Page Ten

Hip Ship Blues:
Jimmy Smith aboard the Mi Amigo, May 5th 1965
No lunch and no pay, but Tony Thorpe was thrilled to be on Radio Caroline

Some reference books give the date of the famous live appearance aboard Radio Caroline of Jimmy Smith plus two other musicians, Tony Crombie and Tony Thorpe accompanied by a Hammond C3 organ, as May 5th 1964, and others, as 1965. Had this historic occasion taken place in May 1964, the ship would have been the original Caroline vessel Fredericia, as the date was prior to the merge with Radio Atlanta, when she sailed to the Isle of Man. However, Vivian Barnard told the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame that she had a press cutting about the event, dated 1965 and Ronan O'Rahilly and Tony Thorpe have since confirmed that year to be correct. By then, Caroline was operating two shipbound stations and the southern vessel was the Mi Amigo.

Caroline North expert, John Bennett, thinks the long-held misconception about the date is perhaps, "Due to the fact that when the Fredericia sailed away to become Caroline North, she took with her the enormous record library consisting of thousands of jazz tracks, many of which continued to be played by the Caroline North jocks and thus giving her that unique jazz sound. I believe Jimmy Smith also laid down tracks for the station's early jingles. Caroline North played such a lot of Jimmy's music, that he is associated with Caroline's early days. The Mi Amigo was a low-sided ship and thus it was possible to get the organ onboard, whilst the Frederica was a high-sided vessel and I doubt the organ could have been landed without a crane of some sort."

(Left) Hauling the Hammond aboard. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!
Photos, left and below, left, from 'Radio Caroline' by John Venmore-Rowland. The one with Simon Dee has a caption referring to 'Radio Caroline South'.)

The visit by the acclaimed organist came about mainly because Ronan was a huge jazz fan and thought it was a wonderful idea, but the feasibility of getting the Hammond aboard had not exactly been carefully planned and the practicalities had barely been considered. Low-sided vessel or not, a crane would in fact have been very useful. Tony Thorpe recalls,"Two blokes holding one end of a brand new Hammond C3 on the tender, two blokes holding the other end on the deck of the boat and 15 fathoms of North Sea underneath." The C3 had been supplied by Boosey & Hawkes and what became of it after its adventure on the North Sea is unknown.

This was the first live performance from an offshore station, and surely the only live outdoor performance from one! (José Feliciano played live on Radio 355 aboard the Laissez-Faire in July 1967.) Jimmy was obliged to play on deck when the Hammond not surprisingly proved too big to be moved into the studio. The late Martin Newton was the engineer who resolved the technical challenge of getting the performance to air.

During Roger Day's 40th Anniversary Caroline Reunion, Simon Dee recalled how Jimmy was obliged to defrost his hands in a bucket of warm water before he was able to play! On the recording, Simon remarks, "Will somebody get him a cup of tea?" and in the second of Tony Thorpe's photos below, Jimmy is seen with his hands around a hot drink. One of the tunes he played especially for the memorable occasion was 'Hip Ship Blues'. Maybe it should be renamed, 'Hip Ship Blue Hands'?

1965: Simon and Jimmy defrost their extremities with the aid of a couple of Tipped Weights (or is it Pall Malls?)

2004: "Remember trying to get that Hammond on board?"
Simon reminisces with Ronan at the Red Lion

Struggling to be heard above the strong wind, Simon Dee thanks Julian Senior of MGM Studios, London, for allowing Jimmy Smith to play on board the Mi Amigo. The organist was in the country to record incidental music for the film 'Where the Spies Are', 'a tongue-in-cheek British satire on the spy genre' starring David Niven and John Le Mesurier, and went on release that month. You can hear Jimmy's distinctive playing in the background of this trailer. He released a single of the title track composed by Mario Nascimbene.

In 2012, we were able to add an unexpected update to this story, after receiving an email from Greg Harper, who wrote:

I am a close friend of Tony Thorpe, the guitarist featured on your website in the Jimmy Smith article. If you are interested, I have attached some of Tony's personal photos from that day. Tony went on to become a top session player, playing with many other artists worthy of note. You can read about them on his personal website

Naturally, we were pleased to be able to include Tony's amazing colour photos of that chilly day and were absolutely delighted when he agreed to share his memories with Alan Hardy of Radio West Mid.

Click on the pictures to see enlargements.
All photos copyright Tony Thorpe and may not be reproduced without his express permission.

"I didn't even know what we were going to play till we got there!"
20-minute Radio London exclusive interview with Tony Thorpe
talking to Alan Hardy of Radio West Mid (left)
Edited by Chris Payne

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