After spending most of his life making a racket, Bromley-born guitarist and composer Billy Jenkins is planning to celebrate his 60th birthday quietly.

Former Burlesque and The Fantastic Trimmer and Jenkins member and prolific solo artist has signed with major labels and has counted big names as friends and fans.

Having sung at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral in his Bromley Parish Church Choir as a boy he began teaching himself to play guitar when he was 12 and at 14 he was leading his own blues band called Grey Havens, which played its first gig at St Andrews church hall (now demolished) in Burnt Ash Lane.

The support act was a singer called William Broad, who later found fame as Billy Idol.

For the next two years, Billy Jenkins spent most of his weekends performing at USAF bases and social clubs around the UK.

During the week, he rehearsed and jammed with friends, including Stephen Bailey, who later found fame under the name of Steven Severin with Souixse and the Banshees.

Another friend was aspiring writer Hanif Kureishi, who often came round to listen to the young musicians. Billy recalls: “He used to sit on the sidelines and say: ‘One day I’m going to write about you’.”

Billy became a professional musician at 16 and co-founded jazz-rock band Burlesque with Sidcup saxophonist Ian Trimmer. Between 1972 and 1977, Burlesque toured the UK, Ireland, Germany, Finland and Holland.

The band was signed to Arista records, record label boss Clive Davis flew over specially from the USA to secure the deal, and an early fan was comedian Arthur Smith.

However, the prospect of touring in the USA was too much for Billy, who felt the band would be forced to constantly repeat its popular songs instead of experimenting with new ideas and the group disbanded.

After Burlesque, Billy and Ian Trimmer toured as The Fantastic Trimmer and Jenkins, a comedy music duo, residences included the Comic Strip and Marquee clubs in London and The Cartoon in Croydon.

Billy also worked with drummer Ginger Baker, who hails from Lewisham, before forming his own band, The Voice of God Collective in 1981.

Now 27, with 11 years of touring under his belt, Billy explains: “Now I was able to start documenting the music of south east London.”

His first album under his own name, released in 1982, was called Sounds Like Bromley and featured tracks such as High Street/Saturday, Council Offices and Growing Up In Bromley. 

He moved to Greenwich and an album called Greenwich was released in 1985, track titles included Greenwich One Way System, Arrival of the Tourists and Discoboats at Two O’Clock. 

Further celebrations of south east London came in 1997 with Still Sounds Like Bromley, in 1999 with Suburbia, in 2010 with I Am A Man From Lewisham and 2014 with The Semi-Detached Suburban Home.

Now based in Brockley, Billy has withdrawn from performing music and from 2008 to 2014 he created and conducted Humanist funerals in south east London, an experience that inspired his most recent album, called Death, Ritual and Resonation, for solo guitar released in 2015. 

A celebration of Billy’s music is being held at The Vortex jazz club in Dalston on Monday, July 4, the day before his 60th birthday, featuring some of his long-standing collaborators, including violin player Dylan Bates, who grew up in Beckenham, bass player Steve Watts and drummer Mike Pickering, who are both based in East Dulwich. 

However, Billy plans to spend his 60th quietly. “I’m in a period of happy and contented silence,” he said. “I’ve always avoided commercialism and it’s kind of backfired on me. Going out on the road means having to repeat yourself and I don’t want to insult the joy of improvisation by doing that.”

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