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Paul Dunmall

John Robert Brown

Paul Dunmall

"My father was a drummer. At the age of four I always had a pair of drumsticks in my hands. My dad showed me rudiments. I didn't think anything of it. At twelve years old, clarinet lessons were offered at school. I went with a friend; together we signed up for clarinet. My dad played in a jazz trio. When I was fourteen my dad was saying: "The saxophone's better."

"I got a saxophone. Occasionally my dad would take me to his gigs. At one of the gigs, a musician came up and showed me his tenor. I thought what an amazing object it was. Gold, shiny, with all these things to press on, it was fantastic. Then I got a call from a local group. "Would I like to join a band?" Everything goes from there; at the age of 17 I turned professional.

"I had no intention of playing the clarinet. One day, at school, one of the kids said: "I want to go to sign up for clarinet lessons. Will you come with me?" So I went with him. He put his name down, 'Colin Bell'. The teacher said to me, "What about you?" I said, "Alright then." What was amazing was that Colin Bell never even came to the first lesson! He never touched the clarinet, which is why I wonder how life is. On my own, I wouldn't have gone.

"My dad was a big jazz fan. When I got into the clarinet I started to listen to Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. I thought they were amazing. Then he would take me to gigs, to see professional players. I was sixteen in 1969. I was listening to soul saxophone players, like King Curtiss and Junior Walker, because I was in a soul band when I was at school.

"In London, I worked for Bill Lewington, as a saxophone repairer, from 1968 until 1970. Then I saw an ad in the Melody Maker, which said: "Professional Rock Band looking for saxophone player." God knows why I applied for it, but I did. Back then they were like hippies, and I fitted in with their lifestyle. It was a great learning time. I left home in south-east London and went down to Somerset. I was very young to leave home, but there was no stopping me. I was off. It's been that way ever since!

"At that time I was doing classical studies on clarinet. My classical teacher Alfred Randall was a great classical alto player. He was in London.  I had lessons at the Blackheath Conservatoire, once a week. He found out that I was playing alto. He brought in a letter from Malcolm Sargent, who had written to Alfred Randall saying how much he'd enjoyed his alto saxophone playing. I was studying classical clarinet, and had reached diploma level.  At the same time I was commuting from Somerset once a week to take clarinet lessons, while playing Rock 'n' Roll tenor."

Dunmall was always very committed. "Going back to when I was 12, thirty-three other people began when I did. After two years I was the only one left!  I took to the clarinet, and I worked hard.

"The group was based in Somerset. They lived on a farm, where they had rehearsal space. I went to Europe with them. The band was called Marsupilami. They had French parents. Marsupilami is a French cartoon character. We were the first band on at Glastonbury, in 1971.
"My very first tenor was a Pennsylvania, but very quickly I got a Conn 10M (with a metal Otto Linkmouthpiece), and a LeBlanc clarinet, which I bought brand new in 1968/9. I still possess it; it's been round the world with me.

Then the band folded. I came back to London, lived with my parents, and got a job making guitar strings.

In 1973 I moved to America, to join an organisation called Divine Light Mission. I was in Texas for six months, then we moved to Los Angeles. Because of the Mission I met many musicians. I did what they called 'Your Service.' I was a musician, so that was what I could give. I was playing music seven days a week, supported by the Mission. There were no days off. We played in a big band, we had arrangers; it was pretty phenomenal. The routine was that in the morning I'd do my individual practice. In the afternoon the five saxophones would get together.  In the evening we'd rehearse as a band. That's one great way of getting your chops together.

"The Mission was funded by donations. I was a full-blown member. People that had a five-day a week job would donate money to support the Mission. But that folded. It all went pear-shaped. The Mission broke down. We needed to go out and earn money. I played in Mexican bands to earn a few dollars. I ended up playing in a blues band with Johnny Guitar Watson, a very famous blues player. I was on the road with him for a year. There were only three or four States I didn't see. We had a big Greyhound bus for the band. At one point I didn't go home for three months, which was a bit gruelling, but I was only 21. I had all my John Coltrane books. I was practising all of that, and then going on stage to play the blues with Johnny Guitar Watson. I stopped working in Mexican groups when I was offered the Watson gig, which I really enjoyed and learned a lot. That was when I changed to a Conn Conqueror, 30M, a lovely saxophone.

"In 1976 we had a tour of Europe. My visa had run out, and the time had come for me to leave the States. I met my wife two weeks after I left Johnny Guitar Watson. Slowly, my face became known on the British jazz circuit. I've been around ever since.

The Saxello

"The Saxello is a Bb soprano saxophone. At the top it has a curved crook. At the other end, instead of going straight to the floor the bell is bent at a right angle. The Saxello was made by the King Company, in the middle 1920s, around 1925/26. Beuscher made a 'tipped' soprano, which was 'half-bent', if you see what I mean - tilted. That was around at the same time.  They are remaking those, but I think there is an Italian company that's calling them Saxellos. I think Saxello was a trade name, invented by the King company."


To celebrate Paul's sixtieth birthday last year, FMR Records issued a box set of 50 Paul Dunmall CDs, including a 273 page book.

John Robert Brown

Clarinet and Saxophone Magazine, Winter 2014. Used by permission.
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