Throughout summer, John Cockle and Richard Lonnon have entertained locals and visitors with lunchtime jazz on Park Walk. Alfred attended one of their Friday sessions last month, learned what motivates the men and heard about their experience of playing Glastonbury.
John Cockle and Richard Lonnon believe they’ve found Shaftesbury’s finest performance space. “On Park Walk, with this lovely scenery, it’s really relaxing,” explained Richard.
“It’s the perfect place to play,” added John. “We did look at playing in the town, but I have played in front of commercial premises in the past and they get upset and get the council involved. Here we have never had any trouble at all. It’s the best venue in Shaftesbury and the Abbey are very kind to us. They give us a parking pass and we use their loos. We make them a donation. It’s a wonderful arrangement.”
The men became friends when they both performed at Angola 76 as members of the Bell Street Jazz Band. Richard leads that band. This past summer was their first season of playing the trumpet and trombone together on Park Walk. “Just being able to turn up with a trombone and play is really exhilarating,” said Richard.
“Prior to this, I played with a guitar player,” said John. “I played with a clarinet player for six years before that. I often play on my own but I prefer to work with somebody else. As we knew each other it seemed an ideal thing.”
“A lot of the music that we would play in Angola I play with John, but he has a much wider repertoire so I am learning new numbers as I go along, which is great,” said Richard, who added that some of their music is distinctive and stands out because it’s timeless. “The oldest tune we play, ‘Maggie’, was written in 1866. ‘Trouble in Mind’, which is a lovely blues track, was written in 1920. A lot of these are just commercial tunes which adapt well to jazz playing.”
Richard hails from the West Midlands but he has lived in Shaftesbury for 25 years. His music has taken him further afield. “I’ve been abroad several times. I’ve done a couple of jazz festivals in Europe,” he said. He joined John in his four-piece, ‘4×4’, for their biggest gig so far. “I got to know him because I used to sit in with him when they needed an extra man,” Richard said.
“We played Glastonbury in 2009, playing for Michael Eavis. I know him and his publicity manager got us in on the Sunday. We performed before the world’s press and at the end (Eavis) came along and sang ‘How Great Thou Art’ with us,” said John.
The men don’t have the infrastructure of Glastonbury when they entertain on Park Walk. They have to bring their own kit with them. John and Richard play with their backs against the Abbey Wall, next to a small table with a laptop on it. That’s connected to an amplifier and the whole set up is powered by a car battery. “It’s a logistical exercise but we’ve got used to doing it now. It all works! The laptop has got rhythm section, piano, double bass, drums and banjo. We play against that,” said John.
But the men need to keep the kit dry and if the heavens open, they can stop mid-track. “We have to be very careful. We have to check the forecast to make sure. We have been up here once or twice when we have got wet and it has been spitting with rain and we have had to pack up,” said John.
The musicians are motivated more by compliments than the coins that appreciative passers-by toss into their tip jar. And it’s not uncommon for people sitting on Park Walk to approach the men when their sessions end and ask for an encore. “We do sometimes get people saying, ‘Oh, are you going?’ We have to finish at one o’clock,” said John.
“We do sometimes get quite a crowd,” added Richard. “We can end up doing a little concert, virtually, which is nice. People like to sit and have their lunch here and listen to us.”
As jazz musicians, praise from some US tourists last summer delighted the pair. “We’ve actually had several people who have come from New Orleans to here on holiday who say they have enjoyed the music. It reminds them of home. It’s lovely to get the feedback from people,” beamed Richard
“One of the nicest comments we get is, ‘You’ve made our day’. We get that quite a lot,” said John, who says he looks forward to playing the sessions.
And for jazz fans who love the free lunch break concerts, you can look forward to the music returning next Easter. “I’m 82,” said John. “It’s my therapy. I don’t know what I will do when I can’t do this. I did think about that this morning. I think I will appear with this laptop and the backing tracks and sing to it. It’s a joy to do it. I love music so much and Richard is the same.”