By Chris Foster
Jumbo Brightwell was born in 1900, one of the generation of singers who were still around when I lived in east Suffolk in the late ‘70s. By the time I moved there I was already aware of Jumbo’s LP ‘Songs from the Eel’s Foot’, so I was delighted to discover that he lived just down the road from me in Leiston. I can’t remember how we met, but somehow we got to know each other and I spent many happy hours chatting and drinking cups of tea down at his place.
Jumbo told me all sorts of stories about his earlier singing days, playing quoits and his working life. Compared to some of the larger than life characters who were around at the time, he was a quiet and reserved man, but he had twinkle in his eye and a good, dry sense of humour.
It’s strange to recall how the 1970’s were much more politicised than these days. I remember Jumbo telling me stories of the depression and unemployment in the 1930’s; how he once cycled to Coventry to look for work and how the dole money he got had to be re-paid when he got a job.
By the time I knew him Jumbo didn’t really get about singing any more, but he came out a few times and he was still a good singer with an interesting repertoire. He had a direct, unfussy way of delivering the text of the song. The story was the thing.
My best memory is the evening when, following a do for the WI in Theberton, he was persuaded to come for an impromptu drink and tune up at the Eel’s Foot. Jumbo. his brother Bob and father Velvet had held court at the Eel’s Foot in Eastbridge on Saturday nights for many years through the ‘30’s and 40’s. Anyhow, sometime around 1950 there was apparently some kind of falling out with the landlord and Jumbo hadn’t been back since.
It was clearly a big step for Jumbo to go back there and I remember that among other songs, he sang his version of Jack Barleycorn, which he told me he had picked up from a chap from Essex who had come over on holiday. It was the only time I heard him sing it. Like other songs I expressed an interest in, the words, written in his best copperplate hand writing on an old birthday card, arrived through my letterbox a few days later. In the end I got quite a little collection which is now with the EATMT for safe keeping.
Topic Records – 12TS261 Released 1975, Produced by Tony Engle and Keith Summers