Neville Dickie, Dave Brubeck, Champion Jack Dupree, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis
John: For me, music started back in the 60’s in Kilmarnock. My parents had just moved into this old Victorian house and there was a piano in there. I was about 5 years old and my mother came through from the kitchen because she thought she had left the radio on and there I was sitting at the piano picking out a tune. So, within 3 or 4 days I was sent across the road to the local music teacher and that’s basically when I started playing the piano.
I was taught by this wonderful, blind music teacher. His name was Mr Dobson and he was in his late sixties, early seventies and he had a Grand Piano in his front room. He would play a piece and then I would play it after him and I progressed fantastically well with him but then we moved down to England about 5 years later. I was auditioning for Music School at Basingstoke and at my audition I played several pieces and then Mrs Price put the music in front of me and asked me to sight read and that is when I was caught out. This went back to my initial training where, because he was blind, Mr Dobson would play the piece and I would watch him and then play back what he had done verbatim just by listening to him but I wasn’t reading the music. So, my sight reading was several years behind and I then had to catch up.
Kirk: And did you catch up?
John: Yes, I did all my grades and during that time I played at the Basingstoke Haymarket Theatre with the music school. I was playing at music festivals, competing against other players in my age group. Every time I entered one of those festivals I was wearing a kilt which kind of pre-dates Alan Nimmo (laughs).
Then in 1975 a family friend gave me this new album that had just been released and it was called “Back to Boogie” by Neville Dickie. As soon as I heard it everything changed for me. Up until then everything had been Classical and Show Tunes but from that moment on I’m afraid I put my studies on the back-burner and every night after school I’d put the record on and listen to a wee bit and then play it on the piano and repeat that for the whole album until I learned it all.
Kirk: What age were you at this point?
John: I was 14.
Kirk: Was there any sign of playing in a Blues band at that stage then?
John: I was actually playing in a band with some of my schoolmates, playing Status Quo covers and that kind of thing. My Dad was a care-taker at the school and there was a big music room with an electric organ in it. So, the boys used to come around with the guitars and bass guitars and we would play.
I then got a place with a project called “Project Trust” which was a bit like VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), and was for gap-year students from all over the world. I won a place as a house father and to teach piano to Palestinian and Arab orphans in huge orphanage in Amman, Jordan. I was only 17 at the time and I spent 14 months out there doing that.
Kirk: Amazing! What an experience!
John: It was fantastic. It allowed me to travel all over Syria and Egypt as well. Then when I came back I moved to Portsmouth and that’s when I started doing solo Boogie-Woogie and Blues. I think Portsmouth is the UK city with most pubs per square mile.
Kirk: Because of the navy?
John: Absolutely! And this was in the mid 80’s so a lot of them still had acoustic pianos in the bar. I would go in and play and get my beer paid for me. I had a residency in a pub in Fareham, Hampshire and there was one night when a couple of young guys came in. They were students and they had the 50’s gear on and they both had quiffs, turned-up jeans etc and one of them had a harmonica so we jammed together and he was amazing. One of the best harp players I’ve ever heard. We got chatting and the next week they came in again and one of the other guys had a snare and we jammed again and they said that they would like to bring along another friend the following week who was a singer. So, the following week he came along and it turned out that he was just starting he career as an actor. It was a guy called Stephen Marcus, who went on to play “Nick the Greek” in the film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. He’s been in many other films since then but he was the front man of the band.
I got married to a girl from Ayrshire and moved back to Scotland in 1989 and I started looking for a band and joined a band called “The Horny Toads” and the drummer was a guy called Boyd Toner.
Kirk: I know that name
John: Yes, when the band split up I went on to play with the Junkyard Dogs and Boyd went on to be the drummer in the Blackwater Blues Band with Alan and Stevie Nimmo.
Kirk: I know the Junkyard Dogs as well
John: Aye, they’re still going. I remember supporting the Blackwater Blues Band at a big biker’s gig in Kilmarnock. I sat in with them a couple of times and I guess that was the first time that there was a “Nimmo Trio”.
Basically, since then it’s just been a series of bands. I formed a band called the “Boogie Men” in the late 90’s and we did a lot of festival work down in Colne and other Blues Festivals and brought out a couple of albums. The first one was “Time to Boogie”. The second was never released as we split up shortly after it was mastered. The sax player still has the master.
Kirk: Do you think it could ever be released?
John: Well, it’s still there so you never know. He’s often said he’d like to do something with but anyway, that’s by the by.
After that I had a wee break from it and then met George Lyndsay at a charity event down in Ayr and we’re still playing regularly around Glasgow and Festivals across the UK.
My best memories of the Blues scene in Glasgow were of Studio 1 back in the 90’s and the jam nights that used to go on back then. What a fantastic time that was. The Blues scene was quite exciting at that time and there was a real buzz going on.
Kirk: Some of my best memories of playing are certainly from being with the Magic Blues Surfers on a Thursday night and Sunday afternoon at Studio 1. I’ve never seen anything like it since and most of the guys I’ve spoken to on here will say the same thing.
John: I think things are still very positive in the city and I believe that is in no small part due to the success of Alan and Stevie Nimmo who are driving on and making great successes. I think the Blues crowd in Glasgow are very proud of them and look at them as “one of our own”. It’s quite inspiring.
Kirk: So what about further recording with you and George?
John: You know, we’ve got a ton of material sitting there but we’ll probably be in our late 80’s before we do anything with it!
Kirk: Ideal! Late 80’s is Blues infancy. Clapton’s about 70 and he’s still seen as the new kid on the block.
Tell me a bit about your connection with the location you chose for the photo John.
John: The Britannia Panopticon. This was one of the places that my Gran and Grandpa used to come to and see the Music Hall shows back in the day. It’s an incredible place, steeped in history.
Another memory of those days was of my Mother playing harmonica in a wee Skiffle Band. I’ve got a great photograph of her on the harmonica and my Dad on the drums
Kirk: You’ve played in various locations around the world during your life John. Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to play next.
John: Yeah, Chicago. I’d love to play out there and also go down to the Delta. Just to be able to drink in the history of it.
But basically, anywhere in the world where there is a piano, I’m happy to play.
Kirk: I agree. I was in the Harlem Jazz Bar in Barcelona in November last year and was invited up to do a couple of tunes with the band. Music breaks down all the language and cultural/social barriers. I had a great night!
John: Fantastic! That mirrors an experience I had last year in Toulouse. I was in a restaurant where there was a Gypsy Swing band in a place called “Rest’O Jazz” and a bottle and a half of red later, after talking to the guys at half time I found myself on stage after they wheeled in a Grand Piano. I played a couple of Blues numbers. That was one of my favourite nights. It was packed and I was introduced as “An International Artist from Scotland”.
Kirk: I took a photo of the album you have with you earlier and I noticed it was a signed copy. Is there a story behind that?
John: Aye, this wasn’t the original album that I was given back in 1975. I’d been through a couple of house moves and I managed to lose that original copy and I was a bit gutted about that. I tried to get one but just couldn’t find it. Then a few years ago I found a website about Neville Dickie, who incidentally had a top 10 hit in the late 60’s called “Robin’s Return”. So anyway, I found this website and it had a telephone number. It was a fan page…fantastic! So, I phoned the number and ended up speaking to this woman and explaining what I was looking for and she says…” Would you like to speak to him?”
I nearly dropped the phone!!! I was speaking to his wife! And then I hear her shouting “Neville!!….” and I started to panic. No way!!! This is the man started it all for me and I spoke to him and I eventually stopped stammering. We had a long conversation and spoke about the album and that album had over 100,000 sales on the MFP label which was phenomenal when you think about it back then.
I then asked if he knew where I could get a copy of the album and he said he probably had a couple kicking about somewhere and sent me one up and signed it with the words…
“TO JOHN NIMMO
Glad I was part to blame for your Boogie Woogie interest.
Kirk: That’s a great story. Thanks for your time John and, by the way, thanks for the duet back in the Britannia earlier!
John Nimmo @ The Britannia Panoptican, Glasgow
The Britannia Panoptican, Glasgow
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 200mm f/2.8
Focal length: 200mm
Exposure: 1/60 sec at f/3.2
Time of day: 4:10pm
Lighting: 1 Nikon SB910 for keylight. Silver/Black umbrella. 1 Nikon SB700 placed directly behind John to illuminate the staircase.
the britannia panoptican