Marathon jazzman aims for fast tempo: Tomorrow's 26-mile London race will be the 25th for a clarinet-playing runner

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ERIC NEWTON, the jogging jazzer, will be running his 25th marathon tomorrow, playing his clarinet on the way. He is one of hundreds of entertainers, characters and show-offs who want to make sure that no one misses their performance in London's big race.

Mr Newton, 53, has run the marathon in a respectable 3 hours 59 minutes but will take longer tomorrow because he expects to stop and improvise with bands along the route. At Tower Bridge he will meet his son Ben, 12, another clarinet player, and they will perform a duet.

Mr Newton, a professional busker, never tires of playing 'When the Saints Come Marching In'. His record is 648 times in one marathon - in New Zealand in 1990.

Running with Mr Newton will be his fellow jazzer, bass player Michael Bell, who will carry a model of Prince Charles on his back round the 26-mile, 385-yard course. Hundreds of other jokers will be wearing funny hats and costumes but the man who used to carry the bottle and tray will be missing this year because of an injury.

Mr Newton, who lives at Alsager, near Stoke-on-Trent, used to weigh almost 15 stone, smoke 40 or more cigarettes a day and be constantly miserable. Now he runs 50 miles a week, has a neat figure and a wholesome lifestyle.

His musical debut was in the Potteries with the Ceramic City jazz band. 'I took up playing the jazz clarinet at 17 when I saw how much attention the band got,' he said. 'It was a great life for a while but I was drunk every night.'

The trad jazz boom came to an end in 1962 when The Beatles and mainstream pop took over. Mr Newton trained as a music teacher then, needing more money, he got a job as a postman in the early morning and as a park gardener for the rest of the day.

He began to jog round the park and his weight came down. He cut out cigarettes and began to feel much better.

'I had always lived at nights, working in pubs and clubs, and suddenly I realised how beautiful the world was in daytime,' Mr Newton said. 'I used to be on Mogadon, Ativan, Librium (tranquillisers). Now I get all the peace of mind I need from running.'

He tells the story of his life in Eric the Epic, a play that has run for five weeks at the New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Eric plays himself and when the show finishes tonight he will make the three-hour journey to London, and after five hours' sleep will be ready for the marathon.

But it is not just running that has changed his life. One night in the Seventies, he was dialling telephone numbers at random and got through to a man in Melbourne, Australia.

'I was feeling so depressed,' Mr Newton said. 'I wanted to tell someone how unhappy I was and suddenly I found someone in Melbourne was listening.

'It was the middle of the night, the middle of winter here and

in Melbourne the sun was shining and it was 94C. It seemed like a

miracle.'

Mr Newton began to save for a trip with his son Ben to visit his telephone friend in Australia - and so he began busking.

'I found I was a natural busker,' he said. ' I'd always played before in pubs and clubs. But I soon found that the morning is the best time for busking. My life's journey has been downwards from professional musician to street player, but it has been from darkness into light. I have finally reached the pavement outside Woolworth's - but I would rather be there than pissing it up in a nightclub.'

Gold run, page 49

(Photograph omitted)

Comments