Kathy Stobart: Interviewed by Pauline Morgan in 2010

A bit of a yap with Kath


Kathy, perhaps you could tell me a little about your background?


 I was born in South Shields, Co. Durham in 1925. I was the third child of Matthew and Jessie Stobart. My father was a Police Officer.


Where did you go to school?


I went to school in South Shields, but because of the war I was evacuated to Westmorland. I only stayed three weeks and then phoned my mum saying 'come and get me'.


What were your hobbies and interests as a young girl?


I liked music, swimming, netball and hockey.


Did you grow up in a musical family?


Yes. My mother was a very good pianist; especially good when accompanying. She was one of ten children, most of whom played piano or violin. My grandfather was a Cartwright, but took up violin when he was thirty. My two brothers played clarinet and eventually saxophone.


Did your mother have to nag you to do your piano practice?


Yes, my mother made a deal with me. Half an hour practice - then do what I wanted to do.

Kath on a walk from Seaton to Lyme Regis via the beach (We tackled the undercliff on the way home!). Probably around 1986.

What is the most valuable lesson your parents taught you?


By example I learned patience. My mother was a patient woman and loved me a lot. My father was very bad tempered!


When did you take up playing the saxophone?


I took the saxophone up when I was twelve, but I was quite stage-struck and did some work with a concert party - singing and dancing.


I was about fourteen and a half when I saw an advert for a saxophonist with Don Rico and his ladies swing band. So I took my brother's sax and a bus to Sunderland for an interview.


Don Rico said 'You are not very good are you?'. He said that he'd give me a months' trial.  He'd pay for my digs and give me eight shillings and sixpence a week.


After meeting my father, I was allowed to go with the band. My older brother went to Newcastle to buy a beautiful new tenor sax and after a month I was paid 2 pounds 10 shillings. a week, out of which I had to pay for my own digs; 'twelve bob a week'. We travelled all over England and I loved it!


One particular week we were due to play at the Empire, Brixton (London). We checked into the digs on Sunday and had to shelter for the night in the underground station because there was a tremendous air raid all night. When we got to the Theatre the next morning we were told that the Government would no longer allow large numbers of people to gather in theatres etc. We disbanded there and then. Thank goodness I had my wages to get me home!


Keith Bird, a well known saxophonist, said that I had a good sound and he encouraged me to go to London. Keith would play something on the piano and would ask me to play it back to him on the saxophone; he said that I had perfect relative pitch. I learned that jazz is instant composition on a given chord sequence. With the trio plus tenor sax, Keith sat in with me for my initial steps as a jazz musician.


Then I was given a years' contract with Peter Fielding's band at the Oxford Galleries Ballroom in Newcastle. The female singer had left, so I sang and learned to play dance music. I was earning 10-12 pounds per week then and that was good money.


I met a piano player called Art Thompson and although I was only eighteen, I married him.

I was becoming very successful which put a strain on the marriage and after seven years the marriage ended.


I joined Vic Lewis's band and stayed with him playing and recording for several years. I formed my own band in 1950 which included trumpet player, Bert Courtley. We had a good band, but it requires a lot of money to keep a band running, so unfortunately, after a year I had to pack it up.


Bert and I went to work for Vic Lewis and a year or so later, we married.


Did you have any children Kathy?


Yes. Our first son was born after exactly a year and over the next four years, we had two more sons.


Has the musical gene been passed down through the generations?


Yes, Paul, our middle son, played bass guitar and Peter, our youngest, was a natural musician; he played saxophone. He could have been professional, but with a wife and family, he needed to get a 'proper job'.


How did you manage your career and the children?


My music was limited when the children were small, but I played when I could and I knew the right thing to do as far as the children were concerned. Although I had three children within five years, I played through each pregnancy, only taking one month off each time.

My parents moved from the north and bought a house near me and they stepped in to care for the boys when needed. But I would only take work that allowed me to get home so that I could take the boys to school.


Bert was the main bread-winner, but I continued playing. Over time Bert worked in the Johnny Dankworth Band, Woody Herman's Anglo-American band; a lovely band, Cyril Stapleton, Ken Mackintosh and in the 1960's he joined Ted Heath's Band, eventually replacing Ron Simmonds and playing lead trumpet.


Sadly, Bert died in 1969; he was just forty.


A lot of people helped me after Bert died by putting work my way; Tony Coe, Humphrey Lyttelton; they rang me all the time and more and more work came in with Humphrey's band.


As well as 'depping' (deputising) in Humphrey Lyttelton's band, I also taught at the City Literary Institute at Drury Lane throughout the 1960's and 1970's. In 1969 I joined Humphrey Lyttelton's band full time, replacing Tony Coe. Except for occasional breaks, I continued working with Humphrey until I retired.


In the 1980's I did three Mediterranean cruises with Kenny Baker All Stars.

I think I played professionally until I was eighty-two.


During your career you must have met many interesting musicians.


Oh yes, when I was working with Humphrey Lyttelton at Croydon, he introduced me to Louis Armstrong - he was great - wonderful.  Louis Armstrong brought about the greatest change in the style of playing jazz quavers.


Also, when my boys were young, my middle son, Paul, who had platinum blonde hair, was with me back stage, when Nat King Cole came by and ruffled his hair. He was a lovely man!


You have travelled all over England and abroad Kathy. What brought you to Axmouth?


We used to holiday in the locality. During a visit to the area to look at a house in Beer, I came through Axmouth and saw a 'For Sale' board on the house I now live in.


When did you come to Axmouth to live?


I came twenty five years ago; 1985.


What do you like most about living here?


I love the whole thing.


If you could change anything about the village what would it be?


I don't want to change a thing; except that I would like the house martins to return to my house. They used to build under the roof, but I had the front of the house re-built and they haven't been back since.


What would be your idea of your most relaxing day?


I have a lean-to at the back of the house and I put out digestive biscuits for the birds. I find that it helps me when I sit and watch the birds eating the biscuits. I love birds.


What would you consider to be your most prized possession?


A lead crystal rose bowl. I must have been about fourteen when I won The Northumberland and Durham Ladies Open Swimming Championship.


Looking back over your most interesting life, which decade was your best?


Oh, I don't know. I think I have been very lucky throughout my life.


Who or what has been the greatest influence in your life?


My mum - and music I think. But, you see, I did it because I just love doing it.


What is the most valuable lesson life has taught you?


I think it has taught me to have a nice mix of patience and a sense of humour.


How would you like people to remember you?


I would like to be remembered as a nice, honest person.