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Davey Payne: Ready To Play

Sammy Stein By

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Davey Payne is known best for the time when he was saxophonist with British group, The Blockheads. His solo on the 1978 number 1 hit, "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" was the first time a double sax solo had appeared on a hit record.

Before he joined forces with Dury, who fronted The Blockheads from 1978 until his death in 2000, Payne was already working round Europe in free playing ensembles with musicians like reed player Terry Day and violinist Charlie Hart.

Payne has recorded and toured with a wide range of musicians. His musical experience and tastes reflect a diverse spectrum of genres and composers. From a child, his influences included films, classical music, jazz and spiritual journeys.

Background and Influences

Payne plays a range of instruments, although more often than not it is a saxophone. The saxophone, however, was not his first love. His early musical fascinations came from films like 1959's The Five Pennies , with Danny Kaye playing cornetist Red Nichols, which also featured trumpeter Louis Armstrong, The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and The Benny Goodman Story (1956), The Fabulous Dorseys (1947), based on the lives of the Dorsey Brothers, and Paris Blues (1961), about fictitious American jazz musicians living in Paris. Payne explains, "It was the trumpet that inspired me to play; a gold, shiny trumpet. I could say it was Satchmo [Louis Armstrong], but really it was whenever a trumpet turned up. I loved trumpet players like Cat Anderson, and Maynard Ferguson's high notes. The trumpet was a lead instrument. However, when I tried to play a trumpet I couldn't get a note out of it. Then I heard clarinetist Acker Bilk on the radio and was hooked on the way the clarinet weaved in and out and complimented the brass. So for a while I listened to English trad. jazz clarinetists, quickly moving on to Barney Bigard with the Armstrong Band."

Payne started life in North London but moved to Clacton as a boy. At 16, Payne moved back to London. He remembers: "We moved to Clacton because we had a holiday bungalow there. Instead of going to art school as advised by my school, it was taken for granted that I would work for my dad. He soon realised that working on machines while singing Louis Armstrong solos wasn't for me."

Payne left home just before his younger brother Barry was born. Back in London, Payne found a job in Nathaniel Berry's music shop in Holloway Road, four doors up from Joe Meek's studio. Apparently Mike Berry and members of the Outlaws used to come into the shop.

The job provided the opportunity for Payne to immerse himself in the London jazz scene. He would go to Ronnie Scott's and the Flamingo all-nighter. At Scott's, Payne saw many American musicians. He saw Art Blakey at the Finsbury Park Astoria. Through the '60s he worked with people including structural artist Bruce Lacey on projects like the Fun Palace in St Katherine's Dock, London. At one event, unbeknown to Payne at the time, a young student and his teacher were in the audience—that young student was Ian Dury.

Payne took clarinet lessons in Clacton but it was while being taught at a music salon that he had an encounter which would change his life and, unknown to him at the time, shape his musical future. "While squeaking on a clarinet with a reed that was too hard at the Alice St Johns' music salon in Clacton-on-Sea," he explains, "a guy walked in and opened a tenor sax case. When I saw the sax in its plush red velvet case I knew I wanted to play one. Soon I was listening to sax players Charlie Ventura,Earl Bostic,and then—the biggest influence of all—I heard a record of the Jazz Concert West Coast (Savoy, 1947) [with the songs] "Rock 'n' Shoals" and "Disorder At The Border," featuring Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray on tenor saxophones, with Sonny Criss on alto. Also on the record was the great guitar playing of Barney Kessel. That turned me on to jazz guitar. I still listen to a lot of Tal Farlow and Jim Hall. So, at first it was the instruments that inspired me to play and then later I would say my influences ranged from Bilk to Gray,then John Coltrane, Jimmy Giuffre's Train and the River (Atlantic, 1958) and on to soul players and free jazz."

It was not jazz which had the first or perhaps the greatest influence on Payne. He listened to a lot of classical music as he grew up and also rock. He had, even then, an eclectic taste and his broad listening choices as a youngster, provided the origins for some of the different tones and styles he uses in his music. Payne says, "When I was 18 I listened to Jim Dvorak's 'Cello Concerto' and Bartok's 'Sonatas for Solo Violin' with Yehudi Menuhin. I was into spiritualism at the time and tried to levitate to this music. I'm sure I was just a little away from floating on the ceiling. Other music was Ravel's 'Introduction and Allegro,' and Albert Roussel's 'Serenade for Flute,Violin and Viola.' This last piece really got inside my soul. Also,Debussy's 'Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune,' which is still a favorite."

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