Based in Valencia, since the 1970s, Chris Wright was drinking buddies with Oliver Reed and Peter Sellers in the 1960s and he photographed Miles Davis backstage for a jazz magazine. One of his best mates in the London Jazz scene was flatmates of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones! Chris Wright started out playing skiffle concerts as a teenager, experienced the first wave of rock’n’roll, played boogie-woogie piano in tough pubs and saw many of the greats of jazz playing live…including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald.
Now 87 years old, Chris Wright has finally released his debut album of favourite cover versions, which he recorded in Valencia! It’s been a long trip! Born in Leicester (England) in 1936, Chris Wright grew up to the sound of bombs and air raid sirens in the Second World War. He has been based in the Valencia region since the 1970s. Chris married Cathy, an English teacher from the U.S, and their daughter Samantha was born and bred in the ‘Abastos’ barrio of Valencia. After many years of concerts and jam sessions in England, France and Spain… Chris Wright has finally released his debut album ‘Some Golden Oldies’ of cover versions. Available on Spotify and Youtubemusic, the tracks range from classics of Rock’n’Roll, Jazz, Pop, Country, Blues, Skiffle, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Gospel and more! Hear the album on Youtubemusic: https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_nkXHg9Jvt5oH_0RCfl3Ox9Ca0KFwKE2Ew
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS WRIGHT
24/7 VALENCIA: COULD YOU EXPLAIN WHY YOU RECORDED ‘YELLOW SUBMARINE’? “Being a fan of The Beatles and having moved to the Valencia region in the 1970s, I was aware that ‘Yellow Submarine’ was the anthem of Villarreal CF (Football Club). Being British, I have always loved the “underdog” and have watched Villarreal’s incredible progress over the decades. What they have achieved in the world of football is amazing. ‘Yellow Submarine’ is a song I have sung many times in live concerts and I thought it would be fitting to record a special version for the album to celebrate Villarreal’s centenary year. You can actually hear Villarreal fans singing in the outro of the studio version!”
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT SKIFFLE MUSIC? Skiffle music hit the scene in Britain in the mid-1950s. This was based on Black American spiritual & blues music. The forerunner was singer, Lonnie Donegan. Inspired by this music, I promptly bought an acoustic guitar and formed a Skiffle group. With the double bass consisting of a tea chest, broom handle and string, the washboard percussion, a lead guitarist and with myself on rhythm guitar & vocals… we quickly became quite proficient to play live gigs locally in Leicester and the surrounding area. And with the use of simple chords we raised the roof with numbers like ‘Worried Man Blues’, ‘Long Lost John’, ‘Freight Train’, ‘Rock Island Line’ and many more!”
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF ROCK’N’ROLL IN THE 1950s? “In my home town of Leicester the nights were filled with music, a dress code and an air of violence (unfortunately) that came from different gangs and their use of knuckle dusters and razors. The ‘Teddy Boy’ era was happening! The smart Edwardian styled fingertip length suits, velvet collared jackets, drainpipe trousers and winkle picker pointed shoes. (shoes that were so pointed they could be theoretically used for removing small winkle fish from their shells). As a peaceful ‘Teddy Boy’ whose father was a law-abiding policeman, I had to change my clothes and flatten my ‘Ducktail’ haircut before entering the house each night! The year 1955 saw the film ‘Rock Around the Clock’ with Bill Haley and the Comets. I saw the film in Leicester at the Savoy cinema. What a riot! People rocking in the isles, the arrival of the police and, surprisingly, the film still showing. It was bedlam, but great for the adrenalin!”
TELL US ABOUT DISCOVERING ELVIS PRESLEY…“When I was in the RAF (Royal Air Force), we made excursions to the local American Air Base for American Pool competitions… which we always won, as pool tables were small compared to English snooker tables. I distinctly remember going to nearby Banbury and a pub, now long gone, called ‘The Buck and Bell’. Here I shared a bottle of Bourbon with my U.S. friends while the jukebox blasted out hour after hour a new arrival to the pop scene, Elvis Presley. The number was ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and the year 1956.”
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF SEEING LOUIS ARMSTRONG LIVE WHEN YOU WERE A TEENAGER? “All my musical life I have been an avid follower of the Dixieland maestro, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, who was known as the founding father of jazz. One of my first vinyl records was Louis’s recording of ‘Mahogany Hall Stomp’ and ‘This was where the blues was born‘ sung by a young ‘Satchmo’. We learnt the words and sang it over and over again! For young jazz lovers it was a blast. My first Louis Armstrong concert was in the 1950s at the Granby Halls, Leicester and included Barney Bigard, clarinet, Billy Kyle, piano. The revolving stage on which they played was working well… when at one point a lighting cable snapped! There as a tremendous explosion. Everyone was startled but the band hardy missed a beat. It reminded me of my piano playing when during the nightly brawls whatever was going on around you, you continued hammering those piano keys. The louder the better! Not many people are aware that Armstrong wrote more than 300 compositions. Other numbers at the concert included, ‘Potato Head Blues’. ‘New Orleans stomp’, ‘Wild man blues’ and, of course, the popular ‘The Saints’. which had the audience going wild! There were 6,000 jazz enthusiasts packed in the halls…and it was my first ever concert! I recorded ‘The Saints’ on my debut album in memory of Louis Armstrong!”
THE JAZZ SCENE
As a teenager, Chris Wright was very impressed with visiting big band jazz orchestras. As an adult, Chris Wright was stationed near London when he was in the RAF, which exposed him to more live jazz at the legendary ‘100 Club’ on Oxford Street in the vibrant London scene of the 1950s, which included musicians like Humphrey Lyttelton, Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes and John Dankworth. Indeed, inspired by all the live music he was absorbing, Chris Wright took up the boogie-woogie piano and played in some “tough pubs” as military serviceman from the US, Canada and Britain drank, sang and brawled! He called his piano playing “Chicago style.” Chris Wright began working a reporting photographer for ‘Jazz News’ which gave him back stage press access to London concerts by giants of Jazz including Miles Davis, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT MEETING MILES DAVIS? “Miles Davis was hipper and better dressed than all of us backstage journalists there put together! Miles was reserved… yet somehow there were sparks flying off of him too. He said little but you could see he was very special. He was a fantastic musician…a real groundbreaker. It was the first British tour for the Miles Davis Quintet in 1960 and I saw them at the Hammersmith Gaumont. I was fortunate to see Miles at a creative peak… as this was the period of ‘Sketches of Spain’ and ‘Kind of Blue.’ Indeed, the Quintet I saw included musicians from the legendary ‘Kind of Blue’ recording sessions…bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and pianist Wynton Kelly. The Quintet was serious about the music they were playing on stage and the concert was really memorable; it was a very special show! ”
DRINKING BUDDIES WITH OLIVER REED: I knew Oliver Reed at the Dog and Fox Pub, Wimbledon. It was in the early 1960s. He was already an actor making his way into the world and he had a certain brooding charisma. He was good company and he could certainly knock back the ales…even then! Becoming known as a ‘Hellraiser’ in later years, he was always extremely well-dressed in a tailor-made suit with tie and just the right amount of cuff showing and not overweight at all…more like a banker than the boisterous film star he was to become. One night, after the pub closed, I remember a crowd of us went to Oliver’s Aunt’s house where the night finished with a display of a Oliver dancing on the dining room table. I was not surprised to see that in later life he had become one of the legends for alcoholic consumption with others like Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole. In his later years and in his final films, I found Oliver Reed looked almost unrecognizable from the person I knew back in the early 1960s.
PARTYING WITH PETER SELLERS: I was living in the Surrey area in the early 1960s when, together, with a group of friends, I was invited to a party at Peter Sellers home in Edlesborough near Guildford. At that time. he was married to the Swedish Actress… the delightful Britt Eckland! The party began quietly enough and I had the impression that Peter didn’t seem to know who he really was. Possibly because of his multi-parts in his professional life, beginning with BBC radio’s The Goon Show, and in films, all this affected his personal character. At that time, he was making films like ‘Dr. Strangelove’ and ‘The Pink Panther’. Anyway, as parties do, during the late evening, things became very animated with loud music, dancing and plenty of drinks. How, I really do not know, I found that I was lacking my shoes. This didn’t really matter until it was leaving time in the early hours. I spoke to Peter Sellers and he conducted me to his dressing room and presented me with a pair of his own shoes. Afterwards, I was wearing a pair of the famous actors’ footwear and they lasted a good long time! Some people say I should really not have, eventually, thrown Peter Seller’s shoes away… as they would fetch a fair old price at an auction these days!
COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT MUSIC SCENE IN THE EARLY 1960s? “The place known fondly as the, ‘Birthplace of British Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was the ‘2i’s Coffee Bar’ in Soho, London. I visited the place several times and saw other greats there like Cliff Richards and other singers of the era that included Tommy Steele and Adam Faith. They were wonderful times…
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT BRIAN JONES OF THE ROLLING STONES? “In London, I was introduced to Eddy Katz, a travel agent, who at that time shared an apartment with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. He told me that the extremely talented Brian Jones rarely moved from the sofa and, due to his asthma, wheezed his way through the days in a haze of drug-induced smoke. Apparently, the Rolling Stone would stay up for days on end due to his rock’n’ roll lifestyle. Flatmate Eddy never understood how a “zonked out” Brian managed to actually function in this “spaced out” manner. Eddy and I used to explore the London jazz scene like the famous Ronnie Scott’s club in Soho. I clearly remember being knocked out by the jazz sax player, Tubby Hayes on the London Jazz scene. He was known as the first English tenor sax player to equal the jazz coming out of America. Tubby’s group with Ronnie Scott, ‘The Jazz Couriers’…seeing them playing live in London was just magical! Talking of saxophonists, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones may have suffered from asthma but it didn’t stop him from recording saxophone on The Beatles track ‘You Know my Name (Look up the Number)’ Incidentally, only a few people know that Brian Jones played the ocarina on ‘Yellow Submarine’ by The Beatles. So, in memory of Brian Jones and flatmate and my mate Eddy in London in the 1960s…who actually moved eventually to Port Saplaya in Valencia… I made sure to add an ocarina to the studio version of ‘Yellow Submarine’ on my debut album too!”
COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITH ENGELBERT HUMPERDINK? “Having grown up in Leicester and being the same age, I knew Engelbert Humperdink… even when he was known as ‘Gerry Dorsey’ before he was famous! Indeed, there’s not many singers who can say they kept The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane’ from being number one in the charts! Englebert achieved this feat with his chart-topping song, ‘Release Me’ in 1967. Just a year before Led Zeppelin were formed, the legendary Jimmy Page was one of the guitarists on that Humperdink studio session! Actually, we recorded a rocking and extended version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ during the ‘Some Golden Oldies’studio recording sessions…but we are saving it for the following album!
WERE YOU A POLICEMAN BACK IN THE DAY? “My father had been a ‘bobby’ all his life; I decided to join the Exeter city police in Devon. Only it didn’t work. I wasn’t fitted out for it. This became obvious when I mistakenly stopped a police car that was chasing some robbers by smashing the windscreen with my truncheon.”
HAVE YOU KNOWN SPAIN A LONG TIME? “Well, I knew Costa Brava (Spain) since the late 1950s and into the 1960s, in particular Tossa de Mar for holidays. At that time the atmosphere grew on you. Sunshine, beach, great parties and fantastic music. The Beatles had made their debut in the UK and Spain had Johnny and Charley with ‘La Yenka’ and Los Bravos with ‘Black is Black’. Then there was Eydie Gormé y Los Panchos too. All together with flamenco and rumbas it was a magical time in Spain. I just couldn’t live without music. I have enjoyed all types of genres, right across the board. Pop, big band, jazz. You name it. I still play guitar, sing country & western, oldies and blues numbers in the Abastos neighbourhood of Valencia.”
TELL US MORE ABOUT VALENCIA… “Cullera (Valencia) was where I arrived first and it was there that I set up the first pub in the region. There were no licenses for ‘Pubs’ so they gave me a ‘Cafeteria’ license and said I could name it a pub… whatever that was. I started what was probably the first ‘Happy Hour’ in the region. We were packed every night. Even today occasionally people will stop me in the street and say, “Hi, Mr. Happy Hour”. After all these years. Amazing, really. I then went into agency work like jewellery, ceramics, porcelain, toys and even onions. Yes, would you believe it – even onions! After that, together with a friend, I set up a company manufacturing golf course maintenance equipment which gave me the opportunity to travel all over Spain.”
ERNEST HEMINGWAY IN VALENCIA: “Reggie Bowler was another character and wonderful raconteur and a good friend of mine in Valencia for many years. He knew author Ernest Hemingway, both in Africa and Valencia. In fact, they were both banned from what was the Hotel Metropol in front of the Valencia bullring. Continuing the fiesta which had started at the Pepica restaurant on the beach, they squirted the hotel customers, including the mayor, with gin-filled water pistols!”
Interview by ‘24/7 Valencia’ team
Article copyright ‘24/7 Valencia’
To hear the new ‘Some Golden Oldies’ album for free, see links below: