Dover’s Jazz Scene and the Louis Armstrong

Grapes - circa 1893 , William Gray licensee and his wife at the doors

Grapes – circa 1893 , William Gray licensee and his wife at the doors

The Grapes pub, on what we now call Maison Dieu Road, first opened around 1862. Thirty-one years later, in 1893, it was demolished! This was to allow the road to be widened and the new pub – which we see today – was set further back. The licensee at this time was William Gray.  On 14 September 1962, the pub was taken over by Jackie and Bod Bowles, they both had a love of jazz so was renamed the Louis Armstrong and Jackie, now a widow, still encourages jazz to be played there!

Jazz, in Dover was popular before World War II (1939-1945) but by the early 1950s, crooning and rock‘n‘roll were more popular. At this time Ray Doble was playing in a trio called the Melody Makers at the Red Cow, Folkestone Road, with Arthur Thompson on drums and Ernie Bucker on accordion. The band was increased to five when Ron Holt also on accordion and Les Sutton on trumpet joined. Ray’s particular love was boogie-woogie and he put together another band, The Good Ambition with musicians George Hurst on drums and Peter Coe on electric bass, doubling on trumpet; the fourth member was Maurice Worsley, guitarist from Folkestone. Ray’s son, Raymond, joined on vocals when he was 14!

At the time there were numerous bands in East Kent, including, Bunny Austin,  Holmes Family Band and Ray Harris and his accordion band. The Crochets, the Kays, the Shilson Brothers, the Three Gees, Les Sutton’s Band, Laurie Thatcher and Jackie Dukerall. The Lonely Ones, Pete Brown’s Piblocoto, the Sundowners, Double Identity with Pete Scopes, Kitson Kenne and the Rolling Stones. Pete Webb’s Dixielanders, Jackie Castle and Take Five, Duke Humphries accordion band and the Happy Travellers – the latter all East Kent Bus drivers and conductors!

Ray Doble - Dover Express 16 November 2006

Ray Doble – Dover Express 16 November 2006

As Ray’s involvement in the local music industry expanded, he introduced new local talent such as the beautiful Joyce Siddell who had a strong singing voice. Another was Jack Williams a Welshman with a voice well capable of performing songs from the shows and opera. Then there was Maisie, the wife of the Odeon cinema manager Joe Anthony, who was an excellent music teacher and accompanist along with Elsie Thompson of Pioneer Road. Both ladies played piano for dancing schools in Dover. At the time there were three music shops in Dover, Goulden and Wind in Cannon Street, where Robin Basford, a performing musician worked, Murdoch’s in Biggin Street with workshops in Snargate Street and Licences in the High Street.

All of this led Ray to open the 500 Jazz Club at the Red Cow in 1954 and on the opening night a reporter noted the number of ‘foreign’ tongues heard in the audience! The club was a great success and led Ray opening a second Jazz club, the Blue Note, at the Co-operative Hall on Maison Dieu Road that specialised in Modern Jazz. At the time pubs had to apply for extension after 22.30 hours but when the landlord of the Red Cow, Edwin O’Neill, applied for an half-hour extension on nights when the club opened, this was refused. Thus, O’Neill saw little point in having the club on his premises that was using up heating and electricity when he could not sell alcoholic drinks to cover the costs.

Biggin Hall the venue of Ray Doble's 500 Jazz Club in the 1950s

Biggin Hall the venue of Ray Doble’s 500 Jazz Club in the 1950s

The 500 Club closed but reopened in the Biggin Hall and specialised in Trad Jazz. There, now legends, such as Chris Barber’s Jazz Band were enjoyed on alternative weeks to more mainstream music of the time. During this time Ray, with the blessing of Dover’s Mayor, Captain Sidney Kingsland, organised a Jazz Shuffle to Calais on Channel ferries as well as Jazz Band Balls at the Co-operative Hall. The first starred Chris Barber and Ottilee Patterson (1937-2011) – who had just given up her job as a schoolteacher to sing! The second one featured the American blues singer Big Bill Broonzy (1893-1958).

Sadly, rising costs started to take their toll, first the 500 Club closed in 1956 and not long afterwards the Blue Note Club. While looking for a new venue, Ray had formed his own traditional jazz band. This group was made up of Ray on piano, Cyril Blowers on trombone, Wally Wallis on clarinet, Jack Holmes on banjo, Arthur Thompson on drums, and Ernie Bucker on washboard. Eventually, Ray was offered full-time employment with Philip Moss Vernon as a travelling manager for his nation-wide shows and presentations and since that time has enjoyed a professional musical career that exists to this day. By that time the Gateway jazz club had formed and in November 1957, a moulder at Dover Engineering Works who worked with Ray, Bob Bowles, played jazz trombone there.

Robert ‘Bod’ Bowles was born in Dover in 1930 and educated at Dover Grammar School for Boys. His father, who died on 13 May 1936, had been the District Inspector with the Irish Constabulary before he took over Maison Dieu Road post office. Bod was called up for National Service and on returning to Dover, worked for a while in a bank before starting at the Engineering works across Maison Dieu Road, Charlton Green, from where he lived. A keen rower, Bod was an active member of the Dover Rowing Club and lived above the post office, which his mother ran. In August 1962, Bod married Jacqueline Taylor and they moved into the flat above the post office.

Formerly the Grapes, Louis Armstrong with Bod and Jackie at the doors, May 1972

Formerly the Grapes, Louis Armstrong with Bod and Jackie at the doors, May 1972

Born just outside Oxford, Jackie moved to Dover when she was nine when her father took over the running the shirt factory in Folkestone Road. She was a pupil at St. Ursula’s Convent, Park Avenue, then St Mary’s convent in Folkestone where she later taught maths after teacher training college. A month after taking up the post, Jackie came home from the school and saw the Grapes pub, next door to the post office, was in darkness. Bod told her that the tenants had gone bankrupt and suggested that they should take the pub over!

A Charringtons outlet, they became tenants on 14 September 1962. The building was almost derelict, hardly any stock and fewer regular customers. Not long after Jackie found she was pregnant with Jane, born in May 1963, but she worked out the term at the school. Bod, meanwhile, was still playing his trombone around the Dover jazz circuit and in the summer of 1963, trumpeter, Bill Barnacle, a teacher at Old Park barracks, joined him.

In 1964, Bryn Lewis, a bandsman with the Staffordshire Regiment stationed in Dover, persuaded Bod and Jackie to allow his fellow bandsmen play jazz at the pub. It was agreed that Wednesday evening would be given over and quickly the news of jazz at the Grapes, spread. By the following year, famous local jazz musicians including Ian Shawcross, Jeff Miller, Gunner Yates, Barry Cole, Paul Jury, Les Feast, Dave Corsby and Barry Judge were playing there regularly.

 Bod Bowles Jazz Band vol I record sleeve produced by Ron Nunn

Bod Bowles Jazz Band vol I record sleeve produced by Ron Nunn

Sarah was born in March 1965 and about that time Bod decided to reform his own jazz band to play every Sunday night in the public bar of the Grapes. In the early days, the band included Bill Barnacle – trumpet, Ian Turner – clarinet, Dave Fairfoul – bass, Pete Stevens on drums, Pete Mercer on banjo and vocalist Paul Sherman, with the two Petes’ respective wives, Judy and Jean, helping Jackie behind what had quickly became a very busy bar.

Jazz on Sunday evenings at the Grapes quickly became the town’s main attraction – you had to arrive early and be prepared to be squashed like a sardine, to get in! After awhile, LPs, produced by Ron Nunn, of live sessions could be bought. The line up of Bod’s jazz band over the next few years also included locals, Jim Beechy, Arthur Collingson, Colin Hodges, Mick Marsh ,Steve Mellor, Bruce Roberts, John Talbot and Paul ‘the Pounder’ (apologies I cannot rember your surname Paul – LS). With one of the highlights of Dover’s Christmas calendar being the annual Boxing Day Party featuring trumpeter, Pat Halcox, who usually spent the festive time in Lydden.

The popularity of jazz at the Grapes was such that in 1971, in the memory of Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) Jackie and Bod persuaded the brewery to change the name to that of the Jazz Legend. A new sign was commissioned, the pub redecorated and the Louis, as the pub quickly became known, was given a grand re-opening on Monday 22 May 1972.

 Louis Armstrong pub sign after it became a free House in 1980. Courtesy of Paul Skelton - By the Way

Louis Armstrong pub sign after it became a free House in 1980. Courtesy of Paul Skelton – By the Way

While jazz musician, Chris Barber – a National service college of Bods – played at the pub that night, an old Paris bus with an open back platform, loaned by Derry of the Three Horseshoes at Lower Hardres, trundled around Dover twice. The passengers, which included me, gave out Pernod to eager Dovorians and were accompanied by Bod’s jazz band on the upper deck. Afterwards, we returned to the Louis, and joined an estimated crowd of 600 to hear Chris Barber, Pat Halcox (1930-2013), John Crocker, George Webb, and Johnny McCullam with some twenty other jazz musicians playing!

Unfortunately, the local police inspector was not so happy and as the evening ended doggedly pointed out that a music licence was required! This was about to put an end to live jazz for some three months until when the next magistrates’ sitting was scheduled. However, to quote Jackie, ‘concerted support from the local musicians who threatened to boycott the police social club, together with a withdrawal of the Chief of Police’s honorary membership of the Officers’ Mess, a special sitting was convened and a music licence issued within the week for a cost of 50p a year!’

In 1980, Bod and Jackie bought the Louis Armstrong from Charringtons Brewery and the pub became a free house. They immediately had the two bars knocked into one open space and built a raised stage for musicians. The ‘new look’ Louis gave the excuse for another ‘Grand Opening‘, with the great jazz clarinettist Monty Sunshine (1928–2010) and his band playing that evening. It was at this time that Bod and Jackie got to know Alan Gresty, Ken Bawton and Beryl Brydon (1920-1998), all of whom came back to play at the pub.

 Jazz Programme for July 2014 not Bill Barnacle on Sunday and the other East Kent jazz legend, Ian Shawcross

Jazz Programme for July 2014 not Bill Barnacle on Sunday and the other East Kent jazz legend, Ian Shawcross

Following the break-up of Bod’s Jazz band Bill Barnacle joined the Pete Rose Band but after a few years left and formed his own band that still plays regularly at the Louis on Sunday nights. During the rest of the week there was, and still is, live music almost every night. Sometimes these were ‘jam‘ sessions that included local wannabees to, the by then internationally known professional musicians such as local, Nick ‘Topper’ Headon of the Clash punk rock band that formed in 1976.

Over time, evenings became specialised and ranged from folk to rock along with jazz on a Sunday evening. One group that played regularly at the Louis from 1982 until they broke up in 1994 was the Dover Skiffle Band. Their original line-up included Paul Sherman – who had sung with Bod Bowles jazz band – Chris Tophill, Lee Edgington, Jason Pegler and Dave Fairfoul – who had played in Bod’s band.

To celebrate Bob and Jackie’s twenty-five years at the pub, Chris Barber agreed to host the evening with his band. A marquee was erected in the garden with straw bales as seating (Health & Safety rules did not apply then) and outdoors amplification. Five years later, 30 years was celebrated with another marquee venue plus a hog roast. This time the host was Phil Mason and his band. Since then, Martin Bennett and Trefor Williams, from that band, have played regularly at the Louis.

The popularity of jazz at the Louis had, by this time, spread to the Continent, with bands such as the Hot Revival Stompers, the Oriental Jazz band, the Limehouse headed by Robert Duis, Dixie Kings and the Uralski from Russia, playing there. Joe Haniot and Chris Tyle, from New Orleans, have also dropped in.

Bod Bowles died 14 October 2000. R.I.P

Bod Bowles died 14 October 2000. R.I.P

Having suffered ill health for some time, on Saturday 14 October 2000, Bod died in William Harvey Hospital. At the time, the group Helium Lovesok were playing and when the news came through they immediately stopped to raise a glass to Bod. Jackie organised a magnificent New Orleans jazz style send off. A black horse drawn hearse followed by 20 – 30 jazz musicians and literally hundreds of friends and supporters went from the pub to St Paul’s Catholic Church, on Maison Dieu Road.

Jazz continued to be played both outside and inside the church. The wake that followed was held at the Louis with Pat Halcox, George Webb and many others paying their own tribute to Bod. Many professional musicians owed their start to Bod, including drummer – Nick ‘Topper’ Headon, clarinettist – Bruce Roberts and Gary, Steve and Pete Barnacle while saxophonist and songwriter, Matt Clackett proudly states that he gave his first performance at the Louis.

Although the situation was hard for Jackie, their two daughters and more recently grandson Luke, kept the pub and the music going. In the years that followed numerous loyal musicians and the supporters ensured – and still do – that Jazz at the Louis is part of Dover’s cultural heritage. Greats such as Charlie Conner with Roger Howlett on banjo, Clive Fletcher on double bass and Robin Beams on drums, play there.

Jazz 'n' Jam Boree Pencester Gardens 15 September 2007

Jazz ‘n’ Jam Boree Pencester Gardens 15 September 2007

Away from the Louis, a Jazz and Jam Boree event was organised by Dover Town Centre Manager, David Somers, on 15 September 2007. Playing that day were two of  the country’s leading Jazz bands, Bill Barnacle and his Jazz Band and Ian Shawcross with his band. The event, on Pencester Gardens, lasted eight hours and was a brilliant success. In 2014, the South Foreland Rotary Club raised £1,500 for the RNLI lifeboat with a jazz evening provided by the Just Friends Swing Sextet at the Cruise terminal at Western Docks.

In 2008, Mick Fox, who had entertained at the Louis, with his wide selection of harmonicas, for more than 30 years, died. September that year saw a festival in memory of him, at the Louis that went over two weekends and organised by Jackie and music teacher Bert Osborne. A wide selection of Kentish real ales was on offer along with barbecues such that pub and garden heaved with people. Among those performing were Joe Jones, jazz singer Sheila Collier and her partner clarinettist Lasse Karlsson from Helsingborg. The Psychedelic Monks – Merlin Mercer, Tom Robson, Charlie Lawson and Alfie Hammond and Yer Blues – George and Patrick Holmes, Jake Clapson, Jack Kennett and Jimmy Dawkins, Bridie Douglas, Molly Milne and Jack Daniel.

Stage at the Louis Armstrong

Stage at the Louis Armstrong

The following year the LA Music Club opened at the Louis, this is to give young musicians the chance to play with others and improve their skills. The co-founders were Eddie Clapson – Dover Express photographer – and Mick Morris. Nick ‘Topper’ Headon id the president and funding is provided by Strummerville a charity set up as a foundation to promote new music in memory of Clash front man Joe Strummer (1952–2002). The club has proved popular in encouraging local talent.

In February 2012, Eddie Clapson died and the LA Music Academy put on an all-day music extravaganza to raise funds for the Pilgrim’s Hospices. The staff had cared for Eddie during his final days. In the 1960s Eddie had been the lead vocalist and his grandson Jake’s band, Deep Water Horizon, were among the many musicians playing that day.

Jackie and daughter Jane behind the bar of the Louis Armstrong. LS 2014

Jackie and daughter Jane behind the bar of the Louis Armstrong. LS 2014

In 2012, Jackie Bowles celebrated 50 years as the town’s longest serving landlady and of the hottest jazz venue in East Kent. Three years earlier, on 6 November 2009, musicians and friends gathered at the Louis for a weekend party to celebrate Jackie’s 70th birthday. The golden jubilee of Jackie’s success at running the one of the best jazz pubs in the country topped even that. The weekend started on the Friday night, when the pub was packed with the crowds that increased on the Saturday and Sunday proving that Jazz at Dover’s famous venue, lives on.

  • Published: Dover Mercury –  14 December 2007

A Sad Loss …

The start of Jackie Bowles Funeral procession from the Louis Armstrong to St Paul's Church Friday 26 April 2019

The start of Jackie Bowles Funeral procession from the Louis Armstrong to St Paul’s Church Friday 26 April 2019

The Queen of Dover’s music scene, Jackie Bowles, died on Friday 15 March 2019 aged 79, after a short illness. Jackie’s funeral was on Friday 26, April. The procession started from the Louis Armstrong at 10.30am and the service took place at St Paul’s RC Church, Maison Dieu Road. The committal was at Barham Crematorium, which was followed by a Wake at the Louis Armstrong where bands played throughout the day representing its different eras.

Jackie Bowles (1939-2019) Service to Celebrate the Life of Jackie Bowles, Dover's Queen of Music

Jackie Bowles (1939-2019) Service to Celebrate the Life of Jackie Bowles, Dover’s Queen of Music

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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