Mandolin Jack Bio

Early Days

Seeing the look of shock and horror on the faces of my family when I played them my new purchase "Rocking Goose" by Johnny & The Hurricanes (1960) was my first taste of musical freedom...

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Something wonderful happens when a tightly rehearsed band hits the first few perfect notes of a four-part harmony. You get shivers up your spine when you know that the entire audience in front of you is experiencing the same feeling...

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The Extraordinaires

In the days before guitar-tuners: Your guitar-player is tuning up to the piano...minutely flat means it's going to be an easy, funky, slow-groove sort-of night.

Minutely sharp and it's Whoa!! Hold ON, boy - rock'n'roll heaven & hell is going to break loose tonight!"

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I remember one morning in the Shepperton Studios viewing-theatre, watching the 35mm film "rushes" on the big 25' screen and thinking "... are these our models, or is that a real tug ploughing through the San Francisco bay?"

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Bullet to Beijing (& other movies).

There's nothing more scary than being in a foreign film studios surrounded by experienced professionals, where no one speaks your language, and you are the only one that knows you're doing this job for the first time, and your brain is shouting "HELP!" (October 32nd: 1992)

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Mandolin Jack.

Finally come full circle. I feel I'm drawing on everything I've known & everything I've experienced; from Johnny & The Hurricanes through to twisting 'round those deadly West Virginia bends of Hank William's final journey in that pale blue Cadillac...

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Early Days

The 1960's - Wigan, Lancashire & The Edison Bell Spasm Band

This is a story with lots of strange gaps and side-tracks. I grew up in rural Hereford under a very Victorian-type of upbringing; rigid norms and old-fashioned claustrophobic values. I felt trapped and weighed-down by the thick green atmosphere and the heavy red soil. However inspired by a hearing a mixture of music including Lonnie Donegan, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Shadows and the British Forces Radio diet of Pop, Rock'n'Roll and Country & Western, I managed to escape into a couple of school bands playing the music that inspired me. Johnny & The Hurricanes and The Ventures started me off on a 60's Surf Sound, although I quickly turned into a surrogate Chuck Berry / Little Richard, (played the best I could on my Rosetti Lucky 7); but very soon I discovered the dark genius of Howling Wolf who prowled my teenage bedroom at nights. It was through Wolf I discovered the Marine Band harmonica.

I then had the good fortune to fail my A-levels - haha!- and got shipped to Wigan in Lancashire to retake them. Wigan was like another planet, relaxed, friendly and beautiful grey-industrial - the perfect place to be for a romantic such as me, especially in the black&white 1960s of "Saturday Night & Sunday Morning", David Bailey and 'Ready Steady Go!'.

  • The North The North
    The North in the 60s

  • In Wigan, I was in a couple of bands, playing round the clubs and dancehalls; however the most life-changing was the jug-band The Edison Bell Spasm Band that Steve Hoyle, John Hemmingway, Dave Hardy and I formed in '64. Steve and I met at Wigan Technical College and realised a mutual love of Leadbelly, Gus Cannon's Jug Band, Jack Kerouac and The Beat Poets. Our "Big Sur" was the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales where we lived in crumbling beach huts or decaying caravans while playing our zany jug-band music at beach parties & round campfires.
    The Edison Bell Spasm Band was John on guitar, Dave on washboard & kazoo, me on harmonica & kazoo and Steve on jug. We were later joined by future BBC Folk Music icon Mike Harding just before I left for University.
    The Edison Bell Spasm Band, after both myself & Mike had left, and with a couple of new members, went on to perform on a Granada TV production called "First Timers" in 1968.

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    The 1970s

    Aston University in Birmingham did my head in, so we mutually agreed that the best thing for me would be to find another route in education. I ended up in South West London at Twickenham College studying Exhibition Design. Finding new roots, I was soon joined by band-mates John and Dave from The Edison Bell Spasm Band who came down from Manchester. The college had a strong music scene, and I was soon in various college bands; playing piano in a jazz quintet, guitar in a folk goup and harmonica in a blues band. It was there Dave met Lucy Sharpe and then with Bob Barrow on double-bass, we formed the folk group Frogmorton. Listening to Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and reading A.L.Lloyd's "Folk Songs in England" took me deep into the English heritage of traditional music. As a folk trio & occasional quartet, Frogmorton managed to get a residency at Peeler's Folk Club, a highly respected folk club in Bishopsgate near Liverpool Street, London. Here we opened for many of the top folk artists of the day including Martin Carthy, Planxty and Tim Hart & Maddy Prior.

    We were soon joined by singer/songwriter Mike Smith, who brought a song-writing energy to the band, plus some wonderfully classic songs of his own including "White Swans". I remember the first standing-ovation we got at the St. Martins In The Fields folk club in London thinking "Hmmm we might have something here". Frogmorton soon became a recognised face in the folk scene in England, playing the length and breadth of the country in clubs and festivals, including two tours of Germany, building up a huge following. Some of the bands and artists we played the same stage with include Fairport Convention, Richard & Linda Thompson, Bert Jansch, Tim Hardin, and The Albion Band. The line up was Mike Smith guitar & vocals, Lucy Sharpe guitar, psaltery & vocals, Dave Hardy whistle, recorder, accordion & vocals, Chris Tulloch guitar, harmonium, piano, mandolin & vocals, Terry Newbery drums & percussion - and at various occasions on bass, Bob Barrow, John Hemmingway, Roger Addison, and Bill Lynn. Bill added his own powerful harmonies to some of our more traditional songs. Not forgetting our ever-patient sound engineer John Cook.

    • Frogmorton Frogmorton
      Frogmorton in the '70s
    • Frogmorton, in a nutshell, was a band with heart-wrenching four/five-part harmonies and wonderful songs. It was also a plethora of instruments, and it was where I took up both harmonium and mandolin. If it had been today, there would be lots of Frogmorton out there on CD & vinyl. Unfortunately in the 1970's - before Punk and the self-promotion that came with it - we were still trapped in the old Tin Pan Alley myth of "waiting for a record deal". It came, but it came too late, when we had all but run out of steam. The album "At Last" finally came out in 1976, including my big song Wedding Day (YouTube).

      Soon after we recorded the album, I remember we did a gig at a college in Sussex. Everyone who came really enjoyed the gig, but a lot of people who came up to us afterwards were excited to tell us they'd "seen a great band last week" called The Sex Pistols. The writing was on the wall.

      White Swans: Frogmorton © Mike Smith. This version from the album "Frogmorton: Archive" available through mail-order.
      • Frogmorton Frogmorton
        Frogmorton: Archive (The Ones That Got Away)"
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        The Extraordinaires

        Early 1980s

        After the demise of Frogmorton it was time to take a 6 month trip to the States. It felt good to get away from English folk music for a while and immerse myself in the romance of places and names that had become synonymous with my youth. I ticked off a few! Driving a 1968 Cadillac Coupe de Ville from New York to Palm Springs, California (down Route 66 through Flagstaff Arizona, "don't forget Winona", Kingman, Barstow, and San Bernadino...). Renting a flat in Pacific Heights, San Francisco. Visiting the City Lights Bookshop and breathing the dust of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the Beat Poets. Delivering a car to Disneyland, Los Angeles down Highway 1 though John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Delivering yet another car north to Seattle stopping off in Grants Pass and Cottage Grove on the way.
        Then, it was farewell to San Francisco and a long Greyhound ride south to the Mexican border and a 2-day train journey across the Sonora desert, up through the green mountains to Guadalajara, Mexico City and finally to Oaxaca. We lived in Oaxaca for a month or so over Christmas, before staying with new friends in the Zona Rosa, Mexico City. Good places, good friends, fond memories.

        On our return to the UK, I contacted John Evans, a friend of Frogmorton's drummer Terry, an amazing guitar player who had sat in on a couple of tracks on the Frogmorton album. I was itching to get back to playing. Pretty soon we were a duo, not only out playing our own stuff, but also as guitar and keyboards in Bob Lewis' "Red Hot Pick-up Band", a blues/boogie band who played venues around London's south-west. John & I named the duo "The Extraordinaires" and were a powerful two-piece playing pubs & clubs around London, regularly The Latchmere in Wandsworth (where one night we were loudly applauded by one of my childhood heroes, Donald Swann!) and the wonderful Kings Head in Islington (where they only sold beer for old pre-decimal currency).

        • Extraordinaires Extraordinaires
          The Extraordinaires in the '80s

        • The early 80s, especially in London around that time, was a fruitful mix of many sub-cultures. In the charts were the synthpop bands with wide shoulders and big hair; but simmering underneath was a hotbed of Rockabilly, Latin Jazz, Calypso, Funk and Soul. It was in this atmosphere that The Extraordinaires flourished and created some great music. In 1982 UK Rockabilly band "The Jets" covered one of my songs "Blue Skies" for their single release on EMI Records. In 1983 we were joined by chanteuse Eve Ferret and with added drums and bass carved a solid niche. However, tastes and times change and in 1985 The Extraordinaires called it a day with a final fun spot at Ronnie Scott's in London's Soho.

          However, while the creative spirit was very much alive, John & I wrote and recorded some great songs. Here are a couple to give the flavour of our power at our height. First "Can't Help Falling In Love With The Girl", second "Don't Look Back": John Evans guitar & background vocals, Chris Tulloch piano & lead vocals, Charlie Hart bass, Russell Greenwood drums. Recorded & produced by Terry Newbery in Dinosaur Studios, Barons Court, London.

          Can't Help Falling In Love With The Girl : The Extraordinaires © John Evans. Unreleased.

          Don't Look Back: The Extraordinaires © Chris Tulloch. Unreleased.



      Late 1980s

      For my day job during the period with The Extraordinaires I worked in Exhibition Design, mainly preparing graphics for exhibitions, but my strength lay in creating the card & paper presentation models of exhibition stands for clients. In 1985 I'd had enough of exhibitions, and so with constant phoning and needling I finally persuaded the guys at DBP Models & Effects in Shepperton Studios to give me a try. It was a bit of a boom time for model-making with the studios producing a whole range of movies including The Princess Bride, Eric the Viking, Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Madness of King George.

      We were a small team at DBP. We built models and special effects for many of the movies in the studios, but also a string of adverts too, as well as handling fully-detailed and 100% accurate architectural models for outside clients. Then, late in in 1988, the producers of "Thomas The Tank Engine" came in to discuss a new series they were planning called "Tugs".

      • Tugs Tugs
        Tugs - the series
      • This commission meant that nearly all of us were working on the one project. I got the job of researching and making all the working drawings of all the Tugs characters for the other model-makers to work to. Others worked on the mechanics of the heads & faces, how to pump smoke up through the funnels etc. With our architectural experience I believe we made those models to perfection. The first tug off the production line was mine, I'm proud to say ... that first one being Ten Cents.

        In the run-up to filming the series we also helped get "T" Stage up and running, as it was on the corner by our workshop and we were going to be the Model Supervisors for the production. Once we started filming, the Film Director, David Mitton, promoted me to Art Director for the series.
        Once the filming schedule got heavily underway and we were into the 2nd episode, David often had production meetings with TV companies that ran over, and he asked me to step in for him as 2nd Director.

        Then, one weekend while I was away on a short break, I read one of the scripts we were due to be filming and realised that it would be impossible to film within the scale and dimensions of the shallow-water tank we were using. So, on that Sunday, I wrote a replacement episode which I called "High Winds" introducing a new character Johnny Cuba. Upon showing this to Bob Cardona the Producer, he said "Why don't you film it?"
        David Mitton was under pressure and had to supervise the editing of the episodes already shot, so I agreed to direct this episode. More of my episodes subsequently followed and I wrote one other episode "Trapped" introducing another new character Billy Shoepack.

        The series was shot on 35mm film using a special rig. The rushes footage we saw in the Shepperton viewing theatre in the mornings was truly realistic and film-like; it was a real honour to work on such a well-made and beautiful-looking TV series.

        • Ten Cents Ten Cents
          Ten Cents in original timber finish
        • T Stage Shepperton T Stage Shepperton
          Filming Tugs in T-Stage, Shepperton
        • T Stage Shepperton T Stage Shepperton
          Atmospheric Zug

        *Note for Tugs fans:* Tugs footage was, of course, silent. The voices were added later recorded in the Sound Studio. However early on, while editing Warrior, Phil Sanderson, the Editor, asked if I would do a voice-over just to help him fine-cut the footage. While reading the dialogue I decided, on a whim, to give each of the characters an 'acccent'. Having decided in my own head that OJ stood for "Old Jones" (!) I gave him a Welsh accent. Big Mac of course had to be Scottish, and the rest evolved from there. It was only after Bob Cardona heard my voices that he chose the individual voice-actors, and declared that Zorran should stay as me.


    Movies & TV

    The 1990s

    The 1990's were "movie time" for me. After Tugs I was asked to be Art Director on a movie to be shot in Nevada City, California called alternatively "Merlin" and "October 32nd". This was the first time I'd ever worked on a location-based, live action movie. The Director, Paul Hunt, lived in Hollywood and I went over to LA to check out locations. As things progressed however I soon became aware that this was to be a very low-budget production ... film straight to video. Saying that, though, it was great fun. It was eventually shot entirely in Slovakia in Koliba Studios, Bratislava where, on the back-lot, I recreated the town of Nevada City. There were also locations around Kejda Lake and to the east in Domica Caves, Roznava, near the Hungarian border.
    The great thing about minuscule budget productions is that you get to learn on the job, and you get a full hands-on experience. The final product unfortunately didn't live up to the sum of its parts. Sadly, only grainy clips taken from the VHS can be found on YouTube.

    My next two movies were shot in London & St.Petersburg, Russia, with Michael Caine. They were back-to-back re-workings of the Harry Palmer series (originally shot in the 60s) and called "Bullet To Beijing" and "Midnight In St.Petersburg". I was initially hired merely to buy props for the "London" scenes, but upon delivering them to St.Petersburg I was immediately hired as Props Master. In the second week I was re-hired as Art Director ... or at least working alongside the Russian Production Designer to liaise between him and the Director. While shooting the "London Savoy Hotel" interiors in the Nevsky Prospekt hotel, I was asked to act the part of the Savoy flunkey delivering a letter to Mr. Palmer. In the process of doing so I got a wonderful 5-minute acting lesson from Michael Caine that began "Chris, let me give you a little advice ..."

    Between movies I continued with model making and special effects on adverts & TV productions. Whilst working on a movie pre-production in Cairo, Egypt, I got a phone-call from a colleague urgently needing a reliable partner working in Costume on Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan". I spent the next four weeks on Balinesker Beach in Wexford, Ireland (the horrifying first 20-minutes of the movie) carrying out Costume Special Effects required during the action-filming, and looking after the Stunt Men's costumes.

    The 90's ended with me working with Digirama Digital Post Production in Twickenham Film Studios working on a variety of movies, including "The Bunker", "The Bone Collector" and Pawel Pawlikowski's "Last Resort".

    • October 32nd October 32nd
      Landsdown, 1892: street scene from "Merlin (October 32nd)" on Koliba Studios backlot 1992 (Production Design: Chris Tulloch)
    • Bullet Bullet
      Michael Caine trying to catch a train in "Bullet To Beijing" 1995 (Art Direction: Chris Tulloch)

Mandolin Jack

2000 onwards

The new Millennium? I guess for me it started with a friend's house-party in Nottingham in 1999 where there was a country band playing in the back room. There was a mandolin hanging on the wall. I thought "Wow, I haven't touched one of these for over 20 years!" - so I took it down and became "Mandolin Jack" ... well, not immediately ... it took a year or two to learn to play it properly. Then it took Social Networking ('MySpace' to be exact) for me to choose a "moniker" to be known by .. and that's where Mandolin Jack was born.

After Nottingham I dug my old Gibson mandolin out from under the bed. Poor old thing, unplayed for years and dry as a bone. However a weekly acoustic session at the Coach & Horses in Isleworth was a great training ground for me, and the Gibson started to wake up too.

Then there was a year when I was away from home - in Coventry to be exact - working in a college teaching Media. Whilst there I found time to write songs and seek other musicians to play with, loving playing along to the fiddle and the accordion. I performed a couple of times at the annual Cotesbach festival in South Leicestershire.
Back in London, with friends Phil Leiwy & Mary Davoll, we formed a not-so-serious tribute to Oh Brother Where Art Thou and Hank Williams shortened to "Oh Brother, Where's Hank" and played the London circuit for a while. It was with "Oh Brother..." that I started to write in earnest.

In 2009 I took a long trip up & down the West Coast of the States, starting with friends in Vancouver BC. I bought a guitar in Dusty Strings, Seattle and then drove down for my very first solo gig as Mandolin Jack in the famous Evangeline's Cafe in Colfax, California! That was something! I then carried on down to San Francisco before heading back up for a final gig in Victoria on Vancouver Island BC. Some trip!

Later that year I was staying with The Good Intentions in Liverpool, when Gabi said "You should go to Nashville". I thought "OK, why not?".
In 2010 I made my first trip to Nashville and followed Writers Nights and Open Mic sessions around town, meeting friends along the way & getting myself a couple of gigs in the process.
That was the first of many trips. For a while I became the UK Coordinator for The Nashville Songwriters Association and had a Songwriter's Radio show on CMR Nashville until the time constraints of my teaching career forced me to give them up.

In 2013 I did what I called my self-promoting "cheeky tour" playing The Blue Note, The Nashville Palace and others in Nashville, The Carnegie in Somerset (Kentucky), The Mountaineer Opry House in Milton (West Virginia) with the Dale Ann Bradley band - and then various Knoxville gigs including the Blue Plate Special on WDVX. I call it cheeky, because while still in the UK I had found the phone numbers of promoters & club organisers, phoning them up to say "I'm coming over on such-and-such a date, let me play at your venue" ... and it worked!

In 2014 I took trip from Nashville down through New Orleans and Mobile Alabama, and on the way back picked up "The Good Intentions" who were over for a short tour with gigs in Nashville, Madison, Rock Island & Chicago (you can read about that trip here).

  • The Good Intentions The Good Intentions
    The Good Intentions in concert Filey Folk Festival 2014
  • Somerset Somerset
    Somerset, KY 2013 with Lonnie Osborne, Sherri Reese, Kevin Amburgey & Joe LaMay
  • Recent news in a nutshell? The last US trip was in 2016 - a true cross-country marathon; after a visit to Queensland & New South Wales (excellent gigs in Brisbane & Sydney) we flew in to San Francisco then caught the train to Vancouver BC; then train back to Portland, Oregon, for a couple of gigs - one at Kelly's Olympian. Then it was a big drive to Bozeman, Montana, for a small cafe-gig (and trip to Yellowstone); next to Lead in South Dakota for a great session at the Moonshine Gulch Saloon. Continued the cross country drive to Chicago where we let the car go & caught the Amtrak to New York & Brooklyn.

    Since then, lots of good music in London, Sheffield & Liverpool etc. Follow me on Facebook and check out my latest gigs here.
    Thanks for reading.

    • MJ at The Green Note 2021 MJ at The Green Note 2021
      MJ at The Green Note, Camden, London 2021

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