Some Jazz and Poetry

Just so you know, if there’d been a ceremony, this is the music we would have played:

  • Sorry by Bix Beiderbecke featuring Don Murray on clarinet. 
  • My Buddy by Jimmy Rowles featuring Stan Getz on tenor. 
  • Look for the Silver Lining by Jake Hanna featuring Jack Sheldon on vocal and trumpet. 
  • Tell Me Your Dream by Bunk Johnson’s Brass Band. 

And here is a poem by Louis MacNeice which meant a lot:


The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s
 hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Conrad felt his own epitaph was captured in this line from a poem, The Civil Servant, by Michael Longley:

“…The books he had read, the music he could play…”

I agree with him. Ali

Paul and Rhona

When Conrad was first introduced to our family, Peter and Mary, Ali’s parents were unsurprisingly a little alarmed that this ‘older man’ was pursuing their daughter, he was older than she, he had been married twice, and divorced, not a great track record. Conrad in love and undeterred charmed them into acceptance. He and Peter became firm friends, enjoying each other’s company over lunch, a chat and a glass or two. Mary loved him, he flattered us all unashamedly and was great company when we met, so knowledgeable and funny, making us laugh and groan with his quick witted quips.

He and Mary especially, grew very close, he loved to tease her and she enjoyed every minute of it, when she moved to Aylestone after Peter died weekly film nights in the Cork cinema were much looked forward to and enjoyed. Conrad the film buff would put on a season of ‘Maigret’ or ‘Agatha Christie’ among many favourites. He and Ali cared for Mary until she went into a nursing home where he was a welcome visitor until she died.

Conrad and Ali were a great team, that they loved each other was clear to see, he was very proud of her and their home, their ‘French gite’ in the middle of Aylestone. 

We’ll miss you Conrad, your wisdom, your wit, and your wine. With our love Rhona and Paul xxx

John Runcie

Music: I first met Conrad in the mid 80s. I was playing drums in the band Big Brother and Conrad kindly allowed us to rehearse in his large music room. When Graham Millner, the sax player in the band, was tragically killed in a motor bike accident, Conrad took over on saxophone for the few remaining gigs we still had. Our main musical relationship however blossomed in the Trio Nardis with now world famous composer Gavin Bryars on bass. This trio was most heavily involved in the area of experimental free jazz but my most cherished memories of the group were at a gig in May 1987 when we backed one of the music’s greatest  ever sax players – Lee Konitz – in a much more conventional setting. It took a remarkable degree of musical confidence and ability to play sax alongside Lee. The anxiety prone Conrad acquitted himself admirably. I still listen to the recording of that gig with great enjoyment. Another musical highlight occurred the following January when Nardis provided the core of a student band backing the legendary Duke Ellington singer Adelaide Hall.  Gavin and I also provided the rhythm accompaniment for the CD which went with Conrad’s ground breaking book Harmony with Lego Bricks.

Holidays: I am forever grateful to Conrad and Alison for allowing me to share frequent summer holidays with them back in the days when they used to hire gites in the Normandy/Picardy area of France. Fun times indeed.

Film Club: For a number of years in the 2000s Conrad and Alison plus Alan Ross and myself used to meet once a month to consume Indian food and watch a movie. Conrad it must be said had a somewhat unusual/idiosyncratic taste in films  – to such a degree that the idea of each of those involved choosing a film in turn progressed to the point where all films were chosen by Conrad. Despite this a good time was generally had by all!

It always intrigued me that Conrad who generally despised all sport had a passionate interest in cycling and especially in the Tour de France – an interest which I happened to share. Back in the days when TV was a dirty word in the Cork household, Conrad and Alison used to visit my house to watch 1 or 2 of the most exciting stages of the Tour on my large screen TV. They always came armed with a bottle of malt whisky to enhance the pleasure of the occasion. We continued this tradition right up until the pre pandemic summer of 2019 though by this time Conrad’s increasing mobility problems and the presence of a TV in the Belvoir Drive house meant that I came to them rather than the reverse. They still provided the malt whisky!

Conrad was a unique and very special person. I feel honoured to have had him as a friend for so many years. He will be much missed.

Harry Owen

My first meeting with Conrad was in the mid 1970’s after I read a small flyer in a Southport record shop advertising The Formby Jazz Appreciation Club. From then on the weekly meetings on a Tuesday evening became an essential event on my calendar. In the beginning it was obvious my taste in jazz didn’t always match Conrad’s but he was never dismissive and he merely suggested alternatives. Through him I got to know a wide range of styles from Ruby Braff to Eric Dolphy. After Conrad left Formby I lost contact for a few years but his life always seemed to be full of creativity of thought and deed. When his beloved wife, Ali started to devote more time to her drawing and painting Conrad was her staunchest supporter. I am just one of many whose knowledge has been enriched by knowing Conrad. With his passing the world has lost a vibrant, humorous and compassionate human being. RIP C.C.

Robert Darlaston

I first encountered Conrad when we started at KES in September 1951, both of us being place in Shell C, whose form-master was “Slimy” Cooke.   I think the poor man gained his unfortunate nickname because of his rather oily speech delivery.    I was an only child and had arrived from a very small ‘prep’ school, thus finding KES initially rather overwhelming.   The form was seated in alphabetical order, so I was placed next to Conrad and I was encouraged to find that he too found life rather overpowering at first.    We thus were very friendly during our first year at KES.     I remember he cheerfully added to my worries by quoting his father as saying that Birmingham University (adjacent to KES) had been at the cutting edge of research into nuclear weapons and the area was thus a prime target for Russian missiles before the elapse of much more time! In later years we moved into different forms and went our separate ways, but when the “Class of ‘51” group was formed in the early 2000s I was delighted to meet Conrad once more and to chat about our very different paths in life.

Kyle Van Dyke

My Deepest Sympathies, I never met Conrad personally but had the great good fortune to learn of his book in the early days of the Internet. I purchased and devoured it. His writing made me feel like he was at my side teaching me jazz. I was able to correspond with him briefly by email and he was always very kind and helpful, he even sent me CDs (all the way to the island of Guam, perhaps his farthest student!) to help learn his system. My deepest condolences to his family, a life well lived.

Paul Douglas

“I met Conrad when I was struggling a bit as a teenager back in the early 1970s. He ran a jazz club in his house in Formby at the time, and I started going to it. Conrad was the most unusual person I had ever met, and remains one of the most influential. He was incredibly generous. He lent me lots of LPs so that I could explore jazz far more thoroughly than would otherwise have been possible in those pre-internet days. He took the whole business of good hifi very seriously and LPs are quite fragile things, so it was kind of him to lend them to me. He even lent me a saxophone for a while so I could get started with playing. More importantly, though, he was generous with his time. I quite often went to his house outside the jazz club sessions: he let me play (his!) saxophone with him which was very kind – I was an absolute beginner and truly terrible, and there must have been far better ways that he could have spent his evenings. The only times in my life I got to have a go on double bass and bass clarinet were when I tried his. He introduced me to lots of things that were new to me, from Kandinsky to proper coffee. He organised a trip to an Indian restaurant in Manchester for a few of the jazz club people (bear in mind that I was about 17 at the time and it was amazing just to be treated like an adult) and introduced me to real Indian food, which I still love. I became a buddhist and a vegetarian for a while simply because I admired him so much; I am no longer either though I have tried to live with respect for many of the principles of Buddhism. I’m typing this with a cup of coffee on my desk, my favourite Kandinsky print over it, and jazz playing in the background. I left Formby in 1974 to go to University; I never returned and I never met Conrad again. I remember him as looking like the “cool dude at Newport jazz festival” as I probably saw him for the last time quite soon after that. I had no contact with him for over 30 years until I discovered his Lego Bricks book. I got back in touch with him via email and, once again, he was exceptionally kind and helpful. That’s just how he was, he didn’t remember me from Formby days. It’s sad to hear that he has died: he was one of the most amazing people I have ever met.”

Frank and Lesley

Lesley and I met Conrad in Formby in 1977. We met through Chris, his first wife, a PE teacher at my school in Liverpool. We met regularly until Lesley and I moved to Wolverhampton. I taught him German, he taught me Modern Jazz. We literally became ‘blood brothers’. He was my mentor in all things musical and jazz. I regarded him as the older brother I didn’t have. He was a mine of information, the most well-read man I have ever met and one of the most humble. He and Lesley discussed fiction they had read. We discussed Religion in depth and shared an interest in Socialism.

He was Maigret, ‘le patron’ to my Lucas. He was passionate about George’s Simenon. In Wolverhampton, he would visit us every week for our “Wednesday Night Prayer Session”, when teaching me to play tenor sax. At this time he was based in Coventry. The three of us would go to the theatre and gigs.

He broadened our experiences and our minds. He was the most wonderful, talented, worldly and sharing man in our lives. Long may he be remembered!

James Thompson

Conrad was a very special person whose generosity and kindness I will never forget. It’s difficult to express what a lasting impact he made upon my life and just how much owe to him although I’m sure I’m just one of many who held him in such high esteem. He was, quite simply, a wonderful human being.

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