At the age of 14, John started playing the clarinet, followed soon after by the alto saxophone and flute. He gained experience with a military band and a dance band, but also jointly formed a jazz band whilst still at school.
The first paid gig was at a youth club in Dukinfield where the band with no name found they were billed as the Blue Lotus Jazz Band (to this day nobody knows why!), but the name stuck as did the fee 6s-8d each ( 5s the fee, plus bus fare and fish & chips on the way home). The band carried on until the mid sixties with a high spot of winning a competition to play at the Royal Albert Hall with Frankie Vaughan.
While in London the band did an interval spot at the 100 Club on the Sunday evening. The star band was Kenny Ball and this lead to a long friendship with the clarinettist Dave Jones, and to this day John will tell you he learned more about playing jazz clarinet from him than anybody, and more importantly, who to listen to. Although the Blue Lotus Jazz Band did not carry on, John and the trombonist, Micky Cooke did go on to greater things!
1968 was the start of a twenty-one year stint with the Smoky City Jazzband, at the time run by Sheila Collier. This included playing alongside Humphrey Lyttelton; George Melly; George Chisholm; Joe Harriot; Bud Freeman; Wild Bill Davison; Stephane Grappelli; Roy Williams; John Barnes; Peter Schilperoort; Dick Wellstood; Danny Moss and many more. During this time the band played at a number of festivals in Europe and did many broadcasts on radio and T.V.
John became a freelance, professional musician in 1989, working alongside many of the finest musicians from both sides of the Atlantic – Clark Terry; Benny Carter; Al Grey; Allan Vache, and Marty Grosz, and more recently Howard Alden and Randy Sandke all from the USA, plus Danny Moss; John Barnes;Roy Williams; Campbell Burnap; Mark Nightingale; Jack Emblow and Digby Fairweather.
Work over these years has included recordings for Radio, Television, Jazz Workshops and Projects for Education.
In 2000 John formed his own Jazztet to play his kind of music, going on to make three successful CDs – two recorded in a studio and one live at Keswick.
John has a long association with American pianist Jeff Barnhart and this has led to many projects with different line ups, including ‘Jeff Barnhart’s British Band‘, ‘The Lake Records All-Star Jazz Band‘ and the ‘Mr Men‘ Quartet (as it has affectionately become known) with John, Jeff, Keith Stephen (guitar) and Bruce Rollo (bass). They also work as a duo and a standard quartet with bass and drums. Most of these line ups are also available on CD.
Over the years John and Alan Barnes have often played together at both clubs and festivals, resulting in many requests for a joint CD.
In December 2006 John picked a varied selection of numbers, Alan did some arrangements and they went into the recording studio with a brilliant rhythm section made up of Dave Newton (piano), Simon Thorpe (bass) and Bobby Worth (drums).
The resulting CD ‘Sideways’ has been a great success with the added bonus of being on Alan’s worldwide respected Woodville label.
In 2010 John and Barbara started promoting ‘Jazz at The Burnside’ weekends, giving John an opportunity to showcase some top quality UK jazz musicians and rising stars of the future. These have been extremely popular and well supported.
Then in 2014 they were asked to do something similar at The Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton. Slightly ringing the changes, this became a ‘Swing & Jazz Break’, appealing to dancers and listeners alike.
The instruments he regularly plays are:-
Bb and Bass Clarinets; Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxophones
Being so versatile, John is equally at home with any type of music, and his innovative and sensitive playing has made him a firm favourite with all audiences, especially on the jazz scene.
Clarinet:- Artie Shaw; Barney Bigard; Benny Goodman; Edmond Hall; Pee Wee Russell; Eddie Daniels; Sandy Brown; Archie Semple; Dave Jones and Acker Bilk.
Saxophones:- Eddie Miller; Lester Young; Bud Freeman; Coleman Hawkins; Ben Webster; Stan Getz; Johnny Hodges; Paul Desmond; Art Pepper; Lennie Niehaus; Gerry Mulligan and Joe Temperley.