BACK FROM 2006
The first time that elements of "Free Spirit" came together
was during the mid 50, when Terry Fleetwood, Ian Hunter and myself, Alan
Jones, were students at Worcester College for the Blind, in the city of
Worcester, U.K. This was a boarding school for boys between the ages of
11 to 18, with varying degrees of site loss, from total to those who could
read print with some visual aid. The College gave us a first rate education,
with Braille as the essential learning medium, and music, mainly piano,
as an optional program. I had come from my previous school in Newcastle,
equipped with some classical piano training, but when encountering braille
music, which cannot be read and played at the same time, my frustration
caused me to divert to play by ear and instinct, discovering Blues and
pounding out Boogie woogie on whatever pianos were available.
Terry and Ian were discovering music in the same way,
with participation in the somewhat rudimentary college band providing the
main focus. Career alternatives were, and still are, very limited for the
visually impaired, and on leaving WCB. all three of us chose physiotherapy
as the best option open to us, and this again brought us to the same students'
residence in London for physio training around 1960. Here, I took up the
Tenor Sax, joining our student jazz band, introducing me to swing and modern
jazz arrangements. A short interview and recording for an Australian radio
station was probably the highlight for this group. Occasional employment
playing Pub piano, plus visits to listen to music at the Skiffle Cellar
and Jazz clubs, added to my musical education while in London.
Meanwhile, Messers. Fleetwood and Hunter formed an R &
B group, specialising in Stones, and Beatles music, which continued on
after their graduation, to become quite successful, playing multiple Club
contracts, and at many interesting venues such as Chiselhurst Caves, and
their own Nightclub in the London's Theatre district. They were also offered
a contract to do a tour of the Armed Forces bases in Europe, but instead,
chose to reject what some would have considered major career moves for
musicians, in favour of their Hospital work and families.
Following a series of extraordinary coincidences, my Physiotherapy
career propelled me as a landed immigrant to Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
in May 1963. On seeking musical contacts through the local Barbershop Chorus,
I was lucky enough to team up with two other outstanding members of "Free
Spirit", Ken Blair and Bill Hillman, adding piano and sax to their trio
of guitars and drums. Serving up Country and Western and Bill's current
Rock guitar music at rural dance halls was yet another new and fun experience
for me, despite encountering some wonderfully out-of-tune pianos, and providing
a sitting target for the local moth and mosquito population. The band broke
up when Bill and Ken quit to pursue their teaching careers.
Ken and I did get together later as part of a trio playing
a regular weekend gig at one of Brandon's hotel lounges. Our third member
added accordion and a Ukrainian flavour to the musical mix. Unfortunately,
due to the generosity of the patrons who provided us with far more beer
than we could ever drink, We fell afoul of the bizarre liquor regulations
in place at that time, which allowed no more than one glass of beer or
liquor in front a person at any time. Since the inspector caught us with
as many as 20 glasses lined up on the piano, our further "dry" participation
at the lounge was short-lived.
By 1966, I had assumed a Charge position at the hospital
with responsibility for recruiting Therapists to staff our expanding department.
Since Canadian-trained Therapists were in short supply in those days, I
turned to my known colleagues in the U.K. to help out. Terry Fleetwood
was the first "Free Spirit" member to land in Brandon in June 1966, Ian
Hunter joined us two years later. Both guys brought good PT experience
and a wealth of musical talent with them.
With Terry's arrival, a trio with Ken Blair soon evolved,
and we gradually became well known around Brandon and area as "The Three
and Easy." Ian's eventual arrival completed a very versatile quartet, with
Terry and Ian the talented showmen, and Ken and I contributing the basic
driving foundation. Our main line-up was Fleetwood bass guitar and vocals,
Blair guitar, Hunter drums and Jones organ. Terry could also double on
drums or organ allowing Ian or I to play Tenor sax. Ken would also double
on bass and provide occasional lead or back-up vocals. Terry could also
breathe a mean blues harp, and most of these talents did come to the fore
on the Free Spirit album, (esp. Estevan Coal Train) and enabled
us to provide music suitable for anything from school grads or parties
to dinner dances, and Officers' club functions at the nearby Canadian Forces
bases - not to mention Ukrainian weddings!
Loading up our equipment trailer with Hammond organ, drums,
amplifiers, etc. at the end of each working week for months on end, The
"Three and Easy" ventured forth to play venues anywhere within a 100 mile
radius of Brandon. Ken was our only driver, so be it 30 degrees below zero
in the winter snow, or 90 above through crashing prairie thunder storms
in the Summer, Ken never once failed to reach our destination, often not
returning home ‘till after three in the morning. A close, well-knit musical
group was the result, which enjoyed considerable success and was a source
of great friendships which endure to today.
In the early 1970s, Ken and I were the first to tire,
phasing out of the group to try our hand at song writing. Terry and Ian
recruited a new keyboard player, Roy Edwards, and their trio continued
to enjoy success, garnering their own regular weekly show on local Television,
as well as an FM radio series.
Meanwhile, Bill Hillman and multi-talented wife, Sue-On,
were similarly occupied climbing higher and travelling even farther with
their unique Country & Western combo than we had done. They were also
delving in to recording their music, with Bill being a prolific song writer.
Once Ken and I had put together enough songs to complete
an album, our former "Three and Easy" colleagues and the Hillmans, generously
offered their considerable talents towards the recording. All had busy
work and music commitments, so time was short. Once the basic rhythm tracks
were laid down, everyone had on-the-spot input towards the mix, and almost
before we realised it, it was done!
And so "Free Spirit" blossomed forth. Bill and Sue-On's
experience and knowledge of the recording industry was a crucial ingredient
in the successful final product which you now see before you, in all it's
vintage glory! We all sincerely hope that these tracks bring as much enjoyment
to you who download them, as they brought to us in their production. In
making them available, as COMPLETELY FREE DOWNLOADS, "Free Spirit" lives
Following the completion of the recording, little
was done to promote the album, although one or two songs did receive some
The Hillmans carried on their dynamic way, as evidenced
in their excellent web site: www.HillmanWeb.com
Ken Blair continued his work as a school teacher
in the Brandon area until his retirement. Thanks to modern digital technology,
Ken is back to the enjoyment and challenge of recording. Having added keyboard
playing to his guitar prowess, he is aranging and producing CDs from his
basement studio, with friends, the Van Makelberghs, contributing vocal
and drums for mainly country and western songs. Ken continues to live in
Brandon with his wife, Peggy.
By 1977, the three remaining "Free Spirit" members had
left Brandon, going their separate ways heading west. This was precipitated
by the amalgamation of Brandon's two hospitals and consequent upheaval,
establishing a pattern of adversarial wrangling and over-administration
which has mushroomed throughout the Canadian hospital system ever since.
Terry Fleetwood took on a charge position, reorganising
the physiotherapy services at a senior citizens' complex in Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan, carrying out some leading work in quality assurance. Here,
Terry's life took a radical change in direction, moving from physiotherapy
to Christian Ministry, eventually becoming Pastor of his local church.
His talents continued to be put to good use in music ministry, in singing,
keyboard playing and arranging as part of a gospel quartet who were welcomed
at many venues around Saskatchewan. Terry's wife, Lita, son, Leslie and
daughter, Angela, all with fine singing voices,
also became part of the music ministry, combining with
him on a crusade to Mexico as well as making numerous appearances throughout
his home province.
In 1992, Terry left the harsher climate of the Prairies
for the more temporate and beautiful Victoria, BC. Re-establishing himself
in physiotherapy, he worked briefly helping in my practice, before gaining
a position as physiotherapist, counsellor with pastoral duties in a retirement
home in Victoria. He is now semi-retired, living with his wife in Victoria.
He plans to do some writing, and soon to establish his own web site.
Ian Hunter left Brandon in 1975 to take a position
in charge of physiotherapy services at the Sechelt hospital north of Vancouver,
British Columbia, later opening his own private clinic. He also made his
mark on the local music scene playing regularly at functions on the Sunshine
coast of BC. With his highly professional rhythm and sax-playing ability,
plus some keyboard and vocal talent, Ian was a musician from head to toe.
A victim of cancer, his productive life was cut short in 1991, leaving
behind wife, Christine, and children Jonathan and Naomi, plus the loss
of a valued friend and component of the "Free Spirit" group.
Prior to leaving Brandon in 1977, my music involvement
continued playing in a trio for occasional functions with Ken Blair and
George Van Makelbergh on bass. A hectic six week jaunt to England with
the Hillman combo was my musical highlight of 1976. Tourists by day, and
entertainers at night, we travelled throughout my native northeast. Centred
in Middlesborough, we played at clubs almost seven nights a week for over
a month sharing billings and accomodation with itinerant and local entertainers.
A great experience which gave us a fascinating glimpse at a different life
style. This was followed by a recording session in the bowels of Soho before
returning to Canada.
In 1977, I acquired a physiotherapy practice in Victoria,
British Colombia which has kept me busy to this day. In the early 1980s
I became friends with Dave Weston, who had music as a prime interest outside
his daily professional work. His fine guitar, plus bass and vocals contributed
by other friends, provided the basis for many enjoyable jam sessions, together
with some in-house recording and a little song writing. I formed a small
company to deal with any spin-offs from our musical efforts, the main product
of which was the recording and production of two Christmas albums for the
Victoria school district's Ukulele Childrens Program. Dave Weston engineered
the on-site recording, mixing and final mastering. The projects worked
out well, providing a well produced and happy-sounding album for participiting
students to sell to their friends and relatives.
Later in the 1980s, I was inspired to do some gospel songwriting
by music heard at the Vinyard church at which I was attending at the time.
Since then, other than some novelty song writing with a somewhat political
theme, I have been absent from the music scene until recent promptings
from Bill Hillman and Ken Blair. This renewed contact with old friends
plus enquiries from my former students association e-mail group from New
College Worcester, (Formally Worcester College for the Blind) has triggered
my interest in looking back at our musical past. Converting the "Free Spirit
album to a digital format was the first step in ressurrecting this blast
from the past for others to hear. Thanks to computer technology, Dave's
assistance in converting the analogue recording to digital, and Bill Hillman
building the web site, this has now been achieved.
Whether as individuals or together, there seems little
doubt that remaining members of "Free Spirit" will be heard from again
through projects involving music. Now close to retirement living with my
wife Sky in Victoria, I'm sure I will be joining Bill and Sue-On, Ken and
Terry in contributing something new, and hopefully of interest for the
future. In the meantime, our musical contribution from the past is now
on line in the form of "Free Spirit" for all to enjoy.
Al Jones ~ May 28 2006