Saturday, January 27, 2007

King of the Ravers is Dead

Last month saw the death of Mick Mulligan, the English jazz trumpeter described in the 1950s Melody Maker as the King of the Ravers - and the man sometimes credited with inventing the use of the word 'rave' as a description of a wild party.

As Mulligan's bandmate George Melly describes it in his book Revolt into Style (1971), "It was inevitable that the spontaneous if mysterious enthusiasm which sprang up all over wartime Britain for an almost forgotten music, Negro jazz of the 20s, should lead eventually to an attempt to reconstruct the music and, by the end of the war, there was already one established band, the George Webb Dixielanders. Within a year or two the revivalist jazz movement had spread to every major city in the British Isles, and it was in the jazz clubs of the late 40s that what might be considered the dry-run for a pop explosion first took shape".

Melly has described this period of 'Revivalist Jazz' more fully in his autobiography, Owning Up (1965). It was apparently in the early 1950s that 'Raves' were first organised, all night jazz parties in Soho and elsewhere. According to Melly "The word 'rave', meaning to live it up, was as far as I know a Mulligan-Godbolt invention. It took several forms. The verb as above, 'a rave' meaning a party where you raved, and 'a raver', i.e. one who raved as much as possible. An article once described Mick as 'The King of the Ravers'. During a National Savings Drive in 1952, Mick and Jim derived a great deal of harmless amusement by ringing each other up every time they saw a new poster and reading out its message with the word 'Rave' substituted for the word 'Save' 'help britain through national raving', 'wanted 50,000,000 ravers,' etc. Mick and I were the first people to organize all-night raves, and they were an enormous social success, but a financial loss".
These original raves prefigured some of the later similarly named scenes, with their all night bohemian ambience, sex and intoxicants: "At seven a.m. the band played its final number and we'd all crawl up out of the sweat-scented cellar into the empty streets of a Sunday morning in the West End. Hysterical with lack of sleep, accompanied by a plump art student, her pale cheeks smeared with the night's mascara, I'd catch the Chelsea bus and try to read the Observer through prickling red eyeballs as we swayed along Piccadilly, down Sloane Street, and into the King's Road. Then a bath, one of those delirious fucks that only happen on the edge of complete fatigue, and a long sleep until it was time to get up and face the journey to Cook's Ferry or whatever jazz club we were playing that evening" (Melly, Owning Up).

Mulligan and Melly's raves took place in their basement rehearsal room in Gerrard Street, Soho. Nearby 'in an enormous basement in Windmill Street, just off Piccadilly', Cy Laurie held 'all night raves' in his jammed cellar-club. Laurie won "the adherence of the recently self-styled Beatniks (until that year they had called themselves existent­ialists), Soho layabouts and the art-school students' being rewarded with 'a shocked article in the People with photographs of necking couples lying on the floor and a wealth of salacious moralizing".

As well as basement clubs, there were "river-boat shuffle" held on boats: "Everybody knew everybody. We all squeezed on to a little boat which chugged up-river to Chertsey. At the locks there was jiving on the tow-paths. Beryl Bryden swam to enthusiastic cheers. The music and the moving water, the bottled beer and the bare arms, melted into a golden haze. The last defiant chorus from the band as the ship turned in midstream before heading for the pier in the warm dusk sounded really beautiful".

By the mid-1950s a new rave scene was developing as 'revivalist jazz' began to make way for 'trad jazz'. We will return to this in a future post.
Photo: Mulligan on trumpet with George Melly, his bandmate in Mick Mulligan's Magnolia Jazz Band.

1 comment:

Nowi'm64 said...

transpontine, eh... good name, I guess lifted from the Mulligan band's habit of labelling anything a bit naff or gauche as 'transpontine', meaning, in their case, from across the bridge, i.e. from Sarf London (It's all in 'Owning Up', as is the notion of 'points', designed to while away the grim hours of travelling by allocating a points-value to unusual or surreal sights, such as a pooing goat...

They must have been jolly times...