THE NOT SO LONELY LITIGATOR’S CLUB 33: THE MUSICAL SECTION: H.H. JUDGE WOLSTENHOLME – THE DRUMMER JUDGE
The next member of the musical section of our Club is retired Circuit Judge Scott Wolstenholme. Scott may have retired from law a few years back but he is incapable of retiring from drumming. I have been playing in a band with Scott for longer than I can remember (well over a decade) and, as you will see, we recently re-named the band “Scott and the Antarctics”. Scott has been a drummer for most of his life and didn’t let being a member of the judiciary stop him.
“Judge Wolstenholme should not give up his day job”.
What instrument (or instruments) do you play?
I play the drums. Nothing else. I am mocked by fellow band member HH Judge Mark Gosnell [guitarist, singer] for being a mere ‘tub thumper’. It’s true I do not need to know what key we are playing in, but I do need to know the time signature, and how to count the bars. Fortunately we’re invariably in 4/4 time, and usually playing a 12 bar blues.
I tried recorder at primary school, but missed the week when we were taught about sharps and flats and never managed to catch up.
My primary school teacher Mrs Prentice, for whom I had an unrequited passion, wrote in my school report ‘Scott has difficulty singing in tune’. She therefore withdrew me from the choir and gave me the job of standing beside her at the piano turning the pages of the music for her. That was a win/win situation: the choir sounded better and I got to inhale Mrs Prentice’s heady perfume.
Wanting to be Elvis Presley at the age of 10, I tried guitar and could play the Duane Eddy intro to the Peter Gunn Theme, which involves hitting the open 6th string and bending the note. I found tuning the guitar a difficult exercise. My Dad suggested the miniature guitar I’d been given didn’t have an accurate fretboard. Shamefully, because my childhood friend John Moore was now showing some aptitude on my guitar, I smashed the offending instrument with a pickaxe in a cathartic moment and never went near the guitar again.
How long have you been playing and how did you find playing through your time studying law/early years of practice.
You’re asking me these questions at the right time, Gordon, because I finally retired completely from my last job in the law – judicial member of the Parole Board – during lockdown, and have had time to go through long lost photographs and papers including my diaries which I kept intermittently from 1963, when I was aged 15. What follows may be in the category of ‘too much information’ but the memories have come flooding back.
Not long after I retired my guitar, John Moore acquired a banjo. My mother, robustly telling me I was tone deaf, suggested I took up the drums to play with him. That was an inspired idea because my Uncle Derek was a brilliant semi-pro drummer, who had been one of the founding members of the Yorkshire Jazz Band in 1947, then turned to bebop and played with some of the best musicians on the national jazz scene. Derek gave me weekly lessons and inspired in me a love of jazz. I got a snare drum for my birthday in November, a hi hat for Christmas, and by selling my collection of Elvis records to a fellow pupil at Roundhay School, by the following summer I had a bass drum. [I met the purchaser of my record collection at a school reunion 60 years on in 2019, and was disappointed to learn that he no longer has my Elvis records.]
The lessons were a great start, but I believe what really motivates people to progress with their instrument is when they start making music with friends. I knew John Moore, who soon moved from banjo to electric guitar, and we had a classmate called Ron Drake who was a very talented clarinet player. When he left school Ron soon left a dreary job in a bank and went on the road with the Alan Elsdon jazz band. This was in the early 60s when British trad jazz was in the charts, before it was swept away by the ‘Beat Boom’. I have since seen Ron playing with Georgie Fame, and when I met him again in 2019 at the school reunion, he was playing with Acker Bilk.
John, Ron and I formed The Tuxedo Jazzmen. My older brother, who also later turned to the law, played trumpet with us briefly, although he gave up playing when he decided that the pad of muscle he was developing on his lip would not be attractive to girls. I see from my diary in 1963 that we successfully passed the audition for the Yorkshire Post Young Discoveries competition and performed at Leeds Town Hall. The judge was Lonnie Donegan, and my memory has retained this as a moment of glory. I now read in my 1963 diary that all did not go as smoothly as I had recalled. I quote:
We were very relaxed when we went on, and had the Leeds Girls Choir tapping their feet. We did Stranger On The Shore and then went into Sweet Georgia Brown. I halved the tempo at the wrong time but not many people noticed.
I fear that HHJ Mark Gosnell, had he been there, would have noticed.
The Tuxedo Jazzmen came to an end when John discovered Chuck Berry. Ron stuck with jazz, the rest of us went with Chuck. Another memorable gig from 1963 was on 22 November. We were playing at the Old Park Café, now known as the Roundhay Fox at Roundhay Park. Playing Johnny B Goode for the umpteenth time, little knowing that we’d still be playing it 60 years later, the shocking news of the assassination of JFK spread round the room. The band played on.
The diaries show that I did an astonishing number of gigs while still at school. We eventually broke up after John got fed up and sold his guitar to a member of the audience at a gig. He didn’t play again for several years.
When I left school I signed up for a 15 week summer season on the Isle of Man, backing a pianist in a sing-along hotel bar catering for older people. I envied the other drummer with whom I shared digs: he backed the organist in the adjacent young people’s bar where he took full advantage of the social opportunities.
Between 1966 and 1969 I read law at University College Oxford, but a lot of my energies were focussed on playing in student soul bands. We were able to rub shoulders with the great bands of the day at college balls – I remember interesting times in the dressing room with the likes of Alan Price [hilarious raconteur] and the Bonzo Dog Do Da Band. In my third year I joined a band with a very talented singer/guitarist/ songwriter called Bernie Townsend. He taught me a lot about playing simple grooves and not trying to be too busy. We thought we were going to be signed by a major label, but it didn’t happen. Bernie has had a lot of success since, and is currently having Americana hits that you can find listed on Spotify.
After university, no grants were available for Bar students, but it was not compulsory to attend the School of Law in London. I therefore recklessly enrolled on a correspondence course with the Rapid Results College, and maintained myself until passing the Bar Finals with what turned out to be my last full time professional musical jobs. The first was backing a pianist in a basement restaurant The Chelsea Grill at the Griffin Hotel in Boar Lane in Leeds for 6 nights a week. The restaurant had a small dance floor. Most of the time it was deadly dull and quiet, but at Christmas party season the place was packed. I remember a drunk falling into my kit and splitting the bass drum wide open, much to the amusement of other customers. In true showbiz style, I played on until we’d finished the waltz. [Yes, Mark, I can play in 3 / 4 time as well.]
I then left the Chelsea Grill and the solid weekly wage of £18 per week, and joined a band that paid me £12 per week whether we played or not. This turned out to be the most fun of my musical career. The band was called the Inner Mind, under the inspired leadership of a lad from Dewsbury called Ian Smith. Ian was a reggae fan. Although we were four white men, we were booked to play in what in those days were called West Indian Clubs. We played throughout the country: Handsworth in Birmingham, Harlesden in London, St Pauls in Bristol and, my favourite venue, Venn Street in Huddersfield. The customers were surprised when we showed up, but loved it when we got into the reggae. We backed Jamaican artists Owen Gray and Laurel Aitken, and did some recording, releasing the songs on Ian’s own record label. One song, an instrumental called Dreams of Yesterday, got into the reggae charts and was played three Saturdays in a row on Radio 1’s The Emperor Rosko Show. I don’t know if I’m the only Circuit Judge to be on a record, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one with a reggae song played on Radio 1.
Called to the Bar in 1971, I left the band to concentrate on pupillage, but occasionally deputised for my uncle in jazz bands in pubs, and also would back the keyboard player in working men’s clubs. My most memorable of these gigs was in Bradford, backing the lunch time stripper. From my vantage point on the stage, I would see the stripper get into her sequinned outfit in the wings, and then watch her take it off again out on stage.
As my practice at the Bar grew, and two sons arrived, I felt I had no time for playing and I sold my drum kit; or rather traded it in for a pair of conga drums so I could sit in with my uncle’s jazz trio occasionally. Then in 1976 John Moore was back on the scene and he invited me to join the Spyder Blues Band. I bought a new kit and played with them every Friday night at Grobs and Wigs wine bars, which Leeds lawyers may remember. We had some good players, in particular a music student called Chris [now Snake] Davis. When my wife Lynne announced she was expecting twins in 1979, I really had to stop playing for a while.
Who do you play with now and what type of music?
By 1986 I was itching to play again, and got together with some good barrister musicians: Nigel Sangster and Jeremy Barnett on keyboards, and Tim Roberts on guitar. Out of this grew Britain’s only all barrister band, Count One and the Tic’s. We played in public for the first time at the first North Eastern Circuit Ball at Rudding Park in July that year, supporting a band rejoicing under the name Matt Vinyl and the Decorators, [who had some connection with Dickie Hart And The Pacemakers.]
We went from strength to strength, joined by barrister musicians Tim Hurst, Madeleine Reeds, Andrew Kershaw, Chris Williams, David Wood and singers Malcolm Swift QC, Fiona Dix Dyer and Gill Matthews. We played at a lot of big charity events, and at the Inns of Court Ball at Middle Temple Hall in 1996, where we rebelliously wore our Justice In Danger tee shirts to protest Lord Mackay’s ‘reforms’ of legal practice.
When David Wood and I went on the Circuit Bench in 1995, we continued in the band, and were featured in a BBC documentary on the judiciary where we played in a Battle of the Bands against the Prestons, from the Northern Circuit. The Prestons may have had the edge musically, but they weren’t all barristers, as we were. My sister alerted me to a review in the Glasgow Herald that read:
“Judge Wolstenholme should not give up his day job”.
A number of us left Count One And The Tics in 1996, with Gordon Exall and others stepping into the breach.
In the meantime, my three sons had grown into very talented musicians, and I had the huge pleasure of playing in bands with them. We had a country rock band called Bandanna, which also featured on vocals more lawyers: the barrister, HHJ Gill Matthews, another barrister Ayshea Megyery, and solicitor/Magistrates’ legal advisor Catherine Frieze. We didn’t do a huge amount of gigs, but made some recordings for posterity of which I’m very proud.
With my son Adam and two of his friends we had an Elvis tribute band The Memphis Mafia. Singer Paul was a great Elvis, who could do the young Elvis of the 50s and 60s as well as the fat guy in a jump suit of the 70s, and it was fun recreating the proper backings with a live rock band instead of the backing tapes that have become depressingly ubiquitous.
In more recent times I’ve had the privilege of playing with Gordon, Ayshea, Mark Gosnell, and Kay Barnes – all practising lawyers – along with a retired friend of mine Jon Hart on bass. We were known as Waley and the Marlers when charismatic singer/ barrister Simon Waley was with us until he went on secondment to Islamabad. We’ve had to change the name to Scott and the Antarctics, although I’m uneasy about bands named after the drummer.
Last year a vacancy for a drummer came up with a four piece rock and roll band known as Excel and the Macros. The singer Mark Byrne sounds like a cross between Eddie Cochran, Dion and Little Richard. When I expressed interest in auditioning, my son Ian suggested that the other guys in the band, just past their 40th birthdays, might think I was too old. As soon as he said this I was determined to play. After all at 72 I’m younger than Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr, both of whom are still playing. I was interviewed, and asked how much time I spend practising. When I gave the honest answer that I’ve spent almost 50 years playing in bands without practising, I realised how stupid this sounds. Fortunately I passed the audition. Now in lockdown, I practice all the time.
What’s your usual type of gig/performance.
The last gig I did was just before lockdown, at Woods Bar in Chapel Allerton with Excel and the Macros. Scott and the Antarctics were due to play at my Rotary Club Beer Festival but the pandemic got in the way. We get invited to play at legal functions, most recently the Leeds Law Society Ball. I was in Tenerife for that one, and my oldest son Ian deputised for me.
People always ask – “where do you find the time”?
There are two questions I am unable to answer in the negative: ‘would you like another drink, Scott?’ And ‘Can you do a gig?’ This has got me into some domestic trouble over the years, but I will always make the time to play. Being in the engine room, driving the band along, is a real buzz.
Do you think it helps or affects your day to day work as a lawyer?
Two similar skills, both requiring a degree of extroversion and performance, but only one rewarded with applause; and only one where the object is to make the audience feel happy. I think playing music is very therapeutic, and is a great way to prepare you for the stress of legal practice.
Do you have any advice for lawyer/musicians or musician/lawyers out there?”
Keep rocking, with friends.
Hear Scott play
With sons Adam and Max
Man of War studio recording
and Bernie Townsend