Dark haired, over 6 feet tall and very good looking, ‘Big Pete’ Deuchar was a charismatic, striking individual. A former public schoolboy, he appeared to be the natural heir to the family business. After leaving school he attended agricultural college, was articled to a chartered accountant, served in the RAF during National Service and afterwards joined the family brewery business of James Deuchar Ltd, working in Wolverhampton and Edinburgh to learn about brewing and the licensed trade of hotels and public houses. However, brewing beer did not figure in his aspirations even though a comfortable and privileged future was assured.
A talented banjo player and guitarist, enthusiastically devoted to the hand-clapping, foot-stomping, syncopated music of the American deep south, New Orleans jazz, to which he would listen on his Pye ‘Black Box’ record player and play along on his banjo at every opportunity.
Big Pete’s burning ambition was to form a group of like-minded musicians, so, along with his good friend, trumpeter Peter Gascoigne, Jack Goodwin on trombone, John Saxelby on clarinet, John Lowes on bass and Pete Drysdale on drums, he launched his band and named it after a famous old neighbourhood in New Orleans, the Vieux Carré, better known as the French Quarter. The Vieux Carré Jazzmen had arrived in Newcastle…but their long journey was just beginning.
The 1956 Recording
Vieux Carré trombonist Pete Coles tells of the bitter resentment that ‘Big Pete’ Deuchar felt towards local rivals, The Panama Jazzmen. “He really hated them,” said Coles. “When we arrived at Northern Sounds recording studio, Derek Lucas, the owner and sound engineer, played us a track of the Panama band which he had recorded earlier — the sound balance was superb and it was technically excellent.” Deuchar couldn’t control his anger, went into a rage and shouted at Lucas, “I don’t want my band to sound anything like that lot!”
Consequently Lucas’ recording of the Vieux Carré was flat and not as well balanced. Pete Coles was disappointed with the result but Deuchar was happy because it sounded different to the Panama’s.
Was the record a success? Of the 100 copies ordered, the band got one copy each, Deuchar sold about 25 and the rest were given away as souvenirs.
ABOVE: Melbourne Street Jazz Club 1956, shortly before the band cut their first record at Northern Sound Studios. Left to right: Jed Ward on bass, Ronny Robinson on clarinet, Jimmy Stewart on drums, Peter ‘Gassy’ Gascoigne on trumpet, Peter ‘Big Pete’ Deuchar on banjo, and Pete Coles on trombone.
BOTTOM: Chester-le-Street park circa 1957. Note the Robert Deuchar Ltd. and James Deuchar Ltd. Lochside Ales beer crates which were sometimes used to create a portable stage. Left to right: Johnny Handle on bass, Ronny Robinson, Jimmy Stewart, Gavin Baker on banjo, Gassy and Pete Coles.
Famous Red Waistcoats
Vieux Carré banjo player Brian Bennett recalls: “I first saw the Vieux Carré Jazzmen in 1961 when I was a student at Sunderland College of Art. The gig, attended mainly by students from the nearby colleges, was held in the upstairs room of the popular George & Dragon Hotel.
Below left to right: Demolition site, formerly Melbourne Street Jazz Club; period advertisement for VCJ; crowd gathers to watch musicians perform on top of the rubble; The Hawthorn Inn.
“The band were terrific, but what also struck me immediately was their showmanship. Dressed in jeans, white shirts and bright red waistcoats (supplied by top gentlemen’s outfitters, G.A. Dunn & Co. Ltd. of Oxford Street) they were the epitome of early 1960s cool.
“Former Vieux Carré bass player, Bill Brooks, still has his original waistcoat and, when I borrowed it to photograph, I instinctively rifled through the pockets hoping to find some of the money he hadn’t declared to HM Inspector of Taxes all those years ago (fat chance, Bill!). However, what I did find was Bill’s 1962 membership card for the Tyneside Jazz Federation, a crumpled up piece of paper with the chords for ‘My Gal Sal’ in the key of C, and, most interestingly, a foolscap folio page folded down to ‘waistcoat pocket’ size of the Newcastle Jazz Committee mission statement and rules.”
The committee is listed as:
Chairman: Ian Carr (emCee Five)
Treasurer: Kevin Savin (Bill Croft’s Blue Star Band)
Secretary: Joe Errington (The Memphis Jazz Band)
Public Relations: John Walters (The Mighty Joe Young Band)
Clem Avery (The Clem Avery Jazzmen)
Peter Gascoigne (The Vieux Carré Jazzmen)
John Pierce (The Commodore Jazzmen)
Eric Burdon (The Kansas City Five)
John Saxelby (Chairman, Newcastle Jazz Federation
Melbourne Street Blues
Following the demolition of the Melbourne Street Jazz Club, the musicians set off to parade to their new jazz club premises on Forth Banks, The Hawthorn Inn (now Sachins Indian restaurant). En route, the parade was halted by a lone policeman who accused them of causing an obstruction and holding up the traffic, and also enquired if they had written permission from the local authorities — which they didn’t. After some negotiation it was agreed that they could proceed on the pavement provided they didn’t impede any pedestrians.