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
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
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 on!
Following the completion of the recording, little was done to
promote the album, although one or two songs did receive some radio play.
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
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
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.