Writers in Wartime and Pre-War Jazz: Larkin, Amis and the “Banks Sides”

Philip Larkin's Coventry, November 1940

To Robert Conquest from Philip Larkin 7 April 1969

..By the way, you might tell K. if you see him that there’s a 12” LP of all the Banks sides (plus Oh Peter with Henry Allen vocal) and all the Bland sides (Who Stole Gabriel’s Horn, Shine Shoes & Gonna Be You). I’ll send him the number if he’s interested. God, Easter again. I dreamed I saw a Commie rally…


“If one were to judge from the Amis correspondence, one would assume that Larkin was engaged at this time primarily on subliterary “lesbianism”. During the early part of 1946 their letters focus on a story referred to as “Iwdafy” (I Would Do Anything For You)..” (James Booth, introduction to Philip Larkin Trouble At Willow Gables 2002 p.xxx)

(I Would Do) Anything for You



(Yes Suh!)

“Early in February he and Larkin had begun writing a soft-porn story entitled ‘I Would Do Anything For You,’ a sort of Willow Gables spin-off. Its principal characters are ‘Jennifer and Marsha, two art students at Oxford’. They spend much of their time ‘playing old jazz records out of curiosity, and painting each other’. The plot involves various lesbian crushes and seductions, including ‘a furious struggle with Mady in pyjamas’.” (Zachary Leader, The Life of Kingsley Amis 2006  p.169)


(Somebody Stole Gabriels’s Horn)

“Because.. in 1941, my first year at Oxford, I discovered that jazz could be not only entertaining and enlivening but emotionally moving too, if never quite as much as parts of some classical works. I was particularly struck by what we called the Banks sides, twelve of them cut in 1932 by a small band that included the trumpeter Henry Allen, the clarinettist and tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Russell and, on four of the twelve, Fats Waller, whom most readers even today, nearly half a century after his death, will have heard of. Banks himself was the singer, a sort of counter-tenor, not very jazzy perhaps by some standards, but fascinating to me, especially in the words he sang. I had not known then that such singers would have in their memory several hundred blues verses which, in their allotted minute or so, they would sing a few of more or less at random. I thought Banks was performing connected songs or poems of a kind of awesom surrealism. This certainly applied to ‘Spider Crawl’:

Oh see that spider crawling up that wall…

Let me be your big dog till the big dog comes…

The graveyard sure is a mean old place…

My gal is just like a weeping willow tree…

 Trumpet and clarinet wove magic flourishes and arabesques between the lines. Philip had a copy, I had none and could not get one: the record was deleted, out of print. So much did this one piece come to mean to me that when, in 1943 or so, it again became available, I at once bought it, even though I was in the army and had nowhere to play it. I kept it on the table by my camp-bed just to look at, an icon not even to be picked up unnecessarily for fear of scratching it. No classical rarity can ever have been as rare as that in any sense.” (Kingsley Amis, Memoirs, 1991 p65-66)

Spider Crawl



(Oh! Peter (You’re So Nice))


To Philip Larkin from Kingsley Amis 19 April 1969

My dear Philip,

Your man Carey turned up trumps. After I had sent him a letter asking him to send me details so that I could pay him in advance, and enclosing SAE, he sends me the record, returns SAE, and writes a note saying ‘You appear to be keen to obtain this LP, so I have despatched it without further ado. Trusting this meets with your approval. It did. Tks 1,000,000, o.m., for letting me know the news.

Who Stole The Lock (On the Hen House Door)


Mean Old Bed Bug Blues


A Shine On Your Shoes


It’s Gonna Be You


3 Replies to “Writers in Wartime and Pre-War Jazz: Larkin, Amis and the “Banks Sides””

  1. I’ve got a CD of these ‘sides’, including “alternate takes”. Splendid stuff. If you want to hear the sound of rock-and-roll saxophone long before the 50s, listen to Pee Wee Russell on tenor sax.

    The rhythm section on some of the tracks is a mighty machine: Bland and Condon on guitar and banjo, plus drums, bass and, on piano, Fats.

    “I would do anything for you”, in particular, is pretty much guaranteed to get you capering around the room.

    1. Yes, and I was reminded once again whilst pulling this together of the ludicrously po-faced response of literary critics to the joint Larkin-Amis efforts named after “I would do anything for you” – they completely miss the air of antic farce that hung over the entire enterprise, indeed over the whole of the early part of their friendship. It’s a joke, you ****ing fools…

  2. We own a book “The Great Cat Massacre” in which the author conclusively demonstrates that he hasn’t a clue what will appear to be funny to a bunch of exhilarated young men.

    “It’s a joke, you ****ing fool…” is a suitable riposte.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *