit records, ‘When I’m Dead And Gone’ and ‘Malt and Barley Blues’.
It was a secret at the time, but Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, the group’s prolific writers were leaving the band, and Dixie was asked if he would like to join it. Dixie was flattered. ‘I had to take a deep breath,’ Dixie admits. ‘Going pro meant commitment. There would be little room for film work.’
Dixie asked all his peers at AKA for their opinion of what he should do. ‘They all said “Go for it”. You can always come back to filming when the bubble bursts.’ And bubbles did tend to burst regularly in the music industry.
On the last day’s filming at Tittenhurst Park, Dixie mentioned to Steve Stills and the guys that he was turning pro as a musician (without letting on the name of the band) and was invited to stay over. He believes he had a great time that night!
The next time Dixie met the Stephen Stills band was when filming them at Madison Square Garden in New York. Their gig was on the night before George Harrison’s Benefit Concert for Bangladesh was itself due to take place there and Dixie was hoping to get in to see it. While the rest of the film crew were heading back to London, Dixie was staying on in New Work. He had been asked by one of John Lennon’s personal assistants, whose nickname was ‘The Ant’, to take some photographs of John and Yoko’s ‘War Is Over’ peace poster that was on show in Times Square.
Of course, the Bangladesh concert was a sell-out and Dixie couldn’t get a ticket. Plan B was to make contact with Klaus Voorman who was in the line-up on bass alongside all the other rock greats. Dixie knew Klaus through Mac McGann. They were both talented graphic artists apart from being top musicians. Klaus designed The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ album cover, and played bass with John Lennon and Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band.
On the morning of the concert, Dixie rang the Plaza Hotel where he knew Klaus was staying, but was told he had already left for the ‘Garden’.
With his backstage film pass from the night before and his Hasselblad round his neck, Dixie tried to get word through to Klaus from the loading bays, but it was not to be. ‘Everyone was so busy changing over the stage between such huge back-to-back concerts.’
Back in England, things were moving on Dixie’s own musical front. He learned that also joining McGuinness Flint after Gallagher and Lyle left was Neil Innes, multi-instrumentalist and song-writer to that band again, the Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band, and John Bailey, who had to be brought back from his mystic delvings in India ( come to think of it, John also looked a bit like the aforementioned John who had his own connections with the sub-continent).
McGuinness Flint rehearsed in County Cork, Ireland, with great hopes of becoming a live act that could rival its past achievements in the studio. But sadly, without the strength of Benny and Graham’s writing, the band achieved neither and folded after very few gigs.
Dennis Coulson, the original lead vocalist who sadly passed away in January 2006, went solo, John Bailey into teaching. Neil Innes became a musical arm of Monty Python’s Flying Circus as well as creating ‘The Innes Book of Records’ and ‘The Ruttles’ with Eric Idle.
Not to be thwarted by the break-up, Tom McGuinness came up with the brilliant idea of recording a one-off album of Bob Dylan tracks (some never put on disc before) that had been sitting on Manfred Mann’s shelf unused for some time. From time to time Dylan would send tapes of some of his demos to Manfred’s band possibly hoping for another hit like ‘The Mighty Quinn’. They were known fondly as the basement tapes. That other band, aptly named, The Band, which, incidentally was a great influence on McGuinness flint, also recorded some of the tracks.
Manfred Mann produced the album at his Maximum Sound studio in the Old Kent Road and ‘Lo and Behold’ was born in the name of Coulson, Dean, McGuinnes, Flint.
Dick James Music gave the band a deal. The label had Elton John’s Rocket Man riding at No.1 at the time, and while the four of us were sitting in the office about to sign on the dotted line, in bursts Elton in one of his, allegedly, many tantrums. Manners! But Elton did publicly reform his ways later in life. Good on ‘im. And it seems he has found peace with himself at last.
DJM had great hopes for Lo and Behold. This didn’t happen. It got lots of plays, but didn’t sell. However, it has been re-released four times over the years, most recently in Japan in 2005. Given it contains the only recordings of some of Dylan’s songs, it seems to have gained minor cult status.
McGuinness Flint’s later albums ‘Rainbow’ and ‘C’Est La Vie’ have also enjoyed a couple of rebirths.
But before these came to life with the next McGuinness Flint line up that included the all round musical talents of Lou Stonebridge, ‘Let The People Go’ was put out by Tom, Hughie and Dixie. ‘It was a great single, written by Tom, but banned by the BBC for political reasons along with one that Paul McCartney had released at the same time. Both songs were about the Irish situation in the early 70’s, making Melody Maker front page news. But they got no plays.
With Lou in the band and Canadian Jim Evans, McGuinness Flint survived two or three years on the road, but it never reached its original potential, so it was decided to disband. The bubble had indeed burst.
It was four years of Dixie’s life that he has never regretted. The memory of Glandore, County Cork , and gigs at Wembley Arena, and the Olympic Stadium in Munich will stay with him. But he didn’t give up on music completely. He went on to write, produce and perform the music for
a dozen films or more, and the occasional commercial. He also performed alongside Phil Daniels, Toyah Wilcox and Noel Edmunds in a 2nd City First television play called Glitter,
playing a burnt-out rock musician. Type cast? ‘That was fun, but nail-biting. I had to double
track the lyrics to a wordy song – live! Noel Edmonds had a dressing room adjacent to mine, and it must have driven him crazy listening to me practising non-stop to get the phrasing absolutely accurate.’
The fun part came after rehearsals. ‘Toyah’s parents were away during the week we rehearsed, and she invited Phil and I to stay at her place one night.’ No mention was made about the lack of bedding. ‘Phil and I ended up on the floor wrapped in carpets! No more than we should have expected. Toyah was a right punk then. A bit chubbier than she is now, and acting ‘the chip on the shoulder’ teenager - and you could clearly see her shoulder, since her hair was shaved short at the back, like, she had attitude.’ But she didn’t fool Dixie. ‘I saw through all her hostile postures and puppy fat sulks to the warm-hearted softy that I knew she really was. Phil and Toyah, if you’re out there, what about a pint?’
And so, back to filming and photography.
A mountain of assignments and projects followed, and continued to keep Dixie busy. The die was cast. ‘It really is quite hard work keeping a band together, whether on the road or not.’
After McGuinness Flint folded, Dixie would joke, that he would only ever consider going back onto the road if invited by The Rolling Stones (his favourite rock and roll band) or Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band, Dixie’s other favourite band. The Whoopees were made up of ex-Bonzo Dog members, Bob, himself, Vernon Dudley (Bohay-Nowell) Moore, Sam Spoons (Martin Ash), along with Jim Chambers, John Watson, Biff Harrison and Frankie Tooms.
Guess what? Frankie Tooms, the band’s sousaphone player, was unavailable for one of the Whoopees’ European tours. So, lo and behold, Dixie was back on the road again – after hurriedly buying a tuba and putting the hours in to get his lips working again. The tour lasted about three weeks, ending up in Vienna. And it was definitely ‘Good night, Vienna!’ for Dixie. That would be his last public performance – or so he thought. Backstage after a Manfreds’ concert in 2005, he was egged on stage to mime bass for Gerry of the Pacemakers for an American television show that first featured Doo Wa Diddy. I’m still available Gerry, and hey, should that other Rolling band ever need a bass guitarist who doubles on sousaphone…
Bob Kerr still soldiers on all over Europe albeit with a different line-up these days. For a while Ted Woods, originally vocalist for the New Temperance Seven, and brother of Ronnie and Art Woods, sang and played drums for the band. Again, with great sadness, Ted died in 2002. Dixie has never lost touch with the Whoopees. In fact, he has since made a documentary about their first tour of Russia, where they played at the amazing Jazz Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, invited there by David Goloshokin, one of Russia’s top multi-instrumental jazz musicians.
Jim, John, Biff and Sam turned down going pro to form Bill Posters Will Be Band, keeping up the tradition of the hilarious and bizarre as started by The Albert Brothers and Bonzos. To date, they play periodically at one of London’s top music venues, The Bull’s Head at Barnes, just round the corner from Olympic studios where The Stones and McGuinness Flint sometimes recorded.
It was at that studio that Dixie once worked on the Maysle’ brothers documentary Gimme Shelter about The Stones Altamont concert at the Speedway Stadium, San Francisco. Mick was called in to be filmed looking over some of the Maysles’ footage of the crowd in which a killing was captured on camera.
As cameraman for Worldwide Television News, Dixie worked with many more rock and roll greats: B.B. King, Lou Reed, Tom Jones, Pete Townshend and The Who, ELO, Peter Gabriel, Carly Simon, Michael Jackson, Bob Geldof and Band Aid, Queen and the Freddie Mercury Tribute and so on.
There has also been a lot of political and documentary work for companies like CBS ’60 Minutes’ and National Geographic.
All these commissioned assignments have helped fund Dixie’s continuing vocation of making his own documentaries. He is currently working on projects in India and Africa.
‘If I could pick a handful of memorable jobs outside the world of music, I’d start with having been the first cameraman to climb onto the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate that historic night in November 1989 when the world changed. That would definitely be one. Experiencing Pandrillus in Calabar, Nigeria, where the endangered ape species, Drills, are lovingly encouraged to breed and periodically released into the rain forest comes high on the list. Witnessing the opening of a mummy’s sarcophagus in a newly discovered tomb at Abu Syr in Egypt for National Geographic is also hard to top in the field of privilege. Another unrepeatable one-off was to be a crew-member on ‘Girl Friday’, the prototype (and never bettered in my opinion) celebrity survival show in which Joanna Lumley was left to her own devices on the spectacular Madagascan island of Tsarabajina. And I shall never forget walking into a deserted Angkor Wat as a member of John Sheppard’s Central TV documentary crew soon after Pol Pot had fled Cambodia. That sent a chill down the spine, just like those explorers must have felt discovering it for the first time.
But, when you add it all up, there is still nothing like the buzz of working on my own productions.’