May 4, 2016

A Memory of Jimmy Dunning by Dave Smithson

I remember the first time I met Jimmy; it was in the Coach and Horses pub on the Arundel Road just outside Worthing. We used to have a Friday night sing-along in there and anyone who came along with a guitar or whatever instrument simply sat in and jammed away.  It would be, I guess, in the middle to late seventies. Jimmy came in one Friday evening and asked us if he could sit in with us. It didn’t take long before Jimmy and I were talking about what you do and who do you do, with regard to what kind of music we played. I suppose you could say the evening had a folksy, middle-of-the-road sort of feeling and at that time we were covering – or torturing – songs by Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary; Kris Kristoferson; a few Beatles and Beach Boys songs etc. And so, when Jimmy said he actually wrote and sang his own songs, I thought he was pulling my leg until, of course, when he struck up, I knew then instantly that this bloke had something special, something that can’t be taught. I didn’t know what it actually was then and didn’t know how to describe it. I now know it is the gift of rhythm and rhyme and Jimmy had it in spadeful. The following week Jimmy didn’t show up and I remember people asking me all about him like: Who is he? What’s his name? Where is he from?  He simply blew us all away on the first night I met him.

But Jimmy also had another side to him and, coming from Liverpool, I think we can all guess what that would be and, of course, it’s his never-ending, devastating sense of humour, sometimes potty, risqué but never obscene.++ There wasn’t anything that Jimmy couldn’t sing or play.  Music just oozed out of him as did his humour at any time of the day, just out of the blue.  His outstanding, endearing quality for me was always his music and his humour, not necessarily in that order. Here are two examples of his sense of humour:
The Fork Divino: We were singing in a pub one evening and in the company was a landlord from another pub who seemed to be impressed by our performance (a bit of ‘jamming’).  He asked us if we would like a booking at his pub and we started negotiating. He suggested advertising us as “The Singing Bricklayers” whereby Jimmy looked at me unbeknown to the said landlord and gave me a sly little wink and replied, “O no, no, that doesn’t sound right”, or words to that effect. So the landlord said, “Well, what are you called?”  To which Jimmy replied, “We’re the Fork Divino.”  So he said “What a strange name” and proposed that he should have some posters printed off to that effect and then he left. After he’d gone, I looked at Jimmy in slight bewilderment, saying to him, “Who the hell is the Fork Divino?”  Jimmy smiled as he looked at me and said, “I’m-forked-if-I-know!”  Whereby we both dissolved into unrestrained laughter.

The Polystyrene Nose: One day, being bricklayers on site, we were shown a new invention which was the expanding polystyrene filler.  It was a real eye-opener at that time whereby a little dollop of this material, when it meets the air and ‘cures’, expands to five or six times its original size.  We were both fascinated by this but Jimmy, with another twinkle in his eye after the demonstration piece, quickly put it in his pocket and then disappeared. He came back five minutes later, the usual big grin on his face and what he had actually done was fashion this brutal false nose out of the polystyrene, with big nostrils and warts and all and the fun we had with that vile instrument lasted all day.  Going home on the bus that day, we were sitting at the back and the only other people on the bus were a young woman with a little boy, who was sat at the front. The little boy stood up facing us, looking at me and Jimmy whilst his mum remained facing the front. Jimmy gave me a nudge and said, “Watch this!”  He then ducked down behind the seat and firmly planted the said vile nose on his face and reappeared, facing the little boy.  The little boy’s face on seeing this stared in absolute disbelief and gave his mum a quick nudge.  We heard him say, “Mum, Mum, look at that man’s big nose!”  His mum was mortified, trying to shush him, emphasising, “Stop staring, stop staring!” to which the little boy was transfixed by the size of Jimmy’s nose and couldn’t stop staring and blurted out, “Mum, look at it, look at it!”  We could see the young lady’s ears were bright scarlet and we had no sympathy for her excruciating embarrassment!  Relief came for her at the next stop when she quickly alighted with her son, leaving me and Jimmy convulsed as usual as a result of his crazy, Scouse humour!

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