ONE of Chester’s longstanding and best-known jazz musicians is hanging up his clarinet at the age of 90.

Paul Blake was one of the first members of The Wall City Jazzmen when they performed their first gig at old Clemence’s restaurant on January 18, 1954.

They went on to play across the country – and were even the second act at the opening night of Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club on January 16, 1957.

Businessman Gordon Vickers took the band under his wing and had them perform at his hugely popular Quaintways club, which is now Rosies, where the likes of Elton John and Rod Stewart also played.

Paul, who will play his last gig on Easter Monday, stuck with the band through thick and thin and is the only original member.

They have performed every Monday for the past 25 years at The Mill Hotel, which Mr Vickers recently announced he had sold.

Paul told the Standard that it was with a heavy heart that he decided to retire from a group which had given him so much joy over the years.

“It’s been a huge part of my life and music has helped me a lot over the years,” he said. “But I’m giving up because I know I’m not playing as well as I used to.

“Some may disagree, but I know it’s true and I’d rather retire now with my flags flying!”

Paul, who is a widower with two sons, four granddaughters and one great granddaughter, said he had become a music-lover from an early age when he learnt the piano and saxophone.

After the band was formed it took a while for people to take to the music – until a letter in a newspaper proved a catalyst.

“It didn’t take off for a while,” said Paul. “But then someone wrote a letter saying jazz was disgusting and bands only played in dingy cellars where alcohol and drugs were freely available…

“Well, the next Monday night they were queueing around the cathedral to get in!”

He listed numerous highlights over his 64 years with the band, including playing in New Orleans in America and The Cavern Club, made famous some years later by The Beatles.

“The first thing I noticed about The Cavern Club when I went in was the very narrow staircase,” Paul said. “I remember feeling grateful I only had my clarinet to carry up and down. I felt sorry for the drummer!”

He also has fond memories of Mr Vickers getting on stage to play the washboard and singing.

Asked if the charismatic city entrepreneur could hold a tune, he responded diplomatically: “He’s a great entertainer!”

Paul, who plans to stay in touch with his band mates, added: “Whether the band will be able to carry on playing at The Mill after Gordon leaves I don’t know. I hope so though.”

All are welcome to attend Paul’s final performance with the band on Easter Monday at the hotel’s bar.

“It’s going to be emotional,” he said.