Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Book Facts - just the stats

Kindle - 52
Print - 10, and most were childrens books

By men - 26
By women - 33
By both - 3

By the years:

1890s - 1
1900-09 - 2
1920s - 2
1940s - 7
1950s - 6
1960s - 1
1980s - 2
1990s - 1
2010-19 - 28
2020s - 12

2021 Book Facts - the rest of the list

 I read 10 fiction books this year.

The first I read was The Swiss Summer which I wrote a bit about here. I am currently reading a second book by Stella Gibbons, and am just as happy with it. Thanks again to the Dean Street Press for publishing these wonderful works by women whom most of us have not heard of. I also read three by Molly Clavering. You may read about her here.

I read three works of Japanese literature that I thought so original, so different from anything I have read before. 

I thought The Bishop's Wife by Robert Nathan to be quite odd, not anywhere near as good as the movie!

I wrote about the Boy... by Charlie Mackesy here. Not impressed.

The other fiction was the prequel James Runcie wrote - the prequel to the Grantchester mysteries, called The Road To Grantchester. It was excellent.

Only 3 non-fiction but all of them were utter gems! The Splendid and The Vile, Citizens of London, and A Child's Christmas in Wales. 

8 children's books. Most were so-so but Cynthia Rylant's The Old Woman Who Named Things and The Railway Children by Edith Nesbitt were wonderful.

1 mystery thriller still scares me to think of it.

1 book of poetry - A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman. I was sure I would love it, but I didn't. I loved some lines but was not interested in much of it. 

I'll save the stats for another post.

2021 Book Facts - the mystery edition

In 2021 I read 62 books, of which 39 were mysteries.

Finished the Harriette Ashbook series that I raved about last year.

Read two more E.C.R. Lorac books. Not sure if I have read all the ones available, but will check.

Read the latest in the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey. I see there will be a new one next year.

Read the first two in the Mydworth series by Matthew Costello and Neil Richards, and really enjoyed them! I want to read more this year. I claim to not like "historical" mysteries or fiction but yet I seem to read and like a lot of it! 

Another new series I like is the Heathcliff Lennox series by Karen Baugh Menuhin. And yes, you are right in wondering if she is related to Yehudi Menuhin. Her husband is his son. The author has a great website here.

I do like the Inspector Knollis books by Francis Vivian from the 1940s and 50s. In both this series and the mysteries by the Radfords, E. and M.A., there isn't personal information. The detectives just get on with solving cases and they are brilliant at it. No family life, no feelings - just the facts which can be very soothing! Another old book is by Christopher Bush, The Plumley Inheritance, first book in the Ludovic Travers series. This has been out of print for ages and is published by the wonderful, wonderful Dean Street Press. There are a whole lot more available! 

For some reason I haven't been able to figure out, I never watched the Grantchester series on PBS. When I heard the new season was coming up, I had my own little TV marathon, and watched them all. Years ago, I read the first two books in James Runcie's series. My little reports on them are here. Since it had been (gulp) seven years, I decided to read them again and then continue with the others. There was a treat in that he wrote a prequel published in 2019, so I read it first and then the rest of the books. I was in reading heaven within the pages of these books. If you have only read the books or watched the television version, they are very, very different. Both are extremely enjoyable but not the same.

And to end my year in mysteries, I read the latest entries in Karen MacInnery's Snug Harbor series; Harriet Steel's Inspector de Silva series; and Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series. I have written about the Whitstable Pearl series by Julie Wassmer. I just love them. Jack Murray's Kit Aston series (another historical mystery) is very appealing. I read the first and have more ahead of me. Last but definitely not least, are three books in the Devonshire series by Michael Campling with a different and interesting pair of amateur sleuths. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

My Year in Books - 2021

I saw this here, and I thought what a fun thing to do. And it was!

My Year in Books 2021.

How do you feel?  The Old Woman Who Named Things

Describe where you currently live:  On -  A High Wire in Nuala

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  A Child's Christmas in Wales

Your favorite form of transportation:  The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse - the last named

Your best friend is: Dear Hugo

You and your friends are: The Railway Children

What's the weather like?  The Splendid and the Vile

You fear: the Valley of Lies

What is the best advice you have to give?  "Murder Isn't Cricket"

Thought for the day:  Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love

How would I like to die?  Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (23rd Psalm)

My soul's present condition:  (and again) A High Wire in Nuala

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas!

 I want to thank my most loyal and kind readers. I love it that you are always there even when I rarely do a blog post. I am so hoping for, as The Kinks say, better things in the coming year. So here is our 2021 Christmas card for you. It may not have come through the mail but it is just as heartfelt.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Monday, December 20, 2021

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas 1984

1984. Look at all those young faces! There is a list of the performers here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Amy Grant: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

A little Amy Grant for your Christmastime listening pleasure.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas


Each year I bring out this dear little book with all the other Christmas books. I don't think I have ever read it in its entirety until now. Most people seem to catagorize it as "prose poetry". Whatever it is called, I loved it so much, and I find myself admiring the film version even more because it is very true to Thomas' words. I've written about the movie here, if you would like to read it.

I had forgotten that I gave it to my mother.

It clutches at my heart and makes me cry - the way she wrote "my Nan". She died three years later.

Two years earlier, Tom had given her this album on the first Christmas after my father died.

I heard her play "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" a lot, and I think it was a comfort to her. There's a line "Though Lovers Be Lost, Love Shall Not". Deep fellow that Mr. Thomas.

And that depth comes through in "A Child's Christmas in Wales". His words convey so much feeling. He writes of "the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep". Do we all hear those voices?  Of our long-dead parents or grandparents? And we never can remember because we fall into sleep right afterward? 

The heartfelt parts are balanced by the humorous remembrances like Miss Protheroe asking firemen who have been fighting a fire in the house, "Would you like anything to read?"

Thomas offers litanies of "useful presents" - "engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths" and "useless presents" - "bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies" and "a tram-conductor's cap and machine that punched tickets". "And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it."

After an adventure outdoors with friends, they "returned home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us..."

If you type his name into the blog's search, you will find more by Dylan Thomas, including the words that end both this book and the movie;

"Looking through my bedroom window, out into
the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,
I could see the lights in the windows
of all the other houses on our hill and hear
the music rising from them up the long, steadily
falling night. I turned the gas down, I got 
into bed. I said some words to the close and
holy darkness, and then I slept."

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Blow, blow thou winter wind (When Icicles Hang) - John Rutter, Cambridge...

The album cover shown is not where I know this song from. I have it on Candlelight: Seasonal Reflections and Celebrations. Such a beautiful song for the season. There are some notes in the "heigh-ho" verse that make me think of the Call The Midwife theme. The title comes from a Shakespeare poem in Love's Labor's Lost.

When Icicles Hang: 1V. Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind by John Rutter 

Blow, blow thou winter wind,
Blow, blow thou winter wind, 
Thou art not so unkind, 
As man's ingratitude, 
As man's ingratitude, 

Thy tooth is not so keen, 
Because thou art not seen, 
Although thy breath be rude, 
Although thy breath be rude, 

Heigh-ho! Sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly; 
Most friendship is feinging, most loving mere folly:
Then heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly. 

Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky, 
Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky, 
That does not bite so nigh 
As benefits forgot, 
As benefits forgot, 

Thou the waters warp, 
Thou sting is not so sharp 
As friend remembered not 
As friend remembered not

Heigh-ho! Sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly; 
Most friendship is feinging, most loving mere folly: 
Then heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly.


Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Calendar of Crime 2022

I have been very slowly getting back into blogging more often. And what better way to keep myself going in this endeavo(u)r than to join a challenge. I am excited to participate in this one, offered by My Reader's Block. I am going to copy out the details here. I almost always have a mystery going so it isn't a "challenge" in the real use of the word, but it is a way to participate in the community of readers.


Calendar of Crime 2022


photo credit: Ellery Queen's Calendar of
Crime (Signet edition)

Ready for another year of mysterious months and dangerous days? I'm pleased to sponsor the 2022 edition of the Calendar of Crime--with slight variations in the prompts. Just a reminder that this mystery-based challenge allows readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy/etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2022. 

A larger version of the spreadsheet may be found HERE. Click on the 2022 tab at bottom.
The Rules
~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2022. All books should be read during this time period. Sign up at any time. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge. Then sign up via the form below and please make the url link to your challenge post and not your home page. If you don't have a blog, links to an online list (Goodreads, Library Thing, etc.) devoted to this challenge are acceptable OR you may skip that question.

~All books must be mysteries. Humor, romance, supernatural elements (etc.) are all welcome, but the books must be mysteries/crime/detective novels first.

~Twelve books, one representing each month, are required for a complete challenge.

~To claim a book, it must fit one of the categories for the month you wish to fulfill. Unless otherwise specified, the category is fulfilled within the actual story. for instance, if you are claiming the book for December and want to use "Christmas" as the category, then Christmas figure in some in the plot. Did someone poison the plum pudding? Did Great-Uncle Whozit invite all the family home for Christmas so he could tell them he plans to change his will?

~The "wild card" book is exactly that. If July is your birth month (as mine is), then for category #9 you may read any mystery book you want. It does not have to connect with July in any way--other than a July baby chose it. The other eleven months, you must do the alternate category #9 if you want to fulfill that slot.

~Books may only count for one month and one category, but they may count for other challenges (such as my Vintage Scattergories Challenge). If it could fulfill more than one category or month, then you are welcome to change it at any time prior to the final wrap-up.

~Books do not have to be read during the month for which they qualify. So--if you're feeling like a little "Christmas in July" (or May or...), then feel free to read your book for December whenever the mood strikes.

~A wrap-up post/comment/email will be requested that should include a list of books read and what category they fulfilled. [Example: January: The House of Sudden Sleep by John Hawk (original pub date January 1930)]

~The headquarters link in the left-hand sidebar will be updated in January for 2020 for easy access to this original challenge post, monthly review link-ups, and the final wrap-up. The final wrap-up link will not go live until the end of 2020, so please save your notification until that time. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

The costume

So here's our beloved Hazel in her Hallowe'en costume. I had never heard of The Mandalorian until she told us about it. You may read more here, if you are interested. She is wild about the show. Already the talk is about boys' and girls' clothing. Someone told her The Mandalorian was for boys. She doesn't care. She loves it! Today is the Trunk or Treat where parents park their cars and decorate them for Hallowe'en, and the little kids go from car to car for treats. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Back by popular demand

Margaret didn't really plan on having a Hallowe'en party this year, but people asked and she did! Last year's party is here.

It was another warm evening. We haven't even had a frost yet! Unheard of around here. But it has meant that the lovely autumn has gone on for a longer time. 

The kids and parents were down the hill until it got dark and then they made their way along the trail to our house. There were even more creepy delights than last year.

This one probably wins the creepiness award! Tom moved the tractor down into the field so the spider would have a home. There were battery candles that lit up at night.

And here is a closeup.

The "graves" were made of styrofoam.

There were lights along the road to brighten the path.

The two last pictures were taken as I walked down the hill, not up to our house. Margaret's driveway is to the left by the orange maple tree.

When the kids arrived at our house this is what they found.

Some views of the path after dark

It was a spooky, magical, and wonderful time! Again, we are so very lucky to be a part of it. Many people thanked us and I told them this is all Margaret and Matthew and Hazel. Year two of putting together a great party. One of the mothers took a picture of all the kids and put it on Instagram with the words, "Best Halloweeen Party Ever".

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Today's poem - An old nursery rhyme

 One For Sorrow (Two For Joy) is an old English nursery rhyme.

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told!
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.

The rhyme is referring to magpies, but I use it for "our" crows. I'll say, "one for sorrow" is here, which rarely happens. Just now there were "seven for a secret". And I got this picture out the front door window when there were "four for a boy" and one is starting to fly off.

I think I knew this rhyme before Anthony Horowitz'
Magpie Murders, but maybe not. And, in case you haven't heard, it is going to be on PBS next year! 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Today's song - This Happy Madness - Stacey Kent

I've been hearing this lately on a jazz station I listen to, and thought I'd share it. Stacey Kent is one of my very favorites, and I have been buying her albums for years. In the early days of the blog, I offered a Stacey Kent week. Of course hardly anyone read my blog in those days, let alone commented!     

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Mashed potatoes and shallots/New to me guacamole recipe

This is a recipe from a woman whose blog I used to read and enjoy. And then she just stopped. Happily, it is still on the internet. 

I went to my blog to find the exact recipe, and I don't have it under "recipes". I did find it here and decided I'd post it so I could have it in my recipe list. 

This is Tara's blog. The last entry was in 2010. A lot of the people whose blogs I follow commented, and if any one of you knows anything about her since that time, - like a new blog somewhere? - I'd love to know.

So, back to the recipe.

Chop up shallots, as many as you need. It will depend on how many mashed potatoes you are making. 

Sauté in butter and olive oil (you choose portions of each) until well-done, even crispy.

Cook potatoes until soft, and mash with butter and salt.

Add shallots and mix in well.

Serve. Yum!

I also made guacamole from a recipe a friend gave me recently. 

Put 2 avocados through food processor. This didn't make them completely smooth, but were just right.

Chop shallots very finely and add to avocados. Squeeze half a lemon and strain juice into mixture.

That's it! And it was very good. I'm not an eater of raw onions, but this was alright. Shallots aren't as sharp a taste as onions can be. But the next time, I might try sautéing them a bit. I have no idea how it would turn out, but worth a try.

I used to post to Weekend Cooking, but I haven't been allowed to in ages. 

Addendum: It worked this time! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Quote du jour / Philip Larkin

Today at 3:21 pm Eastern time the sun goes into Libra, beginning the autumn season.

I came across this quote today and thought it perfect for the blowsy, over-stayed-its-welcome cleome! It looks so out of place amongst all the autumnal colors around these days. Unbelievably, we haven't had a frost yet!

Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.
Philip Larkin (1922-86)

That pink just doesn't fit! 😂

Monday, September 20, 2021

Past times


I have lately been watching a program which is on Britbox - Bergerac. I'm sure all my English friends will know the series. The other evening as Jim pulled up to the gas pumps to have his car filled with gasoline, I got to thinking about what I enjoy about the older shows.

No cell phones
Airplanes with outdoor steps on and off the plane
And the thing I probably miss the most - gas stations that pumped your gas.

I will easily admit that I have never filled up my own car. I hate the smell. I didn't want any residue on my hands. I hate the crowds, with cars always lined up behind you. I wonder is it just my age or do older people pump their own gas?

Even in my children's childhoods, we went to the gas (also known here as service) station. They put gas in the tank, cleaned the windshield [they even kept bottles of washer fluid on the shelves with customers' names on them], added washer fluid when needed, checked the tire pressure and all the while chatting with John at the town gas station named for his father and another fellow who had it before him. 

John and I were light years apart politically but it didn't matter a bit. He was kind to my kids, he was a booster for all the sports teams in town, we loved the Red Sox, and I liked hearing him talk about his favorite band Credence Clearwater Revival. He was full of local stories he knew from living in this little town his whole life. 

We have lost something special in pumping our own gas, We've lost connection and personal service, and even friendship. It makes me ache with longing for such a simple thing that we all took for granted.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Two CSAs

You may know that I have been buying flowers from a local flower farmer for several years. Under "letter topics" there is a Flower CSA, and my first post was June 29, 2016.  The idea of a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, is to provide money upfront for the farmer to use. 

As may be obvious, I haven't posted as much this year, and the CSA postings have been non-existent. I am going to try and remedy that situation now, in one long posting of the glorious flowers I have enjoyed.

This batch is from another farm that started in the past few years. She grows flowers, and she bakes. Her wares are available at the local farmers' market. This is her first year of offering a CSA, and I was delighted with the spring blooms. Not only are the flowers wonderful, but I love the brown paper "tied up with strings" (The Sound of Music). 

April 28

May 5

May 12

May 19

And this year's weekly flowers from the original woman. We have rather a lot of women farmers in a few local towns. Most of them are relatively new, and they have been such a wonderful addition to our communities. 

August 4 

August 11 and 18

I couldn't load because my camera was set on "live" - won't do that again!

August 25

September 1

September 8

And there we are. Weeks and weeks of such beauty! 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Quote du jour / Robert Finch

"But now in September the garden has cooled, and with it my possessiveness. The sun warms my back instead of beating on my head ... The harvest has dwindled, and I have grown apart from the intense midsummer relationship that brought it on."

-  Robert Finch 

I am quite sure this is the man the quote is attributed to.

It is so perfect, to me. This is exactly how we feel just now. The garden is pretty much over except for the glorious hollyhocks that just keep on comin', the sedum, and the ox-eye daisies in the blog header photograph. 

"Possessiveness". Isn't that just a perfect word for how we gardeners feel? We are trying to get it to look good and produce good vegetables. And now we can let it go. The season is over and all that happens now is cleanup and moving some plants around. The sun is not "beating on my head" anymore. 

And I love that phrase - "intense midsummer relationship". He isn't talking about "midsummer" in the British form. It is the actual middle of the summer, and for us that is pretty much July into August. And now we are in the last month of summer, with fall coming at 3:21 pm Eastern time on the 22nd. 

I took a little walk down the road to the mailbox today, and I thought to myself that these September days may be my very favorites of the year. Not only has the garden cooled but so has the air. There are no bugs, and there is an ease about life.

And some of that ease comes from the fact that Tom's mother is leaving the evaluation facility, and going back to where she was - in assisted living. The place also has a spot in memory care, should she need to go there. Not as close to us, but really only 90 minutes away, and Tom's sisters are only 45 minutes away. So we are all breathing a sigh of relief.

And, as I jotted down the quote, I had a vague feeling of having posted it before and by golly I did! You may find the post here if you are interested. I haven't changed a whole lot since 2007. 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Whitstable Pearl Series by Julie Wassmer

The past few months have been a strain at Windy Poplars Farm. 

Tom's 93-year-old mother has had increasing signs of dementia, and is currently in a hospital where they are evaluating what is going on. From there we are expecting a move to a mental care facility and we hope it will be a place that is five minutes away from us. There have been a few times when his mother has expressed interest in moving up here - to independent living, and later to assisted living -  but every time it didn't work out. 

Our son Michael and his wife, Estée have separated. It has mostly been harmonious, but it is still one of those big changes that are very stressful and worrisome. They are now both settled into rental houses in the same town. They are, without any court intervention, sharing custody of Campbell and Indy. The kids seem to be doing alright, even well. Maybe at six and seven they are able to grasp that their parents are happier apart; better friends and parents not living together. As you may guess we, and Margaret have been very involved in this whole process. The kids have been up here a lot, which is good for all of us. I have a blog post planned with summer fun pictures.

With two big emotional situations in our lives, there haven't been many minutes to read during the day, and in the evening I just want to settle into one of the wonderful television shows available or an old, much-loved DVD. So almost all my reading has been bedtime, or early morning reading in bed, which means the Kindle. 

A few months ago, Acorn TV offered a new detective series called Whitstable Pearl. I enjoyed it, and naturally bought the first book in the series. As is so often true, the books are very different and offer a much more in-depth story and character development than television. This is not to say that the book is always better. I could barely read the Inspector Morse books, but I adore the television production and actually think it is much better! 

I expect I am not alone in being a foreigner who did not know that Whitstable is a real town. Look to the right - on the coast, and almost even with London on the map.

You can see loads of photographs here. It really sounds beautiful, though Julie Wassmer, the author of the books makes it clear that there are the usual problems with vacation destinations. The DFL, Down From Londoners, buy up property and use it occasionally, while the rest of the time they rent it out. These rents are mostly too high for the locals, and young people can't afford to live in the town they grew up in. Whitstable seems to have been able to avoid one of the downfalls of popularity and that is that their stores are less national names than local, independently owned. The author does an excellent job of portraying the landscape, the businesses, the public lands. 

I had the supreme reader's joy of reading the eight available books in the series, one right after the other. I so love finding a new-to-me author and doing this. The main character is Pearl who owns a restaurant called Whitstable Pearl which offers local seafood. She is a single mother whose son is now going to college in nearby Canterbury. This city is also described beautifully. Pearl's mother is a widow, quite alternative in her thinking (a bit like this reader), and very flamboyant in her choice of clothes and haircolors (not a bit like me there!). There are other characters who appear in many of the books, and then new ones who are introduced in each new murder case.

When Pearl was young she began going to school to become a police officer. She became pregnant with the love of her life (who by then had moved away), and had to leave. She isn't the kind to look back with regret. She has made a wonderful life for herself and her son. After her son leaves for college, she starts her own detective agency. She has a real gift for the work. She is one of those rare characters - a woman who is contented, self-assured, and quite genuinely happy.

I love this series and look forward to next year's offering.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

A wonderful dog tale

Yesterday afternoon we were standing around the kitchen - Tom, Margaret, Hazel, Campbell, Indy, and I - when a police car drove up. This has happened a few times in our 40 years in this house. My heart always goes into my throat fearing for my kids. This time I wasn't concerned because Michael is in another town, and Margaret was right here! But I still needed to go out and see what was going on. The man asked, "Do you have a Pug?" I told him no, but my daughter does, and then I asked if she were dead. He said, "No, he's (he didn't know the gender) in the car!" Margaret was out the door by then, and we walked over and got the whole story. 

Seems a couple of out-of-staters were driving past our road and saw Piglet walking kind of in circles at the bottom of our dirt road which spills onto a busy, tarred state road. They stopped and picked her up and brought her to the police station. The police then drove over here. We were all so very grateful, and amazed. We talked for a long time about the wonder of this. How kind the people were to take the time to bring her to the police, and for the police to bring her back home. There were two of them, a man and a woman with the biggest smiles, probably in their twenties. Just the kindest, dearest police you've ever seen. I wish they could make the national news!

Margaret checked the town page on Facebook and the police had posted a picture of Piggie - (and here comes a bad pun) a "Pug shot", telling the story of where she was found and to get in touch with the police.

This is not the first time Miss Piggie has gotten into trouble. Another day a fellow drove into Margaret's yard, having picked up her up also at the bottom of our road. Again, such kindness.

And here's the thing. Piglet is not young. In fact she turned 14 this year! She can't see or hear very well, but she sure gets around. Here is a picture of her when she was a wee one. Less than a month after Margaret and Matthew got together they brought home this adorable Pug. I've often told people that you know it is true love when a couple gets a dog. 

And this is her a couple years ago. You'll notice the chair does not say her name.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Death of Charlie Watts


Charlie Watts: a rock’n’roll legend whose true love was jazz

He may have backed the world’s most successful rock band, but the late drummer worshipped his jazz heroes through big bands and other projects

Charlie Watts playing with his jazz band at Ronnie Scott’s, London, 1985.
The fulfilment of a childhood dream ... Charlie Watts playing with his jazz band at Ronnie Scott’s, London, 1985. Photograph: Alan Davidson/Rex/Shutterstock
Richard Williams

Everyone knew that Charlie Watts’s heart was always in jazz. Even when he grew his hair long and put on hippie garb while the Rolling Stones were going through their Satanic Majesties period, underneath he was still the cool bebopper who could see through the nonsense that surrounded his group and the rampaging egos at its heart.

Wisely, he never let his true musical allegiance show in his playing with the Stones. When they recruited him from Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in January 1963, not long after he’d been serving an apprenticeship with trad jazz bands, he listened to the records of Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters in order to absorb the way that master Chicago blues drummers such as Earl Phillips, Fred Below and Elgin Evans kept things simple, soon appreciating that simplicity is often the hardest thing of all to achieve.

His personal adaptation of their discreet approach, concentrating on a firm backbeat and avoiding any form of decoration, turned out to be perfect for the Stones as the volume rose and the venues grew in size, but it could hardly have been further from the styles of the great modern jazz drummers he had grown up worshipping. The likes of Max RoachArt Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones had freed the drum kit from its subordinate role, enabling them to become full participants in the music, adding a running commentary to the improvisations of horn players such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, sometimes even as an equal partner.

Growing up in a postwar prefab in Wembley, Watts had saved money to buy 78s by Jelly Roll Morton and Johnny Dodds, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. When he was given his own first full kit, after getting a start by dismantling a banjo to use the body and the vellum as a makeshift drum, he painted the name “Chico” on the front head of what was known in those days as the bass drum. This was a homage to Chico Hamilton, a Los Angeles drummer who had played in a famous quartet with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker in the early 1950s before launching his own adventurous quintet, which enjoyed a vogue at the end of that decade and appeared on screen in the 1957 movie Sweet Smell of Success.

Never ashamed of his tendency towards hero-worship, Watts showed his colours in his first act of independent creativity. Ode to a Highflying Bird, published in 1964, when the Stones were hitting No 1 in the UK charts with It’s All Over Now and Little Red Rooster, was a slender volume of words and cartoons in which he used his skills as a trained graphic artist to illustrate the story of Parker (whom he later covered with his quintet), charmingly rendered as a kind of children’s fable.

His soulmate in the earliest incarnation of the Stones had been Ian Stewart, a piano player who loved boogie-woogie and other forms of jazz but who was soon eased out of the performing lineup on account of his looks and persuaded to take over the job of road manager instead. In the late 70s Watts moonlighted with Stewart in Rocket 88, a boogie and jump-blues band whose shifting lineup included guests such as Chris Farlowe, Zoot Money and Jack Bruce.

Always finding jazz clubs more congenial than the stadiums the Stones were now playing, in 1985 he filled the stage at Ronnie Scott’s with a 32-piece big band drawn from the cream of London’s jazz musicians. An extraordinarily eclectic lineup ranged from bop-era veterans to Courtney Pine, an unknown 21-year-old at the start of his career, who sat alongside his fellow tenor saxophonists Danny Moss, Bobby Wellins, Don Weller and Alan Skidmore. Jack Bruce played cello – his first instrument – and Stan Tracey was on piano. Watts sat happily at his kit between two other drummers, the older Bill Eyden and the younger John Stevens, as they played arrangements of classics such as Lester Leaps In, Stompin’ at the Savoy and Prelude to a Kiss. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were in the house to cheer what Watts called the fulfilment of a childhood dream.

He was able to subsidise the project, which toured the US the following year, from his earnings as a Stone. In later years he took advantage of the band’s substantial downtime to return to Ronnie Scott’s and other venues with groups of more modest size and to record in 1996 a beautiful album of standards, Long Ago and Far Away, played by his quintet, a small orchestra and the singer Bernard Fowler. These warm, relaxed versions of songs such as Stairway to the Stars and In a Sentimental Mood, with Watts’s presence registered only by the gentle background rustle of wire brushes, were about as far from Sympathy for the Devil and Street Fighting Man as it is possible for music to get, but they were clearly heartfelt.

He was never patronising about the music he played with his fellow Stones but his long and loyal friendships with other jazz musicians, such as the saxophonist Peter King and the bassist Dave Green, whom he had known since childhood, were of great importance to him. Another close friend was the American drummer Jim Keltner, with whom he recorded a percussion-based album in 2000, again between Stones tours. Each of the record’s nine tracks took its title from the names of the drummers he idolised: Roach, Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes and so on. Yet again he was paying unforced and deeply felt tribute to the musicians who had enriched his life, as he, in a different register, enriched the lives of others.