I'VE been catching up on some recent Bugle issues and, in particular, the Tommy Burton blue plaque story (July 24 edition).
I first knew the jazz star back in the early 1960's when he did a Friday night gig at the Wheatsheaf in Walsall, owned at that time by the parents of one of Walsall's most famous beauties, Leila Williams, Miss Great Britain. Even then, his dear Dottie was by his side.
We lost touch but, lo and behold, both having moved to rural Staffordshire, we became reacquainted one lunchtime in the famous "Ham & Eggery" – The Bell Inn – on the A5 near Brewood. Tom and I were neighbours from the mid 1970's until he left us for the ever open pub in the sky where the beer was free!
What a pub The Bell became when, many a night, joined by his mates, the Disneyland Jazz man Cutty Sark and Reg Kirl (not sure of the spelling but a great pianist and raconteur), an impromptu session would start up which lasted into the early hours. Sheer joy for us all. So long as he'd got a pint or two of Bank's mild on the old joanna he'd play and sing till the gaffer called time – sometimes as dawn broke!
On increasingly rare occasions Dottie would be with him, usually when his mates' wives visited, but if she wasn't there he always took her a few bottles of barley wine. The cry would go up from him: "Oh, gaffer, I nearly forgot the latch-lifters. Three warley bines please!" One problem Tom had was that he never brought the bottles back and the pub would end up with dozens of empty crates on which they'd had to pay a deposit so he'd ask my sons if they wanted a few bob by wheelbarrowing them back in their hundreds!
I have too many great memories of this true Black Country man to list here but, suffice to say, he rubbed shoulders with the world's finest jazz exponents and soared above many of them, not only with his talent but also his deep, academic knowledge of his chosen path. A world authority on Fats Waller no less!
It's gratifying to see that he has been recognised with the blue plaque. But I'd like Bugle readers to know that, just after he passed on, his favourite watering hole, The Bell, beat The Trumpet, Bilston, by honouring him with a plaque fixed to the bar near "his" preferred spot and visitors still call in to see it. The pub is now in the hands of a great family serving four real ales, excellent food and, weather permitting, a lovely garden with a children's play centre.