Born and raised in Cornwall, Larry Johns has earned a living as a soldier, an artist, a jazz musician, a music lecturer and a writer, circumnavigating the world in these professions many times. He learned the mechanics of one of his trades with the Staff Band of the Royal Engineers and at Kneller Hall School of Music. He learned the mechanics of his other trades in other branches of the military and, of course, the wider school of life.
After his stint in the military he moved directly to London, where he occupied the lead saxophone chair with several big bands, whilst jazzing at many nightspots; most notably ; The "100 Club", Oxford Street; the "Allnighter", Soho and "The Bull's Head" at Barnes.
At these and other venues he blew jazz shoulder-to-shoulder with Vic Ash, Harry Klein, Brian Dee, Joe Temperley et al. One of his enduring memories of those heady be-bop days is of swapping "fours" with the legendary vibraphonist Vic Feldman immediately prior to his moving to the U.S. to join the Woody Herman Orchestra...
During this period he also played repiano clarinet with an embryonic London Symphonietta and several smaller classical combinations. Latterly, he was one of Charlie Katz's * "session men", performing on numerous "hit" (and "not-so-hit") recordings of the day.
Later, he worked directly for several recording companies: Decca, H.M.V., Major-Minor, Philips etc. holding the "Artists and Repertoire" position with most. With Mercury records, he fronted various stage bands on promotional tours across Europe and the Far East, working alongside rising stars of the recording world, Phil Coulter and Mike Leander..
On the demise of viable big band work worldwide, Larry - along with many of his contemporaries - joined Geraldo's Navy *, and would cross the Atlantic many times - on both "Queens" - haunting the New York jazz scene...For many years to come, during "dry" periods, he would utilise this "jewel" of an employment facility, both for the pocket and the heart.
There followed several years working the clubs of American military bases throughout the world, during which period he taught saxophone to base High School students for "a few more bucks!"...There is very little in the music business that Larry Johns has not engaged
*Charlie Katz: Affectionately known as "The Fixer". Charlie was the conduit to the best recording work in London.
*Geraldo was a bandleader, and very hard to please. He ended up supplying the transAtlantic cruise run with musicians. You didn't get the "cream" gigs - the "Queens" etc - unless you were in his "navy".
A short Bio
I am a war baby and, as such, am to be pitied. Questions like "which war" will be steadfastly ignored. The bare fact that I was actually born is more than enough information to be going on with. It is pertinent to say that I spent all of my formative years living within a spit of the Atlantic The sea played a huge role in my development. So did music. Not just the "pop" music of the day, but all kinds. Of course, it helped that the pop music of my young days included all kind of music! Remember Mantovani? Dave Brubeck? Dylan? Peter, Paul and Mary? Bill Haley? Alma Cogan? Mantovani and his Music of the blasted Mountains! Et al! Magic days. Days longer, brighter, warmer and fuller that the post-formative ones. Or so it seemed... But that's regressive.
Above: What - I hear you ask - is such a picture doing on the webpage of a writer/artist/musician? The answer is simple - I was not always an unfit, itinerate, boozing reprobate. Buy the book and you can read all about it!
And then, from those early years in Cornwall, beyond adolescence, "life" began here...(below arrowed, top row)
After the military, I did what most army musicians did - I joined the big band circuit in London, which inevitably led to the recording session scene. Demanding work, that. But hellishly rewarding. Though I will not be specific, I can be heard footling about on records you may well have in your possession. They'll be antiques now, of course. Just like myself. And, if you do own one, you too, for that matter!
Above: On board the "Queen Mary", when I was single, footloose, and often plastered. On rough trips the bell of my saxophone (a baritone on that gig) would frequently hit the deck. I don't remember the guys' names but I'll never forget the times we had criss-crossing the Atlantic.
I met Elaine on a concert tour. Elaine and her brother, Derek - who is currently playing "Charlie" in the BBC series, "Casualty" - were on the bill and I was M.D. for the tour. A little imagination and you'll get the picture.
Above: A year later the three of us were a trio. In true 60s style, we called ourselves "Odin's People". Hit the player below
Above: I was not too strong on recording stuff for posterity back in those days, the couple of clips here were recorded off the radio by my dear old mother, using the highly technical mic-in-front-of-the-speaker method!
By now, I was painting and writing novels in my spare time, of which there was an abundance. Later, I was fortunate enough to have a novel published. I am currently working on my twelfth. The painting started selling, too. Rosy times! Now, two children later, we are back home in Cornwall. The gaps need filling, because they are.
huge. But that will come later?
Above: This beauty, "Shadowfax", will fill one of the gaps. We sunk a not-so-small fortune into her, in Bahrain. Lost the lot, plus the houses of several family members. That's me, leaning nonchalantly against the wheelhouse, and mum, bless her, emerging from the up-and-over. Elaine took the photograph.
Above: Being lifted out of the water at Falmouth. Powered by two jet engines, one of them was about to blow up!
Above: On the hard-standing..
Docked at Bahrain at last, after being deck-cargoed out there at a cost that would make your hair stand on end
Above: Picture courtesy of a Bahraini newspaper, proving that the venture could have actually worked, given more time. But time, as we all know, is no respecter of personage, and it ran out for us at the very last gasp.
But here's the thing. If Shadowfax had run its course I would not be here now, doing what I am doing. And, where I am now - with one or two minor exceptions - is where I should be.
Interesting and instructive though the Shadowfax era was, it wasn't me!
And here's something else... It is said that when one door closes, another one opens up.
When the door closed on Shadowfax, leaving us stranded in Bahrain without a penny, chance had me in the bar of the Gulf Hotel(probably trying to scrounge a pint!) when the manager was lamenting the fact that they didn't have a photographer to cover an imminent event. And since I owned a camera... That chance led to me eventually becoming the photographer for the Gulf Air Magazine - The Falcon.
The picture below is that very one; a dinner or something for some Gulf Air bigwigs, and it started us back onto the road of fluidity again.
The Gulf Hotel, coincidentally was, and still is, owned by Gulf Air. So finding myself doing commissions for them is not such a giant leap of imagination. (Issue 18 Pictured below) It's not much to look at now, of course, but at the time it did ok for itself...and us!
The whole thing, Gulf Air included, was in its infancy and self-processing colour was not an option. I guess there is still a Gulf Air magazine today, and it's bound to be a full-colour glossy thing. But I haven't seen one, and am not interested in seeing one. It was all black and white (pictures) in those days. What I had not taken into account was the fact that if I took the pictures, I also had to develop and print them! This was a nightmare at first, and I spent most of my time with a copy of the Kodak "Dummy's Guide To Photography" on the bench beside me, having begged, stolen or borrowed an enlarger and all the kit and chemicals needed to produce prints. It actually beggars the imagination what you can achieve when your back is hard against the wall.
I have mentioned elsewhere that I am rubbish at drawing/painting figures. But it's strange how one thing leads to another...Below is a cartoon I was asked to take a stab at. This was going to be a monthly thing, but it never (thankfully) went that way. I think there were a couple more before the notion fizzled out completely. Not a great surprise, right?
If you're a photographer with a darkroom you'll no doubt recognize the word "reticulation". This was one of my major problems when it came to washing negatives. The tap water - the cold tap, that is - came at a temperature you could easily bath in! I had to run it over an ice bag simply to avoid reticulation. And too many times I didn't manage to do that. The "photographer" period lasted some two years, by which time I had redressed the financial-balance problem and the Status became more or less Quo again.