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It all started and ended with an accident; IF YOU'RE looking for a local musician who has seen it all and done it all then only one man really fits the bill. That would be one of the city's best-known club entertainers - Johnny Medlock.

Byline: PETE

WE TALK about things happening for a reason and fate lending a hand. Well, one particular day when Johnny was a 12-year-old schoolboy, fate wasn't having a good day, and neither was Johnny.

While helping his father out at his Brandon workshop a heavy iron bar he was helping to hold fell and crushed eight of Johnny's fingers.

It was during a course of physiotherapy that a nurse suggested that maybe taking up a musical instrument would improve dexterity and co-ordination in his fingers.

So he began with the humble ukulele and discovered that he was a natural player and had a real ear for music.

Pretty soon his accident was a thing of the past and he became more and more interested in music.

"I was called up for the army and found a piano in the Naafi," says Johnny. "I used to go in and tinkle about on it and soon got the hang of how to play, and I got my first audience here playing for the lads, doing sing-songs for them."

Leaving the army, he would have a spell as a speedway rider with the Coventry Bees.

Music, however, was the real love of his life and, after reading an advert in the Melody Maker music paper, he got himself a job as a pianist at a holiday camp in Hayling Island, Hampshire.

Johnny would play the piano at night and became a swimming pool lifeguard by day.

His wife Rosa Rose, who was a singer, joined him at the camp.

The camp had just taken delivery of a brand new organ, but they had no-one to play it.

Johnny being Johnny, he started playing around on it and hey presto the camp got an organ player and John found his preferred instrument.

"At the end of the season," reveals Johnny, "I asked the manager if I could take the organ home with me to practise. He agreed, so I started playing it in the pubs and clubs all around Coventry and I soon felt at home in the free and easy scene.

"I quit the holiday camp, returned their organ and got one myself.

"I started playing every Sunday lunch at the Mercers Arms, and as I could play just about any song by ear, it soon became quite popular and a lot of singers on the scene came and sang with me."

In 1965, Johnny was asked to play regularly at The Cox Street Working Men's Club, and his organ-playing skills were heard by many every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

One very special person who got to hear Johnny play was the Queen when she visited the Cox Street Club during her Jubilee tour.

Johnny recalls: "We were told that the Queen was coming to Cox Street, and this would be the very first time she had stepped foot in a working men's club.

"It was decided that I would be playing the organ on her arrival. When the day came I was instructed to be ready for her when she arrived in the room.

"She was a little late, so to pass the time I just started playing. I always remember that I was playing the song, You Came Along from Out of Nowhere, and lo and behold in she came!

"She smiled at me and apologised for being late. Without stopping, I just raised my thumb a nodded thanks and off she went."

Johnny was one of those musicians who always put bums on seats.

Take his Ryton Bridge Hotel Sunday afternoon residency (with drummer Alan Parsons).

Regulars knew that if they arrived after 12.30pm they would be unable to get a seat.

Many of the city's best-known singers have been more than happy to perform with Johnny, among them bassman John Pears, Jerry West, Bernard Clarke, Colin Scott, Ron Pearson, Jim Baron, Angel Carn, Pat Tallon, and Coventry's own "Frank Sinatra", Don Walker.

Our story began with an accident that would start John's career' tragically it was an accident that ended his playing career too.

While helping a friend put up a garden fence, the rammer his friend was using took Johnny's thumb virtually off his hand and put paid to his organ-playing days.

Johnny, now aged 79, lives in retirement with his wife Rose. "I have had a great career, but above it all is my love for live music," he said.

"I've even been known to play for free rather than letting a pub succumb to the dreaded disco. I still and always will support live music.

"I still go to see as many live gigs as I possibly can. I feel it's very important that we help new and budding musicians along the way and, above all, keep music live!"

I am indebted to Peter Stanton and Ben Suckling, two good friends of Johnny, who were good enough to help with the information in this article.

DO YOU REMEMBER ANY TOP 50s or 60s LOCAL GROUPS...?

Write to Backbeat at the Telegraph, Corporation Street, Coventry CV1 1FP or e-mail features@coventry-telegraph.co.uk

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BEEN THERE, DONE THAT... Stalwart of the Coventry club scene, Johnny Medlock.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 3, 2006
Words:863
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