By Mike Hennessey



 Alan Plater

Doggin' Around

ISBN - 0-9550908-0-6

 Alan Plater, a prolific novelist, playwright and scriptwriter, was born in Jarrow some seventy-one years ago. He originally trained to be an architect but became a full-time writer in 1961, since when he has written six novels and hundreds of scripts for radio, television, the theater, and films.

He describes this book as "memoirs of a Jazz-crazed playwright - some of the stories are autobiographical and some of them are true" - the clear inference being that autobiographies tend to include passages which are more concerned to show the author in a good light than to render a totally honest account of his or her character and life-style.

But this is emphatically not the case with this light-hearted, wildly rambling, and highly entertaining collection of reminiscences. Plater has a natural humility, and his narrative is often self-deprecating. He cheerfully tramples on a few toes here and there and also hands out plentiful bouquets. For example: "During our student years, The Goon Show was our gospel and Spike Milligan was God." And he credits Johnny Mercer with writing "one of the finest lyrics ever - When the World Was Young Total perfection from beginning to end and not a syllable out of place."

 UK: Northway Publications

Price £6.99

212 pages


 Alan Plater's love affair with Jazz began when he was just five years old and he heard Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo while on a visit to his grandparents' house. "Something about it made my ears tingle," he recalls. Unsurprisingly, this title was featured on the very first record he bought, Ellington Masterpieces, recorded in December 1950 and August 1951 at the dawn of the LP era.

"As I drifted into my teens," he writes, "Jazz and swing took a serious grip on my imagination, courtesy of the wireless."

Plater's style is very much akin to that of a Jazz musician extemporizing on a theme. He will begin to tell a story - as all good Jazzmen are said to do when improvising - and then there will come what might be called a Johnny Griffin moment, or the Kerry Dancers syndrome, and he will go off at a delightfully unlikely tangent before returning to his original recollection. Plater himself refers to it as "an unplanned collision of unrelated incidents."

For example, at the beginning of the chapter Groovin' High, he begins to relate how he came to work with Tubby Hayes, returning to the story some eight pages later after diversions involving his Auntie May's funeral in Jarrow, D.H. Lawrence, the Beatles, the British TV police series Z Cars, and James Hanratty.

The book takes its title from the film script Plater wrote in 1994. It told the story of an American Jazz pianist (played by Elliott Gould) who makes a UK tour accompanied by a former lady singer (Geraldine James) who is hired as a minder to keep him out of trouble.

Plater notes: "Writing original film scripts is much like backing the outsider in a field of twenty-five. Writing original film scripts about Jazz is much the same, except your horse did a milk round before coming to the course. I'm told by people who know such things that no Jazz movie has ever made money."


 He goes on to report that experts told him that the only film in this genre to show a profit was The Glenn Miller Story. "And," he says, "we can all draw our own conclusions from that information. Cast James Stewart as Charlie Parker and you solve all your problems?"

After completing the screenplay, Plater presented it to an independent producer who was favorably impressed. "It did the rounds of the money people," Plater writes. "Ten years passed and nothing happened." The movie, which also featured Ronnie Scott in his only acting performance (as a tenor saxophone player and Jazz club proprietor called Ronnie Scott), was finally produced by the BBC.

Writing about Ronnie Scott's, Plater observes: "Jazz clubs, and Ronnie's in particular, are about nightness, the otherness, the subterraneanness, the Left Bankness. They celebrate a form of music, which is, in my judgement, the major creative contribution made by the human race to the twentieth century. I say this because it is democratic - anyone who can play can join in the music - and because it celebrates the human spirit while not denying the pain."

Only a playwright with a passion for Jazz could create a comedy series called the Beiderbecke Trilogy - which, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with the legendary Bix. "I just liked the sound of his name," says Plater. However, he reports that one day in 1985, a man went into a record shop and asked if they had any LPs by Bix Beiderbecke. The woman behind the counter told him that the shop had sold out and added, "I blame that television series."

Plater recalls his encounters with a number of notable musicians, including Ian Carr, Joe Harriott, Alan Barnes, Carla Bley, Kenny Baker, and Kathy Stobart and closes with an adaptation of the memorable Humphrey Bogart line from Casablanca:

   "The final thank you is to all the musicians in all the bands in all the gin joints in all the world, without whom"

 By Mike Hennessey

   Back to Contents Page
Jazz Now Interactive

Copyright Jazz Now, April 2006 edition, all rights reserved