If you’re looking for a local musician that’s seen it all and done it all then only one man really fits the bill. That would be one of the city’s most well-known club entertainers Johnny Medlock.
We talk about some things happen for a reason and fate lending a hand. Well one particular day when Johnny was a twelve-year-old schoolboy, fate wasn’t having a good day, and neither would Johnny. Whilst 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 NAFFI, “says John, ”I used to go in a 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 in a Hayling Island holiday camp. 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, John being John started playing around on it and hey presto the camp got an organ player and John found his most preferred instrument. “At the end of the season” reveals John “I asked the manager if I could take the organ home with me to practice. 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, so I quit the holiday camp and 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 Workingman’s Club, 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 Her Majesty The Queen when she visited the Cox St Club during her Jubilee tour. Johnny remembers it like this, ”We were told that the Queen was coming to Cox St, and this would be the very first time she had stepped foot into a Workingman’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 into 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 low and behold in she came! She smiled at me and apologised being late without stopping I just raised my thumb a nodded thanks and off she went”.
Johnny was one of those musicians that always put bums on seats, take his Ryton Bridge Hotel Sunday afternoon residency (with drummer Alan Parsons), regulars always knew that arriving after 12.30 pm would render you unable to get a seat. Many of the city’s best-known singers have been more than happy to perform with John, names like 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. Whilst helping a friend erect a garden fence, the rammer his friend was using took Johnny’s Thumb virtually off his hand and out pay to his organ-playing days. Johnny now 79 lives in retirement with his wife Rose, “I have had a great career, but above it all is my love for live music, I’ve even be 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 and see many live gigs as I possibly can, I feel it’s very important we help new and budding musicians along the way and above all keep music live!”
Johnny Medlock Trivia
- During his days at playing at The Bantam pub in Hen Lane, Johnny often accompanied a young singer by the name of Vince Hill!
- 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.
- Johnny’s wife Rose was a professional singer known as Rosa Rose, she too has sang with Vince Hill and many other artists including of course her Husband Johnny.
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