Monday, January 16, 2012

From The Beginning To The End

I can say I knew him for many long months, but perhaps on reflection, and with the passing of an entire lifetime, I should say, a few short months. He was the most extraordinary musician I ever knew personally. His name was Roy Budd.

I can’t claim to have been his friend or confidant, but we talked often at the time, mostly by way of my putting questions to him and he replying and probably - in truth - with some reluctance.

I’m guessing here, but I was somewhere around 21/23 by the time in question, which would have meant that Roy would have been correspondingly around 12/14. Now that sounds improbable and also likely to have been an infringement of some law or other, but by then, he had already made his first television appearance and played London’s Coliseum theatre, so perhaps it’s not so extraordinary, at least for Roy Budd.

The venue was a rugby clubhouse, not, a clubhouse in the town of Rugby, but a clubhouse on a field of rugby, the game. I was never particularly interested in rugby myself but my friends at the time were, these would have been my early music associates to whom I have often referred. Many of them being rugby players, this may have been the reason we had arrived on that first evening to see the young Roy Budd. On the other hand - since I don’t recall exactly - we may equally have arrived at the club for reasons more to do with rugby and booze than to marvel at the talented piano player. I’m not now actually sure if we had gone to the venue knowing we were going to see the young Roy either, it was all so long ago. Anyway, by that time, he was still completely unknown, a wiry and spotty teenager.

Within less than a minute of witnessing the skill of Roy Budd for the first time, we - my friends and I - were completely mesmerized. He would sit at the piano with a glass of Coke and a pile of KitKat bars perched at one end of the keyboard.

At this young age, Roy was already a sensation by any yardstick, not in terms of fame but simply the fact of his astonishing ability, and it was as if he had the skill and experience of a mature professional of international repute.

We returned to the clubhouse many, many times to thrill at this boy’s talent. Being musicians of more modest accomplishment ourselves, we would throw challenges to him to play this or that number and even nursery rhymes to try and wrong-foot him, but undaunted he would immediately launch into a masterful rendition of said piece with astonishing complexity along with various key changes, time signatures and tempo changes. It was truly breathtaking. It’s difficult to comprehend now, that he was entirely self taught.

It is a sad fact of musical life that Roy isn’t really what you would call a household name, but he should be. Many of you reading this will probably have never heard of Roy Budd, however, it is unlikely that there are many of you that have never heard some of his music.

Although he soon established himself as a recording artist and popular performer as both soloist and ensemble player, the greatest body of his working life was as a writer, performer and director of movie music. Amongst some of his most notable works are his musical contributions to:

‘Get Carter’
‘Fear is the Key’
‘Steptoe & Son’
‘Man at the Top’
‘The Black Windmill’
‘The Wild Geese’

To mention only a few.

Roy has been compared to some of the all-time great Jazz giants like Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum and without doubt he was up there in that league, but he was also unique.

I was brought up in an age when jazz was far more popular and relevant that it is to-day and that was in part at least, because the wide spectrum of music styles we know to-day hadn’t yet evolved.

In the beginning, jazz followed a simple formula but evolved into an area of ever increasing complexity, far too complex for the masses and accordingly considered by many as ‘musicians’ music’. I, along with an army of deserters, lost interest in the way jazz was evolving. It all got too clever to retain my interest, much too clever for it’s own good. Perfectly fine for those that liked it and many did, and do, but I always felt that the essential element of melody got lost along the way; and so it was, that new trends of a pop and rock genre succeeded in attracting the attentions of former jazz audiences.

One of the defining elements of Roy’s mastery, was his ability to traverse all the technicalities of the jazz idiom whilst still retaining that - for me at least - essential integrant of melody. It was this all too rare ability that so endeared him to me.

Why or how Roy came to move into the arena of film music I don’t precisely know, but his first such score was completed as early as 1970 when he was a mere 23. His score for what is probably the most widely known movie with which he was associated (Get Carter) came the following year when he was just 24. During my own life in music I had an eye on Roy’s parallel and illustrious career. One which us mere mortals could only envy.

One day in 1993 I was in the London suburbs to attend a domestic birthday bash and it was suggested we might all go out for some entertainment. I got the job of organising something suitable.

When I scanned the papers for an eye on what was happening in town, I soon discovered that Roy Budd was appearing at the ‘Bulls Head’ at Barnes Bridge, less than four miles away. A noted venue on the jazz circuit and one he probably played hundreds of times over the expanse of his career.

Most of the party had never heard of Roy, nevertheless, they were not disappointed. The funny thing is that you don’t even have to be a jazz lover to enjoy a Roy Budd performance. Watching him work, is, was, a joy in itself. I think it was just three days later that I heard on the news that he had died suddenly aged a mere 46. What a great loss............

Check out ‘I’ll remember April’ at:

jb/16th January 2012


  1. Can I just say.. I skimmed the official Stranglers page and thought this was about our favourite drummer..

    ....thank fuck it wasn't..

  2. "The funny thing is that you don’t even have to be a jazz lover to enjoy a Roy Budd performance". jb...So true. Exceptionally talented.

  3. Always thought the theme to ' Get Carter' was great , never gave a thought to the composer, maybe you could re write 'Go Buddy Go ' in tribute !!

  4. I really enjoyed listening to that..never was one for modern jazz but this is like a party for the ears....I guess as I get older my tastes in music are developing and I shall be looking for some of Mr Budd's CD's now...thanks Jet...

  5. Jet darlin...get well need to get some lavender oil and rub it intae yer chest big man...come to think of it...let me know where ye are an I'll come and rub it in for you wonders and you need something other than blinkin anti-biotics...Missed you on the tour sunshine...