Obituary: Julian Davies

Julian Davies, who has died aged 82, was the bass player with the Crane River Jazz Band, the British group which came closest to captur-ing the original New Orleans feel.
Jaded by the tired formulas of swing and the confusing challenge of modernist bebop, post-war audiences were increasingly attracted to the interweaving sound of trumpet, trombone and clarinet. The Cranes were led by Ken Colyer, a trumpet player so dedicated to musical purity that he travelled to New Orleans and played with the celebrated George Lewis before being jailed as an illegal immigrant.
The band had begun practising in a field by the Crane river at Cranford, Middlesex, when Julian Davies arrived with a sousaphone perched on top of 17 different instruments in the Austin 7 of his older brother, John RT Davies. The band was to play together periodically for almost 50 years.
The son of an eminent skin specialist, Julian Charles Dutton Twiston Davies was born on May 27 1931, and educated at Stowe. A keen rec-ord collector from the age of seven, he was working for EMI when he first heard the band, and was so struck by its pursuit of authenticity that he blurted out to Colyer: “Man, you sound like [the New Orleans cornet player] Mutt Carey.” Colyer replied: “Would you like to join the band?”
It was the start of a lifelong friendship between two men, both of whom were noted for their taciturnity. Taking the youngster under his wing, Colyer showed him how to roll his own cigarettes; taught him the rudi-ments of jazz; and suggested after a few weeks that a string bass was preferable to a sousaphone. Julian accordingly bought a bass, leading to a row with his jazz-hating father, who had given his son £50 to buy clothes and seen it spent instead on the musical instrument.
Contentedly settling into the band’s discreet rhythm section (piano, drums, banjo and, occasionally, washboard), Davies’s slapped bass was a key part of the relaxed cushion behind the front line, which included the clarinettist Monty Sunshine and John RT Davies on trombone. Soon the band was playing in pubs, making recordings and appearing on tele-vision, while the rhythm section gained further exposure as the Break-down Group during the skiffle craze.
After 18 months the band drifted apart, with Julian Davies embarking on an MSc in concrete technology at Nottingham University, which took him seven years due to musical distractions. But there were periodic.

reunions, most notably in Germany, where their recordings of such standards as Panama and Snag It won over audiences with a relaxed, unlaboured sound that could partly be put down to Colyer’s dislike of rehearsing.
Such travels were not entirely without mishap. On one occasion Da-vies’s bass was destroyed by aircraft baggage handlers, and he success-fully demanded compensation from Lord King, the chairman of British Airways .
Davies became head of the Greater London Council’s buildings materi-als section and a sought-after expert witness on the problems of water penetration in high-rise buildings. But he always managed to appear at band reunions until the final gig in 1999.
Retiring to Dorset after his third divorce, Julian Davies chaired the Ken Colyer Trust, which arranged the release of unpublished recordings and publication of his memoirs. He also taught science at Colfox School, Bridport; became chairman of the local croquet club; and played with a local band, the Sunset Café Stompers.
His funeral featured recordings of the Cranes, before his four children and five grandchildren followed his body to the grave as the Fallen He-roes Band played Just a Closer Walk with Thee.
Julian Davies, born May 27 1931, died November 14 2013.