The Ollie Halsall Archive


Ollie and Ali

John Altman is a world-renowned musician and arranger. He worked as musical director for The Rutles film and albums and with both Ollie and John Halsey onvarious other projects.





Once a week I used to trudge off to a golf course with Ollie, Mike Patto and Jimmy McCullough. Patto and Ollie were high class golfers, I definitely wasn't in their league and Jimmy was no slouch either.

Ollie's cousin or uncle was a well known golf pro and Ollie had a terrific drive and good putting eye. My putting sucked. Mike travelled everywhere with his clubs and Jimmy had a very good set too.

All so healthy, yet I'm the last man standing - why I don't golf any more!

JA 2/12


Ollie and family had a house full of cats and a collie dog. They had all grown up together and the dog, logically being Ollie's dog, thought he was a cat.

He slept perched on the back of the sofa, from where he more often than not fell, tried in vain to climb trees, drank milk and ate cat food.

The funniest thing though was that when he barked, he would immediately cock his head with a quizzical look on his face as if to say 'what the hell was THAT noise supposed to be!'

JA 2/12


Ollie was quite a handyman - we once put up an entire fence at my parents' house (my contribution - carrying the nails!) One time he decided to build a boat in his living room with predictable consequences. But our best joint effort was wallpapering his new house. We spent hours cutting this damned paper to try to match the pattern, cursing and swearing all the while. Until it was pointed out to us that the pattern went vertically and not horizontally. So at least in one practical area our ineptitude matched. I've never tried to hang wallpaper since!

JA 2/12

Ollie and I shared many many adventures together - from a futile attempt to wallpaper his living room (failing to realize the pattern went horizontally and not vertically), a more successful attempt to put up a fence at my parents' house (my contribution - carrying the wood! Ollie did the rest) and a remarkably valiant effort to see through a Marx Brothers all-nighter at the Everyman. We took turns in nodding off but always seemed to wake up when Harpo was doing his best work.

But the weirdest adventure was, without doubt, the big band I assembled for Muhammad Ali's birthday party at the Grosvenor House Hotel. We were due to accompany a vocalist whose claim to fame was that he sounded like Nat King Cole, Ali's favourite vocalist.

Although I already had a full 18 piece band, including the wonderful Mitch Dalton on guitar, it was no secret that Ollie idolized Ali and I had to include him as a dinner suited extra in the proceedings. The evening got off to a bizarre start as the band arrived complaining they had all been harassed by Ali's bodyguards, who included a pre A Team Mr T. All that is except for Ollie who had somehow found his way in through the main entrance carrying his guitar nonchalantly over his shoulder.

Events took an even more bizarre turn as Ali rose to respond to a toast delivered by an imposing black professor from Oxford University with a cut glass upper class English accent. This so fascinated the birthday boy that he proceeded to get up and speak . . . and speak . . . and speak - for two hours non-stop.

During these ramblings, which I can now sadly perceive as the beginnings of his illness, various elderly people on the top table actually dozed off in their soup, while our vocalist fortified himself backstage by drinking an entire bottle of brandy, and we stood and waited, and waited, and waited.

The result, when we finally got to perform, was total chaos. Our vocalist proceeded to end some songs half way through, while he managed still to be singing on some after the band had finished. Each song became more surreal than the last until a voice from the crowd yelled 'Sing Mona Lisa!' 'OK boys, Mona Lisa, here we go' and off he went.

Trouble was we had no rehearsal or, come to that, music for Mona Lisa, and we were already 8 bars into the song, brass players and saxophonists madly scuffling through manuscript in an effort to find a relevant page, when enter our hero. Ollie had been diligently attempting to follow the now completely useless sheet music throughout the gig, most of which of course bore no relevance to what our star was singing. Now he suddenly perked up - 'Hang on, Mona Lisa, I know that.' And he began accompanying, beautifully, what turned out to be the musical high point of the evening.

Five chaotic numbers later it was all over. I swiveled round as the lights came up to see nothing! The entire Grosvenor House audience including Ali and his entourage had vanished - the room was empty, our cheque bounced, and I had to sit outside the vocalist's flat for half a day to get our money. But Ollie had got to see his main man, and I can't believe that that performance didn't reach out to the great Ali as it did to all of us sweating on stage.

John Altman © 2007


John Altman

The Rutles