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Page last updated at 14:36 GMT, Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Session musician tells of working with Tom Jones
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Tom Jones
Tom Jones performs at Elstree studios in 1969

Imagine turning up for work and Tom Jones popping in.

Well that was what it was like for percussionist Alan Grahame when he was a young musician.

Alan who lives in Peppard Common was a session musician in the 1950s and 60s.

He has worked with such greats as Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Perry Como.

Alan started off playing jazz in drinking clubs in the West End.

He said he worked for minimal money - two guineas - and at all hours of the night.

"You just drift into it," he said. "I was a jazz vibes player and realised there wasn't much in just playing jazz.

"I had to widen my musical scope so I could get into the studios."

Alan plays hundreds of instruments - not just traditional drums. He can play others such as the vibraphone, bells, glockenspiel and xylophone.

Big break

He also worked on films and television dramas making special effects.

In 1953 he got a big break with Jerry Allen and his trio on a television show in Birmingham called Lunchbox.

Alan Grahame
Alan Grahame has worked with musical greats

That was when he fell into session musicianship and worked with legend Tom Jones on hits It's Not Unusual and Help Yourself.

"I got booked for a session at Decca and it was a big swinging band.

"Somebody said: "Who's the artist?" I didn't know. It was some Welsh singer.

"We didn't know who it was, we were just musicians and of course the rest is history. This young guy came in all hair and Jack-the-lad, and we laid about four tracks."

Tom Jones was just starting out and his career broke after that record came out.

"I can remember it very well," Alan said. "It was just another date as far as we were concerned, but you always remember the good ones."

Alan also got to tour with some of the greats. He explained.

"Several artists, like Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett, asked if some of the guys could go on the road with them.

"I was very fortunate. I did the Albert Hall with Shirley every concert she did and then we had several tours abroad. In those days it was a big orchestra with live strings rather than a synthesizer or keyboard.

Shirley Bassey
Alan also worked with Shirley Bassey, pictured in 1968

"Very rarely did we socialise. It was only with certain people who loved being with the band.

"Howard Keel was one of them and he always came and ate with us and we were in the same hotel.

"But I did a tour with Shirley MacLaine and I don't think I ever spoke to her or even saw her until she walked onto the stage and did her act."

Alan explained that despite his star-filled life it was hard work. He had to travel for much of his career, carrying percussion on public transport.

The love

So why did he do it?

"Our downfall is that we love music and we love playing. You've got to want to do it and love playing.

"When I was teaching, the students would say: "I want to do what you did," and I'd say that I didn't think they would make it. Some didn't have the dedication."

One of Alan's greatest lasting memories was when he toured with Perry Como.

"The music was great. We had a lovely choir. It was just wonderful music and worked with nice people.

"Perry had never been to this country before and couldn't understand why he was such a big star. Everybody loved Perry because he was so laid back - he was lovely."

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